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My First Trip to Central America Starts Sunday!

Central America map

My First Trip to Central America Starts Sunday!

Despite growing up in America and being a life-long world traveler, I have yet to visit the Americas or Caribbean islands. In fact, aside from Canada, I haven’t explored one single place near the USA.

But there is a reason. Shortly after graduating from university I moved to Japan for six years. From Japan I set out on my world travels, beginning in Asia. I’ve been ‘stuck’ in Asia (mostly) ever since. I simply haven’t been on the Americas side of the globe.

LashWorldTour in kimono with sensei, tea ceremony

in kimono with sensei (teacher) at a tea ceremony

However, I did set out to travel the whole world. So I have long been over-due to explore other regions of the planet. I did get started on that two years ago by finally traveling around India for three months. Then last year I explored New Zealand, Australia and Fiji.

This year I returned to the US to visit family, fully intending to finally start exploring this side of the planet.

So on Sunday, Nov. 1st, , at long last, I will fly to Guatemala and begin my Central American odyssey. I’ll be in Guatemala for two months then head north through Belize and Mexico. From there I will hopefully venture into the Caribbean, preferably by sailboat.

I decided to start in Guatemala for several reasons:

1. Guatemala has rave reviews from travelers

During the past few years I’ve heard several travel bloggers raving about Guatemala’s friendly people, interesting indigenous cultures, intriguing destinations and low costs. Many report Guatemala as one of their favorite countries in the region.

The variety of places and activities include historic stone-paved towns, colorful markets full of indigenous peoples, one of the world’s most beautiful lakes, ancient Mayan ruins, black sand Pacific beaches and lush jungle rivers.

2. Guatemala is inexpensive

According to all reports I’ve read from travel bloggers, guide books and other websites, Guatemala is one of the cheapest (if not the cheapest) Central American country. As a budget traveler, that’s an important factor for me.

In my research thus far I’ve found average dorm rooms for $5-7 US, local meals for $1-3 US, shuttle buses for $10 and local ‘chicken’ buses for much less. That’s nearly as inexpensive as SE Asia – prices I’m used to.

3. Guatemala is relatively safe

Although western government’s official website reports state otherwise, all the travelers and bloggers I know who’ve traveled around Guatemala have said they found the country to be safe. They didn’t have any issues. Compared to several other Central American countries, Guatemala seems to be one of the safest.

pre-flight plane checks

airline travel tips- pre flight plane checks

4. Flights to Guatemala are cheap

From Florida, where I’ve been visiting family, flights to most Caribbean, Mexican and Central American destinations are quite cheap. I’m talking $100-200 US one way. The absolute cheapest flights I found were to Puerto Rico, Cancun, Panama and Guatemala. I paid $157 US to fly to Guatemala City on Spirit Airline.

5. Help Exchange Gigs

Last year I did nearly two dozen HelpX gigs in New Zealand, Fiji and Australia. Most were in private homes, two were at small motels in South Island of New Zealand. I greatly enjoyed the experiences of exchanging a few hours of work for room and board while getting to know locals, stay in their homes and really feel like part of the countries I traveled through, rather than a tourist.

So when I started researching Central America, I was excited to discover dozens of HelpX hosts in most of the countries and hundreds of hosts in Mexico. Many of them are small resorts, backpackers, yoga retreats and even animal shelters! Sounds great to me.

Guatemala happens to have many wonderful HelpX opportunities at great locations like Lake Atitlan and Rio Dulce.

Guatemala mapMy Travel Itinerary in Guatemala

I’ll be traveling around the country for about 2 ½ months. During the first 1 ½ months I’ll be simply traveling around, exploring some great destinations and joining in adventures. From mid-December I’ll be volunteering at a cool eco-retreat in the jungle along Rio Dulce, on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast.

Here are my proposed destinations, adventures and activities:

Antiqua – 1 week in this historic stone-paved town set on a plateau surrounded by volcanoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Day of the Dead Celebrations – I land in Guatemala just in time for one of the country’s most famous festivals, held on Nov. 1st and 2nd. As soon as I land in town I’ll run out to photograph this colorful event for two days.

molten  lava - photo by Sathish J on Flickr CC

molten lava – photo by Sathish J on Flickr CC

Climb Pacaya Volcano – I’ve climbed several volcanoes in my time, some actively hissing steam and/or oozing mud. But I have never seen glowing lava. Pacaya Volcano promises that exhilarating experience, all with an easy few-hours’ guided hike. Can’t wait!

