Expensive (es no economico) –
After a couple of exhuming shuttle bus rides to cross the border from San Cristobal into Guatemala, it was great to find a good hostel to slow down for a few days. I’ve spent the last week in Quetzaltenango (Xela). Have been shocked at how expensive it is, I’d been led to believe Guatemela was even cheaper then southern Mexico but that is definitely not the case. Eating out at basic restaurants, or cafes has been more expensive than in NYC or Australia. Even going local has been expensive. I have a pretty tight budget and wanting to stay healthy so it is a good time to cook my own food.
Local day trips (markets, volcano, hot springs) –
One of the main attractions (the #1 attraction according to tripadvisor) is the nearby Santa Maria Volcano. I decided to tackle this solo without going with the expensive tour guides – it was an excellent decision. In all in only cost me Q4 (less than a dollar) and I had a much deeper experience, got to hang with some locals on the public transport, spent some time in a local farming village before tackling the climb. I was also able to completely go at my own space, and it was easier to chat to others I met on the climb. It was a brutal climb, especially because I hadn’t yet acclimatized to the height (although the peak was only at 3700m). Highlights were meeting and chatting to a couple of locals camped out on the top for 20 days as part of a local religious activity, and making friends with a local dog who helped keep me on the right track. I believe that some of the sites out there try to scare people into getting a guide with stories on how dangerous this area is (i.e. on lonely planet, and tripadvisor). I think if you make yourself a small target and practice common sense, then you are more then likely to remain safe and have a richer experience. Other highlights in the Xela area have been checking out the Fuenta Georgina hot springs, and the local markets. It seems there are massive markets everywhere around here! They are a whole experience by themselves.
I’ve started dabbling in some spanish lessons, I’m hoping to tackle them a bit deeper at my next destinations, Lake Atitlan and Antigua.