Central America – Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras
Here I am back from yet another, breath taking trip like fresh from the oven. I wanted to capture all the experience before I forget any bit of information. We travelled to a part of Central America – Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Belize.
Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Central America is the southern portion of the continent of North America.
We got an opportunity to travel to Peurto Rico for a week on work, and thought when we travel so far, why not extend the holiday and cover up few places. That’s how Central America struck our mind since we don’t have to worry about visa. We were so busy with work and other routine, that we could not plan anything for the trip. We just booked a car from Hertz for 10 days and a flight ticket to and fro Guatemala City and took off. We did not have a Hotel, no idea about the plan, with that landed in Guatemala.
Best time to visit:
The best time to visit Guatemala is during the dry season, which runs from November to April. However, the country has a pleasant climate that lends itself to year-round trips, with temperatures between 72°F and 90°F.
The rainy season typically lasts from May to October, but in some regions it can continue until November or even as late as December – particularly around Petén, which is hot and stuffy all year round.
We travelled in mid of May, and still it was fine and nice to travel. It was little hot in Copan ruins and Tikal ruins.
Transport across country:
You will be able to get a Chicken bus from anywhere to anywhere in the country. These buses run across the countries from Guatemala to Honduras to El Salvador.
A chicken bus is a colloquial English name for the colorful modified and decorated US school bus and transit bus in Guatemala.
These busses connect all of Guatemala’s villages, towns, and cities. It is the main form of local transport usually the cheapest option for travelling for any distance.
There are a couple of reasons why they’re called chicken buses. One may be because passengers are crammed into the buses like chickens crammed into a truck en route to market. Another reason may be because passengers frequently carry chickens – and other livestock – as well as their suitcases with them on the journey.
These are the colorful chicken busses that connect all the small towns and villages of the country.
How safe is to travel:
Yes it is safe to travel in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The people were friendly and we didn’t have any bad experiences. Still there were instances that we had to be a little carful.
You need to take the usual precautions as you would in any country. Don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position. Don’t walk home alone at night, don’t have loads of expensive things on show.
I would like share information which will be useful for many, i.e. if you have a B1/B2 USA visa, there are 50 countries which you can enter without visa. Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, , Cuba, Jamaica, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, etc…Theses are few, but there are few more in the list.
Throughout Central America Spanish is a common Language spoken. In Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador apart from Spanish, Mayan language is spoken.
In Belize English is the language spoken. So don’t be surprised to see everyone speaking a good English in Belize. Belize, the country was colonized by the British in the 1600s and eventually became the Colony of British Honduras, which is why English became the official language. In 1981, Belize won full independence, but the official language of English stuck.
Guatemala – Quetzal
Honduras – Lempira
El Salvador – US Dollars used all over the Country
Belize – Belize Dollar (BZ$2 = US$1)
Finally this was complete route that we took and was a total of 1500 km.
The Rental Car zone was just outside the Guatemala City airport, and we picked up the car from Hertz. We decided to go to Antigua first. Antigua served as the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
That night we stayed in Antigua, the whole town of Antigua was so beautiful. Few things to do there are Hike to Pacaya Volcano, and day trip to Lake Atitlan. Just walking around the town center itself was a nice experience.
Group make Holy Week carpet (alfombra) in path of procession using wooden or cardboard stencils and dyed sawdust in Spanish colonial town & UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spectators admire carpet & hawkers sell goods in street of Santa Catalina Arch. Ruins of Santa Catalina convent remain to right of arch. We were lucky to see the holy week carpet.
People make Holy Carpet like this in turns during procession.
Picture of Santa Catalina Arch
It was once the capital of the country, until a volcanic eruption ruined the city and they had to move it to what is now “Guatemala city”.Antigua is a colonial style city that’s bursting in cultural, amazing views, delicious food and plenty of drinking opportunities.
Things to do in Antigua:
Few things that you can plan to do are San Francisco Church, The Acatenango Volcano Hike, Volcano Pacaya, Day Trip to Lake Atitlan, Santa Catalina Arch, Sunset At Cerro De La Cruz, Shop At One Of The Artisan Markets, Walk Around The Cobble Streets…
Next day we decided to do the Ruta de las Flores, El Salvador. Ruta de las Flores is one of the most famous and visited destinations in El Salvador. Hidden along the Apaneca hills in the west side of the country, includes a group of picturesque towns where is possible appreciate the local and peaceful life of salvadorean people.
The Ruta de Las Flores is a winding route of about 20 miles that goes through coffee plantations and brightly colored colonial towns and colonial architecture. The five main towns on the Ruta de Las flores are Salcoatitán, Nahuizalco, Apaneca, Ataco and Juayua.
