The Displays of Semana Santa Guatemala

We were incredibly lucky to be in Antigua, Guatemala for the famous Semana Santa Guatemala (Holy Week) celebrations which are revered as some of the best in all of Latin America. We were also there purely by chance on those dates, one of those times where a lack of planning turns out better than we could ever have imagined!

You can read about our experience of Semana Santa in Antigua here, but one of the main elements of the celebrations are the intricate and delicate floral displays laid on the road for the processions to walk over on their journeys. People spend hours preparing them, only for them to be walked over by the processions and swept away afterwards. Here are some fleeting glimpses of some of our favourites from the celebrations!

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

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Things To Do In Bocas Del Toro, Panama

Sometimes when you’re travelling so much, it’s hard to really look far ahead and plan things out properly. This can work out great sometimes, with impromptu adventures stemming from a lack of planning.

But sometimes not planning can be a pain in the backside.

After arriving in Panama City, a little tired from our South American adventures, we decided to give ourselves a few days to relax and see some of the local sights such as the Panama canal. Then we looked at our options after our time in the city. This is where our travel weariness came in. We’d travelled pretty much overland from the very southern tip of South America to Ecuador, and quite frankly we were sick of buses. We were also keen to hit up a small group of islands off the North coast of Panama called Bocas del Toro. We had one thing in mind: to relax and enjoy the relaxed vibe of the Caribbean. But how to get there?

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

Hardened nomads look away now.

We considered our options. Another night bus across the country, or a short hop in a plane directly onto the island. Can you see where this is going?

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

It was one of those rare occasions where we took the easy option, and before we knew it we had arrived on Bocas Del Toro, ready to spend a few days exploring the archipelago.

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

There are quite a few things to do in Bocas Del Toro and around this group of Caribbean islands, from ziplining on red frog beach, to deep boarding (basically being dragged along behind a boat underwater!), there is something for everyone. Click here to review the highest rated tours currently on offer. Alternatively, there are plenty of beautiful beaches to just chill out on…

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

On one of our relax days, we hired a couple of bikes and went exploring around the main island. Heading out along the main road away from Bocas town, we quickly ended up cycling alongside beautiful beaches on one side, and lush green jungle on the other. As we go on, the road becomes a little sandy, then a little more sandy, and then, it seems, the road builders just gave up and our road became a beach! Anyone who’s tried cycling on sand will feel our pain. But the views, oh the views!

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

We got off our bikes and began to push, and as we turned a corner we stumbled across a mirage in the distance. What looked like a large wooden shack with cold beers and cocktails. Oh how the heat can tease you. As we drew closer, it was real, oh so real.

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

We grabbed a cold beer to share, watching the surfers battle the waves as we sat perfectly content with where we were right at that moment.

After a couple of hours, we made our way back to our place for the evening. Again Bocas del Toro was kind to us, revealing more beautiful coastline to admire as we cycled home.

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

The archipelago of Bocas Del Toro is a beautiful place, and we only wish we had spent more time there to explore some of the other islands. But even with the best of planning, we just couldn’t manage it. Our Central American adventure had just begun, and as we were to find out, there was plenty more to see from this collection of exciting countries.

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

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Making Sweet Chocolate In Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Are you one of those people who can’t resist a sneaky bit of chocolate everyday? Especially with the choice of flavours and types it comes in, from milk, to dark and white chocolate? What about combining it with some nuts or fruit? How about ginger or marshmallows? Heck it even comes with chilli in some places! Have we got you salivating yet? Prepare yourself.

semuc champey

When we were visiting the stunning Semuc Champey series of pools in Guatemala, we were lucky enough to stay in a place called Utopia, which had its own supply of cacao beans growing in the fields surrounding it. If you had time, you could use it to make your very own chocolate! Not one to turn down the chance to learn something (and eat some chocolate!), we signed up to make our very own delicious treats from scratch.

semuc champey

Obviously chocolate is big business these days, but as it is with many things that are commoditised, the original reasons for eating it have been toned down and dulled to obliteration. Chocolate you see, is bad for you. But what about dark chocolate? Isn’t that less bad for you? And what about high percentage cacao chocolate, isn’t that supposed to be good for you, especially if you use it as a cooking ingredient? It’s all a bit confusing isn’t it?

