Lake Atitlan is a stunning lake formed by an ancient eruption and now framed by three volcanoes. We spent a week at a lakeside campsite and could have stayed much longer. We stayed near the village of San Marcos, which is a funny little gringo hippie village. The selection of yoga classes and kombucha was like what you’d expect in the most hipster neighborhood in Portland. Our campsite was about a mile from here and felt like another world. Pierre, a longtime French expat, has a lovely property with rental homes and camping with a view. Down by the water there is a dock to swim from, hammock to chill on and boats to get you to other villages around the lake. Our favorite stop was in the village of San Juan, which is known for textiles and weaving. We visited a local cooperative, where they demonstrate the weaving and dying processes and sold local artisan products.
After a relaxing week came the very strenuous overnight hike up Volcan Acatenango. This is a popular overnight hike because it offers views of the very active Volcano Fuego. Many tours and guides operate up here, but we decided to go up without support. To reach base camp at 3700m (12,140 ft) we had to climb over 1300m (4,300 ft) in 5km (3 miles), followed by another mile of normal hiking along the side of the volcano, to reach base camp. For Seattle friends, the profile is similar to that of the old Mailbox Peak trail, just a bit more climbing and at a much higher elevation. All this with our packs full of water, food and gear for the night. We cruised the first half, led by Mitzi’s surprising energy level. After we crossed the 3000m mark, Rachel felt the effects of thinner air and started to slow down. Then we reach a stretch with sharp lava rocks that Mitzi needed help to cross, which gave us (mostly Ben) the extra challenge of schlepping her up the hill. At that point, we were kind of wishing we had done like most others and hired someone to bring our tent and food up. But we survived, and once we arrived at our campsite, we were treated to a view of… Clouds. We were completely fogged in and could only see about 10m ahead.
We could hear the volcano rumbling and booming from our tent. Occasionally the clouds would drift and reveal Fuego’s peak for a minute, then for two, and by sunset the clouds had fully disappeared and we got to watch Fuego put on a show! As it got dark, the magma glowed and the many eruptions were more and more impressive to us. Poor Mitzi didn’t enjoy the booms and hid in the tent all the night. Every half hour or so the volcano would rumble and boom. We didn’t get much sleep that night but it was an unforgettable experience and worth all the trouble!
Antigua Guatemala was our final stop and is one of the most visited places. The well preserved colonial town has managed to preserve its charm in spite of all of us tourists roaming around. The cobblestone streets and colorful buildings are best viewed from the patio of Antigua Brewery with IPA in hand.
We only spent three weeks in Guatemala and could have stayed so much longer. The country is vibrant and fun with so much to explore.