Trip Notes From Reader
The following letter was received from readers Gerry and Vicki Jacobs. We met them in the Yucatan last year. They were heading south into Guatemala and promised to send information about their trip, which they did! If memory serves they were driving a Class C, about a 24-footer.
Mike and Terri,
Hola fellow travelers and campers, bet you thought we wouldn't write. Vicki and I are the people you met in Isla Aguada, Mexico, earlier this year. We used your camping in Europe book.
Mike asked us to send some notes on Guatemala. I am not a writer as you will see, but here's what we know. We didn't think that we would be writing about it so don't expect too much. We spent a little over a month in this wonderful country. It's like Mexico was 30 to 50 years ago, very friendly, safe, and inexpensive. Fuel is less expensive than Mexico and the roads are better, most are new with shoulders, and very little brush along the sides. Be ready for high mountain passes. The fuel stations are not owned by the government so prices vary, there are adequate numbers, except near Tikal.
We crossed the border near San Ignacio, Belize, then had 15 miles of good gravel road. There is a fuel station on the Guatemala side, cheaper than Belize. Next fuel was available at Flores, cheaper yet. Tikal is a must-see, a lot of wildlife at a very large ruin. The campground is a large open field, park where you want. There are showers, toilets, no electricity. The park is very safe now, with many armed police around.
Next camp at Santa Elena, coming from Tikal there's a hotel right on the lake, we dry camped there, they had showers and toilets. The island and small town of Flores is another must-see, but don't take a big rig there. You can walk from the hotel if you want. There are grocery stores, banks, and a large mercado in Santa Elena.
Good new road to Modesto Méndez, then a little rougher older road 38 kilometers to Fronteras on the River Dulce. We camped on the other side of the river, cross the big bridge, go for about 1/4 mile. Watch for a big arch on the left with a guard and a gate to an older resort. You get electricity, long cord (yours), use of the showers, and toilets, pool also. It's a nice place, right on the river, with high fences and armed guards. You can walk to town, no big stores, many small ones, and a mercado. Be sure to go up along the Lago Izabal, north side toward the small town of El Estor to a hot water falls, you have to walk to it. Also see the Fort San Felipe, on the river near town. Many small inexpensive restaurants scattered around town. Do be careful about snakes in this area, there are some bad ones here.
Puerto Barrios is a port city. Very busy and a little dirty. You can camp at a very fancy resort five miles out of town. Turn right at the statue and follow the road. Amatique Bay Resort is expensive, $20 U.S. per night. This includes electricity, use of the showers, toilets, three pools, water slides, marina, you name it. The place is not set up for camping, but they let us camp in the parking lot next to the marina. The fishing here is very good, best up the river to the right when you get out into the bay. They have a place where you can dump too. There's also a little store (shop in town), and two restaurants also expensive. Nice side trips - take a water taxi to the town of Livingston, have lunch, then take a boat up the canyon on the Rio Dulce. At Amatique Bay Resort see Boris Motta, he's one of the managers, speaks English, and he set us up.
At Km post 166 1/2 on highway 5 near the town of Cobán is a small campground. Its name is Country Delight, phone 7091149. The wife speaks some English. The area is quite small, but our friends got their 37 foot motor home into it. They do have electricity, one toilet, and a cold outdoor shower. Also a small restaurant, the campground is cheap. The area is known for the national bird, the Quetzal, we didn't see one but heard them calling around our camp. There's a Quetzal reserve near here which you can walk through, go early. This campground has no dump.
Place to camp near the town of Zaculeua. The restaurant by the name of Vermont, there's a large grass area around and in front of the place. Part of this is the parking lot, be sure to ask the very friendly owner for permission, he speaks good English. No water or electricity, just dry camping. We ate at his place, he didn't charge us a thing, nice guy.
Camp on Lake Atitlan outside the small town of Panajachel. Turn right at the bottom of the hill into a large older hotel. Make sure you make a deal with the old manager, get it in writing, he seems to forget. You camp at the edge of the lake, nice views. They have electricity (long cord - yours), water, and a place to dump (under a piece of tin). You can walk to town, lots of crafts and inexpensive restaurants. Be sure to take a water taxi across the lake to other villages, Santiago Atitlan is the largest. Many very good deals on crafts in these towns.
Just up the hill from the hotel I told you about is another hotel you can camp at, a little less money but a little less to offer. When going through the town of Solola be careful, streets are narrow and if you have a rig of any size stay out on market day. Go early and plan on spending most of the day. This is the largest Indian market in Central America and it is huge with lots of great crafts at very low prices. Lots of color too. You can also climb the hill up to a crude shrine, where they sacrifice chickens and burn lots of pitch and candles.
A must-see is Antigua. This city, the original capital of Guatemala, was hit hard by an earthquake in 1976. So many of the old buildings are in bade shape, but it's still a very nice city. We didn't find a campground in the area, and don't recommend taking an RV into town. We took a horse-drawn cart tour of the town, a little rough on the cobblestones, but still neat.
The worst road we hit was as we were heading for the border toward San Crostóbol de las Casas. The road is number CA 1, there was about 20 miles of potholes and broken pavement, not too bad though, and they were working on it.
Gerry and Vicki Jacobs
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