Travel Blog for Fredrik and Gunnhild


It was a 4 hour drive from Tangalle to Colombo, but with a lot to see along the road. Several temples, one with two elephants living in the garden, small towns and larger cities, an area known for cashew nuts had stands selling these every few meters, an old Portugeese fort, a romantic beach full of couples with umbrellas, crazy traffic, pimped up tuk-tuk’s and full families on small scooters. In Colombo there were some demonstrations towards the new government, for raising taxes and fines with several 100 percent, but our driver was prepared and got us to the hotel without any problems.


Our hotel, Cinnamon Red, was everything Ceylon Sea was not. Efficient, elegant, artsy, 24 hour service, quiet, great food, surprisingly cheap and with an amazing roof top terrace with an infinity pool on the 26th floor. We probably spent more time in the hotel than we should have, but we had such a great time there, and never really figured out Colombo. The city was quite loud and dirty, and we didn’t really find any nice areas to walk around. We spent a lot of time trying to find a cheap place to do laundry, and ended up in a strange place with no signs quite far from the hotel. When picking it up the next day, the place was closed, and after calling the owner we still had to wait 45 minutes for someone to show up.


We booked a 4 hour city tour, but got a very strange driver, driving in 20 km/h most of the time, and who was more interested in showing us bus stations and military buildings than the actual sights. We still got to see Galle face green, the parliament, the lighthouse, the Independence Hall, Sambodhi Chaithya stupa, several beautiful mosques and churches, an impressive Hindu temple, old and new city hall, large hotels, ports, courts and statues. We had a relaxing stop at Beira Lake, with a romantic island in the middle and several couples in swan-shaped boats on the lake. The most interesting stop of the tour was Gangaramaya Buddhist temple, built in a mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture. The temple itself with statues, pagoda, Bodhitree and assembly hall was interesting, and we got very fascinated by the museum. It contained some old artifacts and a lot of worthless gifts and souvenirs (like old pens, beer mugs etc.).



We spent a lot of time in Colombo booking the rest of our trip. High season starts in the middle of December, and it was a lot harder to find good and cheap places to stay. The biggest challenge was the train ride to Kandy. We were told we needed to pay in advance for luggage online, but after several email back and forth with the helpdesk we gave up and asked the reception to call them. We were advised to go to the station to arrange everything, but their printer didn’t work and they said we could pay for luggage on the train (which we never did).


Our best meal in Colombo was without a doubt at Lagoon restaurant. It is part of the posh Cinnamon Grand Hotel (with pink Christmas trees and decorations all over the place), but is located in a quiet, green oasis in the back. You pick the seafood of your choice from their display, and select how it should be prepared. We ended up with a starter (lobster tail), and 1,5 main dishes (Tuna steak and a couple of scampi in a sauce that sounded too good to miss). Everything was absolutely delicious, and we even had room for a small dessert in the end. Great night!


We booked a private air conditioned car from Unawatuna to Tangalle, an even smaller beach town on the south coast. There was a problem with one of the tires, so we had a short visit at a turtle hatchery & hospital while the driver got it changed. In one pool around twenty 10 days old turtles were swimming around, ready to be released in a couple of days. There were also several turtles injured by fishing nets that were receiving treatment, and one disabled turtle swimming in circles. We also had a short stop in Weligama to see the poles used for stilt fishing, and in Mirissa to see yet another beautiful beach.


After 2,5 hours we arrived at our hotel, Ceylon Sea Hotel & Spa, where there was a wedding party going on in the garden. The hotel was less than a year old, and is rated as a 4 star hotel, but it didn’t really live up to the expectations. The location was superb, with a short walk through the garden to a beautiful beach, but with weddings in the garden pretty much every day (starting with loud drums at 8 am) it wasn’t that easy to reach after all. The hotel is built with the balconies away from the sea, there was two dining room chairs and no table on the balcony, the 24-hour reception closed at 4 pm, the spa was a yoga instructor with a table, and none of the other advertised facilities were available (including internet). The young trainees were superb tough, showed us around, fixed what could be fixed, and always met us with a huge smile.



In addition to the loud weddings, we also had quite a bit of rain while in Tangalle, so we spent a lot less time at the beach than originally planned. But we spent a lot of time in the warm ocean, fascinated by the waves, the super soft sand bottom and “being all alone in the sea”. We went to the local bottle shop to buy some dark beer, which was kind of a crazy experience. Locals pretty much climbing on top of each other waving money around, but after a while one of them helped us to the front of the line. There were not a lot of tourists at all in Tangalle, so everybody wanted us to eat at their restaurant (mainly family owned places it seemed). We had dinner twice at Sea View restaurant, which was highly recommended on Tripadvisor, had really good food, a few cozy tables at the beach and a very friendly waiter (Lali). Our first night there it started raining, so we were invited for some arrack and soda with the owner and friends until it stopped.


We also had dinner at Kura restaurant one day. Afterwards we were invited over for some drinks with some locals and an American couple. We had a great time for a few hours, but then more and more friends kept showing up, and they all wanted a piece of us, so we figured it was time to leave. Friendship Beach Bar was also an interesting place at the beach. It was very laid back, and some young locals were playing drums and guitar. They were quite good when playing local songs, but we struggled to keep a straight face when they tried to sing modern pop songs. Fun for a while though. All in all, Tangalle was not the paradise we were hoping it would be, but we still had a good time there, and it felt a lot more genuine than Unawatuna.



The first 4 weeks of my 2 months South East Asia adventure will be spent in Sri Lanka with my good friend (and previously weekend trip travel buddy) Linda. I will meet my long time travel buddy Fredrik in the Philippines for the last 4 weeks. It is always a bit scary to travel with someone new, but so far it has been amazing although different. Fredrik and I usually move around a lot, and always have a lot of plans for things to see and do. Linda is teaching me to slow down and relax, which turns out to be pretty great too.

We arrived in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka, after travelling for about 20 hours. Emirates were great, but none of us could sleep much on the flights, so we barely managed to stay awake until 7 pm before crashing for more than 12 hours. Our first impressions of Sri Lanka were that it was very green and that everyone are super friendly. Unawatuna is a small beach town on the west coast, known for its beautiful beaches and corals. Both were badly damaged by the tsunami, but the beach is still beautiful, and the coral reefs are getting better.

Our hotel, Prime Time, was located across the road from the beach. It had Swedish owners, but the manager and the staff were locals. Quite good value for money, but our backs were not too happy with the mattresses. We had peacocks, squirrels, lizards, birds and probably a lot more on the roofs and in the jungle around the hotel. Most if the time we had the shared balcony outside our room to ourselves (except the mosquitoes). We also had some drinks with staff and friends in the common area downstairs.

Most of our time in Unawatuna we spent on the beach
(or in the water actually) and in the many beach restaurants (preferably the ones with shadow and ceiling fans). It was warm and quite humid, and with 30 degrees Celsius in the water it was difficult to cool off. Sun beds were free if you bought some food and drinks, so we had
breakfast or lunch at the beach most days, and lots of fresh pineapple juice. A few people were walking around selling clothes, blankets, coconuts, souvenirs and offering tours, water sports and massages, but they were all very polite and actually took no for an answer. We got very fond of one of them, Auntie Coco, which we had a long talk with one evening.

There is only one street through town, and we walked parts of it several times every day. The tuk tuk drivers and shop owners all said hi, and when we didn’t want to buy anything they still wanted to talk or at least wish us a good day. After a few days it felt like we had friends all over town (even though they kept calling us madam). 😀 I also have to mention the quite annoying bread van (tuk tuk) driving around and playing Für Elise day and night.

We tried several different restaurants, and had so much great food. Even the more western dishes were served with some amazing local sauces, which made all the difference. Our favourite restaurant was without a doubt, Kingfisher. The first time we went there was in the middle of a thunderstorm, and we had water over our ankles on our way there. They had large, solid tents on the beach though, so we had a great time watching the rain and lightning. We even had a scorpion on the beach, trying to escape the water. All the dishes we had there were top notch, and especially their Brandy-zucchini sauce was to die for. The creamy pineapple daiquiri was amazing as a dessert, and the service was really great too.

As many of you know, we are fond of good craft beer. In Unawatuna there was only one beer available, Lion lager. Not a bad beer, but quite boring after a while. Luckily we were able to buy Lion Strong (just ok) and Lion Stout (surprisingly good) at the wine store at the main road. In the evenings we often had a couple of drinks instead of beer. Drinks made from fresh fruit are actually quite delicious, especially while lying in a pillow-filled bed at the beach listening to the waves.

We had a daytrip to nearby Galle fort. Our tuk tuk driver suggested a short stop in a herbal garden on the way there, and it was actually quite interesting. We got to taste, smell and try a lot of the different herbs and plants, and even ended up with a little shopping at the end. Galle fort was built by the Dutch in 1663, and is still a vibrant part of the city. It has lots of historic houses, churches, mosques and temples, but it was too hot for us to walk around, so we only saw a few of them. We also had a walk on the fort walls to the 18 meter high lighthouse. We had lunch in a hammock bar in the recently restored Dutch Hospital, a beautiful colonial building from the 18th century overlooking the small lighthouse beach. On our way back to Unawatuna we stopped at the spice market for some shopping and local recipes.

Another highlight was a deep tissue massage at The Sanctuary Spa. It really lived up to its name. The experience started in a beautiful and serene garden, and from the massage bed I had beautiful views of the surrounding jungle. The massage itself was really good (although a bit painful at times), and afterwards I enjoyed a fresh coconut in the peaceful garden. Lovely!

In between all the relaxation, I also had time for some scuba diving. I decided to go with Unawatuna diving center, which seemed more professional than most of the smaller places. They were very accommodating, drying and storing my gear between dives, offering free transport to and from the hotel, did all the heavy lifting and always had time for questions. They also had small groups (3 divers + guide), which was really nice. Since the water was so warm, I didn’t even need a wetsuit, just a thin rash guard. I did all dives in the morning, when the visibility was best, around 10-15 meters. The dive sites I visited was SS Rangoon wreck, SS Orestes wreck, Galle wreck and Goda Gala Diyamba. Lots of colorful fish, starfish everywhere, lionfish, cuttlefish, a giant moray out swimming and 5-6 large octopuses. Nice!

Panama City and San Blas/Guna Yala

20150126-1-2Our divemaster drove us to Panama City after our second dive. We were allowed to keep our room until then, so we had time for a quick shower. We checked in to our hotel (Doubletree by Hilton), went out to get cash for our shuttle and sailtrip, and spent the rest of the evening in Istmo brewpub, which was located just a few blocks away. Really nice with some craft beer again! We went home early to repack and try to get a few hours sleep before our pickup at 5.15 am.

We left our suitcases at the hotel, and travelled only with small backpacks. Our shuttle was 45 minutes late, not at all comfortable and with too many people. The last part of the trip to Carti was on crazy steep, winding roads with quite a few potholes. 20150127-1-2And when we finally arrived, we had to wait more than an hour for the lancha (small boat) to take us to Banedup, where our home for the next three days was waiting for us. The lancha had several stops, delivering groceries and dropping off people on different boats. We were welcomed to our boat, Perle (Bavaria 41 ft), by captain Miro (Polish) and the two other passengers, Debora and Stefan (Argentinian). We had a small breakfast and a quick swim before sailing to Green Island. Debora and Stefan are sailing regattas back home, so they did most of the work and we could just sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Small paradise islands everywhere, palm trees, perfect white beaches and crystal clear water.

The San Blas Islands consists of nearly 400 small and large islands (only 40 are inhabited) on Panama’s Caribbean coast. They are home to the indigenous Guna Indians, who since the Tule Revolution in 1925 have controlled the islands and a narrow band of the mainland and have named their territory Guna Yala. No non-Gunas are allowed to live in this area, and they check passports of everyone going in or out. They have their own tribal laws, traditions and culture, and the 55000 Gunas are organized within a strict hierarchy of tribal leaders. Their main income is from coconuts, even though tourism is getting more and more important.


We spent more than 24 hours anchored outside Green Island or Kanlildup as it is called in the local language. It is surrounded by reefs and sandbanks, so navigation to the island is a bit difficult, but once you are there the waters are calm and the views amazing. We took the dinghy to shore a few times or just swam from the sail boat. It took around 20 minutes to walk around the entire island, and most of the time we were the only ones there. A few other boats were anchored close by, and some Gunas stopped there during the day to cook some lunch on the beach. We did some snorkeling in the area, but it was very shallow, so it was a bit difficult. We did see lots of small fish though, and even an eagle ray when we found a deeper area. On one side of the island there were hundreds of starfish close to the beach. Local fishermen stopped by the boat several times a day to sell fish, lobsters or fruit, and the first day we ended up buying 5 small lobsters, and had a great evening with wine and good food.

20150128-1Our first night on the boat was very warm, so we started the day with a refreshing swim. Some of us went to the island to try some windsurfing, while others relaxed in the hammock or went snorkeling. We also took the dinghy to an even smaller island (Waisaladup) close by. Paradise! We sailed to Western Holandes Cays, where we anchored outside another island named Waisaladup and the neighbouring Acuakargana. On the way there we saw several of the tiny Guna boats, where one person was holding the sail and the other one was struggling to keep the boat from filling up with water. 20150129-1And when we arrived we were met by a small cruise ship planning to visit the same island as us. Too bad! But while they built a small resort on the beach for a couple of hours, we went snorkeling from the boat, and they soon left so we had the island all to ourselves. The reefs here were much better, with loads of fish, a cool flounder, a barracuda and a trumpet fish. We bought some fish from a local fisherman and had another great dinner on the boat.

20150130-1On our last day we sailed back to Banedup where the lanchas where leaving from. Banedup is a tiny island with a bar, two docks and a few cottages for rent. We said goodbye to the others who were continuing to Portobelo (around 8 hours sailing), and relaxed on the beach with a cold beer while waiting for a lancha. Fredrik made a deal with some locals that not only got us safely back to the mainland, but also had a car waiting for us to take us back to Panama City. And we paid less than half of what we paid when booking through the hotel!

20150130-1-2We arrived at our hotel around 6 pm, and enjoyed the luxury of having internet and a real shower again. We took a taxi (3 dollars) to the old town, and had a light dinner and some craft beer at La Rana Dorada, a brew pub we knew from our trip 2 years ago. We were not really used to staying up late with lots of people everywhere after San Blas, so we went for a walk around the old town before heading back to the hotel. Our flight home was at 6 pm, so we had one last day in Panama City. We walked around in familiar streets, had one last craft beer at La Rana Dorada, did some last minute shopping, stocked up on snacks for the flight and tried to take in that our 2 month adventure was over. After 15 hours travelling, we arrived in cold Norway Sunday afternoon and were picked up by Fredrik’s mother, who not just got us safely home, but had prepared an evening meal for each of us to bring home. So sweet!


20150126-1Getting from Belize to Panama was a lot harder than we expected it to be. We looked into several different options and routes (via Rio Dulce, via Roatan etc), but finally decided on just flying directly and take a few more dives in Panama instead. For some reason the flight tickets we booked online kept being cancelled. On the third try we booked from Belize City instead of San Pedro, and we finally received a confirmation a couple of days later. It was a long day of travelling though. The water taxi actually left on time at 1 pm (rare). We took a taxi to the airport and had 2,5 hours there before our flight. We had another 2,5 hours between flights in San Salvador, and when we finally got out of the airport in Panama City it was passed midnight (1 hour time difference). Our dive instructor from Golden Frog Diving, Rey, was there to pick us up and drive us to our hotel (Coco Plum) in Portobelo. Checked in and ready for bed around 2 am. Long day!


We did 4 dives in two days in Portobelo. Golden Frog Diving was located just 30 meters from our room, so it was very convenient. Rey and the other people working there were great, and we were diving in small groups. The first day we visited the two most famous dive sites in the area, El Avion and Drake Island. The first one is a sunken C-45 aircraft, 20150125-1-3a small two-engine military transport plane. Quite cool, but the visibility wasn’t great. We continued over the reef, had some fun swimtroughs and even went into a small cave and out a very narrow opening in the cave ceiling. Drake Island is where divers are still searching for Sir Francis Drake’s coffin which was cast out to sea here. We were more interested in the beautiful coral reefs (very different in both shape and color compared to what we have seen before) and all the colorful fish found there. The second day we had two dives around Salmedina Reef. Our dive master was great at showing us small details and letting us touch what could be touched without harm (like a strange sticky coral). Other highlights was a huge barracuda, and helping to find and capture lion fish which do not belong here (native to the Indo-Pacific) and are now threatening the reef ecosystems. We also had lunch in a beautiful bay with white sand and crystal clear water.

Since we had not arranged our trip from Portobelo to San Blas and back to Panama City, we didn’t have too much time to explore the city. 20150125-1Portobelo is a lazy harbour town and the starting port for many boats going via San Blas to Columbia. It used to be an important trading port for plundered treasures for the Spanish, and several forts were built to keep the pirates away. We walked from our hotel to the city centre and passed the well-preserved Santiago Battery, which still has 14 of the original cannons in place. Other famous buildings are Casa Real de la Aduana (The restored royal customs house, now housing a small museum) and Iglesia de San Felipe (a church housing Panama’s most important religious icon, the Black Christ), but we didn’t go into any of them. We went to Captain Jack’s to see if it was possible to go by boat from Portobelo to San Blas, 20150125-1-2but ended up booking a hotel in Panama City before and after instead. That way we can leave our suitcases there and just bring what we need. With all travel arrangements taken care of we just enjoyed the social part of Captain Jack’s. Had some great curry, a couple of beers and a few drinks and talked to a lot of great people from all over the world.

San Pedro – Ambergris Caye

20150124-1The former fishing village of San Pedro is the biggest city on the islands of Belize, located on the largest caye. The city have a population of more than 9000 and even paved roads and cars. 🙂 The main reason for us to go here was that the dive sites were a lot closer, instead of one hour on a boat it is maximum fifteen minutes. We stayed at Hotel del Rio, a little bit out of the city center, quiet but right on the beach. We had two bedrooms and a big balcony. Luxury! Two days we got up early and went out for two dives with the dive shop Chuck & Robbie’s. 20150122-1Since the dive sites were so close we went back to the shop between the dives for some fruit and snacks. Professional, fun and laid back people! The visibility was great on all dives and we saw several turtles, moray eels, groupers, nurse sharks, eagle rays, stingrays, dolphins, lobsters and lion fish. The reefs were also really nice with narrow channels, canyons and steep walls.

DCIM100GOPROThe third day we went snorkeling in the famous Hol Chan Marine Reserve in the morning. It’s on the southern tip of Ambergris Caye, and means “little channel” in Mayan. The site was nice, but we really regretted that we were snorkeling instead of diving, especially since we were with an unexperienced group and had to wait a lot. We also stopped at Shark-Ray Alley, where they were throwing food in the water to attract nurse sharks and stingrays. Not sure we like that, but have to admit it was interesting to see sharks pile up for food, and actually touching a stingray. 20150123-1-3In the evening we went back to Hol Chan for a night dive, and that was a completely different experience! We were a small group of six people where only one had tried night diving before. And we got kind of a challenge. Not only was it pitch dark, but we also had a very strong current. In the beginning it was quite narrow and everyone were staying close to the instructor, so we crashed into eachother a bit when trying to avoid hitting the reef. We all got a hang of it very quickly though, spread out a bit more and had an amazing dive. 20150123-1-2We saw hundreds of stingrays hiding in the sand, several moray eels (both green and spotted), sharks, eagle rays, large lobsters out walking, large groupers and snappers out hunting, a turtle and so much more. We ended the dive by kneeling at the bottom close to the boat and turn off all flashlights. We waved our hands around to make bioluminescence plankton light up. Really fun!

We walked into the city center a couple of times, but normally ended up in one of the beach bars instead. Too much people, cars and noise around the main square. Our favourite bar was probably Hurricane which was located over the water with great views, 20150131-1had good food, great drinks and often live music. It was the kind of place where they remembered your name and people kept coming back. We also bought fresh breakfast from the local bakery, and food in the evening from the Chinese fast-food place. This we enjoyed on our balcony while looking at the palm trees, the sand and the ocean. Wonderful!

Caye Caulker

20150116-1We had an early flight from Flores to Belize City. The plane had space for 12 passengers, but we were only 9. We took a taxi to the dock, and arrived just a few minutes before the ferry/water taxi was leaving. Another hour and we arrived at Caye Caulker, a beautiful limestone coral island (8 x 1,6 km) surrounded by turquoise water. It has become a popular destination for backpackers, and is a good base for dive trips to the Belize Barrier Reef.

20150116-1-2There’s pretty much just two streets on the island, the one by the beach which is full of restaurants, bars, hotels, dive shops and tour companies, and the one in the middle, which is more residential but with a few restaurants and the local bank and ATM. The main means of transport was golf carts, bicycles or just walking, since nothing was far away anyway. The motto off the island was “Go slow”, and we quickly adjusted to the relaxed pace. People were in general very friendly and often stopped to talk on the street. We did sometimes have a little trouble understanding their charming Carib-English dialect though.

20150117-1We went on two dive trips while we were here. The owner of our hotel (Ocean Pearl Royal) was married to the owner of the closest dive shop (Frenchie’s), and since they also had great reviews we decided to go with them. The most famous dive site in the area is by far The Blue Hole, a perfectly circular limestone sinkhole, dark blue in the middle of all the turquoise. We heard that this dive was a bit overrated, but Frenchie’s offered two other highly rated dive sites on the same trip, so we agreed to go. The boat ride there started at 6 am and took two hours. We were split into groups based on experience, and since we are certified as advanced open water divers we got to be in the group going deep. 20150117-1-2We jumped in close to the reef surrounding the hole and the middle seemed like a huge bottomless pit (it’s 124 meters deep and 300 meters across). The deeper we got the more we could see that this once was air-filled caves, with massive limestone stalactites hanging down from what was once the cave ceiling. It was quite cool to swim under the enormous overhangs and zig-zag between the stalactites, but we could only stay 8 minutes at this depth (40 meters) before working our way up the wall again, and in that part there was not much to see at all. 20150117-1-3Our second dive of the day was at Half Moon Wall, which was worth the 2 hour boat ride alone. The coral reef was amazing with lots and lots of fish, and in the deeper part there were plenty of large reef sharks swimming around. A few of them came really close to check us out. We also came across three dolphins playing around and blowing bubbles on the bottom. Amazing dive site! We stopped for lunch on Half Moon Caye, 20150117-1-4a small island declared a national park. We walked to a watch tower to watch birds, but did not at all expect the view we got. There were birds everywhere, mainly red-footed boobies and frigatebirds. The closest ones were so close that we could touch them. It also seemed to be mating season, since most of the male frigatebirds had inflated their bright red gular pouch. On the walk back we saw a few lizards and hundreds of hermit crabs. Our final dive of the day should have been at a dive site named The Aquarium, but we had some 20150117-1-5snorkelers in the boat and the conditions were too rough. Instead we went to Lion’s Den on the other side of Long Caye. We had another great dive there with eagle rays and turtles as the highlights. On the way back to Caye Caulker the crew served fruit, crackers and as much rum punch as we could drink. We were all pretty happy when we arrived there.


Our second dive trip from Caye Caulker was a bit further south at two sites named Spanish bay and Gallows point. We were in a small group, and had two great dives. 20150119-1We touched a sea cucumber, saw several eagle rays, a moray eel, a barracuda, a juvenile spotted drum and a few lion fish. On the way back we stopped at St. George’s Cuay, where a local family were running an aquarium. They had several local spieces that are almost impossible to spot while diving, and they were also rescuing marine animals and releasing them when they were strong enough to survive. And as always plenty of rum punch on the way back.

20150118-1We decided to move to an island a bit closer to the dive sites, so the rest of our time at Caye Caulker we mainly relaxed and checked out the local restaurants and bars. The split is where most people go for a swim, and the local bar (Lazy lizard) is full of people in swimsuits showing off, flirting and hooking up. We had fun watching the madness for a couple of hours, while enjoying some live reggae music. We were hanging out in the back yard with our German neighbours, drinking local rum and planning where to go next. We watched the beautiful sunset from the pier behind our hotel and had cheap drinks during happy hour. 20150119-1-2On our last evening we went to the restaurant next door (Wish Willy) with the Germans, and the owner, Maurice, sat down with us. We soon felt very much at home, went to get our own beers, brought the rest of the rum from our hotel and Maurice was pouring us vodka shots. He took us to a Jamaican nightclub, where we were literally hanging in the bar (wooden swings) and had a great night with the locals.


20150115-1We arrived in the tiny airport in Flores/Santa Elena at 1830 and took a taxi (3 km) to Isla de Flores, a tiny island in Lago de Petén connected to the shore by a 500 m causeway. We were welcomed by lots of men in women’s clothing, most of them quite drunk and wet after swimming in the lake. We stayed at Hotel Isla de Flores, a very nice hotel in the middle of town. Shortly after we checked in a lot of noise started outside, and the reception called to apologize. It turned out to be The festival of the Black Christ, a celebration of a holy statue in Esquipulas combined with a lot of Mayan traditions. 20150115-1-2This included several parades, marching bands, firecrackers, fireworks, conserts, markets, street food and somehow the men in drag, and a big part of it happened on the central square just a few meters from our hotel. Luckily the double windows were reducing the noise a lot, because they kept going most of the night and started again early in the morning.

20150115-1-5Our main reason for visiting Flores was Tikal, one of the biggest Mayan sites in the world (60 km2). The site is dominated by six giant pyramid-shaped temples up to 64 meters tall. In addition thousands of other structures, many not yet excavated, are found in the jungle of the Parque Nacional Tikal. The oldest buildings are from the 4th century BC and the city kept growing almost until it was abandoned in the 10th century. It wasn’t discovered until the 1940s, and declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979. The Great Plaza lays in the center of the site, surrounded by two of the largest temples, the palace complex Central Acropolis and North Acropolis where the city’s royals were buried. The Plaza of the seven temples has seven almost identical temples on one side, a triple ballcourt and several palaces. We were able to walk into the courtyard of Palacio de las Acanaladuras, 20150115-1-4climb the Talud-Tablero temple, and see the amazing view from the top of Temple IV (new stairs built on the side of the temple). We were also lucky enough to see several spider monkeys, and an entire family of white-nosed coatis crossed the path right in front of us. Howler monkeys could be heard in the distance and birds were constantly flying over our heads.

We had plenty of time to explore the city of Flores, even though we were only staying two nights. The city has only a few blocks in both directions, and walking around the entire island doesn’t take more than 15 minutes. It’s a very charming city with narrow and steep streets, 20150115-1-3well-maintained colonial buildings in nice colors, people swimming in the lake all around and plenty of restaurants and bars. On our last evening, we ended up at a nice roof terrace (Sky bar) with a view towards the main plaza. This was the last day of the festival, and it ended with an amazing firework show lasting for at least 20 minutes. Great way to end our visit here!

Lake Atitlán

20150112-1Again we were a bit late deciding where to go next, so we booked our entire trip to the lake the night before we left. That made it impossible to find space on a shuttle, and we had a fast, comfortable and slightly expensive private car (Carlos from our hotel) taking us here instead. We arrived at the pier in Panajachel, the most developed (and quite touristy) town by the lake at 1230 pm, and instead of waiting for the ferry we took a private boat the short ride to Santa Cruz la Laguna. Most of the village is built on a shelf 100 meters above the water, but our hotel (La Iguana Perdida) is located just by the dock, with beautiful views over the water and the surrounding volcanoes.

20150113-120150113-1-3La Iguana Perdida is a relaxed, social and fun place with beautiful gardens, houses painted in bright colours, great staff, a 3 course family style dinner every night and it also houses the only PADI dive shop on the lake (ATI divers). We did two freshwater altitude dives here, and both were amazing. Earthquakes, tropical storms and landslides has made the lake rise, flooding several hotels, houses and piers, and we were able to dive on a few of them.

20150113-1-420150113-1-5Together with our dive instructor, Oli, we were hanging out on balconies, swimming through windows, under piers and through trees, stopping at a garden fence watching fish swim by and crabs run into hiding, had a break at an underwater bar, washed our hands in a still working tap, and even went in to a small sauna with an air pocket on top and a dripping shower. Very cool! We were fascinated by the green algae forming small towers at the bottom, trying to keep air from escaping. We felt the heat in the sand and from the hot springs in a volcanic rift, and even tried to boil an egg on one of them. Very different and a lot of fun!


We planned to visit a few other villages around the lake, but we met so many wonderful people at the hotel that we never got around to it. With only one full day there and focus on the diving, we didn’t really have the time for it either. If we hadn’t booked a flight, we would definitely have extended our stay.20150112-1-2 The day after our dives we left at 8 am, and travelled by shuttle to Antigua (again we were lucky enough to be the only passengers). We went back to the hotel we had been staying at there, left our bags and had time for lunch and internet (no wi-fi in Santa Cruz) before Carlos drove us to the airport.


20150111-1The owner of our hotel picked us up at the airport in Guatemala City, and we arrived in Antigua just before dusk. This is a small city (population around 35000) in the central highlands of Guatemala. It has an elevation of 1530 meters, which makes it quite a bit colder than where we came from. During the days it got pretty warm in the sun though, so after getting over the initial shock we enjoyed it a lot.

20150111-1-2Antigua is famous for it’s well-preserved Spanish Baroque influenced architecture, cobbled streets and several ruins of colonial churches destroyed by earthquakes. It has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1979. The city is surrounded by mountains and 3 large volcanoes (Volcán de Aqua – 3766 m, Acatenango – 3976 m, Volcán de Fuego – 3763 m). Fuego had its last eruption in 2012 and is still issuing steam and gas several times a day.

We did a lot of sightseeing in the city center on foot, and had a 2 hour Segway tour where we also visited Santa Ana and San Christobal El Bajo, two small villages outside of Antigua.

20150110-1Parque Central is the heart of the city, with a nice fountain, benches, street vendors and a mix between tourists and locals. It is surrounded by nice buildings like Palacio de los Capitanes and the cathedral. Catedral de San Josè used to be one of the largest in Central America, but was seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1773, and only parts of it has been rebuilt/restored. The Church and Convent of Capuchinas was well restored and we could see the church, gardens, bathing halls and private cells of the nuns. Santo Domingo Monastery was destroyed in the 1773 earthquake, and part of the ruins are now elegantly integrated into Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. La Merced Church is built in low height with wider arches and columns designed to withstand20150111-1-3 earthquakes. It has a barroque facade and the biggest fountain in Antigua. Arco de Santa Catalina is a famous landmark in Antigua. It was originally built to allow nuns to cross the street unnoticed, but now it’s a popular spot for tourists to take photos with Volcán de Aqua in the background. San Francisco Church was also badly damaged by earthquakes but is actually still in use.

20150110-1-2We visited several nice restaurants and bars, but kept going back to two places. Kafka had a great roof terrace with spectacular views towards the three volcanoes, and we loved hanging out here during the day. The evenings we spent at Hops & Tales, a wonderful little bar specialising in craft beer. We talked a lot to the owners, Marco and Ellie, and several of the other guests and enjoyed Salvadoran craft beer on tap (Cadejo). They also had beer from two local micro breweries and some other imported craft beers. As the beer geeks we are we asked a lot of questions, and during our first evening there one of the local brewers actually came down to share information about his brewery (Hops & Barley) and beers with us. 20150110-1-3Since we didn’t really want to leave, we ordered food from the amazing Argentinian steakhouse next door and ate at the bar. The next evening we had been through most of the beers, but the other local brewer (Belgian Brasserie) had brought 4 new ones for us to taste. What’s amazing place!