I completely fell in love with Guatemala.
Somehow, last-minute two week trip with my sister that we booked primarily due to a cheap roundtrip flight to Guatemala city turned into one of my favourite countries I’ve visited. I’m already itching to go back, and unlike other countries where I’d like to someday go back and visit, I think Guatemala is somewhere I’ll be revisiting soon!
With just eleven days to explore the country, building an itinerary for Guatemala was a challenge. With it being such a small country, I had mistakenly assumed we’d have more than enough time to see everything we wanted and more. What I underestimated was, first, how much there really is to do in Guatemala, and second, how difficult it is to get around the country in rainy season. We ended up with the following order of destinations:
- Guatemala City
- Casa Del Mundo (Lake Atitlan)
- Santa Cruz del Lago (Lake Atitlan)
- Guatemala City – Transit
- Flores – Transit
- Guatemala City
We planned to fly into Guatemala city, and immediately transfer to Lake Atitlan the next morning. Most hostels and hotels, both in Guatemala City and Panajachel (“Pana” for short) offer pretty cheap transfers that are considered to be relatively secure – it should cost around $15 USD. If you’re staying in Pana you’re all set; otherwise, it’s best to ask the driver to drop you at one of the two docks where you can get a public boat, or lancha, to get around the lake. The boats run pretty regularly depending on your destination, and they tend only to leave once they’ve filled up with enough people to make the trip worthwhile, so you need to factor that in if you’re on a tight schedule.
We only planned for two nights at the lake, but immediately after seeing it we re-worked our entire trip so that we could stay longer. We spent our first two nights at Casa Del Mundo, which was possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Casa del Mundo isn’t directly in any of the towns around the lake and has its own dock, which you have to specify to the boat guys when you get on. The boat ride from Pana to Casa Del Mundo should cost about 15 Queztales, although when they see you with a backpack or looking nervous they’ll try to charge you double.
After two nights in paradise, we transferred to a hostel in Santa Cruz, the town next door. La Iguana Perdida is based right on the water, and was an awesome place to stay for a couple nights. Santa Cruz is a very traditional town located pretty high up in the cliffs, away from all the tourism attention. It’s certainly a more authentic experience; however, San Marcos or one of the other villages has much more of a nightlife. That said, the hostel has some fun events and family dinners that make it a great place to socialize – especially with daily specials from the bar on beer and spirits!
Because we re-arranged our trip once we got to Guatemala, our next stop was Flores, up in the northern Peten region of the country, thanks to a bus ticket we had booked in advance that couldn’t be changed. We had to transfer through Guatemala City, which doesn’t have the greatest reputation for safety. There are two bus stations in the city, and our bus left out of Zona 1, the notoriously dangerous zone that tourists are advised to avoid. The other option is to transfer through Zona 10, which is definitely what I would do next time. That said, we managed to wait out our layover at hostel in Zona 1 after I explained in my broken Spanish that we were afraid to be out after dark in the city.
The overnight bus was long but surprisingly comfortable. Overnight busses with Fuente Del Norte have two levels – both levels have reclining seats, but the bottom floor is a bit more expensive for a lot more comfort. I would definitely recommend the splurge.
Flores is a small island town in the middle of Isla de Peten, connected to the mainland by a long bridge. It’s a small town, but there’s lots of restaurants and hotels, and quite the night life as well! We had some bad luck with our original hostel that was located on the mainland but we got lucky and managed a find a great hostel (with air conditioning!!) on the island. The Peten region is much hotter and more humid than the South, which definitely takes some getting used to.
Flores was beautiful and a great place to stay as a gateway to Tikal. Tikal is just over an hour’s drive from Flores, and there’s many tourism companies that offer day trips (although you can also stay overnight closer to Tikal). Trips go regularly throughout the day that offer shuttle services and a guide once you get to the park. We chose to do a sunrise tour, which you have to book a bit in advance because there’s limited spots available. The Tikal Park opens at 6am, but if you want to get in to watch the sunrise you have to leave at 3am; the park allows a select number of people in before opening.
Next we made our way back down to Guatemala City and then on to Antigua. Antigua is a colonial city in the Highlands of Guatemala. It’s right between two volcanos – Acatenango, Fuego, and Pacaya, all of which can be climbed! It’s also where the majority of Spanish Language schools are located, so there’s quite a big expat community and a lot of backpackers around.
We stayed at the Three Monkeys Hostel in Antigua which, despite being a bit farther from the centre of town than some other hostels, was one of the best places I’ve stayed! They had an awesome courtyard and a really nice rooftop with great views of both volcanos.
The town itself is beautiful. The roads are cobblestone and there seems to be some sort of religious festival every other day which makes the whole atmosphere so exciting. From Antigua there’s tons to do – you can do do coffee tours or climb one of the volcanos (you can roast marshmallows over lava at the top of Pacaya!) We chose to do a cooking class with La Tortilla where we learned some great Guatemalan recipes over lots of wine.
Overall, Guatemala was amazing. It’s one of my favourite countries I’ve visited, and I really cannot wait to go back.