Today I’m just over halfway through my three month backpacking trip through Central America, so I thought I’d do a round up of my trip so far, from El Salvador to Mexico via Honduras and Guatemala.
San Salvador – two nights
El Salvador was my starting point purely because it was the cheapest flight to Central America – it didn’t matter to me where I started! In San Salvador I took a free walking tour and had my first taste of the national dish, pupusa.
San Miguel – fourteen nights (Workaway)
What’s Workaway I hear you ask? The best idea ever, that’s what! It’s essentially a website connecting Hosts and Volunteers and you can sign up to be either. Usually Hosts offer food and accommodation in exchange for five hours of work a day and it’s meant to be a cultural exchange, so you work and live alongside the host family or couple. I’ve been Workawaying for a few years now and really enjoy it. Read more about my experience volunteering at a five room guesthouse in San Miguel here.
Land border crossing to Honduras. Tegucigalpa – one night
The best thing about my afternoon in Tegus was an absolutely delicious slice of banana cake I bought from a corner shop. The museum of National Identity that I was looking forward to was sadly closed for the Christmas holidays.
Lake Yojoa – two nights
I stayed in Los Naranjos at the D&D brewery, which offers rooms, tours, a restaurant and most importantly a microbrewery. I took a local bus to some impressive waterfalls, walked around an overpriced archaeological park by the lake and tried my first baleada, a filled corn tortilla which is a popular Honduras street snack.
Copan Ruinas – three nights
After seeing the impressive Mayan ruins, I stayed an extra day to recover after New Years Eve. We were just five people in the hostel and at about 6pm the whole town suffered a power blackout. So we did the logical thing and took a couple of bottles of rum to the central square to drink and watch the local kids throw firecrackers at each other and set off lethal looking fireworks. A couple of bars later and it was time to pile into the street for midnight, when people set fire to stuffed effigies with a photo of a hated politician pinned to the face (‘out with the old, in with the new’) and set off even more fireworks.
Gracias – two nights
I really enjoyed the quaint, cobbled streets of Gracias. I went to the local hotsprings, visited the small town of La Campa and hiked 16km back and finally managed to find a post office and send some postcards.
Santa Rosa de Copan – one night
Only an hour from Gracias, but I stayed here a night in preparation for a 6am start to cross the Guatemalan border. Here I discovered Elote Riguas, fried corn fritters, which were greasy but delicious.
Land border crossing to Guatemala. Guatemala City – three nights
After a very long day of travelling and a quick look at the impressive basilica in Esquipulas where pilgrims queue to kneel before a black Jesus, I arrived in Guate. Here I did lots of walking around while suffering a horrible allergic reaction (cue lots of itching and various body parts swelling up horrifically) to a packet of Doritos. Ah, will I ever eat Doritos again?
Santiago de Atitlan – ten nights (Workaway)
The location for this Workaway on Lake Atitlan couldn’t have been any better. I had a good physical workout each morning digging compost pits and shovelling manure, swam in the lake every afternoon and explored more of the town each day. I also discovered frozen chocolate bananas.
Chichicastenango – one night
Although I missed the infamous biweekly market, I enjoyed exploring the cobbled streets of this relaxed town and the climb to the sacred stone shrine of Pascual Abaj, where ceremonies are still held to ask for health and fertility
Nebaj – two nights
I did two great half day hikes here to neighbouring villages, one of the few places without loads of safety warnings about bandits on the roads. I also took a one hour ‘cooking class’ to make boxboles. This was pretty much wrapping squash leaves around cornmeal dough, making small talk in my stilted spanish with my hosts for ten minutes while they steamed then eating them but I enjoyed it anyway!
Huehuetenango – one night
This was mainly a stopping point to get an early start into Mexico the next day, but I really enjoyed a visit to the Zaculeu Mayan ruins on the outskirts of town. They were ‘restored’ and covered with grey plaster by the United Fruit company in the 1940s, which actually makes them resemble their appearance in Mayan times when they would have been painted in white adobe and colourful frescoes.
Land border crossing to Mexico. San Cristobal de las Casas – two nights
And finally my current location in Chiapas state, Mexico. San Cris (I’m such a local) is a beautifully preserved colonial town, with amazing architecture. I’m suffering major culture shock though as it’s like being in a European city. Cafes, restaurants, bars, cute boutique shops and even a Starbucks line the spotlessly clean streets. I found a bizzare handicraft market where every stall sells identical felted hearts and pompom keyrings and the fruit and veg market where all the stalls artfully display the produce in neat pyramids – even potatoes!