Estoy en maravilla que toda vivo.
(I am amazed I am still alive)
Or: Why we love Latin AmericaGuatemala: an earthquake and chased by coatimundis in Tikal
Peru: mudslides and a train strike
Ecuador: a mini revolution
Costa Rica: flying in a local 2-prop plane through a large thunderstorm and driving at night
Belize: attacked by hoards of mosquitoes in Lamani
All of these things happened to us on our various trips to Latin America.... Did it deter us from traveling to Latin America again....no!
Central America has everything that you can imagine: a slow pace of life, jungles, beaches, extraordinary archaeological sites and well preserved colonial cities. From Guatemala's volcanic lakes, Belize's hundreds of cayes, the Panama Canal, Costa Rica's national parks, Central America has always been a sensory paradise. CA has been washed by repeated waves of domination. It was never isolated so its great cultures were easy prey to Spanish exploitation and domination. Today the region is home to various African, indigenous and European cultures.
Belize is a tiny country but it probably has the greatest variety of flora and fauna than any other country its size in the world. Along the coast are hundreds of cayes, in the central highlands there is dense rainforest and in the north savanna. Most travelers to Belize head to Amerbergris Caye but there are numerous jungle lodges in the interior and that region is becoming increasingly popular with tourists. There are many Mayan archaeological sites in Belize and these are the ones we have visited: Caracol, near the Guatemalan border is huge and still being excavated, Lamani, bring your bug spray - lots of mosquitoes, Xunantunich, also near the Guatemalan border, El Pilar and Cahal Pech, both mostly unexplored, these sites are all worthy of exploration by the visitor.
We did a Luxury Link package to the interior of Belize and stayed at Blancaneaux Lodge, a Francis Ford Coppola resort, and it definitely deserves its reputation as one of Belize's most luxurious resorts. We also stayed on Caye Caulker on a different visit and Caulker is the place to go for a laid back, well deserved rest. Much more quiet than its neighbor Ambergris.
Despite its past problems, we consider Guatemala one of CAs most enchanting countries and we are going back for our 3rd visit in February courtesy of a Luxury Link winning auction. Guatemala has everything we like in a destination: extraordinary Mayan ruins, volcanoes, rain forest, mountains and of course the beautiful Lake Atitlan. The incredible diversity of Guatemala means that you can stroll the cobblestone streets of a colonial city and then go to an ancient Mayan site and visit a tropical rainforest all in a relatively short visit. As dramatic as Guatemala's landscapes are, the diversity of its human culture's are in a way even more compelling. More than of the population is indigenous and they remain dedicated protectors of their culture and heritage. At Lake Atitlan, there are numerous Mayan villages around the lake each with their own unique cultures and customs. And of course they make some of the most beautiful weavings I have ever seen - great shopping!
No visit to Guatemala would be complete without a visit to the Mayan site of Tikal (one of the Star Wars films was filmed here - they used it as the rebel base). There are many places to stay in the country from Coppola's newest resort in Flores (near Tikal) to luxury hotels in Antigua and Guatemala City and even $5 night youth hostels.
A short day trip from Antigua Guatemala takes you to Quirigua (amazing Mayan carved stela) and onto Honduras to visit the Mayan site of Copan with its amazing hieroglyphic stairway. We only had a day and in Honduras but it is definitely worth another visit.
Costa Rica a small country tucked between Nicaragua and Panama packs amazing diversity into a small country. Costa Rica is known for its many national parks and they are well worth the visit. Eco tourism is big here and the country takes pride in its "green" efforts. We were only in Costa Rica for 1 week and one of the highlights of our trip was to see the giant leatherback turtles lay their eggs - a sight that was definitely worth the long wait for the park ranger to take us to the beach and then the hair raising ride back to our hotel at 1am in the morning - the turtles only come up on the beach late at night when there is no moon - so your timing has to be just right. We did not get to see the hundreds of Olive Ridley turtles come to lay their eggs on another near by beach due to the road being washed out by a storm - perhaps another time!
While in Costa Rica we took a day trip to neighboring Nicaragua and visited Granada, another well preserved Spanish colonial city, and just now starting to see the influx of tourists. The border crossing between Costa Rica and Nicaragua was an interesting experience - there is a "no mans land" zone between the 2 countries with duty free shopping - you can shop while you wait for your crossing to be approved.
A country well worth another visit. We also took a side trip to Panama for the day and it was worth it just to see the Panama Canal. The jungle is right near the cities of Colon and Panama City and this was the only place we actually got to see a sloth close up - we caught him on his weekly trip to the jungle floor. He was covered in moss and had ants crawling all over him - guess this is what happens when you move so slow!