As we wandered around the chocolate pods that house the cacao beans hanging from the trees, we were struck as to how big and heavy they are. After picking our pod to work with, we went inside to learn more. John and his mother were incredibly enlightening on the process of making chocolate, and indeed all the benefits. The first job was to roast the beans, to make the removal of the husk easier.

semuc champey

Following this it was time for the painstaking task of peeling each individual bean to get at the goodness inside. As a side note, the husks that are discarded are actually very good for making tea, something we tried and agreed as a delicious little bonus.

semuc champey

semuc champey

semuc champey

semuc champey

Once dehusked, it was time for the blending of the beans. This is where things got really interesting. In the end we blended the beans six times, following a process of blending, heating, blending, heating etc until the consistency was just right. The first time the beans were blended, they simply looked like they had been finely chopped. After heating though and returning them to the blender, the natural oils started to release, and ever so slightly bring the mixture together. A little sugar was added at this point, and the mixture returned to the heat before being blended again.

semuc champey

We had no idea how much of the natural oils were housed in the cacao pods, and indeed how much of this natural, good for you stuff is removed when creating mainstream chocolate. You see, the natural oils which make chocolate good for you, are stripped out as they do not help when it comes to transporting chocolate. If the natural oils were kept in, the chocolate would have to be stored, transported and displayed in much cooler temperatures, making the costs exorbitant and unrealistic. So you take the only good part of chocolate away, and replace it with more sugar! Genius, no wonder people are confused.

After this process of blending and heating, all of the natural oils had been released, and were gelled together with the rest of the mixture. It was time to create our mini chocolate treats. In front of us lay our chocolate, and everything from nuts, to coconut, chilli, ginger, marshmallows and mint.

semuc champey

semuc champey

With our work for the day done, our chocolates went into the fridge and we went tubing down the river for a few hours. When we returned they were ready, and boy were we excited!

At this point you’re probably expecting a photo of the final outcome. Well, there isn’t one. In our haste to taste, we neglected to take a photo of our final masterpieces! The best we can do is this!

semuc champey

The chocolates were delicious, unlike anything we had tasted before. They had the sweetness of milk chocolate, but with a hint of the bitterness of dark chocolate. We devoured them in a few minutes, sharing them with our fellow travellers on the balcony in Utopia. The next day we would make the long journey north, where we would visit the famous Tikal National Park. But for now we would spend one last evening in Utopia, sheltering from a fierce tropical thunderstorm that crashed down around us. It was the perfect ending to our time in the Guatemalan countryside.

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Ometepe Nicaragua: Twin Volcano Island!

Perched on a wooden bench, our backpacks deposited in a heap in front of us, we were excited. We’d caught a glimpse of the majestic twin volcanic island of Ometepe Nicaragua as we made our way to San Juan del Sur, and after a relaxing few days by the beach, we were finally on our way to the island!

We clambered onto our boat for the short one hour crossing. The boat was small and basic, and we perched ourselves on one of the wooden benches that had been nailed to the floor. A young boy approached us selling various local nuts and fruits, a few other people got on board and we were on our way.

Ometepe Nicaragua

Standing at the front of the boat as it gently rolled over the waves towards the island, the majesty of the volcanoes became all the more apparent. Two towering twins dominate the lake, the perfectly formed volcano cone of Concepcion and its sister Maderas, both cutting against the clear blue sky as we approached the island. We’d chosen to spend some time on an organic farm, and planned to help out in any way we could.

Ometepe Nicaragua

Arriving at the main port, we grabbed some supplies from the local shops. There were a few restaurants and bars, but we hadn’t come here to socialise, we’d come get away from it all on a farm. Jumping into our pre arranged jeep, we headed to our home on the other side of the island an hour and a half away.

The journey there was…uncomfortable. Imagine driving along a dried out river bed and you won’t be far off the ‘road’ we encountered on our way to the farm. Ninety bumpy minutes later and we pulled up to our home for the next few days.

Ometepe Nicaragua

We’d chosen to stay at Finca Mystica, a small organic farm set back from the beach in acres of lush green land. Here they grow much of their own food, and are continuing to plant more to become self sufficient. Arriving here we instantly knew we had made the right decision.

