Sunday Stills: Tourism

On Instagram, I came across a quote that I loved so much, I actually bought an audiobook about Mark Twain called “Around the World with Mark Twain”. The quote is:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I’m glad I bought the book because it’s very interesting, but I discovered that Mark Twain never said this.

I just read an article about an Instagrammer with over 100K followers who was caught using stock photos, sometimes adding himself to the photo or making other slight changes. The Instagrammer says he has receipts for all of the stock photos he used, but it’s disappointing to know he was posting fake experiences.

Before we went to Turkey last summer, everyone tried to warn us not to go. ISIS was going to kidnap us. When we arrived in Istanbul, the customs area was deserted.


We enjoyed Istanbul so much and felt so safe that we go be back one day. I saw Turkish Insta-friends (women) who dressed Wow! Very sexy! (Look up: Nazila and Hatice.) I saw women dressed in all ways all over Istanbul. I had conversations and subtle interactions with women in burkas who made me feel very welcome in their city. (You can read about my experiences here.)

When we booked tours in Mexico City and Michoacán a few years ago, we were alone with the tour guide. Tourists were so afraid to visit Mexico that we had our own private tour! Two weeks after we left Michoacán, an navy admiral was ambushed and killed on the highway. (You can read our Michoacán post here!)

Before our 2016 Guatemala trip, Dan told me that located our hotel in a zone where La Marasalvatrucha, the infamous drug gang, operate.

Also, we were planning a trip to Tikal to see the Mayan pyramids. But Tikal is in a tropical zone, and the Zika virus scare had just begun. Some airlines had announced that they were willing to cancel bookings to the most dangerous destinations.

We saw this billboard in Guatemala City: “They freeload while you pay the bill”

We went to Guatemala and had such a good time in this interesting country that we promised ourselves that we would return. (You can read about our adventures in Guatemala here!)

Like many news stories, these turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Yes, there are dangers, but you know what?

😮 In New York at that time, gang members were cutting some pedestrians’ faces!

😮 That March, New York City announced that they had registered 18 cases of Zika virus.

😮  And if you still think you might be safer wrapping yourself under the covers and staying in bed, two years ago a construction crane fell and crashed into a building below, killing a woman who was in bed sleeping.

So, before planning your trip, perhaps you’d like to update yourself of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world or check out where were the world’s most devastating earthquakes in the past decade, but I don’t recommend it. Instead, look at the TripAdvisor forums and communicate with other travelers who have visited your destination. Sign into Instagram and follow people from all over the world to see how normal their lives are. Then get on a plane and go! Go with your eyes wide open and see the world as it really is. Stay alert to the dangers and don’t take unnecessary risks. “Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Tikal: The Ancient Maya City

When we were planning our trip to Guatemala, we knew that one of the highlights would be the Unesco World Heritage site of the ancient Maya city of Tikal. Tikal lasted from 600 BC to 900 AD and, at its peak, had a population of 90,000 people. According to archeologists, the city was abandoned suddenly with no sign of attack.

There are a few hypotheses. Some archaeologists believe there was a great famine or an epidemic strike. Others believe the constant battling with foreign tribes drove the people away.

Warning: Gran Jaguar Tour Agency

Read the TripAdvisor forums before your trip. Many travelers were complaining of arranging their transportation from Flores to Tikal with a tour company called Gran Jaguar who collected money online and then never showed up. Our taxi from the airport offered us his services. Dan asked the name of his company and it wasn’t Gran Jaguar, so we took him up on it.

We told him about Gran Jaguar and he was shocked. He’s friends with the people from Gran Jaguar but didn’t know what they were doing. Dan checked the forums for a while after our trip and people were complaining about new incidents.

The National Tree of Guatemala

Ceiba tree with its conical spikes

The Ceiba tree is the national tree of Guatemala. The Maya believed its roots went down to the underworld (Xibalbá) and that Xtabay, the malignant demon, lived in it.


Close-up of the Ceiba tree

When you arrive at the park, you hire one of the licensed guides to take you through the park. There are jaguars in the park so it is better to be accompanied by someone who knows the area. Our guide Jesus was very knowledgeable but only speaks Spanish, but you can find guides who speak English, too.

In Tikal with tour guide
With our guide, Jesus
Jesus, our guide, was waiting for us below

The pyramids of Mexico and Guatemala do not look like those in Egypt. This style is called talud tablero, which is built in steps.


