My boyfriend and I have just finished our Guatemalan leg of our trip so thought we'd post about it to help other travelers! We spent 7 nights in total in Guatemala: ANTIGUA-SEMUC CHAMPEY-TIKAL/FLORES
ANTIGUA (3N): We flew into GC airport late (around 10pm) and hadn't organized anything in the way of getting to Antigua. We walked out of the airport and easily got a taxi for 25USD. Could probably have negotiated down to $20 but it was late and we just wanted to get to Antigua. Uber was about the same amount. Walk across the pedestrian crossing and get the white taxis from the rank and not any from the mass of people waiting at the arrivals gate pushing signs into you. The drive to Antigua was about 45mins at that time of night, no traffic and our driver was speedy as hell. Unfortunately he demanded 35USD when we arrived to help pay for his return trip as Antigua was dead quiet and it was midnight. We couldn't be bothered arguing with him after 33hrs of travel from Australia so we paid. Also we had USD to start with which was fine for the cab. We exchanged it to Q at the Banco Industrial in Antigua the next day.
We stayed at Bigfoot Hostel in a private room with shared bathrooms. We would highly recommend this place! Central, easy to find, clean, comfortable, lovely staff, couldn't fault it really! We spent a day exploring Antigua and visited San Juan Del Obispo, a small town nearby that has great wine and chocolate. We ate at Fridas, Taqueria Dono Lupito, La Lune De Miel, and Rainbow Cafe. All amazingly delicious places and affordable! The second day we were supposed to do the Pacaya volcano hike but my boyfriend was sick so unfortunately we missed out. We walked up Cerra de la Cruz lookout instead in the afternoon which is a lovely walk and you get views over Antigua with the volcanos all around.
SEMUC CHAMPEY (2N): We booked a shuttle to Lanquin through our hostel for 150Q each ($20USD). It was comparable to other rates we found in town and we liked our hostel so decided to book with them. They say it is an 8hr trip but from our experience the shuttle takes anywhere from 10-12hrs depending on the conditions that day. It was relatively quiet on the roads but the shuttle was an hour late, coming around 9am instead of 8, and we went around the block about 6 times past our hostel again and again picking other people up. There seemed to be no logical order to their pick ups to make it quicker. There had also been an earthquake the day before (which we felt in Antigua, pretty cool experience) which meant rockslides and rockfall all over the roads blocking some of the lanes off. This made for a slower trip. We just settled in with a good book and Netflix on the iPad. The shuttle made a few loo stops and a lunch stop but not until about 4pm in Coban. Best to pack snacks if you're the type of person to get hungry a lot. Also there is one ATM in Lanquin and you don't get a chance to stop at one on the way so make sure you have enough cash before leaving Antigua or you could get stuck. We didn't do this and ran out of Q. Lucky we had USD and our hostel was great and agreed to exchange it for us (at a low rate but we were desperate and poor so it was fine).
We arrived in Lanquin at around 6pm and our hostel had another van waiting for us to take us on to Semuc Champey. We stayed at Greengos Hostel in a private room with shared bathrooms. It was in a great location, inside the National Park and only a quick walk to the pools etc. The ride to Greengos took about another 45mins-1hr and is very bumpy and off-road. For those thinking of driving to Semuc, I would recommend against it. It's probably doable in a 4WD but the signage is poor and it would be hard to know where to go if you haven't been before. We finally made it to the hostel and bunkered down for the night.
The next day we planned to do the full day tour of Semuc Champey and the caves (200Q quoted by hostel). Unfortunately we were so tired the night before we didn't pre-book and didn't realize the tour left at 9am. We woke up and made it to reception at 930 so had missed it but some other travelers were walking to the pools so we joined them. It took about 10mins to get to the pools. Entrance fee to the park is 50Q. We climbed the Mirador first; a hard and humid hike, only about 500m but slippery and steep. It was such an amazing lookout and view over the pools, and we saw monkeys in the trees so well worth it!! Then 700m down the other side and you're met with the amazing turquoise pools of Semuc Champey. We swam and explored the pools for a good 2hrs or so. The water was beautiful and there weren't too many people there. We ate lunch from one of the street food stalls just outside the entrance. Basic BBQ chicken and rice but cheap and quite nice. After a while a few of us wanted to check out the caves so we wandered left out of the park, across the old bridge, and left again to the cave entrance. It was 60Q to do the caves and there was a group just about to go in when we arrived so we tagged along with them. Bring your own headlamp if you can otherwise it's holding a candle to light the way. The caves were the COOLEST experience! I've done heaps of caving and canyoning but this was awesome! You're wading through ankle to neck high water, climbing up and down ladders, crawling and worming through spaces until you get to the end where there's a rock jump into a pool of deep water in the dark. I did the jump, not too high but being in a dark rocky cave it was pretty thrilling. Then back out the way you came. All in all I think it was about an hour. Wear just bikini and sneakers/sandshoes. You can leave your other stuff at the counter (probably don't take valuables). We also took a GoPro in. We decided not to do the tubing only because we've done it a fair bit in other countries but it goes from the same place as the caves for 10Q. Overall the whole day cost less than a tour and was exactly the same experience, if not better as we did it all at our own pace.