Ometepe Nicaragua

Ometepe Nicaragua

Our home for the next few days could be found down at the bottom of the garden, a path guiding us between the various fruits, nuts and other assorted crops that grow around the farm.

Ometepe Nicaragua

Ometepe Nicaragua

There are, of course, numerous things to do on Ometepe island, especially in close proximity to the farm. We chose to trek to the nearby waterfall on Ometepe, almost sweating to exhaustion in the stifling heatwave (we’re really selling it aren’t we?). You can also attempt a day trek up to the top of the nearby volcano, which is a challenging but rewarding experience.

The shoreline is also only a ten minute walk away, and it is completely undeveloped. As in, there is nothing there except the beach, so take everything you need with you! Or, if you’re nice to the owners Angela and Ryan, they might even let you ‘help’ out around the farm, as we did when we there, helping them harvest cashew nuts. We will appreciate cashew nuts even more so now, given how time consuming it is to grow and harvest them.

Ometepe Nicaragua

Ometepe Nicaragua

Sadly, the machete is purely for show. You don’t need a machete to harvest them, I just wanted to use it to look hard.

Ometepe Nicaragua

Ometepe island is an incredible place to stay, and we’d highly recommend you get away from the main port and see the rest of the island. You can get bars and restaurants anywhere you go, so get in a jeep, or take the bumpy bus and explore this majestic island!

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Doing Nothing in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

“Cambio, change, dollars, money!”

Just to our right as we left the border control building, a huge grey mesh wire fence separated us from the noisy throng of changers keen to take our Costa Rican currency, or US dollars, or anything we had really. They clung to the fence in an almost feverish state, willing us to come forward and agree a price whilst behind them, wooden shacks lined the road. Welcome to Nicaragua.

It was a loud and unruly welcome to Nicaragua, and as we had no money to exchange, we walked straight passed them and headed for the border checkpoint. Trucks and lorries competed with a handful of people as we carefully navigated the shared border crossing, with literally hundreds of lorries lining up to cross the border.

San Juan Del Sur Hotels

How long had they been here? How long would they be here? We skipped passed a couple of DHL lorries, cut between two other lorries and made our way to the small white hut in the distance where we would get our passports stamped.

It’s always the same with land border crossings. You get stamped out of one country, and then walk or take a bus through no mans land to another checkpoint where you are duly stamped into the next country. When we crossed the border between Chile and Argentina, we drove for hours before our passports were stamped for entry, here it was a 0.5 km walk.

We reached the hut and paid our entry fee, we had arrived in Nicaragua! We debated on our next course of action. There were two options: wait for a bus or take a taxi. We were heading 45 minutes south west, to the coastal hamlet of San Juan Del Sur, and the easiest way was to jump in a taxi.

Instantly we were approached by three eager individuals all vying for our trade, or more likely colluding together to keep the prices high. As usual, we walked passed anyone overly keen to take us to find the more relaxed, subdued drivers who in our experience were a better bet. Finding no one, a lone security guard gave us a helping hand by walking us through a throng of taxi drivers at the border gate entrance, and picked out an older gentleman with the right price. Our senses said yes, and we were on our way.

San Juan Del Sur Hotels

Leaving the border crossing behind, the tree lined road gave way to an open expanse, and to our right we got our first glimpse of the majestic twin volcanoes of Ometepe Island. We would be heading there in a few days, but first we’d scheduled some down time after all our overland travels through Central America. We were headed to a small cove near the town of San Juan del Sur called Marsella beach.

San Juan Del Sur Hotels

Marsella beach is around 45 minutes from the border, and 15 minutes drive from San Juan del Sur, along a dusty and bumpy track. We planned to spend a few days there, with day trips into San Juan del Sur, but we ended up staying in this quiet little cove for the whole of our time there. It was tranquil, and with only a handful of other people there, we more or less had the place to ourselves! We’d highly recommend booking into this lovely hotel called Casa Bahia Hotel near Marsella Beach!

San Juan Del Sur Hotels

Talking about things to do here isn’t easy, because there isn’t much to do. But that is kind of the point really. You come here to walk along the beach, marvel at the incredible sunsets on offer, and generally wind down from what can be quite a hectic time in Central America.