Fact: The Maya and Rubber

To the left of the pyramid ahead was the ball field. The ancient Maya, like the Inca, played with rubber balls. The Inca even had rubber-soled shoes! To create rubber from the sap of the rubber tree, you need a process for it to coagulate. The Maya and the Inca added sulfur from Morning Glory vines. They were using rubber for over 1,000 years before it was being used in the western world!


These animals are called coati. A band of about 20 of them ran out of nowhere, startling all of us tourists. Coati are from the raccoon species, and they’re very fast. I read later that they’re in Venezuela, too, but I’ve never seen them.

The Island of Flores

Dinner in Flores

Flores is a colorful tourist island in lake Petén-Itza. Many tourists stay here when they visit Tikal.

The other option, which many prefer, is to stay at one of the three sanctioned hotels in Tikal National Park, where you sleep in the jungle with the sounds of the animals and the chance to wake up bright and early to see the spectacular sunrise. These hotels, though, do not have air conditioning and Tikal is a hot and sticky place. We stayed in Flores and after a long, hot day in Tikal, we were grateful to have air conditioning!


The best way to get to the Petén Province is by a one-hour plane ride. Driving can take from 8-10 hours. You’ll need your energy for the long walks and steep climbs in the hot, humid weather.

Do You Want To Read More About Guatemala?

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Mayan Culture and Everyday Life in Guatemala

Lake Atitlan and Its Three Volcanos

We arrived at Lake Atitlan by taxi, all the way from Guatemala City. Your first view of Lake Atitlan will leave you speechless, this beautiful lake is surrounded by three volcanos. The little villages around the lake are populated with ex-pats from all over the world, looking for an inexpensive and leisurely lifestyle, and by Mayan people who still dress traditionally and speak their native languages at home and learn Spanish in school.


Micro Loans Help Poor People

Restaurant Palopo
Our driver Jorge at my side, and our boat driver is in the background

A young Mayan man took us across in a his boat. He bought it through a micro loan, like the ones we’ve helped finance through Kiva works with local lenders to raise funds through it’s website. It’s fun to browse Kiva’s website. Choose a country and look at how people plan on spending their loans. Here at Panajachel we loved seeing someone benefit from his loan!


Artisan Cooperatives and Mayan Fashion Models

Antigua is a stunning city with cobbled streets and colonial architecture. The city is heavily populated with more ex-pats. The busier interesections have police officers stationed.


The town is full of tourists, too, some who come just for the nightlife. A couple of teenage girls were laughing at some Mayan women who were selling in the central square. I have never seen tourist act so disgustingly!!!

Newspaper article
The headline says: Artisan dreams come true

In Antigua, we learned of an artisan cooperative group which eliminates third parties from the sales chain, which means more profits for the artisans. The most exciting part, for customers like us, is seeing the authentic Mayan models in their beautiful color catalogues.


Unfortunately we hadn’t made arrangements ahead of time to visit some of these artisans. That will have to be our next trip to Guatemala!

Laura and Xibalbá


We became friends with Laura, the owner of an artisan jewelry shop in Antigua, called Xibalbá. Xibalbá is the ancient Mayan underworld. The name translates to ‘place of fright’.

“Flesh falls from the body, eyes hang from their sockets and bodily functions are no longer controlled.”


The ancient Maya believed that the only way to avoid Xibalbá was to die a violent death.

Most tourists avoid the highly dangerous Guatemala City, but if you spend at least a day there, I highly recommend the Popol Vuh museum and the Ixchel museum next door. Popul Vuh is the Maya story of creation and it is fascinating to learn about, but at the museum, you will learn about how the Maya civilization developed through the ages.

Aside: How Dangerous Is Guatemala City?

We went to a small shopping mall close to the museum in the wealthy Zone 10. The mall was filled with non-uniformed guards. Every time someone entered, a uniform guard radioed his colleagues with a slight description.


We walked two blocks to a restaurant we found on TripAdvisor and we found more non-uniformed guards on the streets.

Laura from Xibalba
Laura even showed us the area surrounding Antigua.

Laura and I talked for a long time about precious stones and our personal feelings of connection to them. We met her on-site artisan and watched him work.


We were excited to see that the Miss Universe Guatemala 2016 competition chose Laura’s shop to create the crown!

Mayan Sales People in the Streets

The poorer artisans try to sell their goods to the tourists. They’ll ask you your name. If they see you the next day, they’ll call you by name from across the street!

We caught one woman lying about the authenticity of the scarves she was selling. Her goods were from China. When I asked he why she lied to us, she laughed and said because she wanted to sell us the scarf. We agreed on a price and I bought the scarf from her. April nights can be cold in Antigua.

The lesson: If you want a low price, don’t expect something handmade in Guatemala.


We came home from Guatemala with new friends, new acquaintances, new experiences and totally in love with Guatemala. You can read some of our other experiences, like our tour of Luis Mena school and and our visit to Casa Santo Domingo, below. Soon I’ll write about our visit to Tikal, the ancient Mayan city.

Why Did Two Tourists Visit A School In Guatemala and How Did It Turn Into A Highlight of Their Trip?

Historic Casa Santo Domingo Is The No. 1 Thing To Do In Antigua Guatemala

Historic Casa Santo Domingo Is The No. 1 Thing To Do In Antigua Guatemala

Casa Santo Domingo is a former monastery turned into a 5-star hotel. Founded in 1642, the monastery was partially destroyed by the Santa Marta earthquake in 1773.

This earthquake and its aftershocks had such a profound affect on this city that the government immediately made plans to move the capital from Antigua to Guatemala City.


In fact, Antigua’s original name was Guatemala City. They moved the name, too, to what is now the country’s capital. Antigua means ancient. The city of Antigua is the ancient Guatemala City!


Hotel Casa Santo Domingo is a great place to rest in peace 💀 😱

The hotel restored and continues to maintain these precious grounds. The hotel is expensive, with non-discounted prices beginning at $184. If you already have  accommodations, you can still visit the grounds and the many museums on the property.


Rated by travelers on TripAdvisor as the number one thing to do in Antigua, Guatemala, you will not be disappointed!


The hotel has a restaurant, of course, but don’t feel limited. There are plenty of choices all over Antigua.


There are six museums:

  1. Colonial museum
  2. Archeology museum
  3. Museum of pre-Columbian art and modern glass
  4. Contemporary art museum
  5. Handcrafts museum
  6. Pharmacy museum

You will definitely need a full day here. You’ll go back to your hotel exhausted but too excited to sleep.

Aixa’s Reading Recommendation 😉

Why Did Two Tourists Visit A School In Guatemala and How Did It Turn Into A Highlight of Their Trip?

Why Did Two Tourists Visit A School In Guatemala and How Did It Turn Into A Highlight of Their Trip?

School Luis Mena shares a wall with Casa Santo Domingo, Antigua’s top-rated tourist attraction, shares a wall with school Luis Mena but the beautiful monastery-turned-tourist-hotel is a world apart from the everyday life of this school. We loved monastery Santo Domingo, but school Luis Mena turned into the highlight of our trip.

We were just leaving monastery Santo Domingo when we heard the commotion of school dismissal so we quickened our pace, turned the corner and saw the children leaving school, running and jumping and playing around the way children do, many with family waiting to take them home.

School isn’t for all the children, like thrse children sitting on the curb.
I asked this girl why she didn’t go to school but she said she had to work to help her family survive.
Staff members leave already mounted on their scooters

We asked a staff member if we could enter to speak to the school administrator and she led us to teacher Luisa Fernanda. We explained to Luisa Fernanda that we would love to see the school so she asked the school administrator and got permission to give us a tour the following morning at 9 am!

We spent the rest of the afternoon buying school supplies, asking stationery supply stores what teachers needed most.

Luisa Fernanda met us at the front gate promptly at 9 am and lead us directly to her classroom. The students were in the English class so we had time to talk and learn all about the challenges she faced as a teacher.

Luisa Fernanda’s class of 40 6th graders was overcrowded and, worse, the government couldn’t provide enough books for all of the children in the class. Homework was very difficult to assign since the children didn’t have books to bring home.

Teacher Luisa Fernanda in her classroom

The school day was from 9 am to 2 pm, at which time another school used the space for different students. Luisa Fernanda told us that she locked up the supplies, many that she bought with her own money, but sometimes she would find the lock broken and the supplies missing in the morning.

Some mornings, Luisa finds the lock on the big closet broken


It was now time to pick up the children from their English class and bring them to the computer room. The children were so full of energy and were very excited to meet us. We walked together to the computer room.

The computer room was pretty modern, thanks to donations from Santo Domingo Monastery Hotel.


Now we toured the school and had the chance to meet the bright-faced children from all the grades.

The student cafeteria
The school auditorium
Gym class


Staff parking

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