We started by 11 am after breakfast in Antigua. Border crossing towns are, Chinamas and Valle Nuevo. The border crossing was quiet simple, so no hassle.
Note: There were lorries piled up for 2 kms, if we are driving by car we can just take the left side of the road and drive to the entrance of passport control directly without any need to wait in the queue of lorries. We got this information in one of the blog and it really helped us by saving a lot of time.
A picture of Immigration office between Guatemala and El Salvador.
That night we decided to stay in Juayúa. This was a quaint little town, hardly few streets, and managed to find a restaurant for dinner. Nice people and hospitable people. We had a nice experience there in the restaurant, the owner of the place had come and had a chat with us for an hour and explained how he worked in USA for 30 years and returned back to this small town to settle, how happy he is to settle in that small town, music played till late night, and people were dancing in open area…all this made the place stay in our mind.
That night we were trying to find a place to stay, but could not find one. Drove around and came back to the restaurant and the restaurant owner came to our rescue and came with us to an air bnb and that helped us to get a place to stay that night.
The climate of this region is fresh being this one of the main reasons that both national and international travelers seek this destination. Local traditions, an important coffee culture, adventure activities, delicious restaurants and local markets are some of the attractions you can enjoy in the area.
A picture with restaurant owner in Juayúa.
What I noticed in Central American Countries:
One thing I should mention here is, we saw Police and Securities having guns all over the country. Even a petrol bunk security had guns across the country. On a funnier note I should mention one thing, Ravi said San Salvador always ranked top consistently… Hearing this sentence I thought, in an Olympic or something it ranked top but then he continued saying in crime it consistently ranked in top list. Then I could relate why all securities in shops, petrol bunk etc… were carrying guns for guarding.
Next day we decided to check out Santa Ana volcano. The Santa Ana volcano is known for its stunning blue/green crater lake that’s in the middle of the crater once you reach the top. It’s located within the Cerro Verde national park.
It takes 4 hrs to trek Santa Ana, we wanted to trek that day and then continue to Copan ruins in Honduras. We reached Santa Ana National Park at 9 30 am, by then they said the group has left for the day and there is no option to trek that day. We requested a lot but they were strict and told to come the next day. We dint have an option other than to quit, since our plan was to spend only a day in that place. So we decided to give it a pass, Ravi was upset but I was little happy, since I was too tired by now to trek.
Note: If anyone planning to trek Santa Ana, make sure you are there by 8 am morning. The group leaves by 8 30 am, and after which it is not possible to trek.
Since we missed Santa ana, we decided to trek the San Salvador volcano. San Salvador volcano was 3 hrs drive from Santa Ana, and the drive to the volcano was very nice. The trek was 30 mins up and 20 mins down. We spent around 1 hr on top and got a nice view of the volcano.
The San Salvador Volcano is a stratovolcano situated northwest to the city of San Salvador. The crater has been nearly filled with a relatively newer edifice, the Boquerón volcano. San Salvador is adjacent to the volcano and the western section of the city actually lies among its slopes.
Due to this close proximity, any geological activity of the volcano, whether eruptive or not, has the potential to result in catastrophic destruction and death to the city. Despite this, the volcano is iconic of the city.
In this picture you can see the crater of San Salvador volcano in a circle down the valley.
That evening we reached Suchitoto, which was a beautiful small town. There is nothing much to do in that town. Just walk around the city center, snack on papusa, their local food, clicking pics… One of the best places I would say in the whole trip.
Suchitoto, El Salvador is El Salvador’s equivalent to the Antigua of Guatemala, expect much smaller and much less touristy. There aren’t exactly many accommodation options up in Suchitoto, so most people opt to explore the colonial town on a day trip from the capital.
It has become an important tourist destination partly due to its well conserved colonial architecture and cobblestone roads that provide a sense of Spanish colonial living.
View of Suchitoto gobble stone roads.
Next day we drove to Copan. Copan lies in the border of Honduras and Guatemala. The border crossing took some time, since in Honduras entry the procedure was quiet long due to Covid. You have to do a health check up first and after which immigration process is done.
Copan Ruins are located in western Honduras, just 14 kilometers from the El Florido border with Guatemala. For many years, Copan Ruins have been famous for its magnificent Mayan ruins, declared by UNESCO as Archaeological World Heritage Site in 1980. It was a beautiful place, and need at least 6 hrs to walk around the whole area.
View of Copan Ruins
Discovered in 1570 Copan is one of the most important remnant sites of the Mayan civilization. The vestiges of the city and the imposing public squares reveal the three main periods of its development, before the city was abandoned at the beginning of the ninth century A.D.
