Guatemala's Center

TODOS SANTOS

Global Mark : 15.45    Top Five : No2

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Culture Tradition Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
 4 5 3 5 4 5 1 5 16.00

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
20 100% 90%(18) 100% 10 to 20 14.90


Description :
A traditional Maya village in the heart of beautiful Cuchamatanes, the largest non-volcanic peaks in Central America.

Comments : This is many people's favorite place, but certainly more for the setting and people, the Mams, than the dusty village. 

What to do ? Say 'waow' at the scenery / Take 5mn to visit the village / Take a few days to meet the people and trek around / Take a few weeks to learn Spanish, Mam (the local language) or the art of weaving / Take 260 days to follow the tzolkin, the ritual calendar / Wash yourself the traditional way in a chuj, the smoke sauna (never wondered why the locals were smelling the smoke ?) and forget it all ! / Listen to marimba /  Wave and say hello to kids / Spot cactus of all sizes / Smell pine trees / Come back for the fiesta (November 1), one of the most famous of Guatemala with its furious horce racing, the Skach Koyl, that will designate the "El Capitaine", followed by the "Day of the Dead". 

What you may not like ? There are not much to do in the village / The people asking for money in exchange of a photo / The limited supply of big water bottles (1 gallon) / Not being alone anymore / The barking dogs and the mountain echo of those damn barks ! / The (too) early drunk people / The massacres of the 80's / What happened to that Japanese guy & the local driver (see below) / The chilly evenings at 2,470m, especially during winter / The dust when the wind blows / The local-men swaggering

How long ? At least a few days

Where to stay ? A few acceptable places near the church, all recommendable :

  • Hospedaje Casa Familiar, on the left from the main road, follow the sign / Dorm (6) 15, Sgl 20, room 25(1) or 40(2) / Go there to meet people, see local weaving, play with the kids (yes, it is very 'familiar') and enjoy the view from the terrace / What you may not like : the busyness all day & evening long, the thin wood walls which means little quietness, the rather bad shower system and the not so cheap prices.
  • Hotel Mam, turn left before the above, purple house on your right. Ask at the opp. tiny green restaurant / Room 12(1) or 24(2) / Go there for the large OK rooms, some with a tiny terrace over the road. / What you may not like : being on your own ?
  • Hotelito Todos Santos, just after the above, big sign, nice concrete house / Sgl 15, Room 20(1) or 30(2), w. shower 25(1) or 40(2) / Go there for the nice & clean rooms at good prices and the best view / What you may not like : the family noises and the water system
  • Hospedaje El Viajero, pass the above on your right and turn right / Room 15(1) 25 Dbl / Go there for the relative isolation & quietness, the large rooms and the (apparently) good bathroom / What you may not like : the rooms are a bit depressing and the view from the terrace slightly less attractive. 
  • Hotel La Paz, on the main road / Q10 per person / Go there for the cheapest prices in town, some acceptable rooms w. terrace overlooking the road or to be on your own / What you may not like : it is rather basic and the road is noisy. 

Where to eat ? A few snacks places around the market. You do have a few 'foreigners' restaurants but Comedor Katy is a better prices-authenticity-hygiene's compromise for Q15. On Friday, head to Proyecto Linguistico Espanol/Mam for a friendly dinner with marimba music for Q15. 

Internet ? Not yet ! But as it is becoming busy...

Bank ? You can change cash or TC at Banrural. The rate is a bit lower than in a city (7.56 instead of 7.63 for example). 

Study Spanish ? At least 4 places to study for about $115 a week (15 hours of lessons) incl. family lodging, two traditional smoke sauna (chuj) and other activities. A good deal and a good way to experience the local culture. This being said, to base oneself in a place where most people speak a dialect (mam) may not be the fastest way to make progress. If you wish to learn Mam or weaving, then do not hesitate however ! The non-profit 'Proyecto Linguistico Espanol/Mam' also hold regular cultural conferences at 6pm (except Friday, dinner with 'marimba' music for Q15) and movies at 8pm (Q5). It also organizes trekking to the area in the morning for Q10. What is more, they have a ping-pong table ! Other schools organizes the same kind of activities so it is always worth checking their weekly program.

Trekking around ? You should start your trek by visiting the Spanish schools to check what trek they will run the next day. They usually go once a week to La Torre (the highest mountain peak in Central America) or the cave at Tuj Xiolec. It cost Q10 for non-students.

