September. Is this real life? Did I really take off on an open-ended backpacking trip through Latin America? Sometimes even I don’t believe it. September is a time of new beginnings. Summertime fun ends, kids go back to school, and work picks back up for the long haul – unless you’re me, I suppose.
A long-term trip with no set plan is certainly new for me, and I’m still getting my bearings on living out of a backpack. In two weeks I’ll exceed my longest previous backpacking trip of 6 weeks. It certainly hasn’t been easy, and I can’t believe how much I’ve done in one month. Here’s what September looked like through my eyes:
Heat, humidity, and taco overload in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula
The heat and humidity got to me in Mexico, but the taco overload certainly did not. Right off the bat, all the clothes I brought with me were soaked in sweat and my hair frizzed to the point where it added at least an inch to my height.
Mexico started out well: I got to the hostel, made some cool new friends, and took a day trip to Isla Mujeres. I didn’t partake in any crazy spring break-style partying; I actually didn’t go to the beach from Cancun at all. Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Cancun, had pure, sandy beaches and insanely warm water. It was much better suited for my relaxed beach vibe needs.
A trip to the Yucatán isn’t complete without a visit to some Mayan ruins! I kicked my cultural fix into gear at Chichén Itzá, one of the Yucatán Peninsula’s most famed Mayan ruins sites. It was as beautiful as I’d seen in the photos, and really not as touristy as I thought it would be. Staying in Valladolid allowed me the ability to visit the nearby cenotes as well, which was a blast because Valladolid and Chichén Itzá were SO HOT and I needed a place to cool down.
I spent a few days in Playa del Carmen, which wasn’t anything to write home about in my book. The beaches were full of seaweed – apparently there’s a problem at all the beaches in the Yucatán and most of the beaches are covered in stinky seaweed – so I didn’t get the beach time I really wanted. Instead I took a day trip to the Cobá ruins and climbed to the top of the highest ruin to get a view over the forest.
Tulum was another place that wasn’t what I expected it to be. I heard it was a cute and trendy place when in reality I found it to be strange. The entire town center is on the main highway road that runs along the Yucatán coast – weird. The beach – which was full of seaweed – was a long bicycle ride away, but the Mayan ruins off the coast were beautiful! The highlight of Tulum was snorkeling in Cenote Dos Ojos. I just loved swimming alongside the fish!
The final stop in Mexico was Bacalar, a sleepy town on a lagoon. The lagoon has a cenote running through it, so there’s a stripe of gorgeous turquoise water running through it. It truly looks unreal. There’s not much to do in Bacalar but swim, kayak, or simply look at the water. So that’s all I did! But it was great.
R&R in Belize
I was sad to leave Mexico after realizing that it’s not nearly as scary as it’s made out to be – at least not in the parts I went to. Belize was calling, though, so onward I went. I crossed the border by boat to get to Caye Caulker; it was the choppiest boat ride I’ve ever been on. Literally, the worst 2 hours ever. At $65 a ticket, it was expensive, too! I realized then and there that Belize was going to be expensive and I didn’t want to spend too much time there.
Caye Caulker was beautiful piece of heaven in the form of an island. I loved swimming in “the split” (the channel between two parts of the island) and just walking around and exploring. The island was quite small, so there wasn’t much else to do. Caye Caulker was the beginning of what have been many interesting accommodation choices I’ve made. I stayed in a treehouse above a dog shelter. It was fun and interesting…and cheap!
After a couple days, I went to Hopkins for some more R&R. Hopkins is tiny village in Belize with only one street. The electricity in the entire village cut out twice in one night! It was a cool place to relax and plan my trip. I just needed a few days to do absolutely nothing. Hopkins was perfect for that.
I moved on to spend one night in San Ignacio, but I was honestly just ready to get to Guatemala. For some reason, Belize just wasn’t for me.
Nonstop running around in Guatemala
I hit the ground running, no, sprinting, when I got to Guatemala. A new friend I met in San Ignacio and I crossed the border and headed straight for Tikal with hopes of camping at the grounds on site that I’d read about in a few blogs. I thought lots of people would be doing it and that it would be a lot of fun. It was, but it was also terrifying. I’m planning to write about that very soon so just stay tuned! But exploring Tikal was awesome. This was my favorite Mayan ruins site, probably because it was so huge that we almost never bumped into other tourists.
After a night of nearly no sleep in Tikal, we went onward to Flores, the stop everyone makes en route to Tikal. This tiny island plopped in the middle of a lake was so cute and colorful!
Though I loved it, one night in Flores was enough for me and I took off to Rio Dulce off the Caribbean coast next. All of the hostels in town required boat transport to get to. Pulling up to the hostel by boat kind of reminded me of an episode of Swamp People; I felt like I was on the bayou, it was great! Rio Dulce has a hot spring waterfall that empties into a cold river; apparently it’s the only one in the world (according to the hostel owner). This was a really fun day trip with the others at the hostel. We also went to a nearby canyon. The only downside was that the torrential rains that occurred every night made the water look muddy, but it was still so fun to swim in.
I was a bit off the grid in Rio Dulce, but I was even more so in Semuc Champey. The shuttle ride to Semuc Champey was the on-land equivalent to the choppy boat ride to Caye Caulker; we drove on a dirt road for 6 hours and it was so bumpy. Thankfully I didn’t get carsick like I used to when I was young! It was brutal. The cascading waterfalls in Semuc Champey were beautiful, though hiking to El Mirador, the highest viewpoint, was quite scary and slippery. I also ventured into the caves nearby, holding only a candle for light. I have the bumps and bruises all over my knees from slipping and falling, but it was so fun! Unfortunately my GoPro footage is so dark to really see what’s going on, all you can hear is me yelling obscenities every time I fell.
This brings me to Antigua, where I’ve been for the better part of one week. It’s been so nice to feel like I’m back in civilization and to be sleeping in a real room with four enclosed walls and a hot shower.
Whoa. That was a doozy to write. I can’t believe I did all that in one month! Time has flown by, and I’m really exhausted. I’m trying to get the hang of long-term travel, which I’m learning is not the same as slow travel. I can continue on this long-term trip and hit a ton of destinations and be worn out, or I can slow things down and really get to know a place before moving on. I’m really happy to have spent ample time in Antigua, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about this place – definitely the cafes at least! There’s so much that I want to see that I’m not sure which approach I’ll end up taking on this trip, probably a little bit of both. But after that month, slowing down was a necessity.
I’ll be hiking the volcano Acatenango and then heading to Lake Atitlán, though once again I’m not sure for how long. I’ve heard about some yoga retreats and cool things to do there, so I want to experience all of it! After that, I truly have no idea. Possibly a stop in El Salvador before trying to skirt past Honduras to Nicaragua? I have a feeling my plans will evolve as I continue to meet more travelers.
Finding time and energy to sit down and write down all the fun and exciting stories from my trip thus far has been tough, but I’m hoping to get into some sort of routine with my writing. Not knowing when I’ll have stable wifi to post anything at all has also been an issue, but I’m taking it all in stride and focusing on enjoying my trip, not solely blogging and posting about it. Up on the blog soon should be that Tikal story I alluded to and a little guide to budget backpacking in Mexico.
In the meantime, check out my latest on Go, See, Write!