Our trip from San Pedro to Quetzaltenango (Known as Xela, pronounced Shay-la) was by Chicken Bus. We first had to catch a bus headed toward Guatemala City and get out at "148" or some number. The location is just a mile marker on the main highway. We were assured that a bus headed toward Xela would be along shortly. We waited about 10 min. and sure enough, a very full Chicken Bus with "Xela" written in the front window stopped and picked us up.
I'm just shy of 6'=0" tall and a little over 200 lbs. I'm not huge by US standards but when sitting 3 to a seat on an old school bus, things get really tight. I had to remind myself that the trip was only a couple of hours.
One reason for our trip to Xela was to go to language school. We chose Celas Maya online and were very happy with the school, the teachers and facilities. Their main program consists of 5 hours of one on one Spanish every morning and living with a Guatemalan family so you have to practice your Spanish at meal times and in your daily interactions with your host family.
I wish I had a photo of our family (single mom with kids moved out), but the last day when I planned on taking photos, a new father and daughter from the US. overlapped with us and I missed out. If anyone out there has a photo of Doris, (I will add her last name), she is the only Doris family that is connected with Celas Maya school - if you could please forward me her photo I would appreciate it very much.
Thanks in advance,
Next: More on things to do while in Xela.
Luis at Xamanek recommended a bus line to take to Pana where we could catch the boat over to San Pedro. We had a choice, we could wait for a first class bus at 10:30 am or catch the "chicken bus" at 9:00 am. We chose the chicken bus which meant we had to gather up our stuff and bug out in a hurry.
We got to the bus stop just a few minutes after the bus had left. (the bus left early). Our cab driver offered to take us across town to catch up with the chicken bus, or we could wait. We chose the chase. Off we went in true "Bullit" style. The driver really knew his way around Guatemala City. We saw neighborhoods that may have never been seen by tourists. Eventually we caught our chicken bus. We thanked and tipped the driver and we were off to Pana!
Panajachel is a fairly touristy place, and that is not all bad. There are stalls on the main drag down to the boat docks that sell handicrafts, clothing, T-Shirts and the typical tourist stuff. Also there are vegetarian restaurants and some really fine dining places. We stopped in at (I have to look up the name, sorry), which is recommended in the Lonley Planet, where we had a great meal in a peaceful tropical garden just off the busy street.
We stayed a few hours in Pana and then caught the boat over to San Pedro, our destination for a few days stay before heading off to language school in Xela.
In San Pedro we first stayed at Casa Elena which is near the boat dock. We had a room on the street and it was pretty noisy, but fairly cheap at 60Q for a triple, shared bath. I have to say, Casa Elena doesn't really have much to offer except location and price. It is not like some of the hostels we've experienced where fellow travelers interact trade stories and compare notes from the road. Casa Elena is not bad, but I really can't recommend it. We did, however, find Jarachik, which is along the path between the Pana and Santiago docks. Jarachik has great food, a bonfire every night when there is no rain, 4 rooms on the second floor and a pair of roof top rooms with a great view.
We stayed on the second floor in a triple with bath for the same 60Q we were spending at Casa Elena. Jarachik has a great vibe to it, really great food and it is located just across the path from the best internet we found in San Pedro.
Next: On to Xela
Many people and guidebooks will tell you to keep away from Guatemala City - that it is too unsafe. We stayed at Xamanek Backpackers, which is located in a safe area of the city. Our host, Luis, who is from Canada gave us excellent advice on where to go, which bus to take and which areas of the city ware safe. He even encouraged a "tour" of a squatter area organized by a school program that provides schooling and other services to the poorest of the poor. The program, Safe Passages, provides assistance for children who once worked salvaging garbage at the city dump.
Thanks to Safe Passages, today, more than 550 children who live around the
Please note, Squatter Cities are areas where people build their own houses on land they don't own. Cities feel free to ignore these populations and often don't provide any services. No electricity, no water, no sanitation and no garbage pick up. Moreover, police service is also usually not available. Few NGOs deal with these populations, so the people who live in these areas are really on their own. Right now over a billion people live in squatter cities and that number is expected to double in the next 15 years.
If you are interested in a tour of Safe Passages and the area where they are located you should get in touch with Safe Passages early in your travel preparations. They are busy working with kids but offer some outreach to travelers on occasion.
Next on our trip - On to San Pedro
Xamanek Backpacker's is a very nice hostel. A bit over our budget of $7.00 per person per night but we found less expensive digs in San Pedro and Quetzaltenango so it all balanced out.
In Guatemala City we walked around our relatively safe neighborhood, found some interesting places to eat and we took the bus into the city center to catch the market and sights.
We visited El Portal, the bar where Che and Fidel were known to hang out. It felt like it hadn't been changed at all in the years since Che was there.
After a couple of days in Guate we were off to Pana to catch a boat to San Pedro.