Central America: Following in the Maya’s Steps
Central America – the land of volcanoes, Maya and colonial architecture… Great for tourists yet not very prepared to receive them, except the bravest of heart :) Our guide through this beautiful region will be Ondra, who set off to travel around the whole world, and turned back only because he met his love on the road and decided to settle down with her. How romantic is that? He is now writing a book about his numerous adventures, which we all hope will be published soon!
There is a lot to be told about this awesome region, so we’ve split the interview into several installments. Today we’ll cover Guatemala and Costa Rica, and move to the islands in the next issue.
Hi, Ondra and thanks for agreeing to tell our readers about Central America! Could you start with telling us about your route through it? What countries did you visit and which one was your favourite?
First of all, I am very pleased to share my great experience from Central America. I spent two months there and have countless amazing stories and photos to share. That is why I decided to write a book. I am afraid that most of the people will never make it to Central America, so I want to transport them there at least virtually.
Travelling in Central America is one big adventure, the one you will remember for the rest of your life. It’s something completely different from spending two weeks on an all-inclusive beach resort. Your brain and your body work almost 24/7. You are gathering one amazing experience after another. It is one of the best places on Earth for “active” travelers.
I started my trip in Guatemala and made it all the way down to Panama visiting Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica on the way. Each country is amazing and can offer something special. I fell in love with Guatemala most deeply and hope to get back sometime in the future. The combination of tropical rainforests, Mayan culture and amazing active volcanoes is unbeatable.
Whoa, so much amazing stuff, I don’t even know where to start! But the Maya has always fascinated me, so let’s talk more about their culture! What is/are the best place(s) to experience it?
The answer is Guatemala, the heart of Mayan culture. The majority of the population is of Mayan origin. Traveling the country where people look like Maya people of old is an experience in itself. They are very friendly! In fact, they are the friendlies nation in the whole Central America. There are three “must-see” places in Guatemala, to my mind: Tikal, Antigua and Lake Atitlan.
Tikal is a famous old Mayan city in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula. It had been lost in the middle of the rainforest for centuries before it was discovered in the 19th century. Local people have always known that there was “Ciudad Perdida” (Lost City) somewhere in the middle of the jungle, but they didn’t know where exactly it was. It is hard to believe that this city used to have 200 thousand inhabitants back in the 9th century.
Flores is the closest living town and a place where you can buy a tour to Tikal. I strongly suggest taking Sunrise Tour. The bus picks you up at 4am and drive you 60km through the jungle. You then walk 2 km in the dark through the ruins of Tikal until you reach the highest pyramid (Templo IV). Rising 70 metres above earth, it is the best place to observe the sunrise. The jungle starts waking up as the sun rises from the misty rainforest. And if you think it’s all magically quiet, you’re mistaken – it all happens amidst a scary noise of monkeys starting their fights.
Tikal is really huge. The center of the city, where the main pyramids and temples are, is roughly 3×3 kilometers in size. You need a whole day to see them all. With an average of 36 °C degrees and 90% humidity it will not be easy… But it’s totally worth it – believe me!
Antigua is a former capital of Guatemala. It is a tourist-friendly place in a mountainous area, surrounded by active volcanoes. These volcanoes were the cause of Antigua’s destruction back in 1773 and the reason why a new capital (Guatemala City) was founded 30km away in a safer place.
Lago Atitlan was named one of the most beautiful lakes in the world by National Geographics. The lake itself is a huge volcano crater 12km in diameter. Three volcanoes in the background create breathtaking scenery. You can take a boat trip across the lake, it’s unforgettable!
And how do you get around in Guatemala?
You have two traveling options there. The first and the safest one is using travel agencies that will take you to the places you want to visit. The second option, the one I would vote for, is making use of local buses. A ride in a colorful American school bus is an amazing experience and also cheaper!
Hahaha yes, I’d prefer the buses any day! And Guatemala is definitely on my bucket list now! What about Costa Rica? To me, this country is associated with paradise-like beaches and “pura vida” lifestyle. Is there some truth to that?
Costa Rica has it all to represent Heaven on Earth. Nature is just amazing there! For example, there is a light-blue waterfall! Where else would you see such beauty?
The secret why the water is so blue is the volcanic minerals that are present in it. This very specific color is created when two “normal” streams get in contact with each other. The minerals start reacting and create this amazing effect.
Costa Rica would not be a real Heaven without unbelievably fantastic flowers and animals. Such amazing flowers can only be found in Heaven!
Only in Costa Rica you can climb an old volcano mountain covered with tropical rainforest, swim in the volcano crater in cold refreshing water and at the end of an exhausting day relax in hot springs and drink Champagne. And on the way back the guide would stop in the middle of the night surrounding the bus, gets out and return with a small colorful frog you have never seen before!
Both trips – to the waterfall and to the volcano – can be organized from La Fortuna, a small tourist town next to Arenal volcano. You can book your guide there.
In the next installment of our interview we’ll go to Belize, Honduras and Panama! Stay tuned!
All photos courtesy of Ondra