Friday, September 30, 2016

Getting to Hotelito Perdido

If you're trying to decide where to spend your time in the Livingston area, Hotelito Perdidio is an excellent option. I can't imagine regretting your choice to hang here a few nights, and I wouldn't at all be surprised if those few nights turned into more than a few.

Coming from Rio Dulce, the public launcha (which is really just a boat for tourists, it seems based on the cliental and the price) picked us up directly at the dock of Hotel Kangaroo around 9:30am. Excellent and easy. It costs Q125 no matter how far you go, so you might as well go all the way to Livingston. Hotelito Perdidio and Finca Tatin are both before the spectacular canyon coming from Rio Ducle direction, and you don't want to miss that portion of the river trip. Then again, if you are headed to Livingston anyways to continue on to the Bay Islands or Belize, after Hotelito Perdido then I suppose dropping your bags to your hostel could also be a good option for you. We were headed back to Rio Dulce from Hotelito Perdido, so it made the most sense for us to go all the way to Livingston with the public lanucha. Plus, we needed another ATM visit. We are flying through money in Guatemala! Gary, the owner of Hotel Kangaroo said that we could probably drop our bags at the tourist information, which is a little booth at the end of the concrete dock (not the newer wooden one) while we walked around. We didn't end up leaving our bags anywhere because our plan was to sit somewhere for lunch and a cold drink meaning we wouldn't be carrying our bags much anyways. There are at least two ATMs in Livingston, the ones we saw being on the main street straight up from the dock, just up the hill and very easy to find.

The flavour of Livingston is apparent the second you're out of the launcha and on the dock. You're in
 the Carribbean and its very unlike anywhere else in Guatemala. First and most noticeably- the people look different. They're Caribbean with an African ancestry and have much darker skin. The shops sell seashells and island style souvenirs and textiles with more of a rasta influence than Mayan. Other than those obvious differences, the town has a completely different pulse than the rest of Guatemala that I can't quite find the words to accurately describe, other than definitely distinct.

We had lunch at Gaby's, which was just OK and quite pricey and then a cold drink at the Happy Fish. I had the Frappucino Choco-Banana at Happy Fish, which was amazing but expensive at Q28 (almost $4USD!). That's more than a meal at most local eateries in Guatemala. Anyways, Livingston is known to be expensive, so at least it wasn't shocking. I was disappointed because what I had really wanted was the Coco-Locco I had heard so much about. A crazy coconut with a straw a (generous) dash of rum to help the coconut milk inside go down that much easier. Somehow, everywhere was out of coconuts!

We called Hotelito Perdido to arrange a pick up, which was, as dealing with Hotelito Perdido the whole time had been, very easy. Happy Fish let us use their phone, which was very nice of them.

Fernando, Hotelito Perdido's boat captain was there within an hour. (If we had called when we first arrived in Livingston we likely wouldn't have had to wait at all). But, waiting for a boat with a view of where the Rio Dulce meets the Caribbean ocean, really wasn't all that bad.

The ride from Livingston to Hotelito Perdido (Q50pp) was much longer than expected (because we really didn't know where on the river the hostel was at the time) and definitely worth the Q50 ($7USD). Being in a smaller boat all by ourselves with no overhead canopy we had a fabulous view of the canyon and limestone walls. So impressive and oh so photogenic.

When the boat pulled up to Hotelito Perdido's dock we were a little confused. Mainly because there wasn't an actual dock that we could see. Upon closer inspection we realize that we were actually overtop of the dock! The water was SO high (because of the insane rain) that the dock and the entire path up to the large main building was completely under water. Because Fernando is awesome, he got out of the boat in the calf- deep water and literally pushed us up the flooded walking path in the boat! It was hilarious (for us)! When the boat finally hit a high patch of land we kicked off our sandals and hopped into the water too. Another thing we love about travelling in these parts- you really never know what will happen next, so make sure you have flip flops! tee hee

More on Hotelito Perdido in the next post....

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hotel Kangaroo Review


Another Guatemala gem, and certainly the most well known of all our favourite hostels, Hotel Kangaroo should most certainly make it to your itinerary. This water access hostel has everything going for it. First, you get at least 2 great boat rides included in your stay through the impressive mangroves of Rio Dulce to a small tributary off the main river. Then there's the dock, which has a beautiful reflect-y view of the river. It's a wonderful place to enjoy your morning coffee, or a cold afternoon beer. The food here, cooked by the charming owner Graciela, is super delicious. The rooms are simple, but clean with effective ceiling fans. You can swim off the dock and there's even a rope swing, if you're looking to add a little adventure to your afternoon. Aside from all these awesome amenities, by far, our favourite thing about Hotel Kangaroo were its proprietors, Gary and Graciela.