San Juan Del Sur Hotels

San Juan Del Sur Hotels

For those of you who want to travel through Central America, we would highly recommend a stop off here. We were able to recharge our batteries before we took the journey across Lake Nicaragua to reach Ometepe Island. After the disorientating border crossing with Costa Rica, you’ll be looking for a relaxing Nicaraguan retreat, and this place might be just the ticket for you.

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Exploring Magnificent Mayan Ruins In Guatemala

Guatemala offers a wonderful diversity of things to see, from the aqua green lagoons of Semuc champey, to candlelight caving and the semana santa celebrations in Antigua, we were incredibly impressed with what Guatemala has to offer! Guatemala also provided us with our first glimpse of Mayan history after our extensive travels through Incan territory!

You may have heard of Chichen Itza in neighbouring Mexico, and we had considered visiting the famous site but we were put off by the number of people likely to be there, especially the large tour groups. You see, we’ve been spoilt on our travels. We’ve grown accustomed to visiting quieter places off the beaten track, so we decided to visit a less well known Mayan site, but arguably just as impressive near the small town of Flores in the North of Guatemala.

The Mayan Ruins Of Guatemala

Mayan ruins guatemala

Our travels have taught us many things, what we both like and dislike, so when we arrived at the Tikal Guatemala ruins and found ourselves in a group of 20 people, we quickly made the decision to tour the park independently, and we would recommend you do too. A quick chat with our tour guide to arrange a meeting time, and we were off exploring the acres of ruins ourselves! It would turn out to be a wise decision.

The first thing that struck us about the site is just how vast it is, covering over 16 square kilometres, with the majority of it completely untouched and unexplored. There are estimated 3000 structures hidden in the deep undergrowth just waiting to be discovered!

The first site we came across was a magnificently preserved square stone pyramid, its huge steps inviting you to climb to the top.

Mayan ruins guatemala

Unaccustomed to such access to historic sites, we clambered up the huge stone steps, filling us with a mix of wonder and burning knee rage as we made our way to the top.

Mayan ruins guatemala

Mayan ruins guatemala

After this fantastic starter, we wanted to see the largest and tallest of the ruins at Tikal, and took off along a jungle path to get there. This is where the Tikal National Park comes into its own. After only a couple of minutes walking from the previous ruin, we were in the middle of the jungle, walking along a dry muddy path as it weaved through the various vines and trees. After 10 minutes of walking, and doubts creeping in as to whether we were going the right way, we stopped for a drink of water and rest, and heard a group of almighty howls go up from the canopy around us.

Looking up, we counted what must have been at least 10 monkeys clambering through the canopy, jumping and swinging from branch to branch with ease. We sat in awe for a few minutes as they made their way passed our position and onwards into the jungle. Remembering we had come to see the ruins and not the wildlife, we carried on, but couldn’t believe our luck.

Climbing up to the second of the ruins for the day, this was the one that gave us a sense of the scale of the Tikal national park, with other smaller temples puncturing through the green carpet below us.

Mayan ruins guatemala

This was a fantastic spot, we sat and ate our sandwiches as we admired the view below us, imagining the family of monkeys we met previously somewhere in the vast jungle below us, swinging and howling as they went.

We moved on through the park, literally stumbling across new ruins without a soul in sight. It was quiet and serene, and we took our time admiring a temple full of bats, where my bravery went as far as sticking my head in as a bat leapt out of the darkness! Serves me right I guess, Laura kept a safe distance as you can see from below!

Mayan ruins guatemala

Then it was onwards to the main event, the incredibly elegant Great Plaza, a green courtyard surrounded by beautiful stone pyramids and Acropolis. Rising 47 metres above us, two stone pyramids stood at either side of the courtyard, facing each other in an eternal stand off, their huge brick steps leading upwards away from us.

Mayan ruins guatemala

Mayan ruins guatemala

Flanked on either side of the plaza are the North and Central Acropolis, where we would eventually rest and watch the sunset.

Mayan ruins guatemala

Mayan ruins guatemala

Mayan ruins guatemala

On a clear day, sunset is incredible here, and our time there was no exception, the sun dropping perfectly over a temple in the distance to cap off a fantastic day around the ruins of Tikal.

