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My very long Trip Report

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Montreal, Canada
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My very long Trip Report

Thanks everyone for your help in planning what turned out to be a fantastic trip. Here's my report on how it went:

My family of five, including kids 12, 10 and 7, spent the first 3 nights in Antigua at the Casa Santo Domingo. The hotel is gorgeous, and it was great to have that pool for the kids, but I do not think I would stay there next time. The staff seemed a little ... mystified, particularly in comparison to the amazing service we had at the other spots we stayed in. We did a self-guided walking tour the first day, starting at the Cerro de la cruz and ending at the main plaza. I enjoyed visiting the ruins of the Capuchin convent the most- it was so peaceful. We had an excellent dinner at Bistro Cinq. The next day we were meant to climb Pacaya, but it erupted, so went hopped on the shuttle to the Finca Filadelphia and went mule riding. It was nice to be outside, and probably about what the kids could manage at that point, but I wouldn't rush back next time. I would have preferred to walk around Antigua some more- I suspect that town has multiple layers and that we only scratched the surface. We enjoyed visiting Nim Pot, the museums at CSD (the glass museum, especially), and sitting at a cafe on Fifth Avenue watching life go by. I also loved the textiles at Colibri, though they are not cheap.

We took the afternoon Avianca flight to Flores on our fourth day. In hindsight, I should have booked Peten at the beginning of our trip or the end so that we could eliminate a transfer back and forth to the airport, but I think there was some reason why I could not do this ... Oh yes- CSD would not allow me to change our reservation, even though it was made six months in advance! In any case, I think Avianca/Taca might be preferable to Tag, simply because it leaves from the International side of Aurora, and the planes looked bigger, which is a consideration if you- like me- dislike bumping around in the air.

Peten was out favourite part of the trip. We stayed at Nitun, which I have reviewed separately. I am so glad we did. We spent a full day at Tikal with a guide called Manuel (Monkey Tours) who did a great job- finishing with sunset on Temple 4. Tikal was not busy at all, particularly in the afternoon, before the sunset crew materialized. It was my fourth time at Tikal and it is still magical. We ate in El Remate on the way back to Nitun- a place called Las Orchuedias (sp?). It was pretty darn good for the jungle, though not as good as Lorena's cooking at Nitun. The next day we went to Yaxha with Bernie- lovely and even more tranquil than Tikal. On our final day in Peten we went to Ixpanpajul to zipline, using their free shuttle from Flores. The place is gorgeous, but they could not be less organized. They wanted us to wait for an hour and a half before ziplining because they didn't have enough guides, which we would have done if they could have suggested something else for us to do, or if we could have left the site and come back. But apparently we didn't have enough time to do the canopy bridge walk, and we could not horse back ride because there were no guides available for that either. So why did we make a reservation?! The woman behind the counter just pointed at some hammocks and told us to wait there. Finally a zipline guide materialized and brought us to the course, but I had to be a bit of a pushy guest for it to happen. Anyhow, it was fun (we were with a big group of Chapines having an awesome time and joking around with the kids), though for adults the canopy walk might even be of more interest. Just be prepared for some incompetence on the part of the staff.

We left Nitun reluctantly and transferred to the Lake, collecting my parents in Antigua en route. We rented a gorgeous house (Casa Colibri- review coming) in Santa Catarina Palopo, which I think is a fantastic base on the lake. It is much more tranquil than Pana, but close enough to get to the dock and grocery stores without requiring a lancha. We visited the market at Chichi the following day. We used a guide (Daniel, the concierge of Casa Colibri), which was actually kind of useful, because the market is overwhelming.We would have been fine without one, though.I know people go back and forth about whether it's worth it to visit Chichi on market day. I am glad we went- just for the sensory experience. The next day, my husband, daughter and I climbed Volcan San Pedro. I am a reasonably active 43-year old (I run a few times a week and practice Ashtanga yoga 3-4X a week) and it just about killed me. Was even worse for my poor husband. We were very glad we climbed it though, because it is true cloud forest up on top, and exquisitely beautiful. Expect to hobble around for days after!