As I was lazy and put off finishing this review for far too long, I'm going to finish the rest of my thoughts in point form:

-Free boat rides for check in/check out and 830am each morning
-This is very reasonable considering the boat costs money and they charge Q20 for all other rides
Even if you end up paying for some, you shouldn't need more than a couple rides
-Food/drinks- very reasonable reconsidering you're on an island, esp. the coffee, which is possibly the cheapest coffee we had in Guatemala
-Everything was delicious and the portions were filling
-J really liked the veggie burrito and the veggie curry was chock full of veg
-We also had the enchiladas with both the mole and green sauce, very tasty and the Ozzie burger (make sure you ask for beetroot) was AMAZING and some of the best fries we've ever had
-Lemon pie was refreshing and a nice treat
-We were there at the end of November (2015). We super lucky because it was cool (temperature wise). The days were still swim-able hot, but in the night it was very comfortable. Most people didn't even use the fan, but we did
- With the extra water from the flooding, we were surrounded by picture perfect reflections
-  There is a second, nice relaxing area out back behind the restaurant
-We had the small private room with shared bathroom 150Q* (bathroom shared between 4 rooms)
-The bigger rooms were 180Q and the cabins were Q220
*Prices in November '15




Hotel Kangaroo Review


Another Guatemala gem, and certainly the most well known of all our favourite hostels, Hotel Kangaroo should most certainly make it to your itinerary. This water access hostel has everything going for it. First, you get at least 2 great boat rides included in your stay through the impressive mangroves of Rio Dulce to a small tributary off the main river. Then there's the dock, which has a beautiful reflect-y view of the river. It's a wonderful place to enjoy your morning coffee, or a cold afternoon beer. The food here, cooked by the charming owner Graciela, is super delicious. The rooms are simple, but clean with effective ceiling fans. You can swim off the dock and there's even a rope swing, if you're looking to add a little adventure to your afternoon. Aside from all these awesome amenities, by far, our favourite thing about Hotel Kangaroo were its proprietors, Gary and Graciela.


As I was lazy and put off finishing this review for far too long, I'm going to finish the rest of my thoughts in point form:

-Free boat rides for check in/check out and 830am each morning
-This is very reasonable considering the boat costs money and they charge Q20 for all other rides
Even if you end up paying for some, you shouldn't need more than a couple rides
-Food/drinks- very reasonable reconsidering you're on an island, esp. the coffee, which is possibly the cheapest coffee we had in Guatemala
-Everything was delicious and the portions were filling
-J really liked the veggie burrito and the veggie curry was chock full of veg
-We also had the enchiladas with both the mole and green sauce, very tasty and the Ozzie burger (make sure you ask for beetroot) was AMAZING and some of the best fries we've ever had
-Lemon pie was refreshing and a nice treat
-We were there at the end of November (2015). We super lucky because it was cool (temperature wise). The days were still swim-able hot, but in the night it was very comfortable. Most people didn't even use the fan, but we did
- With the extra water from the flooding, we were surrounded by picture perfect reflections
-  There is a second, nice relaxing area out back behind the restaurant
-We had the small private room with shared bathroom 150Q* (bathroom shared between 4 rooms)
-The bigger rooms were 180Q and the cabins were Q220
*Prices in November '15




Friday, December 25, 2015

Semuc Champey and Greengos Hotel

Places that get a lot of hype sometimes have a hard time living up to the expectations travellers have of them. I feel bad for these places, because they probably are, or at least were amazing before they were altered by some force, inherently changing what made the place so awesome to begin with. That force likely being tourism.

I can imagine what visiting Semuc Champy would have been like for those few backpackers that made the onerous journey out to the middle of nowhere Guatemala, down countless unpaved mountain roads in the thick, humid tropical air to these perfect turquoise pools just begging to be swam in. It would have been pure bliss. A travel discovery you would brag about to everyone you met. And that's probably exactly what happened. Word got out, hostels opened, shuttles added Lanquin to their itineraries, they hiked the admission price to be almost double that of nationals.... Now everyone comes to Semuc Champy. Young, old, package tourists and independent travellers. Not that any roads have been paved... unfortunately.

But now that poor Semuc Champey is in the lime light and the turquoise pools are full of tourists, people stop in and leave saying, ' Well, its not that impressive....' But they're wrong.

Many backpackers are on a mission to jam pack their days with as much of Lonely Planet's recommendations as possible. I can't even count how many people we've met this month alone, rushing from one 'highlight' to the next, claiming to see entire countries in the span of a week.

