My mom and I decided to take a trip to Guatemala for Christmas in 2015. We wanted somewhere not too far away from the states and a cheap place to travel. We had an outline in mind for our 10 day trip but tried not to set any plans in stone so we could have flexibility if needed!
We bought round trip tickets on American Airlines to Guatemala City for around $750 each and took shuttles/cars to get around the country from there.
We started our journey in the beautiful old city of Antigua. I loved our hotel here that my mom found, Ermita De Santa Lucia. It was a small, quaint hotel down a quiet street centrally located in the old city. It had a beautiful court yard in the center and amazing FREE Guatemalan breakfast.
It felt very authentic and had a lovely antique latin feel. The staff was amazing, water was hot (rare in this country) and the bed was comfy. We were also able to walk every where from here and the area felt safe. This ran us $136 for 2 nights.
To – Do in Antigua:
Cocoa Museum – This was cool, you get to learn how chocolate is made from start to finish, and there’s samples too 😉
Cruz the streets of this old city to see some beautiful historic buildings such as the Beautiful Sant Catalina Arch
The street food from the vendors was good. We walked around and checked different vendors and chose a stand that seemed clean and well maintained and had other people eating at it.
Cerro De La Cruce – My mom and I went up to La Cruce (“the cross”), you can have a tuk tuk take you most of the way, then you walk the remainder. It is a good view over city if it’s not cloudy.
Visit the Street Market to get some fresh fruit, hand made tortillas and to see the famed Chicken buses up close!
Take a Stroll in Parque Central and see the San Francisco Church
Make sure you try some authentic Guatemalan food while you are here as well, we got these plates at La Fonda De La Calle Real, but there’s other good options.
After our first 2 nights in Antigua we made the lonnnggg trek to Semuc Champey which you can read more about here: The Trek to Semuc Champey
I felt like it was worth the journey if you have enough time to go! Just getting there and back was an adventure in and of its self. Semuc Champey was beautiful and we had fun doing some other activities in the area as well, like an exhilarating cave tour and giant rope swing into the river.
When we arrived back in Antigua, we stayed 1 night at Hotel Monestario. It was a very nice room, great hot shower, comfy bed, had a fan, and delicious free breakfast. It was 190Q ($25) per person for a 3 person room.
We only stopped back in Antigua for the night and then made our way to Lake Atitlan in the morning.
After our 14 hour bus ride home from Semuc the previous day, we opted for a private taxi to Panajachel, the main town around Lake Atitlan. It was 525Q ($70) and took 2.5 hrs to Panajachel but then another 30 min in the town to get to the correct boat dock we were looking for. There is a shuttle bus available from Antigua to Panajachel for much less money.
We decided we did not want to stay in the larger, more touristy town of Panajachel, but rather explore some of the smaller towns around Lake Atitlan. We opted for San Pedro first.
After finding the correct port, we took a boat from Panajachel to San Pedro for 25Q ($3.5 USD) each, a 45 min boat ride after waiting 15-30 for the boat to fill up first. Once we were there in the VERY small town, we walked the tiny dirt roads to our hotel. The “roads” are so small here, its really more like winding side walks through allies and between buildings and can be a bit confusing at first. We got lost (ofcourse), and ended up in someone’s back yard, but luckily they didn’t get mad at all!
We found the street finally and made it to our hotel. San Pedro has such a laid back cool vibe, it reminds a lot of Koh Tao Thailand with its tiny streets and ally ways with tuks tuks beeping along. It cost 5Q pp to get around town, and 10Q to get to neighboring village San Juan. There are no actual cars in the small towns.
We went to visit La Voz coffee plantation to see the whole process of how coffee is made in central america. La Voz is a co-op, meaning the people of the town all own it collectively and any one can pick coffee “cherries” and bring them to the plantation for money. This way it helps everyone in the town.
We talked to a men who usually picks around 150 lbs per day of coffee cherries and turns them in to the co-op for 75Q which is $10 USD! We pay that much money for 2 cups of Starbucks in the states! That’s is crazy to think about, although the cost of living in these small Guatemalan towns is also incredibly lower than in the states.
We stayed at Hotel Sakcari the first night, but the waves were too loud, we had spiders in our room, there was no fan or hot water, and they raised the prices after first night. It was $20 per person per night – 305Q total.
We opted to move next door to hotel Mikasa for the next 2 nights in a private room with bunk beds for 90Q ($12) each per night. There were no spiders, they gave us a fan, and we liked the hot tub! They also have a restaurant upstairs. We were much happier there.
The next day, we took a “chicken bus” (as the locals call it) to the infamous ChiChi market in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. This is the TRUE local way to get there and YOU SHOULD DO IT! The bus ride there was an adventure alone!
We took 3 different buses: you change once in Solola and again in Los Encuentros (I always recommend telling the drive your final destination when you get on the bus and he will help let you know when to get off and switch buses). It cost 6Q for 2 to Solola, and 5Q for 2 to Los encuentros (almost nothing in USD) . The first 2 buses were not too crowded, and we had our own seat but on the final bus…this was the fun one we heard stories about! The buses commonly get so packed, you will have 3 people in each seat on the sides and 1 person squished in the middle standing up. My mom and I were very clearly the only non-locals on the bus. We got to see elders dressed in elaborate, traditionally decorated guatemalan clothing, people carrying live chickens, and small children all sharing this packed bus.
We arrived at the market and started weaving our way through the endless rows of colorful shops! Make sure you bargain down the price when you want to buy something, it’s custom here. People watching in the market was a treat alone. We grabbed lunch while it rained for a bit and then made our way back for the night.
One of my most favorite adventures in Lake Atitlan was when we climbed San Pedro Volcan.
The hike took 3hrs 10 min up and we went slow and steady and took 2 small breaks. The view from the top of obviously the best part. Looking down into the stark blue water that fills what was once a volcano. Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America and is surround by 3 volcanoes.
The hike down took about 2 hrs 20 min and was very muddy. I recommend good hiking shoes and poles/sticks if you can get them. It is best to also go on clear day so that you have a better view from the top. It cost 100Q per person ($13.50 USD) and this includes a guide.
A few places we enjoyed eating in San Pedro were:
– Cafe La Puerta at San Pedro school
– Idea Connection
– Da juice girls
And a few activities we liked were:
-Yoga with Mindy at Buddha bar- 40Q ($5.50 USD)
-60 min massage with Tammi (you will see signs posted around town) for 160Q ($22 USD)
We decided to head to San Marcos (only accessible by boat) to stay our last night in Lake Atitlan at El Dragon Hotel for $65/night for a 2 person room. We had a really nice room, it was huge and had 2 beds. There was no fan or hot water but it was warm. There was a nice hot tub, garden, and social spaces.
We had lunch next door at Hostal Del Lago, a major hippie hostel and cool space. Besides the service being really slow, it was a nice vibe with good food and drinks. We went back that same evening and joined in on a fire side drum circle that we over heard from our hotel room.
There’s definitely more to do in San Pedro but San Marcos was nice for a day. It was very small, there are no cars, and you can walk everywhere. It was mostly all hippy tourist though, even the people running the shops and hotels (as oppose to locals). We walked around to take in the quiet neighborhood and got delicious mandarin oranges on the road side for 1Q (15 cents) and they were so delicious we went back and bought more!
The next day we made our way back to Guatemala City for our last night of the trip so we would be ready for our flight home the next day. We stopped at some little ruins on the way that our taxi driver told us about.
Guatemala City is a bit sketchy in my opinion, and I would defiantly do your research on what areas are best/safest to stay in. We got a recommendation from a friend and went with that. We spent our final day walking around the city doing some souvenir shopping before returning back to the states.
Overall, I would say to be prepared to see the extreme poverty of Guatemala every where you go. We never felt unsafe (besides maybe Guatemala City) , but rather a very heavy heart and a deeper appreciation for the luxuries of home. Guatemala is a great country to visit to really observe how the locals live because it is not a huge tourist destination. You can go there and really disconnect from the first world and be brought back to the simplicity of life.