Pacific Coast Beach – I’ve seen plenty of black-sand beaches in Bali and New Zealand, but I’m still excited to see the Pacific Coast of Central America. It’s reputed to have strong pounding surf on wild, wind-swept beaches. I’ll go stay a few days, perhaps work on my tan. Quite luckily, November is also turtle-hatching season. With any luck I’ll get to witness baby logerhead turtles dig out of sand nests and scamper into the ocean.

Lake Atitlan - photo by Shizoform on Flickr CC

Lake Atitlan

Acclaimed by many travelers as the most beautiful lake in the world, Lake Atitlan is a deep crater lake flanked by three volcanic peaks. Seven distinct villages & towns lie on its shores, each with a different blend of local indigenous life and/or tourism. A couple are mere villages. Two or three are somewhat developed tourist draws, complete with a range of international cuisines and more upscale hotels. One town has become a center for yoga and holistic lifestyle. One is famous for its Spanish language schools.

I plan to stay about 3 weeks at Atitlan, exploring each village, partaking in lots of yoga, enjoying idyllic views, hiking and practicing my advanced photography skills. Hopefully I’ll teach some yoga classes and lead some mini photography workshops.

ChiChi Markets

This little mountain town just north of Lake Atitlan is famous for its colorful indigenous markets. It’s reputed to be one of the best places to find local handicrafts, art and clothing.

Semuc Champey - photo by Christopher Crouzet on Flickr CCSemuc Champey

This river in central Guatemala, a few hours east of ChiChi and Atitlan, is set in dense jungle. Sections of the river lay in tiers, much like geothermal pools, with brilliant clear turquoise water surrounded by lush green vegetation. Nearby are caves to explore with guides.

Rio Dulce

Flowing into Guatemala’s minimal Caribbean coast, Rio Dulce flows languidly through dense jungle en route to the sea. Waterfalls, hot springs and a deep gorge are highlights of the river.

Quite happily, I’ll be doing a great HelpX Assignment at a small eco-resort for one full month. I’ll be helping to interact with and entertain the mostly European guests. In my free time I’ll be photographing the river, jungle, birds and animal life. I’ll kayak to waterfalls, soak in hot springs and fall asleep to the soothing sounds of insects. Most likely I’ll also be teaching yoga classes.

Livingston

This small town on the Caribbean coast is just an hour by river from the eco-resort. Apparently we’ll be visiting once a week to stock up on supplies and take a break from jungle life. The village is famous for its indigenous Garifuna people, who are more Caribbean in culture.

Tikal Mayan Ruins

Tikal Ruins are purported to be sone of the most famous and magnificent Mayan ruins in the Americas. Located in far northern Guatemala, close to the border of Belize, this is the most remote destination on my agenda. Hopefully I will make it up there before my 3-month visa expires.

By then it will be mid January! Time to venture into a new country: Belize.

Belize map

Beyond Guatemala

I’ll write more about my Belize, Mexico and Caribbean plans later. For now I can say that I’ve been accepted at some wonderful HelpX hosts in both countries – on islands, beaches and fruit plantations.

Secondly, with my new sailing skills & experience, I’m hoping to find at least one or two crewing positions on private yachts sailing through the Caribbean. I also will do my best to visit Cuba.

Lash in Krabi, Thailand pro shot

Lash in Krabi, Thailand

So my travel plans after Feb or March are still open to adventures that I find en route.

In any event, I’m terribly excited to start adventures in an entirely new region of the world. Stop back here frequently to follow my travels, learn about Central America and see photos of dozens of gorgeous places, amazing cultures and fun-packed adventures.

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In the meantime, you might also enjoy:

10 Ways SE Asia Changed my Habits and Lifestyle

Photo Essay: Evenings at Sunset Beach, Florida

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    […] My Plans for Exploring Guatemala […]

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