If you stay in Lanquin (which is 45 minutes from Semuc Champey) and go with everyone else on your hostel's daily tour, cramming in both the caves near Champey and the actual pools into one day, then of course you're going to be experiencing Semuc Champey with everyone else. Of course it will be crowded and you'll completely lose out on the area's spectacular natural charms. You're on a tourist train expecting a private experience.  And if that's what you were expecting, you're going to be disappointed.


Before writing it off, why don't you give Semuc Champy a real shot of actually meeting your expectations and living up to its claim of being one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala?
How?

First- Stay somewhere nearby, no more than a ten minute walk away. We recommend Greengos Hotel or El Portal.

Second- Give the area 3 nights, at least. Relax. Not only are these spots gorgeous, but the hostels here are in spectacular settings. Enjoy a drink on one of their terraces, try the Shakshuka at Greengos, make some new friends, listen to the river rushing outside your bedroom window. Go to Semuc Champy one day and the caves the next. Don't worry. Tikal will be there tomorrow.

Third- Get up (it doesn't even have to be that early) and go straight to Semuc Champey. Beat the crowds and if you're lucky, have the whole place to yourself. If you don't love Semuc Champey's pools after that, well you're crazy, but at least you gave it a fair chance to woo you.

We arrived at Greengos late November in the pouring rain. Greengos is a welcoming, social hostel with lots of colour and character. It's located on its very own picturesque little river and serves amazing food. But back to the rain. It had been raining hard for a few days, we were told. There was so much water that the river right beside the pools of Semuc Champey had overflown into the pools turning the usually clear, turquoise water an opaque brown colour. Even the river at the hostel was raging and brown. Although the attraction didn't close as a result of its muddy state, Semuc Champey was free to all visitors. “You don't want it to be free,” Greengo's manager told us. Its not the real Semuc Champey when its free. So we crossed our fingers that the next day, we would have to pay admission (that was a weird wish to make) and that the river would have calmed itself enough to stay on it's own side of the rope barrier.

It was a slow morning for us, with a little more rain when we headed out on the 10 minute walk from Greengos to Semuc Champey. It was free. We were a little disappointed, but its hard to be that sad when you just saved 100 Quetzals. The first pool we came across was brown and muddy. It was hard to see what all the fuss was about, even trying to imagine the terrassed pools their usual bright colour. But, as we followed the arrows to the more popular swimming pools, the water became clearer and had a tinge of turquoise, more like I was expecting. It was a bit murky, but there were other people swimming, so I hopped in. It was refreshing and, despite the other tourists, a beautiful place for a dip. The river that flows at the top of Semuc was still brown and muddy and very angry. Usually, these 2 bodies of water are separate, but with all the rain, the division was blurred and the raging river just about met the pools before disappearing down a waterfalls into the earth. This overflow of the river is the reason that the pools were less turquoise and clear, as they were being contaminated by he murky brown overflow water from the river. As the day went on and the river decided to keep to its own side of the rocks, the pools became more and more clear.  

Because swimming is one of my all-time favourite pastimes, we decided to check up Semuc Champey the next day as well. If we had to pay the second day, it would be a 2 for1 deal, and we would hopefully get to see the natural pools in all their turquoise wonder. We ate breakfast (the amazing Isreali dish of Shakshuka, which I could not get enough of) and were at the pools by 9:30am. There was an entrance fee! Hooray! And, there was not another soul insight. It was absolutely spectacular. Other than a couple policemen and a few fake lifeguards wearing life jackets, we didn't see another person for 2 whole hours. I was all by myself swimming the now perfectly clear waters in the most amazing natural setting. I jumped off the small waterfalls, sat at the edge of the pool looking down on the terraced water, swam back and forth through the narrow channel between the main pool and the river junction.... all by my lonesome. And then, I did it all over again. Not for the first time on this trip I wished I had a GoPro to be able to capture the memories to revisit later.  It was one of the most amazing travel experiences I've ever had.

Word of Mouth: Staying near Semuc Champey worked perfectly for us. However, if that's not your style, we also heard great things about El Retiro which is on the outskirts of Lanquin. They have one day tour for Q180 that include both Semuc and the caves, which everyone who did said the tours was fun and a good value. They also have Q50 all you can eat buffet dinners.



Where we stayed: Greengos Hotel, 170Q for a private room in the top of an a-frame cabin. The room was basic, but clean with lots of air (screen windows) and light. The bathroom was communal, but always clean and there were hot showers in the afternoon. They also have dorms and private rooms with en-suites and porches over the river.  The food was a bit on the expensive side (as you would imagine in the middle of no where) but delicious!