Mayan ruins guatemala

Mayan ruins guatemala

It goes without saying that no trip to Guatemala is complete without a visit to the Tikal ruins! For those keen to visit, you can use the nearby island of Flores as a base, with numerous operators offering day trips to the ruins. If you find yourself in a large group, grab a map and head off exploring on your own, you won’t regret it!

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Hiking And Exploring Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Melting in the middle of a stifling heatwave, we slumped in our hammocks as we considered our options. Yes we’d travelled a long way to reach Ometepe Island in Nicaragua, but the thought of leaving the cover of our farm building (and its fresh fruit smoothies) to trek to a waterfall three hours away filled us with dread.

Three hours away by foot was a stunning waterfall, and with some reluctance, we decided we should really go and see it. Given the forecast for the weather only getting hotter, it was now or never. So with our backpacks loaded with water and chocolate bars, we left the cool comfort and security of the farm and headed out into the sweltering heat.

Trudging down the dusty farm road, we ducked under any shade we could find from overhanging trees. Ten minutes later we hit the shoreline and took a left. Gone was any chance of shade, and we made our way along the desolate and dusty lake side for 30 minutes until we reached the ‘beginning’ of our trek to the waterfall.

Ometepe Island Nicaragua

Our jaws dropped. All around us had been arid, dusty, yellow stones and rocks, but suddenly we found ourselves in an oasis of green as we began our ascent. A lush, landscaped driveway stretched out in front of us, sprinklers and gardeners keeping the area pristine. This of course, was the beginning of the national park area, but it still took us by surprise.

The abundance of life was fleeting, as we reached the end of this pathway to find a sign stating “Waterfall: 2km”. The fun was over, it was time to climb. Over the next two hours, we made our way through varied landscapes, from arid dry pastures to lush green jungle.

Ometepe Island Nicaragua

Ometepe Island Nicaragua

At this point the mercury was tipping 40 degrees, we grew lethargic and tired as we left the jungle and began our climb up the dried out river bed. Huge boulders blocked our way, as we slowly made our way up the river. After an hour and a half of sweaty Nicaraguan trekking, we stopped, and asked ourselves a question all trekkers dread:

“Are we going the right way?”

I mean, we hadn’t seen a sign for the waterfall for the last 45 minutes, there had been numerous moments where we could have gone left or right, and we hadn’t seen anyone, or any signs of life since the last waterfall marker. But what to do? Turn back and check along the other routes? Soldier on? In the end, Laura made the most selfless decision of all time. She had decided the best course of action was for her to sit down and relax whilst I went on ahead to figure out if we were going in the right direction! Wow.

Off I went, searching for any clues that we might be heading in the right direction. The first 10 minutes brought no signs, but then the sign we had hoped for! Cascada 0.5 km! We were on the right path. Laura rejoined the trek, full of energy after her self decided rest. 15 minutes later, we clambered out of the river bed, edged our way round a turn in the valley, and suddenly in the distance, we saw what we had worked so hard to reach.

Ometepe Island Nicaragua

The valley we had been clambering through for the past two hours suddenly narrowed, its two towering sides coming together to form an impasse in front of us. Water powered over from the ledge 50 metres above us, turning into mist as it reached the bottom. We basked in the cool mist for some time, glad to have made the arduous journey.

And so it was time to make our way back down with a spring in our step, only this time the afternoon was cooling slightly, we were going down hill, and awaiting us back at the farm were two hammocks with our names written all over them. Safe to say we didn’t budge for quite a while.

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Exploring Semuc Champey Caves By Candlelight, Guatemala

Peering into the darkness ahead of us, our guide handed us a candle each and ushered us forwards. Kitted out in our swimming costumes, we had been told to expect darkness, various obstacles to climb and swimming…the latter intriguing us most considering we would be carrying a lit candle! It was a far cry from our previous week enjoying the Semana Santa celebrations in Antigua.

Inevitably the first into the caves, Laura and I faced total darkness as we made our way gingerly forwards. The candles we held illuminated the huge stalagmites and stalactites around us, giving us a fleeting glimpse of our path ahead.

semuc champey caves

To begin with it was easy, tiptoeing through ankle deep water as we negotiated the various obstacles en route. After a few minutes of tentative footsteps, the water quickly got deeper, first reaching our knees, then waists and finally we were up to our neck in water with our candles held high above us as we waded further into the darkness. This was brilliant!

semuc champey caves

And then the ledge came. One step further and suddenly there was no rock beneath us! Instantly my hand shot up to keep the candle out of the water, and I began treading water with the other. Ahead of me, perhaps 15 metres of so was a rocky outcrop. With no other option but to swim, we got going, finely achieving the balancing act of swimming with one hand in near darkness underground, whilst trying to keep a candle lit! Call this a holiday?

