Cruise: Guatemala

Our next port stop after Costa Rica was Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala. We were booked for the Lake Atitlan tour. After we boarded our buses (this was a popular tour, four buses) and hit the road, we immediately noticed a big improvement in the roads. Very modern, we were on a divided highway much of the way. Someone asked our guide about the roads and he commented that a lot of work had been done in recent years on infrastructure such as roads. Definitely made for a more pleasant ride to the lake.

At one point, we pulled over so people could take pictures of some nearby volcanoes. As we returned to the buses, some people noticed that we had a police escort with the buses. Our guide explained that cruise lines require that the tour companies provide the escorts, although our guide said they really weren’t necessary.

We arrived at San Lucas Toliman, a city on the south shore of the lake. A volcanic eruption 85,000 years ago created a huge crater that eventually became Lake Atitlan. The lake is 50 sq mi in area and over 1100 ft deep. The lake is surrounded by several villages along its shores along with three volcanoes, two of them active, on the south edge of the caldera.

We boarded two boats for a leisurely cruise past a couple villages before arriving at Panajachel. As we pulled up to the shore, a swarm of local people, mostly women, poured onto the beach. The villages are primarily Mayan, and the main products to sell to tourists are various hand woven products. As we made our way up to the hotel for lunch, we had to constantly tell people that we weren’t interested in buying anything. Although they were all very pleasant and wouldn’t persist after you said no, we had to keep saying no over and over again.

Lunch at the hotel was fantastic. The beef on the grill smelled wonderful, and it tasted even better. After we finished lunch, we rested for a bit, not really wanting to face the hordes again that we could see milling about outside the hotel entrance. We made our way back to the shore and our waiting boats, passing the same folks selling their wares although the prices had dropped significantly in the meantime. We climbed back on board the boat to find that several of the locals were on-board as well, mostly kids, to keep selling. Some people made some last minute buys, and then we were on our way back to San Lucas Toliman. The wind had really picked up while we were in Panajachel, so the ride back was a bit rougher ,and I nearly lost my hat (thankfully it flew back and fell back on deck before blowing over the side).

Back on the road in our bus heading for Puerto Quetzal, we found ourselves stuck in slow-moving traffic. We would stop for a several minutes before edging our way forward, only to be stopped again. Eventually we made it past the congestion and were told that a couple hours earlier there had been an accident involving a truck that had blocked the two-lane road. The accident had been cleared, but things were still jammed up when we arrived on the scene. It became apparent that we probably weren’t going to be back to the ship on time. Since this was an organized tour, we didn’t have to worry about being left behind, since the ship will wait for all tours to return.

We made it back to Puerto Quetzal and were back on the ship shortly before 6 PM, headed straight for our cabin, and changed for dinner. No time for a shower or anything more than washing your hands and face. There were a fair number of us straggling into dinner late that evening. We left port about an hour behind schedule which became more of an issue for our arrival in Hualtulco, Mexico, the following day than we expected. I’ll save that for the next post.

Overall I found Guatemala to be quite beautiful, and the people seemed very friendly. On our drive we passed many small cities and villages on our drive to the lake and back. Many of these villages were nothing more than large collections of tin shacks, very poor. Yet nearly everyone smiled and waved as we passed by. If I were living in the same conditions, I’m not sure how friendly I’d be to a bus full of Americans on vacation, but it was very welcoming.