We spent two days touring the lake on a private lancha, which cost $150 US a day. Highlights were San Juan Laguna, playing with kids in Jaibalito (a tiny, tiny village!), wandering through the local's market at San Lucas Toluman, admiring the gardens and ceramics in San Antonio Palopo. Villages I will probably not bother visiting next time are San Pedro and San Marcos. I would have liked a little more time in Santiago- the church there is very interesting, and we managed to miss the peace park with its murals depicting scenes from the war. We saw Maximon, though, which drove my very liberal catholic father to drinking vodka at lunch!

Other highlights on the Lake- visitng the Atitlan Nature Reserve, followed by lunch at the paradisiacal Hotel Atitlan, which is walking distance from the reserve.

On our last night, we observed the procession for the 2nd friday of Lent in Santa Catarina (except my dad, natch!). I do wish there was as much emphasis on education as there is on religion in this part of the world, however, from a detached point of view it was very beautiful.

Final thoughts- it might be worth taking Ducurol- we all got stomach bugs. There is a mild antibiotic they sell on the Lake whose name I will try to dig up if anyone is interested- locals recommend it for stomach issues and it's sold over the counter. It works. I felt safe the entire time (INGUAT (tourist police) was in evidence the entire trip, including on Volcan San Pedro), and would consider renting a car for our next visit. Although roads in the city can be a bit harry, the highways are great.

I was happy to have read up on Guatemala's recent history before visiting (Kinzer's "Bitter Fruit" and Wilkinson's "Silence on the Mountain", as well as having some background in Mesoamerican prehistory from university. In enriched our experience a lot. I was also happy to have met some people who were willing to freely discuss Guatemala's challenges- very different from when I visited in the 90s. I should also mention that I speak Spanish fluently and that our experience would have been different were I not able to translate for my family- with a few significant exceptions, we did not encounter english speakers.

Bethesda, MD
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1. Re: My very long Trip Report

Thanks for a very nice report!

I"ve been thinking about climbing San Pedro this summer, but I'm having second thoughts now, since I'm probably in about the same condition as your husband.

Seattle, Washington
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2. Re: My very long Trip Report

Sounds like a nice trip, staying in some of the higher-end lodging but still able to engage with your surroundings.

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Dukoral is an oral vaccine against cholera and enteropathogenic E, coli. It's approved for preventing both cholera and travelers' diarrhea in Canada and elsewhere, but only for cholera prevention in the USA. For enterotoxigenic E. coli diarrhea the reported preventive efficacy is about 65%. Since there are many other causes of travellers' diarrhea, the reported efficacy for this condition is only 20 to 50%, but still worth considering.

Immunization consists of two doses given one week apart, and protection against travellers' diarrhea begins about one week after the second dose. So, it's unlikely that taking it after you got to Guatemala did you much good. Dukoral is only available by prescription in the US, UK, and Canada. Assuming that "ducurol" is the same product, it may be marketed under a different spelling and available without prescription in Guate. I'm curious as to how much you paid for the stuff and whether it was kept refrigerated.

Lake Atitlan
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for Lake Atitlan
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3. Re: My very long Trip Report

Excellent trip report. I can never seem to get mine written in such detail, so I admire others who do. Thanks for mentioning that you felt safe traveling with your family. Your comments will help many families as they prepare for their spring break and summer holidays.

Be sure to come back again.

Montreal, Canada
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4. Re: My very long Trip Report

Didn't take Dukoral (my bad)- we took something else whose name escapes me, but my husband, an ED physician, will remember. It was cheap and available and seemed to do the trick. Did not require refrigeration.

My main issue with Dukoral is that it is so expensive, at least in Canada.

The Dalles, Oregon
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for Guatemala, Belize
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5. Re: My very long Trip Report

Thanks for posting! Glad you enjoyed your trip, so different from my way of travel. That's what makes these forums great!

BCA
usa
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6. Re: My very long Trip Report

Jennifer - thanks for sharing so many details of your trip. Gives me lots to think about for my family's upcoming trip in June.