And,ps,  Merry Christmas!!!

Coban to Lanquin to Semuc Champey

The minibus ride from Coban- Lanquin was our shortest in 3 days, but it was rough. Very little of the road is paved and its very narrow and mountainous. All down the 'road' you can see evidence of landslides and fallen boulders. It takes about 2.5-3 hours, the beginning and end being gloriously paved. We were charged Q30 per person. Oh, and, it was spectacularly scenic.

Finding out about the bus schedule was difficult. We now know only one thing for sure: a minibus left Coban for Lanquin at 9am from the corner of 3 Calle and 3 Avendia. Well, maybe two things: we also know that there is a pupusa stand on the corner at which you can buy breakfast. (Q5 per pupusa)

Just outside of Lanquin our minibus was met with a pickup truck that was going to Semuc Champey and a plethora of guides looking to be of assistance. In hindsight they were helpful, although I was incredibly suspicious of everything they said at the time. Its hard not to be. The pickup was going 'directo' to Semuc Champey (apparently) and cost Q25pp. This is, according to our hostel, the correct price (for tourists at least). It was raining cats and dogs and didn't look like it was going to clear up anytime soon, so into the back of this pickup truck we begrudgingly climbed. The 'directo' part turned out to be a lie. The road down to Semuc Champey is insanely bad. Unpaved, slippery, muddy and at that point, flooded. The truck bounced around like a kernel in a popcorn maker. It was very unenjoyable. Add to this the pouring rain. We're standing in the back of a pickup truck, jostling about, in a downpour. There is no doubt in my mind that a drown rat was in better shape than myself and my backpack were after 5 minutes. Everything we own (aka our bags) was getting soaked and our hands were slipping all over the wet rails as we tried to hold on. Finally, after 40 minutes (or a lifetime) I saw a sign that said “Semuc Champey 2kms” pointing to the right. I was very happy to see this sign, signalling the end to this most uncomfortable of journeys. And then we bumped right on past it, continuing on straight. NOOO!! And so on we went, in the wrong direction, in a torrential downpour on a road that was becoming increasingly non existent. Another 15 minutes on and we came to an empty clearing where we dropped off a big white bucket of something, turned around, and continued back towards Semuc Champey. Sigh. I hope that we had just delivered a bucket of liquid gold to a village of starving children because, otherwise, that detour most certainly didn't enhance my day, let alone further my endearment to Guatemala. 

When you're soaked, you're soaked, I suppose. You thankfully can't get more wet once you're drenched, and drenched we were. Right down to our skivvies. I dreaded opening our bags. It wasn't until we were finally dropped off at Greengos (after 1.5 hours and a whopping  total of 11kms), and greeted by a smiling English speaker that finally exhaled and smiled. It was still raining, but we had made it and were safely in a land where we could actually communicate with people (ie, The hotel staff), hang all our wet clothes and eat some warm yummy food.

Definitely in hindsight, I would have skipped Nebaj and Coban all together and taken a shuttle from Xela all the way to Lanquin. Sure, it would have been long, and maybe even involved a night in Antigua, but it would have likely been the better option for us.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Xela to Nebaj by Chicken Bus

Getting from Xela to Nebaj by chicken bus is super easy. Don't get me wrong, its a long day, but its easy and the scenery is spectacular.

We took the minibus (Q1.25pp) from near Parque Central to the Mall (Pradera) instead of the actual terminal stop. It is 2 stops later on the same route. You'll get out by a Pollo Campenaro and a Pizza Hut. The terminal (aka bus parking lot) is straight down the street to your right. We liked this option better because it saved us walking through the busy market with our bags. Why the 'terminal' stop is a large obstacle away from the actual terminal makes absolutely no sense. But, then again, many things in Guatemala make little sense.

From Xela we took a bus to Santa Cruz del Quiche (called just Quiche by most). It was easy to find the right bus in Xela by just asking people that were standing near buses. They'll always point you in the right direction. Our bus left at 9am. It took about 2.5 hours to get to Quiche (Q25pp).

From Quiche there were direct buses to Nebaj. Both of the big and minibus variety. The connection time was pleasantly short and that bus took about 2.5 hours as well. (Q 20pp).

We left Xela at 9am and were in Nebaj just after 2pm. So it was just over 5 hours, not including the minivan from Central Xela. We recommend grabbing a delicious bagel (Cheddar Pimento was our favourite) and maybe a cookie or two for the journey! They open at 6am for your convenience.

We referenced this helpful blog before we went: