Our 3 day stay in Quetzaltenango was wonderful. We fell in love with the city, the local vibe and the market place offering Mayan souvenirs at very affordable prices. Of course we got ourselves some bracelets and hairbands, our friend Mag, about to leave back home to the UK, even bought a pair of really nice blue trousers, very traditional Mayan cloth and I got prepared for our language course the following week and bought a colourful book cover. We were looking forward to doing a language course for quite some time now and finally decided on Antigua after hearing so many nice things about it. Quetzaltenango offers a lot of courses, too, and is home to some excellent language schools. Also a little less touristy I`d say.
Upon arrival at the busy bus terminal of the town, we were confronted with thousands of people either getting on or off different buses – there were so many of them! – street vendors, taxi drivers looking for clients and an unbelievable noise! The place was so crowded and everyone was talking and shouting that I could barely hear my own voice. We first of all just wanted to get out of the crowd. Knowing that taking a taxi from a bus station or taxi stand is usually a lot pricier than getting one from the street, we walked a few blocks and then got into one that took us all the way to the centre, where our hostel was located, for as little as 30 Q!
There are many good hostels around Quetzaltenango. Ours didn`t provide a communal kitchen, but offered excellent double rooms at very low rates and good wifi throughout the property.. Their food in the restaurant was also really tasty and not overpriced, plus the room rates include free breakfast every morning!
Xela, which is the local name for the town of Quetzaltenango, doesn`t have too many sights or interesting places on offer, however, serves as an excellent base for wonderful hikes in the surrounding nature. There are a couple of volcanoes and mountains that can be explored on a tour, including the highest point of Central America!
There are many good tour operators around town, but one is especially remarkable. The non-profit organisation Quetzaltrekkers raises money for a local school and has a bunch of very motivated volunteers working eagerly to make life for those school kids a lot better. All their guides are volunteers and all the money, without exception, funds their projects. The tour rates are below average and they have a lot of donated gear that you can rent for free in case you`re lacking e.g. a pair of hiking boots. They are always happy about new donations keeping their stock on a good level and are very organised and focused in making your experience unforgettable.
Being travellers themselves, the guides know what to look out for, how you are feeling and they are always up for a chat and a good joke.
My friend Mag pointed them out to me, showing me their website (click here) and all the different tours they have on offer. Not being a very experienced hiker, aka never been hiking before, I wasn`t too keen on the 3-day hike she was suggesting. Three days of hiking plus two freezing nights high up in the mountains – I really wasn`t sure if that was what I wanted. Though, I did agree to come to the Quetzaltrekkers office with her the next day to take a look and talk to the guides about possible hikes. There was another one that sounded really interesting, going up to the highest point in Central America with a view over Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (click here)! However, the days we were there, they were not able to do that one, and they already had a pretty large group for the next 3-day hike to Lago Atitlan, the one which Mag was really interested in doing. It was going to be a very special hike to all of them as it was the last hike for one of their volunteers whose 3-month stay with the company was coming to an end. The volunteers are all working and living closely together and form a strong bond, which is another point that makes hiking with them a great experience – it feels more like friends you`re spending time with rather than guides to whom you don`t have any connection.
After a moment of realising how lucky I was to be able to go on such a memorable adventure, we agreed to sign up for their upcoming trip to Lago Atitlan, which gave us two more days to explore Xela.
The evening before the hike there was a mandatory pre-hike meet-up at their office where we got to know our fellow adventurers and the other guides. Everyone got some of the shared food to carry up the mountains and was able to choose some of the donated gear in case you were lacking anything. I was in desperate need of some proper hiking boots and a sleeping bag and mat for the cold nights. They were even providing backpacks and water shoes for the rivers we were going to be crossing, rain coats and so much more. In case I ever had something to spare, I would definitely give it to them. There also was a truck organised to take the rest of our stuff all the way to San Pedro at Lake Atitlan for those who weren`t going to stay any more nights in Xela. We were planning on relaxing at the lake for a few days after the hike so we put in a few additional Quetzales and used the truck transfer for everything we weren`t going to take with us hiking.
The next morning, babe, Mag and I woke up early to meet the Quetzaltrekkers crew at their office for breakfast. It exceeded my expectations – there were scrambled eggs, a massive fruit salad, potatoes and strong coffee! Just what you need before a 3-day-hike. After breakfast and a cigarette we put on our backpacks and got going. I can`t tell how long we walked for, but we were to catch a chicken bus from a little outside town (at least that`s what it felt like). I was so hot in my sweater that I had bought for the trip – traditional Mayan clothing – the day before at Xela`s Artisanal Market. When we arrived at the bus stop I was already thinking – honestly? That`s what I signed up for? That`s so bloody exhausting!…
We got on the bus and after a very bumpy hour or so we got off and finally started hiking. The landscape was incredibly stunning from the beginning on. So green, so many fields around and indigenous people with donkeys passing by from time to time. I couldn`t believe I was actually doing this.
If you are interested in doing the same trip (which I would highly recommend!) then click here for the exact schedule.
We took a couple of small breaks on the way for everyone who needed a wee in the bush and for the slower hikers to catch up with the fast ones. There always was one guide in the front, one on the middle and two in the back to make sure no one got lost. Among the things everyone got to carry, there was some awesome trailmix, tons of veggies, beans, bread, tortillas, guacamole, spaghetti, a coffee and tea kit, and probably a lot more yummy things I`ve already forgotten about!
The first evening babe and I were sharing a room with another Berlin couple (sharing a room means sharing an empty room with our mats on the floor) and got to use a traditional temazcal, which was just what we needed after a long day of hiking. The second night we slept in another really nice home where we were all sharing a big room between us (there were like 25 of us!) and had a shower outside in the rain when it was pouring down and the house didn`t have any running water that evening. I can only recommend doing that at least once in your life – it was so cool and refreshing! There was a big fire we all sat around after dinner and grilled marshmallows – can life get any better? We all happily supported the local community by getting way too many beers from a local “tienda” nearby and shared stories from each others lifes and two of the guides were playing the guitar and singing! We went to bed early, but extremely happy – I would never have imagined the whole group to be so nice and chilled – it was epic! Not only were we the biggest group Quetzaltrekkers ever had, but also the best group we could have wished for!
The early start on the last day was very challenging. We got up at 3am and started hiking right away. I was really struggling not to fall too far behind. However, the sunrise we were about to watch made up for everything! The sun was rising behind the mountains and volcanoes around Lago Atitlan, the guides heated up water and we had porridge and coffee for breakfast (there even was peanut butter!). After that we started hiking down towards the shores of the lake where we stopped at a coffee plantation to try some samples and got on the back of two trucks afterwards that took us to San Pedro where we ended the trip with an awesome lunch and jumping into the lake from the restaurant terrace!
Our stuff that we had put on the truck before the hike arrived like an hour after lunch and that was the point when everyone was kind of separating going towards the different hostels in San Pedro or taking the boat or the bus to other destinations.
It was honestly really sad to say goodbye to everyone but also really nice that this was not the last time we saw most of them. The same evening we met up with a few of the girls for drinks and ended up sitting at a bar with like 80% of all the hikers as everyone seemed to bump into everyone – okay to be fair, San Pedro is a small place. We had a really cool last evening watching lightning over the lake getting slightly drunk and just enjoying what we had accomplished. The hike was everything but easy, but so worth it!
Have you ever done such a long hike? Have you ever heard about Quetzaltrekkers or even hiked with them before? I would love to hear your stories!
Love, Jo ♥