With 5 weeks to travel in Central America, we really only had time for a bit of a snapshot view. We spent the first 3 weeks in Mexico and then a week each in Belize and Guatemala.
Mexico was absolute bliss to travel in compared to Madagascar... buses were big, comfortable, air-conditioned and had reclining seats! They had published timetables, you could book your ticket yourself online and the roads were tarmac! Trust me, after 3 months in Africa this was complete luxury!
We spent the first few days in Mexico city with serious jet lag having come from Africa. Wandered about in a jet lagged daze, then did a trip to visit the Teotihuacan pyramids, some of the largest pyramids in Mexico. It was a really impressive place, also managed to sample some Tequila along the way which was a bonus!
Spent 5 days in Oaxaca studying Spanish half a day each morning and doing the tourist stuff in the afternoons (visited Monte Alban, walked around Oaxaca, chilled out in the central square, etc). Mike hated every minute... Rona really enjoyed it. We learnt a lot and it was definitely the best thing to do with 4 months of Spanish speaking countries coming up!
We travelled south all the way to San Cristobal De Las Casas, which is up in the mountains. This involved an overnight bus and we both woke up with the cold.... slight niggling doubts about swine flu at this stage, but it went away in a couple of days so all was well! San Cristobal is a pretty little colonial style town with loads of churches, we went for a trip to the Sumidero Canyon where we did a boat trip through the canyon.
Then we headed off to Palenque to see the famous ruins, it´s a pretty spectacular place set in the middle of the jungle and next to some small waterfalls. There are huge pyramid-like structures and temples. We stayed at El Panchen, a great place in the middle of the jungle where we were treated to a live local band.
Did another overnight bus trip as Mexico is a big place and needed to cover a lot of ground. Went straight to Merida then Valladolid to see the archaeological site at Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza is an amazing place (although it was a little spoilt by the bus loads of tourists on day trips from Cancun... there must have been 30 buses there). It was one of the most spectacular sites we visited though.
After all this looking at ruins we decided it was time for a break and headed for the beach at Tulum. Tulum is a beautiful beach south of Cancun so not as busy. It was almost deserted when we were there but a bit expensive for our backpacking budget. We got almost a whole resort to ourselves which was great and indulged in some R&R, swimming, reading and chilling out by the beach.... of course we had to do the obligatory trip to the Tulum archaeological site whilst we were there, it is in a spectacular setting right next to the ocean and the whole site is covered in huge iguanas.
Headed south to Chetumal on the border of Belize, stayed there for the night, not a very exciting place. Set off early the next day to get the express bus across the border to Belize City. Bus didn´t turn up (even though we had bought tickets for it). Walked to another bus stop to get the local Beliza bus "chicken bus", first one broke down before we even left the terminal, so had to catch the normal bus (not the express), it stopped every 500 metres to pick up passengers and then dropped us off only half way to Belize City. Eventually got to Belize City at 5pm, having left our hotel at 9am and we only travelled about 100 miles!
On arrival jumped on the last water taxi out to the Cayes. We were going to stay on Caye Caulker for a couple of nights but it was such a relaxing place we stayed four. Just generally chilled out in hammocks, swam and went on a sailing / snorkelling tour one day. The snorkelling was great, saw turtles, sharks, rays and loads of fish.
Eventually had to drag ourselves back to the mainland where we went directly inland to San Ignacio. San Ignacio was hot, humid and reminded us of the Malaysian weather. So we headed off on a caving trip to get wet and cold... had to swim into the cave and wade through a river in the cave... great fun!
Time to leave Belize and cross the border into Guatemala. Managed to avoid paying the ¨entry fee¨ into Guatemala by demanding a receipt... headed south to Flores. Flores was a nice little town but completely deserted of tourists... think we discovered why the following day when we went on our ¨sunrise¨tour of Tikal! It´s fair to say there´s not much point in getting up at 4am to see the sunrise when there´s a torrential rainstorm happening! Got absolutely soaked. Tikal was an amzing place on a huge scale... once we dried out we could enjoy it, saw loads of spider monkeys and also some other little animcal which we forget the name of.
The next day we headed off to see our last Mayan ruin at Yaxha, very different to Tikal, hardly any other tourists and the site has had little restoration work and is still covered in jungle.
We headed south on the overnight bus via Guatemala City and Antigua to get to Lake Atitlan. Was a day of dramas, got ripped off... thought we were busying tickets for the big fancy bus and ended up on the scummy bus... arrived at 5am and had to wait 2 hours on the shuttle bus, arrived in Antigua to get a direct shuttle to the lake... but the shuttle didn´t turn up... eventually got the local ¨chicken¨buses, which was fine... but we got off at the wrong stop... which turned out to be 8kms too early! It´s fair to say the patience was wearing a bit thin by this point.
The lake is very pictureque and surrounded by volcanoes...
Spent a few days at the lake then headed back to Antigua for our final few days in Guatemala. We are flying out for Ecuador tomorrow and spend the first week in the Galapagos islands... can´t wait!