Our morning flight out of Mexico City is bound for Guatemala City, but it’s not the present day capital of Guatemala that brings us here. Instead we are bound one hour west of the capital by bus, to Antigua Guatemala. If Antigua to you means only the Caribbean Island of that name, you’re in for a fabulous culture shock as we explore a city that was created after a volcano, survived a magnitude 7.4 earthquake, and was ordered abandoned 240 years ago … but not everybody left.
The history of chocolate is almost as old as the history of Greece and, we have to say, far more digestible in a single afternoon. Central America is where it all began so our first stop in Antigua is the ‘Choco Museo‘. It was the Mayans who first cultivated cocoa in Guatemala, and the bitter drink was introduced to the world via the Spanish conquistadors. It was the later refinements (adding sugar, particularly, to take the edge of the bitter taste of natural cocoa) that give us the popular sweet that chocolate lovers today concur “makes the world go round”.
We’re not here for the museum (alone). We’ve actually booked ourselves in for a Truffle Making workshop. Here, the history and manufacturing process of chocolate come to life – it’s one of the few workshops we’ve done where you’re encouraged to get your hands dirty! A truffle, in chocolatier parlance, is ganache-filled, so after a short theory lesson we have an hour to each create our own ganache filling, build the chocolate exterior, and then fill our own samples. What is ganache? Delicious!
The Museum itself takes about 30 minutes to tour – it’s insightful on its own, but even more fabulous when you know your own creation is currently being cooled ready to take away. Best of all – our next stop gives us every excuse to eat our truffles now, because we don’t want them to melt…
…on the hike to the top of an active volcano!
The Pacaya Volcano is the most visited volcano in the Americas, and when we say it’s active we’re not using weasley geological terms to sound cool. This baby blew its stack in 1965 and has been erupting continuously ever since. Since a 2010 eruption, rivers of lava have been visible to tourists who make the easy 1 hour climb to the peak.
Oh yeah – and it started ramping up again just 3 weeks ago!
The only way to see Pacaya without the crowds is to be there first thing in the morning. And what’s the best way to be there first thing? Camp on the volcano overnight, of course!
So in the late afternoon, we find ourselves on a bus with O.X. Outdoor Excursions. It’s hard to appreciate the Spanish colonial ruins of Antigua, when our nervous stomachs are rumbling just as much as the volcano we’re driving towards. The tourist police on board the bus are reassuring for a number of reasons, but we still have to ask … “How active is ‘Active’?”
Here’s the answer!
Now we wait for sunrise…
Want to go? Need to know!
- We took the Turansa Shuttle Bus from Guatemala City airport out to Antigua, due to safety concerns that exist for the normal bus. While it costs 9 times as much, you’re still only paying $10-$12 for your safety – and we’ll have plenty of other local bus opportunities. You’ll have plenty of shuttle options – grab the first one you can, or book ahead.
- Making truffles is just the start of a central American chocolate adventure. ChocoMuseo also offer plantation tours, if your chocolate passion runs to botany or agriculture; if you just love playing with chocolate then book yourself in for the three week course on chocolate sculpture making.
- Antigua Guatemala is surrounded by volcanoes – Pacaya is the most visited because it’s easiest to access. The others are Volcan de Agua (‘Volcano of Water’, or Hunapu to the original inhabitants), the twin-peaks of Acatenango, and Volcan de Fuego (‘Volcano of Fire’ – we think a more appropriate name than Volcano of Water!).
OK – so we’ve been taking you on an everydaydream holiday for 10 countries now. Have you ever seen anything cooler than toasting marshmallows over a campfire made from lava? Can you even imagine anything cooler? Let us know in the comments below – and we’ll definitely go there!