Driving through the interior of northern Guatemala on a bus packed with locals, it struck me how lush, green and uninhabited the countryside is. Rain forest merges into jungle, with occasional fields of maize on the lower levels, replaced by rows of coffee plants and cashew trees as we travel up into the hills.
We pass the occasional village, with young girls carrying produce or water on their heads; while the men are labouring in the fields or cutting the grass by the roadside with machetes. It’s a world apart from ours and I’m looking forward to getting to know more about this amazing country, which at 42,041 square miles, is only slightly smaller than England.
Getting Conned In Guatemala
Our bus dropped the four of us off in the outskirts of Santa Elena where we expected to catch a minibus to our accommodation at El Remate. So, it was a little surprising to be met by a car and driver who, in excellent English, said he was part of the bus company and would take us to Flores for free then help us with the connecting bus times to El Remate. We realised too late, this was an arrangement made by staff on our Fuente del Norte bus, targeting unsuspecting tourists who, after a five-hour trip, were a little disorientated. But, with our wits about us, we grudgingly got into his car.
In Flores, he took us, not to the bus depot, but to his office, advising the next bus to El Remate (which was supposedly every half hour) wasn’t for two hours, which baffled us. He tried to sell tours and transfers, getting quite indignant when we refused, as most tours, we had already pre-arranged with our hotel.
Tired and with the pressure on, we eventually agreed to advance purchase a transfer for later in our trip from Flores to Semuc Champey and, as it came with a free taxi ride from his office direct to our hotel in El Remate, we booked it. Only later in our trip would we learn, we were taken in by the biggest conman in the area. More about this to come, but his company, to be avoided at all costs, trades as Travel Maya Expeditions and Jaguar Tours.
Lake Petén Itza,
Palomino Ranch Hotel, El Remate
Arriving at the boutique Palomino Ranch Hotel in El Remate, our home for the next four nights, we were warmly greeted by manager, Medellin. The hassle of the complicated journey, soon forgotten as we lounged in the pool with a long cold beer.
The pool overlooks the stables, where there are seven horses, and one of the many attractions for staying here – aside from it being a great base to explore the popular Mayan sites of Tikal and Yaxha – is they offer horse rides around the lake, or through the jungle to see Mayan Ruins.
The hacienda-style hotel is in a magical setting, with vistas of the eastern end of Lake Petén Itza, which is especially beautiful at sunset.
While manager, Medellin, speaks excellent English, she is the only one of the handful of staff who does, so having a basic knowledge of Spanish is an advantage, especially when it comes to ordering food and drinks! We really enjoyed the hotel’s lunches and dinners, but the breakfasts are something else, especially the pancakes with maple syrup and fresh fruit.
With a touch of eccentricity, the hotel is full of eclectic memorabilia, some dating back to the 1920’s, from cigarette and drinks mementos, to old water bottles, radios, jugs, signs and a large stuffed bear. There’s even a pool table which has a warped middle, making playing a game of pool, extremely interesting, not to mention very competitive, especially after a couple of beers!
The small town of El Remate is traditional and very local; while there are a few hotels scattered around, there’s nothing remotely touristy about it and we loved its laid-back vibe. On more than one occasion, we found ourselves sitting down at Mama Wicha’s, a newly-opened bar/restaurant, where the welcome was warm, the beer cold and the food delicious.
Horseback Riding Guatemala Style
While staying at Palomino Ranch Hotel, we turned our hands to an alternative mode of horsepower; enjoying a three-hour trek, venturing high into the hills riding through jungle, forest, nature reserve and past some Mayan tombs. Stopping occasionally to look at the beautiful Lake Petén Itza below, taking our feet out of the stirrups to ease the aching leg muscles, and to marvel as to how high we climbed.
It’s been about 25 years since I was last on a horse, and it felt comfortable being back in the saddle…for about half an hour! It was a Western saddle and soon the knees, ankles and bottom were all making themselves known.
Ferg and I were at the back of the pack and it was certainly a giggle-a-minute as our horses had a mind of their own with stop-starting; slowing down one minute and then speeding up the hills the next. It was a wonderful way to see the area but, after three-hours in the saddle, we were all glad to be back on terra firma; albeit, walking a little like John Wayne!
Our four-night stay at the Palomino Ranch Hotel was short, but it gave us a marvellous base from which to explore the popular Mayan ruins and to get to know a little of rural Guatemala. We left feeling as if we’d been looked after by family…and that’s a very special way to leave a hotel.
One last photo with the hotel manager, Medellin, who treated us like her family
© Two Drifters Travel
Next Blog Coming Soon: Caves, Culture and Cuisine in Guatemala. We explore the Mayan Cities at Yaxha and Tikal; go Spelunking at Santa Elena and Nev has her first-ever tuk-tuk ride!
The Palomino Ranch Hotel can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention you heard about them via Two Drifters Travel