During our time in the caving system, we had to ascend rickety and slippy wooden rope ladders, crawl through narrow passageways whilst a torrent of water roared around our feet, and descend steep, slippy rock faces. All interspersed with aforementioned one handed, candle holding swimming! Some of it was too much for some, and they turned back.

semuc champey caves

After 45 minutes, we reached a dead end. In front of us, a deep pool of water surrounded by steep, slimy cavernous walls was illuminated in front of us by strategically placed candles. Our guide scaled one of the walls, until he was about 15 feet above us. And then he jumped.

Most of us didn’t see him jump, but heard the huge splash as he entered the pool in front of us. Popping up to the surface, he casually asked “who’s next?”. Having seen the difficulty he had in scaling the near vertical walls around the pool, I declared myself out straight away. So too was every other member of our group, save for one brave/foolhardy soul who decided to attempt the jump.

After watching him struggle to reach the ledge above us, I thought how crazy this was. We were 45 minutes from the entrance, with underground swimming to deal with and rope ladders to ascend and descend. What if he slipped? Gladly, after some difficulty, he made it to the ledge and jumped into the pool. Mission accomplished, we could make our way out of the caves now.

We followed the same route back, save for one minor change. Our final challenge was to drop ourselves through a small gap between two rocks where a waterfall poured down. This was unexpected, and caused consternation among many members of our group. When it came to my turn, I saw the challenge ahead. Essentially a small gap not much wider than my body was in front of me. A couple of metres below it I could see a pool of water, my (hopefully) final destination. Positioning myself over the gap, I lowered myself until I was hanging between the two rocks, my hands clinging to two outcrops protuding from them. And then I let go.

Before I knew it, I had slipped between the two sides of the gap, alongside the waterfall and was underwater in the pool below! Phew, I had made it. Laura followed after me without a fuss, nimbly slipping between the rocks and into the pool below as well!

All that was left was a short walk back to the entrance and the ceremonial blowing out of candles. In need of some relaxation after our adventure, we made our way along the river to the beautiful turquoise green pools of Semuc Champey!

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Paradise Found in Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Bedraggled and tired after a 10 hour crawling bus journey around Guatemala’s infamous winding roads, we perched on a tree stump with fresh fruit juice in hand. The view in front of us had made the last 10 hours worth it, as we looked out over the jungle as the sun began to set. We’d finally made it to our destination Utopia, in the middle of the mountainous Guatemalan countryside!

semuc champey

After leaving the celebrations of Semana Santa in Antigua, we headed north to Lanquin, a tiny spec of buildings surrounded by rolling, forest covered hills. From Lanquin, we (along with 10 other hardy souls), jumped into the back of a 4×4 truck, crushed together with our backpacks as we made the final 30 minute ride along some of the bumpiest and steepest hills we’d faced. Luxury this was not.

But we hadn’t come for comfort, we’d come to see what would become some of the most impressive natural sights we’ve seen!

We were staying close to Semuc Champey, an area blessed with natural wonders, from trekking through lush forest, to swimming in crystal clear turquoise pools and exploring water filled caves by candlelight!

After our exciting (and slightly dangerous!) cave tour in Semuc Champey, it was time for some relaxation in the nearby lagoons of Semuc Champey. After gingerly making our way across a very ‘rustic’ and rather precarious bridge with only a few wooden planks, we made the short hike up into the valley towards the lagoons. As we approached, we caught our first glimpse of the crystal clear, turquoise coloured water glistening against the sunlight through the trees, paradise! As we got closer we noticed layer upon layer of pools, each one flowing into the other.

semuc champey

When water looks as inviting as this, there’s really only one thing to do…I don’t think Barry’s ever looked this enthusiastic about swimming…

semuc champey guatemala

With one natural pool flowing into the next, each teeming with fish, it’s worth bringing a pair of goggles and snorkel if you have them. With so many pools to choose from, you’re going to need at least a couple of hours here. We would recommend half a day after you’ve been caving by candlelight in the nearby caving system.