Our last day in SC ended early; our hostel drove us back to Lanquin at 630am for our shuttle to Flores at 8am. We booked this through our hostel on arrival for 150Q. We were later asked to pay another 25Q as the van had aircon; we said we didn't want aircon and didn't want to pay more but they said there was no choice and we were literally in the middle of the jungle with no other choice so we paid. Indeed the van was aircon which ended up being a good thing because it was HOT that day and they absolutely packed the van full. The van To SC only had about 6-8 people so it was pretty comfortable. The van From SC had about 10 people and every seat was FULL. This was the worst shuttle ride of my life. Firstly we backtracked 2hrs to Coban to pick up 4 more people who could hardly fit. The driver was so bad, we had to keep stopping to pull over for another traveler to vomit, our lunch stop was at a petrol station with horrendous looking food-poisoning inducing food, and we had to wait for an hour at one point in the stinking heat for a ferry across some river. Just before Flores the driver pulls over and shuffles us all into another van with 3 local guys saying he has to get back to Coban tonight so these guys will take us to Flores. The whole thing seemed dodgy but we all changed across. The next driver takes us all to an ATM and says there's none on the island of Flores (which there is) so we should all get money now. We actually needed cash at this point so it was fine but we were staying in Tikal so needed to figure out how to get there. It was 7pm at this point. The 'leader' of the 3 guys (had a big scar across his face near his mouth) called his taxi friend and tells us we have to pay him 500Q to get to Tikal. We knew immediately we were in the middle of a scam so told him to get f*cked and went to get our luggage off the roof and out of the van. S#it hit the fan when the taxi guy turned up and demanded to be paid. We refused to go anywhere with any of them or pay any money. They tried to stop us getting our luggage and threatened to drive off with it but my boyfriend climbed onto the roof of the car and threw our stuff down. They refused to leave or drop any of the other passengers to Flores then if we didn't pay them. We didn't want to disadvantage everyone else who needed transport but also knew they were in a scam situation. We threw 50Q at the cab driver and told them to f*ck off and we left. We ended up getting a cab a bit further up the road for 250Q. We finally made it to Tikal at 845pm.
TIKAL (1N): The benefit of staying in Tikal at the Jaguar Inn was waking up to the sound of the Howler monkeys and being right at the entrance to the park. Unfortunately because it was too late to buy our park entrance tickets the night before we couldn't enter the park straight away. The ticket office is a good 20km from the hotels in Tikal and is only open from 6am-6pm. You don't need a ticket to check in to your hotel but you can't do anything else in the park without it. Of course the charge a motsa to get to the gate because they can so instead of taking a cab we waited for the local bus to leave and asked to be dropped at the gate. This wasn't until about 11am and cost 10Q each. We bought our tickets (150Q) and then hung around the gate for another bus to come by with spare seats and offered another 10Q to go back. We entered the park around midday and spent a good 3hrs wandering the ruins. We were on a time limit because we had to get on the last collectivo back to Flores at 330pm. Tikal is amazing but I would recommend doing it with a guide or reading a lot about it before you go. We didn't read much thinking there might be signs or descriptions of the ruins and there were some but they weren't detailed so it was hard to fully appreciate the history and story of the place. It is also easy to get lost in there as the paths are not well signposted and the map was not particularly accurate. And the park is a lot bigger than we thought so give yourself at least 4hrs I would think to truly explore the sites.
FLORES (1N): The collectivo back to Flores was 30Q each and dropped us at Santa Elena bus station. We then took a Tuk Tuk across the bridge to Flores for 5Q each. We stayed at Hostel Yaxha in a private room with ensuite. We would highly recommend this hostel, it was clean, quiet, and really comfortable. We LOVED Flores! Such a quaint little island town. We spent the afternoon after we got in walking around the island. Takes about 30mins to do the whole thing. There is an ATM inside the convenience store. We ate dinner at Capitan (something) along the Main Street on the west side of the island. Had the most delicious Guatemalan stew dish and Fajitas!! The next day there was a religious street parade and the whole island had been decorated and everyone was out celebrating. This was pretty cool to experience.
Around 1130 we made our way back to Santa Elena bus station by Tuk Tuk (another 5Q each) and took the bus to Melchor de Mencos (border town to Belize) for 30Q each. This trip takes about 1.5hrs. We were dropped at the bridge on the edge of town, a short walk across and you're at the Guatemalan exit booth. Passports stamped, another short walk across to the Belizean building, and out into Belize!!
Overall it was an amazing trip and a path we would highly recommend to other travelers. We would recommend doing this over a longer period of time than 7 nights if you can afford it. By the end we felt as though we had been chewed up and spat out by Guatemala! We would have liked to do the Acatenango Volcano overnight hike as well as visit Lake Atitlan but we prioritized Semuc Champey this trip and I'm so glad we did as it was a highlight! Hopefully this helps other travelers!