We left Antigua for a place that was told to us by chance on the airplane to Guatemala... Semuc Champey. We met some Guatemalans on the plane and asked where we should go other than Antigua, Lake Atitlan, etc. They said the place called Semuc Champey is a must see. Our new friend Ollie parted ways with us, he felt like "being near the water" and was heading to Lake Atitlan. We were disappointed that we were not going to spend more time with Ollie, but parted ways anyway for our own adventure near the water.
Antigua, Guatemala to Semuc Champey
We actually were on our way out of town, with our plan, and we stopped to ask directions. There was a guy who was walking and asked for directions. He asked for a ride and we picked him up. The guy we picked up, was a travel guide coincidentally. For a ride back to town we got some valuable information. We were told by the travel guide that the way we had originally decided on, was going to take 12 hours, so he told us the faster way, and we had to drive through Guatemala City, which didn't enthuse us. Our final destination would be Lanquin, which is a small town near Semuc Champey.
As usual in Guatemala, it's very difficult to navigate through towns, as there are hardly any street names or signs to help you out. We left about 2pm., and got to Guatemala City. This city is huge!!! A lot of people packed in a small area. We drove onto the highway that we thought was the right one, and of course we went the wrong way, so we had to turn around and an hour later, we were on the right track for Coban.
Next Stop Coban
The travel guide in Antigua said to stay in Coban for night, because the road to Lanquin was dangerous at night, very curvy, and drug smugglers use it to transport at night. The way to Coban was beautiful and also kind of slow. They were doing some construction on the main road from Guatemala city, and it took us a while to get there. The ride however was laden with beautiful mountains, curvy roads, and very slow vehicles. It was in essence taking a mountain pass road for 5 and a half hours. So we made it Coban at about 7:30pm at night and found a place that just looked quaint. It's called De La Abuela. (Of the Grandma)
De La Abuela's - Our little casita
De La Abuela, Coban
Well the Abuela's name is Mercedes, and she was over accommodating and the small 2 bedroom house we got cost us a whopping 25 dollars a night. We put our stuff away and went into town to eat some street food in town. We found a little stand and it was delicious. People stared at us and we really felt we were out of place. The fog started to roll in and we started getting cold so we moved on back to the Abuela's. We heard that this fog that rolls in, is called "Chipi Chipi" and it's the fog/ light rain that keeps the coffee production so good here in this part of the country. Coban was just a short stop. We are sure there is so much more and we would have loved to tour a coffee plantation, however really wanted to get to Semuc Champey.
The Alta Verpaz - Coban to Lanquin
Heading Out to Lanquin
We slept in a cold room, woke up to a beautiful day and made our way to Lanquin after an awesome free breakfast. We were told anything from 2 ½ hours to 4 hours to get to Lanquin. The ride was spectacular!! We drove through the Alta Verapaz Department of Guatemala which are the highlands. The Alta Verapaz and the Mayan people were safe from the Spanish Conquistadores due to the remote mountainous landscapes and were spared the colonization the rest of the country endured. this place is extremely beautiful, with tall green mountains, and Mayan people all over the place in little huts all along the way. The interesting thing about the Mayan people is that until 1995 they could not their own language, write, or even associate with people that were not Mayan. They could have been shot for any of these things. Now things are different, but the people are still a little shy, especially with some gringos like us. Yet the area was incredible, and it took us about 1 ½ hours to get to the road that took us to Lanquin.
The Mountain Dirt Road Down to Lanquin
Dirt Road to Lanquin
The road to Lanquin is all dirt and narrow! No one told us this. After taking pavement over beautiful roads, we were reduced to taking an off-road adventure in a Mitsubishi Lancer. We were a little worried if it rains if we will ever be able to leave Lanquin. It was ok though, and even more beautiful than we had expected. We arrived to Lanquin in in just about 2 hours, and this town was a surprise.
The Town Of Lanquin
If you ever wondered or dreamed about what a small town in Guatemala looks like.... this was it. Mayan people everywhere, and narrow dirt streets with some rocks for traction. The town was two streets and made our way there with the people starring the whole way and some kids came to our window, and we talked to them, and realized they didn't know Spanish... only Quiche Maya.
We made it to a place called El Retiro (the retreat) and immediately realized this is where we wanted to stay. This place is an oasis in a small secluded Mayan town of Lanquin. It's a backpacker stop and destination for many who go to Semuc Champey. All the things we read about El Retiro were watered down. This place is indescribable. The staff at the lodge, group buffet style meals every night, and the guests staying here have all been incredible. El Retiro is a complete gem of Guatemala. I would say that anyone looking to relax in jungle comfort should go there! We feel a clam and peace here not felt yet in Central America and will find it hard to leave.