Back on the Road: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala to Chiapas, Mexico

We’re back on the road!!! After 2 months in one place on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, we were overdue to start making tracks toward home. We’ve been on the road for a few days already and are currently back in San Cristobal de Las Casas (Chiapas, MX). But before getting to our latest road tripping adventures, I’ll share a little bit about our last week on the lake.

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We had originally planned to leave Lake Atitlan on March 24th and do a little touring around Guatemala before re-entering Mexico. That plan was scratched when we discovered that Easter fell on April 1st. In Latin America, Easter (Semana Santa) is a HUGE deal. The entire week from Palm Sunday to Easter Monday is one big celebration. It’s a really exciting holiday to experience in Latin American but not a good time to be moving around. Our friends in Guatemala convinced us to stay put and spend Good Friday enjoying the festivities in the communities around the lake. An extra week on Lake Atitlan… twist our arms! It wasn’t hard to convince us to stay and we are SO glad that we did.

On Palm Sunday, Guatemalan tourists began arriving at Lake Atitlan en masse. As the week wore on, the boats became increasingly jam-packed (even more than usual!), preparations in the villages began and the hotels and restaurants filled up. Good Friday is the biggest day of celebration. In the streets, residents in each village build elaborate, artistic alfombras (carpets) made out of brightly coloured saw dust, grasses, flowers and fruits. Shortly after the carpets are complete, a large religious procession passes through the village, trampling the alfombras. It’s devastating to watch the hours of dedication and beautiful art destroyed but the Guatemalans don’t seem to mind. We spent the morning and early afternoon with our Pasajcap friends, experiencing the festivities in the village of San Pedro. We then moved on to the village of San Juan where our friends Sheila and Brian invited us to watch the night procession and stay over at their place. The procession and alfombras in San Juan were spectacular and the whole experience really blew us away!

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San Pedro Parade_Fotor

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Carpet w Candle Night_Fotor

By mid-week after Semana Santa, we figured it would be safe to venture back out on the roads. After 8 weeks of not driving, we had completely forgotten how brutal the roads are in Guatemala. We bounced and rattled our way around the lake to the big switchback up the mountain. The Pan-American Highway between the lake and the border is in terrible condition – chunks of road are missing and some potholes just can’t be avoided. After 5 hours of slow and difficult driving, we decided to call it quits and spend the night at a quaint family-owned campground a couple of hours from the Mexican border.

The border crossing was uneventful, which is the best kind of crossing. It was a short driving day and we arrived at Lago Colon in Chiapas (MX) just after noon. Lago Colon was a fantastic find and can be described as an all-natural Mexican waterpark. There are little lagoons, pools and waterfalls throughout the site and getting to the far side of the site requires driving through 3 big streams. We were worried about Sally getting across the streams but she handled it like a pro and it was SO MUCH FUN. Palapas are set-up throughout the area for family picnics. Vendors sell fruity drinks, Mexican candies, beer and fresh fruit. Large families of Mexicans visit for weekends and days off and cook up elaborate picnic meals. We happily set up camp at the far end of the area and relaxed in the shade, drank weird but delicious Mexican spicy smoothies and swam in the pools.

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Sunset @ Colon_Fotor

Walter was not allowed in the pools but quickly found his own entertainment – picking up and eating bits of chicken carcasses, which were strewn (by birds we think) all over the parking lot. We tried to keep him from picking food up off the ground but it was next to impossible. Eventually we had to put him in the van because we were losing the chicken battle. The next morning I had planned to take some photos and enjoy a little hike while we still had the place all to ourselves. Instead, I woke up at 4:30 AM to Walter vomiting up everything he had eaten off the parking lot. At first I felt really sorry for him but after the 3rd projectile vomit episode in the van, I was worried but NOT sympathetic. I spent most of the morning cleaning the van and had time for only a short walk before it was time to leave. Walter was feeling much better by the walk and decided to roll in the mud beside the pools… ARGH – WALTER!

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Our next stop was San Cristobal de Las Casas. You might remember this destination from our blog during the trip south. Despite recognizing it’s charms, we had expressed disappointment with the city and weren’t planning to stay very long during this second visit. Maybe it’s that there are less gringos here this time or that there’s currently a vibrant Mexican holiday in the city (Feria), but the place has a totally different vibe. We’ve been loving the delicious Mexican food, enjoying the colourful market and spending a lot of time on the pedestrian streets.  It’s also been fun to spend some time with our friends Dean and Laynni, who also happen to be visiting the city.  San Cristobal is growing on us and we will likely be back in the future.

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Busy Street San Cris_Fotor

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Lessons Learned:

  • There are times – like when your dog is sick – that living in a van can really suck, no matter how beautiful your surroundings.
  • When Google Maps gives you estimated driving times for Guatemala, take that time and multiply by 1.5… at least!

Pro Camper Tips:

  • The Familio Mauricio campground in Guatemala is an easy place to camp for the night just before or after crossing the border. The nightly rate is 20Q (~ $3 CDN), there is a little restaurant/store on site and a friendly family owns it.
  • Lago Colon is a beautiful place to spend a night or two in Mexico near the border. The daily rate (including camping overnight) is 30 p (~ $2CDN) and the lagoons and waterfalls are gorgeous. If you have a hungry dog – watch for chicken carcasses! Also, this would be a place to avoid on the weekends – it can get REALLY busy.

4 thoughts on “Back on the Road: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala to Chiapas, Mexico

    1. Thanks AnnM! Glad to be passing along the travel bug 🚎 You guys should go to Mexico again next year so that we can meet up 😉. Looking forward to catching up with you as soon as we’re back!

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