The Plaza of the Hieroglyphic Staircase has a monumental staircase, one of the exceptional structures of the Mayan culture. On the 10-meter-wide steps, there are more than 1,250 individual glyphs, which constitute the longest known Mayan inscription. After the city was abandoned, it was swallowed by the jungle which helped its conservation.
From Copan we wanted to go to Tikal, Guatemala next. Since it’s a long drive we decided to stay half way and checked Rio Dulce in Guatemala is a nice place by the lake side, so decided to do a stopover that night. We reached Rio Dolce by 11 pm in the night. Ravi had booked for a jungle lodge in the lake side, this is one among very few places to stay in that area.
Here I have to narrate one incident which I can’t miss, we reached at night 11.30 to this jungle resort where Ravi had booked for that night, and it’s a jungle resort right so it has to be in a deserted place. The place looked not only deserted but also haunted. There was a big gate in front of us that was locked. We shouted and no one was there to open.
Image of the jungle lodge
Ravi told me lock the car and wait in the car. He jumped over the gate and went inside. I was all alone sitting in the car in the mid night, thinking of the country consistently ranking top in crime, and all securities holding guns were flashing my mind. It was 10 mins, 20 mins, 30 mins Ravi did not return. I can’t even imagine getting down and checking for him in the midnight in a haunted place like that. I started to shout his name… no response. Finally I could hear a voice nearing me. Ravi and the security guy came, and opened the door.
We drove inside it was almost 1 km to walk inside and there were huts here and there. We parked the car in a parking area and picked up our luggage and started walking on a bridge, with back waters all over. All the huts were built above back waters. The security guy walked with a torch and Ravi followed him, I was literally running behind them without any gap between them and myself.
While walking on the bridge that guy was flashing the torch in the back waters and was looking into the water suspiciously, for me the movie ‘anaconda’ which was shot in Amazon river flashed. I was thinking is he looking for one in the water. This area was no different from the amazon area. We went into the wooden hut, which was built above back waters.
Room looked decent; I had to use the restroom after the long drive, ran to the rest room and saw there was a scorpion sitting in the bathroom. I was so scared, called the guy and showed him. He killed it and threw in into the water outside the room. I told him to check thoroughly if there are any more. He pulled the bed spread and checked under the bed. I thought, gone… that night sleep is gone for me.
That whole night I could not sleep in that room. Next day morning woke up saw outside, the place looked very different and nice in the morning. Their breakfast was too good. Sat on a table facing the lake and relaxed and enjoyed the breakfast.
Note: All these Central America places, plantain fry was too good. It was served in all the breakfast. One has to try this if you visit the place.
Now you can imagine how the place would have been in the night.
Next we headed to Tikal. It was a long drive of 8 hrs from Rio Dulce. But the drive was good with nice picturesque view. Last 1 hr drive to Tikal was completely a jungle drive, it was too good to drive in a jungle by sun set time, listening to the animals screeches, and a slight drizzle. We reached by 8 pm to ‘Tikal Jungle Lodge’, which was one of the best places in Tikal. Did I say the best in that area, actually only 2 lodges are there in Tikal area and this is the best out of those. Went and checked the room, and it was very nice, and clean. Just thought wow I should sleep well today at least, there I see a scorpion again, and this time right under my bed.
For once I thought these Jungle Lodges, have a scorpion farm and grow the scorpions and leave one in each room to give a feel of Jungle Lodge. I called the guard, and he was cool, killed it threw it and said, what else you expect in a jungle laughing… But by then I was too tired after 6 days of continuous driving, walking, without much break, even a snake on my bed wouldn’t have disturbed my sleep. That night slept nicely.
This lodge was just 500 m from the entrance of Tikal ruins. Next day morning we headed to Tikal. The whole Tikal area to walk will be 6 hrs in a relaxed pace.
View of full Tikal area from top of a viewing platform.
The Tikal ruins are the central attraction of Tikal National Park, which was established in the 1950s and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The cost of entry fee is 22 USD.
In the heart of the jungle, surrounded by lush vegetation, lies one of the major sites of Mayan civilization, inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. The ceremonial centre contains superb temples and palaces, and public squares accessed by means of ramps. Remains of dwellings are scattered throughout the surrounding countryside.
It’s thought that there are over 3000 temples in areas still not discovered. But archaeologists don’t want to recover everything as they want to keep the history a mystery too. During your visit to the Tikal Mayan ruins, you’ll actually be greeted with a few viewing platforms, and one will show you the vast forest and jungle that surrounds you.
Star Wars Movie shoot:
Tikal Temple IV (which was the tallest pyramid in the Mayan world). This is also known for being the Star Wars temple because you can see the The Millenium Falcon shooting out from the temple peaks as it appeared as part of the rebel base during “A New Hope”. The views are well worth the climb.