So far we have only visited Peru and Ecuador but if you had to pick only 2 countries in SA to visit, these are both great choices. Ecuador is the smallest of the Andean countries and there is quite a lot packed into such a small country. Quito is a very charming colonial city with great markets and beautiful churches with wonderfully carved mahogany covered in gold around the altars. We stayed in Quito for a few days and then flew the local airline (run by the military) to Coca which is Ecuador's gateway to the Amazon rainforest. We stayed on a floating hotel for 5 nights and cruised around the river seeing the sights - and what sights there were to see! Parrots, macaws, monkey, all sorts of butterflies, flowers, plants and of course the pink river dolphin. Visiting the Amazon through Ecuador is a great way to go - not as expensive and crowded as going through Brazil. Then back to Quito just in time for a mini revolution - we were touring the old city and all of a sudden tanks came rolling into the main plaza and many soldiers with machine guns were stringing barbed wire around the presidential palace - pretty exciting and we started to take pictures but our guide put a quick stop to that. All the guides then hustled their charges (including us) into a nearby church and locked us in until it was safe to come out (about 1 hours). Lots of praying going on. We were supposed to go to Otavalo the next day (the largest indigenous market in SA) but it was canceled due to some serious fighting in the area - oh well maybe next time. We left the next day which was lucky for us since the day after we left to go home, the airports were closed and we later learned that Ecuador now had a new president! We are planning to return since it is a great place to visit and still have to get to the Galapagos. P.S. they use the US dollar, so no worry about currency changing.
Peru is another beautiful country, again with much to offer the visitor. Lima is a modern city with a nice colonial center filled with beautiful churches - one even had a solid silver altar. You can also see Cortez's grave. Cuzco, high in the Andes is amazing (take your Diamox for altitude sickness, both here and in Ecuador - it really works). On our 1st visit we were lucky to be there for Semana Santa (Holy Week/Easter) which was an exciting experience - not as amazing as Semana Santa in Antigua Guatemala but still well worth taking a look at. On this trip we stayed in the Novatel Hotel - a nice 4 star place with good size rooms. We were supposed to go to Machu Picchu on our 3rd day but due to severe mudslides, this portion of our trip was canceled - we were very disappointed since we were supposed to stay overnight at the MP Sanctuary Lodge. Many tourists were trapped in Aguas Calientes and locals died - the story was on the news for days. This trip was then just Lima and Cuzco - but lots of fun anyway.
Our 2nd trip to Peru was through a Luxury Link auction trip and this time we stayed in all Orient Express hotels. The Miraflores Park Hotel in Lima is truly a 5 star resort with all you could ask for - beautiful rooms with bathrooms to die for - we had a steam sauna right in the bathroom and the marble shower was big enough for 5 people! Much eating and shopping. After a few days in Lima, it was off to Cuzco where we stayed in the Hotel Monasterio - words can not describe the beauty of this hotel - a must see! Impeccable service, beautiful rooms, and wonderful dining. Much eating and shopping in Cuzco! After a few days, it was off to Machu Picchu where again we were supposed to overnight at the MP Sanctuary Lodge, but......this time a train strike prevented this from happening! We did finally get to go to MP but only for a day trip - this is a site everyone must see - an awesome and breathtaking experience. Maybe when we go back for our 3rd trip it fate will be kind to us and we will finally get to overnight at the Sanctuary Lodge!
After Cuzco and MP it was off to the Peruvian Amazon (we booked this ourselves since it was not offered as part of the auction, however, Orient Express did all the bookings and transportation arrangements for us - a great job. We flew to Puerto Maldonado in southern Peru and stayed at the Sandoval Lake Lodge for 5 nights. This is a great place to stay since it is one of the few places to see the giant river otters. We could come out of the lodge in the morning and walk to the lake and see the otter families - these are some really big otters and the males can get up to 6 feet long! As in the Ecuadorian Amazon, lots of parrots, macaws, flora and fauna.
In conclusion, Latin America has much to offer the visitor.....beaches, ruins, jungle, cities and we will keep going back to visit countries we have been to before and countries we have not been to yet. Once you go to one of these beautiful places, you are hooked. I have not even included Mexico in this brief story but like the rest of Latin America, Mexico too has much to offer and we still have much to see and do there.
Go and go now!
Message Edited by [email protected] on 10-19-2009 01:46 PM