semuc champey

semuc champey

After relaxing and exploring the various lagoons, it was time to make the climb up to the top of the valley to get a bird’s eye view. It may seem like a long way up, but with wooden walkways and stairs to aid you, the hike is worthwhile to fully appreciate the stunning lagoons below!

semuc champey

Semuc Champey is breathtaking. And whilst it’s not easy to get to, the bruises from your jeep and bus journey will fade, aided in no small part by the soothing turquoise lagoons and fresh fruit smoothies on offer! Throw in some candlelit caving, river tubing and organic chocolate making, and you could end up spending a lot longer here then first planned.

Looking for more Guatemala inspiration? Click here.


Ziplining in Bocas del Toro, Panama

So far on our travels we’d driven, cycled, trekked, climbed, sailed and swam through many incredible national parks, so when we discovered we could zipline our way around the lush jungle of Bastimentos national park in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, we were up for the challenge! I mean, what was the worst that could happen on a 300 metre-long zipline 100 feet above the ground? Hmm we decided not to contemplate that and listened rather carefully to our safety briefing instead! Luckily these guys were professionals at it…well the one on the left anyway!

Ziplining in bocas del toro

With our safety briefing complete and after 20 minutes of getting belted, buckled, tied, gloved and strapped in (phew!) we clipped our helmets on and set off into the jungle ready for our adventure! Luckily the adrenaline and excitement was going by now so nobody cared how ridiculous we looked.

Having successfully passed our clipping and swinging skills test on the practice line, we were finally ready to start our tour. Safely attached, we began climbing the  stairs up to the height of the forest canopy where we’d spend the next 2 hours acting like monkeys – awesome!

Ziplining in bocas del toro

 

Upon arrival at the platform we took a minute to contemplate the first of our 7 ziplines we had to look forward to. At 150 metres long, the guide informed us this was quite a fast one (oh joy!) so remember to use our ‘breaks’ towards the end (i.e. repeatedly pull our weight down on the rope as hard as possible!). Want to know how it went? Check out the video below of the ziplining course, and secondly, our takeoffs and landings!

And check out our takeoffs and Laura’s landing skills!

Thrilled and relieved to have successfully applied my breaks and completed my first smooth platform landing, my confidence was building and ready to take on the longest (and highest at 200 feet) of our ziplines for the tour (oh and one of the longest in all of Central America apparently)…deep breath and off I went! Flying through the lush green canopy surrounded only by jungle and wildlife was amazing! Can you spot me in the distance?

Ziplining in bocas del toro

 

And getting closer…

Ziplining in bocas del toro

After the exhilaration of 5 ziplines, we weren’t prepared for the scary part that came next however…it was assault course time! Faced with wobbly wooden planks and thin ropes, fear kicked in a little for the first time as we tentatively wobbled our way across the chained wood, trying to avoid looking directly down! After another bridge, tarzan swing and a climb up some more wobbly wooden planks, we were a little relieved to have completed that part of the course!

Ziplining in bocas del toro

Ziplining in bocas del toro

Ziplining in bocas del toro

Next we were back to our favourite activity as we faced the final ziplines!

Full of confidence now our guide challenged us to go hands free and upside down for the last swing…well I decided i’d rather not have a rush of blood to the head, but braved a hands free ride and loved it! We couldn’t believe our 2 hours was up already, it had felt like only 10 minutes!

Ziplining in bocas del toro

Ziplining through the jungle of Bastimentos was an amazing experience and one we’d highly recommend if you get a chance to visit! If you’d like to contact the company we used, click here.

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more Panama inspiration? Click here.


Deep Boarding In Bocas Del Toro, Panama

“If you want to go deeper, tilt the board downwards. If you want to go to the surface, tilt it upwards. And try not to let go!” Our deep boarding guide.

With that intensive (?) training session complete, it was time for us to try deep boarding, something until the day before we had never heard of!

