Savannah Grace

Antigua and San Cristobal de las Casas

Continuing the adventure with Ammon and Sasha:

Even though the tourist shuttle between Copan Ruinas, Honduras and Antigua, Guatemala is one of the most popular in Central America, that doesn’t mean it is comfortable. It was an 8 hour ride made unnecessarily long by the fact that the shuttles leave at noon and are perfectly timed to get stuck in Guatemala City’s evening rush hour. I had wanted to do it another way and stop off in other parts of Guatemala but alas, we were still very short on time and unfortunately a certain level of ruthlessness was required to balance the itinerary.
Antigua is a must-visit in Guatemala. Everyone already knows that though and it is easily the most visited town in the country with many visitors lingering much longer than planned. It is one of the more famous spots to stop and study Spanish before or during a trip through Latin America as well so it draws all sorts. Antigua was the original Spanish capital of this region until successive destructive earthquakes forced the Spanish to relocate elsewhere. We arrived at night and the first impression was of how wide the streets are. Totally unlike other old towns which usually feel so cramped. It is beautifully preserved and maintained and the historic area is much larger than I expected. Although other places try to make a claim, compared to other colonial towns in Central America and even much of South America, Antigua has no equal. Make no mistake, this is a well-oiled tourism machine used to lots of visitors passing through but rather than going the overly tacky route, they cater to foreigners with nice hotels, pretty cafes, good food and clean streets. There always seemed to be something pleasant around the next corner to find and even with only a single rainy day to visit (we couldn’t even see the volcanoes which so famously surround the town) it was easy to see why so many people end up spending longer here than initially planned. We would have stayed an extra day or two as well I’m sure.
As far as things to do, in town the main attractions are the plethora of ruined convents and churches which seemed to pop up around every corner. Most are quite ruined but still standing and because of limited time and the high fees associated with each, we contented ourselves with simply strolling the streets and seeing what we could see through or over the fences as we came to them.

Many ruins are still in use

The classic Antigua shot. There is supposed to be a volcano behind this.

Iglesia de la Merced

It has seen better days, and a few earthquakes too!

Templo de San Jose Cathedral

Colourful buildings and wide cobbled streets

Relaxing in the central plaza

That night we said goodbye to mom as she was finally flying out of Guatemala the next morning (9 days late) and we would be leaving before dawn on yet another tourist shuttle, this time to take us all the way to San Cristobal de las Casas, over the border in Mexico. I hadn’t really heard of this town before but it obviously had to be popular since it is definitely on the shuttle route. I was simply looking to get into Mexico quickly and easily and if we could find somewhere nice to stop over along the way, so much the better. It was a 13 hour ride with a couple stops for dropping off/picking up people coming/going to other places along the way. It was not the most pleasant journey. I still think buses are more comfortable than shuttles, especially when the shuttles contain loud and drunk/high backpackers. We had an embarrassingly intoxicated pair of guys with us and I really don’t know how they got across the border in the state they were in. The whole group of us had a bit of a hold-up as the Guatemalan border was temporarily closed when we arrived because of a protest. Something about refugee rights and anti-Trumpness. I’m sure he cares…
Mexico in general was a shock we were not expecting. Mexico might still have a reputation for being chaotic and dirty but it is downright first-world developed when you are coming from the rest of Central America. Crime has taken a turn for the much worse in the last few years but we were to see little of that in the regions we would be in and overall we felt much more comfortable than we had in a while. It was also nice to be in a travel system that was developed and organized. Bus stations, tourist information, schedules, etc. And wow was it busy. The level of tourism jumped dramatically, now including all sorts of visitors, from families to backpackers. The part we were most excited about though was the food. Contrary to popular misconceptions, other Spanish-speaking countries do not eat Mexican food. It is very different. We were in Mexico a little over a week total, and I’m pretty sure we just lived on nachos al pastor.
Arriving with no expectations, San Cristobal was nicer than we thought. We only had a full day and two nights to visit which was enough if you aren’t planning on any excursions outside of town. It is another well-preserved and prettied-up colonial town in the mountains so the weather was cool and wet but not unpleasant. We wandered about taking in the plazas and churches, always looking out for the next meal. San Cristobal is a little out of the way unless you are traveling to/from Guatemala but somehow there were quite a few tourists around anyway, certainly more than we’d seen in a while.

Delicious Mexican food!

San Cristobal felt much busier

The central plaza

San Cristobal Cathedral

The ornate Santo Domingo church facade

The next closest major attractions to San Cristobal seem to be Oaxaca to the west, or Palenque to the northeast both of which are a few hundred km away. We were heading to Palenque next. Rather than take a 9 hour bus the long way we opted to take a quicker but more “risky” minibus route via Ocosingo. This took a little over 5 hours and the risk came from the potential for roadblocks by unhappy locals which have caused enough disruptions in recent years (with an associated uprising) that the scheduled buses avoid the route altogether now. Seeing as things were considered quiet at the moment, we went for it and had no issue. It is a pretty but windy drive down and out of the hills as well.
Ammon

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