We will also visit Antigua, the Lake, and Tikal. Your praise for Nitun and my quick look at TA reviews makes me question our decision to book at Tikal Lodge. The Tikal Lodge reviews are all mediocore - for the food, lodging, and the staff. The benefit is, of course, staying right in the jungle but the hospitality and FANS at Nitun sound really lovely! How was the transport to and from the park? We arrive from GC on an early 6:30 flight and have one night at the Inn and the second in Flores so we can get to the airport for a 8AM flight the next morning. (We need to be SURE to make this flight as we have an international flight home later in the afternoon.) Since it's June and the jungle with be hot and humid, I'm not sure how much time we will hike around the park. We thought of doing a sunset and sunrise tour but for some of the time we would spend resting at the Inn. Nitun sure sounds like a nicer place to be!! How long did it take to get there from the Flores airport?

We're hoping to do one volocano hike. Not sure to take the half day from Antigua and do Pacaya or from the Lake to do San Pedro? We're all in good shape and want some healthy activity but really don't want to take a full day.

what time did you leave for the Chichi market? I'd like to see it iand the morning seems less crazy. We're not that intersteed in extensive shopping but just the cultural experience. We LOVE local food markets wherever we travel.

I appreciate the book tips and also the reminder to bring antibiotics for stomach bugs. My husand is usually the one who has the sensitivity.

One final question - we are not Spanish speakers. How do you think that will impact our experience?

Thanks!!

Bethesda, MD
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7. Re: My very long Trip Report

You didn't ask, but I'd head back to GC late in the afternoon of that second day rather than spending the night in Flores. Otherwise, you run the risk of flight delays causing you to miss your flight home.

Montreal, Canada
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8. Re: My very long Trip Report

Staying at Nitun is a great idea- although if I had my heart set on seeing the sunrise from temple 4 there is something to be said for staying in the park (sunrise from temple 4 is not as impressive as the viewing platform faces east). One would have to leave Nitun very, very early to get to the top of the temple in time for sunrise! We spent from 10:30 until sunset in the park. It was a good amount for time for us.

We took the early morning flight back to GC from Nitun- Lorena had breakfast ready for us at 5:30. The lancha across the lake to Flores took about 20 minutes, and it was another 10 minutes to the airport. There was no danger of missing the flight, although I suppose if the boat engine flunked out we would have been in trouble. Then again, they could have driven us.

We hired a private driver and guide(Manuel) to get us to and from Tikal. Took 1.5 hours. No one minded the drive, but my kids are good car travellers, and my husband and I chatted with Manuel.

In terms of Chichi- we were staying about an hour away, in Santa Catarina. No one felt like getting up with the morning larks, so we didn't arrive until 10. I suppose if we had gotten there at 7 it would have been calmer, but we had plenty of clam where we were coming from, and enjoyed the chaos. It helps being significantly taller than the crowds!

Re: antibiotics- they sell them OTC at any pharmacy on the lake, and it seems to be the right one (at least they worked for us- and fast, too!). They cost a few bucks. Depending on how you have structured your trip, you might want to wait and pick them up down there if needed.

Have a wonderful trip!

Montreal, Canada
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9. Re: My very long Trip Report

In terms of Volcan San Pedro- you will probably be fine if you are in good shape. But don't forget the altitude (I come from sea level, more-or-less, so it was an added challenge). Take it slow, and don't be disappointed if there is no view at the top- it clouds over quite early in the day, but the cloud forest is gorgeous and the ascent is still worth it. Expect sore quads and calves afterwards!

Re Spanish- at Nitun you will have no problem as everyone but one staff member speaks excellent English. Antigua should be fine as well. I did not encounter much English on the Lake, but then again, we weren't looking for it. It is a very generous culture in my experience and people seem quite patient and accommodating so you should be fine.

Montreal, Canada
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10. Re: My very long Trip Report

Oops- I meant sunSET is not as impressive from Temple 4 as sunrise. It's still worth it, IMO.