My first trip to Guatemala began with a blissful three days in the spiritually charged village of San Marcos, peacefully tucked along the shore of Lake Atitlán, one of the most gorgeous places I have been lucky enough to experience thus far in my travels. Even though I could have stayed there for weeks, months, forever, I only had a week in Guatemala and my itinerary told me that it was time to move on. Next stop: Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage city bursting with colonial architecture at the base of three volcanoes; Acatenango, Volcán de Agua and Volcán de Fuego, an active stratovolcano that erupted twice in 2018 alone.
Ever since my first trip to Central America on a trip to Nicaragua in 2015, Guatemala has been at the top of my list of destinations to visit. The combination of volcanoes, Mayan ruins, Colonial architecture, fabulous food, the promise of no jet lag and fewer tourists than other parts of the world are just a few of the reasons I wanted to visit captivating country. Other people didn’t see it that way, though. Whenever I was asked where I wanted to go next, and I answered with Guatemala, I was met with blank stares, quizzical looks and sincere expressions of concern. But since when have I ever let people’s opinions stop me from doing something I wanted to do?
From the moment I returned from my first solo trip to Los Angeles in November 2017, I couldn’t stop thinking about Guatemala. I had just taken a huge step in my personal life and development – after traveling with someone else for over 10 years, I had conquered my fear of doing things alone and rocked a badass trip to LA. I was now prepared to do anything, and not let anything hold me back from traveling anywhere I wanted to go. On Boxing Day 2017, three years to the date since I booked my Nicaragua trip, I made my decision and booked one round trip plane ticket to Guatemala.
Nicaragua, the Central American country that is sandwiched in an ideal spot between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, is home to lush tropical forests, long golden beaches, and over a dozen volcanoes, many of them still active. I am drawn to volcanoes wherever I go in the world, and I had already hiked through the idyllic cloud forests of Mombacho at the beginning of my weeklong trip in Nicaragua. Now, it was time to climb one of the most active of them all – Telica.
The colourful colonial town of Granada is one of Nicaragua’s main tourist draws. Low buildings splashed with paint in every shade of the rainbow line cobblestone streets, people on bikes and on foot lazily ambling in the heat while active volcanoes loom in the not-so-distant background. After hiking through Mombacho volcano’s cloud forest, my travel companion and I were deposited in the historic centre of town.
The throngs of tourists the travel literature promised were nowhere to be seen. We settled into our casa, cozy rooms dotted around a courtyard with a shallow pool, reminiscent of the riads we loved so much in Morocco. We walked the sun-drenched streets without aim, settling in to the slow pace of life. On occasion we passed small squares with pretty trees and fountains at their centres. Our meanderings took us to Iglesia de Merced, a church was originally built in the 16th century, destroyed by pirates, and rebuilt in the late 1700s. It was damaged and repaired yet again in the mid-1800s. For the price of a mere dollar, we climbed the narrow stairwell to the top of the bell tower for the famous postcard views of the low-slung buildings with Mombacho to the south and Lake Nicaragua to the east. The rooftop is small and the bell is never far from your ears. As I was serenely enjoying the views, the giant bell was rung violently by men out of my sight, causing my head to spin for hours afterward.
Cloud forest – before deciding to go to Nicaragua I had never heard this enchanting term. I was immediately intrigued and knew I had to experience whatever it was. I imagined myself trekking up a lush green mountainside with perfect, fluffy white clouds languishing and floating past. Reality wasn’t that far off. Mombacho Volcano, one of Nicaragua’s 19 volcanoes, is the home to one of these rare cloud forests. Only 30km from Laguna de Apoyo and 10km from Granada, it is the perfect place for a daytrip when traveling between the two. I’ve always been intrigued by volcanoes. One of my favourite memories is hiking Italy’s Mount Vesuvius, and I would never pass up the opportunity to hike on one.
Over the course of six years, in pursuit of a personal travel goal, I traveled to 32 countries (some more than once), spent approximately 38 weeks abroad (not counting local trips), and spent thousands upon thousands of dollars. It was amazing, and exhausting, to say the least. On my 25th birthday I set a goal to travel to 30 countries before I turned 30, and on a four-week trip to Europe in September 2014, I achieved it. Yet two months after returning home, the itch was back. No matter how hard I ever try to return to a normal life, focus on saving money and relaxing, the wanderlust always comes back. So, on Boxing Day 2014, I booked a trip to Nicaragua.