Of course, you could also walk on your own : following any path will reward you with beautiful mountain panoramas. 
I was thinking going to La Torre on my own. - How long to go there ? - Three hours. OK, I thought, 1.5 hours to reach it and 1.5 hours to climb it. I therefore walked up toward Huehue for 1.5 hours (great walk except for the trucks & other vehicles which regularly smoked me) until I reached a path on the left (just where the road gets up again). - 'Is this the path to La Torre', I asked kids. - Yes. The guy from the Spanish schools was just coming down with two backpackers. They had taken the 6:30 bus and looked happy with their adventure. 

Looking up, it was really impressive, with rocks that seemed impossible to climb. But there was a path and I followed it. Soon, the path disappeared. But the area was severely logged and it was obvious that I would have to keep going up to reach the summit. So I kept going, following more or less the logging line, sometimes finding the beginning of a trail. This was an exhausting 1.5 hours climb up but the panorama at the summit was amazing ! 

Going down was a lot of fun : the direction was clear as it was possible to spot the road but the path ? I slided my way down and was rather lucky not to loose my balance too many times and to always be able to advance (remember that there is a lot of high impassable rocks so stay in the logging areas). I was back at the road an hour later. A few buses from Huehue showed up but they were so crowded that I preferred to walk down. 

I ended up at the Spanish school 1.5 hours later. - 'So, was this really the highest mountain' ? - No, the highest is La Torre. Did you see the cave ?'. As it proved out, I had not climbed the right mountain. I went up Tuj Xiolec, where the attraction is not so much the view than the cave. No wonder that there was no path to the summit ! La Torre was much further (3 hours walk from Todos Santos plus 2.5 hours climb). Anyway, this had been a great adventure, the panorama from the road & the summit had been amazing as well and I had the satisfaction of having done what few backpackers had done before...


The Saturday market ?
If you come here to shop for local handicrafts, you will be disappointed : only a few stalls display traditional clothes. Other sell basic commodities and food products. The only attraction of the market is actually to spot thousands of Maya people in their traditional costumes. Certainly a nice & interesting sight but probably not worth a special trip...

 << Discover the charm of the area


The April 2000 dramatic events ?
There are several versions of why two people were killed in Todos Santos. Below is just one of them : 

People had discovered a few days before the body of kids without internal organs (there is an odious organ traffic in the region). The radio was therefore spreading the news, advising for parents to be vigilant toward strangers approaching their kids. Then came buses of tourists, as usual before the Saturday market. An old Japanese guy, seeing a little girl crying, tried to bring her comfort by taking her in his arms. Saying that, dozens of locals in their early twenties attacked him. The bus driver tried to interfere and was killed. A younger Japanese tried to interfere and was killed. The crazy (and certainly drunk) kids then turned to the other tourists, who found refuge in the shops. Then the police showed up, the kids were arrested & jailed and Todos Santos became a quiet place again. 

Other versions talk about the kidnapping of kids a few days before (there is also a traffic of kids in the area) or a religious celebration which had announced the venue of an evil stranger...

Following the incident, advises were given to travelers not to take kids in photos without asking permission first and be polite toward the locals. This is always a good advise but it does not seem too related to the events. Indeed, all the kids in the area seem eager that you take their photos (sometimes in exchange of some money) !  And from the smiles of the locals, it is difficult to imagine any kind of animosity toward foreigners. 

Still, the poverty of the locals and the damage that alcohol makes to the mind may explain why the young generation one day turned violent against the rich tourists. It is an incident that is however not likely to happen again. Being courteous and avoiding any kind of arrogance toward those very pride & naturally friendly locals should prevent animosity to develop... 


Leaving ?
There are quite a few buses (12 ?) to Huehuetenango between 4:45 and 6:30. After this rush time, buses are expected to go at 11:30, 12:30, 13 & 14. It cost Q8 and takes around 1.5 hours. 

The trip back to Huehuetenango : SSSSS / Right / Q8 / 1.5 hrs
There are plenty of buses before 6:30. The scenery did not change and that was good because those panoramas are really beautiful. What did change however was the time it took us to reach Huehue : less than 2 hours to the bus station. It was market day (Sunday) and therefore real busy. Easy to understand why backpackers who see the bus station only do not fall in love with the place...