May 24, 2012

Trip of a lifetime: The Blue Hole by boat and from the sky

Belize is a small country boarded by Mexico in the north and Guatemala in the East. Small but very varied. Off shore there are coral sand and mangrove islands rising off the ocean floor and a majestic barrier reef.  Starting at the coast, lowland savannahs and lagoons are fed by crystal clear rivers that drain the basins and valleys of the majestic Maya Mountains.

One of the place not to miss while visiting Belize is the Barrier Reef which is the longest of the Western Hemisphere with 296 kilometers (185 miles). And just outside from the Barrier Reef is one of the most famous worldwide diving spot, the Blue Hole.

A World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the Blue Hole is a submarine sinkhole at 70 km from the mainland and forms a perfect O. 300 meters large and 124 meters deeps, people come from all over the world to dive it.

To get there by boat, it takes 3 hours from Ambergris Caye so trips leave as early as 6 am. It's a long trip which can be very bumpy if the sea is agitated (better not have sea sickness!) but it's worth if you love diving. 
Entering the Blue Hole

The Blue Hole (darker blue)

If you have the money (or have the chance to have clients who can pay it!), you can go to see the Blue Hole by helicopter. One funny fact, there is only one helicopter in Belize for tourism. So this is not an experience everybody can have, probably one of a life time! Leaving from San Pedro Ambergris, it takes 1h30 return trip. On the way you can see the different Islands forming the Lighthouse Reef. You will see the great Blue Hole surrounded by hard corals that borders it with only two small channels. As you go across this spectacular hole, you will be dazzled by its impressive size and color.

On the way to the Blue Hole

On top of the Blue Hole

The Blue Hole, a perfect O

After flying over the Blue Hole, you will pass over Long Caye on the west side of the atoll to enjoy the ambiance of Mother Nature's best kept secrets. Your flight now takes a turn to the west as you pass again over the Turneffe Islands where you will be able to see once again one of the few islands with white sandy beach. Finally, it's off back to the deep blue sea as you head back to San Pedro.

May 23, 2012

Photoblog: Visit Guatemala from the sky

Since January, I have been working for an French travel agency named Quetzal Motivo. We're doing incentive tours for clients from France & Belgium. Incentive means money and means traveling in a different way from the other tourists. In Guatemala, the fastest way to travel from a point to another point is by helicopter and I had the opportunity to go with a group to Chichicastenango and the Lake Atitlan by helicopter from Antigua.

Heliport of the Cerro de Santo Domingo, beautiful view on Antigua

Bell 407, just ready to take off!

Chimaltenango, on the way to Chichicastenango

The Highlands

View on Chichicastenango and its colorful cementery

On the way to the Lake Atitlan

Panajachel, the biggest city on the shore of the Lake Atitlan

The Lake Atitlan and the volcanoes of Santiago & San Pedro

Ready to take off!

Santiago Atitlan known for its naif painters and Maximon

The white church where woman every year dress up the statues

Lake Atitlan in the clouds

Bye bye and see you soon!

Arriving back at Antigua

The red church of Jocotenango

Antigua's stadium

The Chuch of La Mercred (yellow)

The Church of La Mercred and Convent

View from the top

Central Park

In front, the Cathedral and on the right the Palacio de los Capitanes

The Church of San Francisco

San Francisco

Sunrise on Antigua

September 15, 2011

The hidden treasures of northern Huehuetenango: Laguna Brava

Two years ago, I had planned a trip to hike to the Laguna Brava o Laguna Yolnajab but never went. So when I realized it was close to the Posada where we were staying I knew I had to go. 

On the third day of our stay, we left the Finca early with my dad and our guide to get to the community where the treck starts. As the Laguna is on a private land owned by three communities, you need to hire a local guide (75 Quetzales) even if you already had a guide from the Finca (130 Quetzales) and you need to pay the entrance fees (25 Quetzales per person). 

It’s known as the Laguna Brava because at certain times, but often in the evenings, the wind enters the valley and the waves of the lagoon are heard from afar.

It took us 45 minutes on a hilly and muddy path to get to a high point where the descent to the Laguna starts. From there you can see the river meandering to the Laguna. In the area, they are cultivating corn, sugar & coffee so you can see local working.  In 30 minutes, you got from 1600 m to 1150 m high on a steep path that can get really muddy when it’s raining. We were lucky that the weather had been quite dry before we arrived! Then we still had an hour walk on planned land to get to Laguna. When there is some sun, the water appears emerald and really clear. It's beautiful!

La Laguna is 4 km2 of turquoise water. You can only see a small part of the Laguna and for the rest you need to go by boat. They have 4 cabanas with 4 beds each where tourists can spend a night & visit the Laguna by boat the next day. 

We enjoyed the view of the Lake while eating our cereal bars. As it's only accessible by foot, it's really calm and we could hear the birds singing.  It took us 2h30 mn to walk back to the car with one hour of hard climb. Back at the community, a cold drink was waiting for us. 
 My dad and our guide, ready to start the descent to the Lake.
 You can see the lake at the back

 Laguna Brava

our two guides in a long discussion
the cabanas where tourists can sleep for a night

The hidden treasures of northern Huehuetenango: Mayan Painting & Hoyo Cimarron

Around Finca Chacula there are many beautiful places to discover than not many people have to the opportunity to see while visiting Guatemala. 

The first day of our stay, we drove an hour from the Finca to see some very old Mayan paintings. As they are on a private property, you can’t go on your own. Even if you wished you would not be able to find them as they are well hidden. We had to wait for an hour for our local guide to arrive as the guide from the Finca did not call him before to warn him of our arrival. By the time we started walking it was 11 am, so very hot & sunny. The path is rocky and with not much shade, so one better leaves early! But the walk was worth it as we saw the Maya paintings not many had the opportunity to see. Unfortunately, nothing has been done to protect them and some modern graffiti are decorating the wall. Nobody really knows how old they are as a specialist would need to come to study and as our guide said, that cost money.

Entrance fees are 20 Quetzales per person and the guide is 80 Quetzales for the group. 

In the afternoon, we left my mum & Logan at the Finca and went to the Hoyo Cimaron with my dad. 20 minutes by car followed by 1 hour walk and you get to the impressive hole.  The path to get there has been restored not a long time ago but it was done at Guatemalan way, it’s better to walk on the side than actually on the path. The Cimarron is a huge hole of limestone rock, perfectly round and has a diameter of approximately 200 meters and a height of 150 meters. 

On the edges of the Cimarron, the climate is relatively dry, with particular vegetation. At the bottom of the Cimarron however, moisture is evident, possibly because of the underground streams (there is a nearby lagoon and one at several kilometers) and features a green forest, totally different from the trees to the ground level.

There is a legend about the Hoyo that said that the first owner of the Finca Chacula was very rich and was exploiting the people. The Mexican Zapata heard about him and came to kill him. But the owner hearing the rumor fled with 3 donkeys carrying the entire god he had. They were trapped at the border of the hoyo and he thought that if the god was not for him it will be for anybody else. So he pushed the donkey into the Hoyo and jumped after them. So it’s believed that there is god in the Hoyo.

Entrance fee is 10 Quetzales per person, parking is 10 Quetzales and the guide is 80 Quetzales for the group but this is very easy to do it on your own if you know where the parking is.

 On the way to the paintings
 Mexico is not far
 the painting
 hunting scene

 a dog?
 Walking to the Hoyo Cimarron. The path is so uncomfortable to walk on!
 The Hoyo

 Eagle waiting for some food