View from top of Temple 4. Star Wars movie shot view.
Plaza view from top of a Temple.
How we were racing against time:
Here I have to mention one more incident, so finished Tikal around 5 pm, thought of going to Flores and stop over there for that night. But Belize border was just 30 km from Tikal, so a thought flashed; why not just enter Belize, Benque Viejo town which is 2 km from the immigration. Quick decision we took a U turn from Flores and drove to Belize/ Guatemala immigration. We reached the Guatemala immigration by 7 30 pm. We parked the car in a petrol bunk in the Guatemala side, since Belize does not allow other country registration vehicles. We said the petrol bunk guy we will come back by 10 pm and pickup the vehicle.
Note: In Belize they don’t allow the car from Gautemala. When hiring a car in Guatemala, the road permit is given to El Salvador, Gautemala and Hondurus. So if you have to go to Belize, you need to park the car in Guatemala side of immigration and have to walk across and take other mode of transport.
We heard from people the immigration closes by 10 pm, so we thought good that we have atleast 2.5 hrs in Belize to go to the town have dinner and return back. I just wanted to be double sure, and checked with the Guatemala immigration officer what time the office closes and he said 9 pm, that leaves us with 1.5 hrs to return back. Still we decided to go for it. We cleared the Guatemala immigration and went to Belize side for clearing the immigration, and there they said they are open till 10 pm, still it doesn’t help us, since Guatemala side it closes by 9 pm, and we had to pick up the car that night from the petrol bunk knowing the reputation of the country (remember country ranks consistetnly first in crime).
Shot of J C Pizza guys handing over the pizza.
We crossed immigration and step in the land of Belize successfully. In that one hr, we had thought of going to Benque Viejo town which is 2 km from the border, have dinner and come back. There were very less transport available at that time, so hitch hiked in the boot of the taxi which was leaving. Got down in the town and the best pizza place in that area was, J C Pizza. Went there ordered a pizza and packed it, since we dint have time to eat it there. We thought we will clear the immigration come back to Guatemala and in a relaxed way eat the pizza. But we did not get any transport back to the Immigration area, and hardly we had 10 mins left to 9 pm. Thankfully the pizza guys, said they will drop us in the immigration place and in 2 scooters they dropped us. Finally crossed the border and was back in Guatemala, and sat in a road side platform and ate the pizza and headed to Flores.
The people of Belize were very nice and hospitable saying that for us the whole Belize country was that J C Pizza and people there, and they very were very good.
Next we headed to Flores. Flores town is an island on Lago Petén Itzá, connected to land by a causeway, on the other side of which lie the twin towns Santa Elena and San Benito.
For many, the main reason to visit Flores is its proximity to Tikal, the most famous Mayan ruins in Guatemala, or as a starting point for trips around Petén. But the city itself is a wonder — dense with colonial, red-roofed buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, a historic church and Spanish plaza, and restaurants that are easy to stumble upon walking the city’s charming streets. Most people will find that this island city is more than just a take-off point, but a memorable attraction in itself.
We were surprised to see how the town is full of music filled pubs, restaurants, and happening streets. It was a lively place. In the morning it was even more beautiful place, with lake side restaurants.
From here we had to reach to Guatemala City, our flight was at 2 pm in the afternoon the day after, so decided to have a quick stopover in Coban that night and reach Guatemala city day after by 11 am. By now we were too tired of 18 days of hectic travel.
That day I had told Ravi to drive for some time, and took rest in the passenger seat. I dozed off for a minute, woke up by the noise of car crashing in some area. I woke up and noticed the car was going in the left side of the road instead of right, and was going through bushes. Then I realized Ravi dozed off while driving. Then he woke up by my shouting and got back to track. We stopped the car and had a long breath. How lucky we were that no vehicle came in opposite direction. We felt like a second chance was given to us in life.
Life lesson learnt in this trip: Its common that people feel sleepy while driving, and they stretch a little thinking they will stop and rest when they find a nice place to rest. But you don’t know when your body will give up. So if you feel sleepy immediately pull over and stop the car. This is a life lesson we learnt in this trip.
Palacio Nacional de la Cultura
That night we stopped in Coban, which was a small town on the way and left for Guatemala City next day. Coban was just a stopover place. Found a small simple place to stay that night and left next day morning early and reached Guatemala City by 12 pm by afternoon.
Since we had 2 hrs extra, we went to the down town of Guatemala City spent one hr there and finally reached the airport. Dropped the car, and checked into the flight, sat in the aircraft, thanking the almighty for a second chance in life…