Deep boarding is a slightly crazy idea on paper, but in reality it is an exhilarating and challenging experience. Imagine being dragged along behind a speedboat on a rope, holding onto a clear plastic semi circle which curves slightly upwards at the sides. As the speedboat drags you along, tilting the board downwards will take you under the surface, tilt it upwards and you can emerge from the water to take your next breath. It looks a little something like this…

After this quick explanation, it was time to leave the safety of our palm tree lined island, and get in the water. Our group of 4 were the first people to go out!

Deep boarding in books del toro

In truth, the experience was a mixture of exhilaration and endurance training, as we grappled initially with the grip on our boards and the drag from the speedboat. After a minute at the surface, it was time to test out the ‘deep’ part of deep boarding.

Deep boarding in books del toro

Tilting the board ever so slightly, suddenly I was two feet underwater and dropping fast. It was an incredible feeling, almost like flying as chunks of coral that protruded from the sea bed dipped and grew as we flew above them. Before I knew it, I was 10-15 feet under water, flying through schools of fish and stingrays!

Deep boarding in books del toro

The strangest feeling of all was the distinct lack of need to get some air. As we weren’t expending any energy at all, we could spend much longer underwater simply being dragged along. Deciding I should probably get back to the surface, I gently tilted the board upwards and I was brought back to the surface for another breath of air. This was brilliant!

After a quick check to see Laura was still on her rope, I went back under for another piece of the underwater action! Dipping under the water again, I headed straight down. Perhaps buoyed by my first attempt, confidence got the better of me and I found myself crashing into and off the bottom of the sea bed, narrowly avoiding a large rock that was in my path! Hanging on, I readjusted my grip and took control of the board, dipping down and then upwards over the undulating sea bed, switching left and right as I wanted and then breaking back onto the surface again.

And then as soon as we’d begun, our experience was over! We had around 10-5 minutes in the water, which for our first time was long enough as it did get tiring towards the end. We took a tour with Under Sea Panama, just off the coast of Bocas del Toro, and it looked something like this:

The rest of the day passed by in a more tranquil manner. There was time to relax and have lunch on a pristine and unspoilt tiny island, and with a short walk across the island to the other beaches, it was paradise.

Deep boarding in books del toro

Deep boarding in books del toro

Deep boarding in books del toro

We also had time to snorkel as well, spending 45 minutes in and around mangroves admiring the local schools of fish and coral.

Deep boarding in books del toro

After that, it was time to get back on our boat and head back to the main island. Our experience of deep boarding had been a fantastic one, surging through the crystal clear waters of Bocas del Toro and relaxing on beautiful palm tree lined beaches. We were sad that it was over, and we’d highly recommend you have a go if you ever get the chance!

Looking for more Panama inspiration? Click here.


Semana Santa Celebrations In Antigua, Guatemala

Arriving on the outskirts of Antigua, Guatemala, our bus ground to a halt as a chorus of horns, trumpets and drums echoed around us.

“I’m sorry, but this is as close as I can get you to the centre – the Semana Santa processions have closed all the streets.” Our driver apologetically told us as he handed us our bags from the roof of the bus.

Semana Santa Guatemala, or Holy Week in Antigua is revered as one of the very best in all of Latin America, and we’d arrived in the evening just as one of the many processions was under way. A few blocks from the centre, we lugged our bags onto our backs and made for the heart of the action.

As we made our way through the streets, thousands of people lined the pavements as the processions made their way through. The air thick with incense, combined with the unnerving beat of the drums gave us a welcome we would never forget.

semana santa guatemala

Holy Week in Antigua is special, with numerous processions in the day and evening, set against a backdrop of beautifully coloured colonial buildings.

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

During the Saturday, we marvelled as a procession began at 2pm and would continue on until 6am. This was a special procession, as hundreds of women garbed in black solemnly walked through the streets accompanied by a hauntingly powerful band.

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

Everywhere the procession went, it would be greeted by displays along the street, each very different and beautiful in their own right.

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

semana santa guatemala

As night fell, the procession took on a different feel, the darkness providing a dramatic backdrop as the procession relentlessly marched on. The heat and smell of the incense burning became more intense, the air thick with white smoke. The band became louder and louder, as the women continued to walk the streets on their seemingly never ending march.

semana santa guatemala

Being in Antigua to witness the celebrations was a fantastic experience, and something we would highly recommend. Just make sure that you book accommodation in advance, as literally the whole town books out!

Looking for more Guatemala inspiration? Click here.