This is a trip I’ve been meaning to share with you for a while; sorry it took so much time to come up with my blog post! Guatemala is a beautiful country and hosts some fantastic treasures. It has so many interesting and wonderful sites to visit. Guatemela is somewhat overshadowed by Mexico, which people often choose as their vacation destination, but precisely for that reason it has not been spoiled by too many tourists and stays authentic.
Tikal: View over the Grand Plaza and Temple I
The Republic of Guatemala (República de Guatemala) is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, Belize, the Caribbean, Honduras, and El Salvador. With an estimated population of around 16.6 million, it is the most populated state in Central America. Guatemala City is the capital and largest city, also known as Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción.
Traditional clothing of Guatemalan women
Our first stop on the trip was Antigua Guatemala, a Unesco World Heritage site and the capital of Guatemala until the late 1700s. We landed in Guatemala City and had a driver waiting for us to drive us to Antigua. Almost all the guidebooks we read showed little interest for Guatemala City. Antigua, on the other hand, is a colorful colonial city surrounded by volcanoes. I highly recommend three nights if the timing allows. The first day we had a guided tour of the city. We visited among other things the Santa Catalina Arch, Cerro de la Cruz, Iglesia de La Merced, and the museums of chocolate and Jade. We learned in the latter that all the jades sold in the local markets are fake. Beware!
A street in Antigua Guatemala
The second day was dedicated to the volcano Pacaya. A very early 6am wake up call to start the journey. A Two hour drive to arrive at the bottom of the volcano. A three hour hike, a steep climb, and finally a magnificent view on the Pacaya volcano. We could hear the active volcano roaring and see the smoke coming out. We even grilled marshmallows in the lava heat. An exhausting trip but very much worth it, we were all sleeping in the mini van on our way back. (So sleepy in fact that we forgot our camera in the van and it was gone forever and with it all the pictures!)
Guatemala does not have a national dish so to speak, but there are many dishes that are now part of the culture. Guatemalan food has clear Mayan and Spanish influences mixed with African and Caribbean culture. Antigua Guatemala has many fast food cafés and bars but has also a few good restaurants I recommend:
Caldo de Gallina
Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo: An authentic lunch on the roof with a beautiful 360º view. We ordered the Plato Chapín, beef or grilled chicken breast, Chiles Relleno, bell pepper filled with minced meat and vegetables served with sausage, and Caldo de Gallina, chicken broth cooked with a variety of vegetables, served with rice and avocado. Almost all the dishes include black beans, white rice, and corn tortillas. Some dishes combine the aforementioned with fried plantains. All the dishes were good and the vegetables were fresh.
View from hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo’ terrace
7 Caldos: A cute restaurant open on a courtyard. The tortillas are freshly made. We had a typical Guatemalan dinner: Chojin crakling, radish, pork crackling, guacamole, and tortillas; Pepián, Chicken stew with brown sauce and vegetables; and Jocón, Chicken stew with green sauce and vegetables. These last two dishes were my favorite. They had a more unique flavor.
Freshly made tortillas at 7 Caldos
Hector’s café: It’s a French restaurant. It’s not in our habits to eat French while visiting a foreign country but we were late for lunch and very hungry! We entered thinking we were lousy tourists but it turned out to be a very good restaurant, so no regrets! We ordered the Boeuf Bourguignon dish and the steak with some kind of sauce; they were both excellent.
Pepián, Chicken stew with brown sauce
I would’ve liked to spend more time in the little town but our driver was waiting for us to take us to our next destination.
Chichicastenango is worth the trip only if you are there for the Sunday morning market. Be ready for the most colorful crowd bath. This is where locals buy their clothes, meats, fruits, and vegetables. You can stroll in the market but don’t mess with the local grand’mas; despite their small stature they are not afraid to push you in the legs to find their way.
Hotel Museo Mayan Inn is very well located. The rooms are basic and the bed sheets a bit worn but it has a beautiful garden and the architecture is unique. The bellboys who were wearing beautiful local clothes are also your servers at the restaurant and the handymen that will light a wood fire in your room as the nights get chilly and no heating system is installed.
Chichicastenango Sunday market
The market has a few ambulant restaurants where you can have local foods for lunch. I didn’t try them unfortunately but I am sure they are very tasty. However, I can’t vouch for the hygiene.
Restaurant at Chichicastenango market
Sunday afternoon, a chauffeur was waiting for us around 4pm to drive us to lake Atitlán. An hour and a half later we arrived at the Hotel Atitlán with a magnificent view on the lake and volcanoes. It’s a bit remote from the town of Panajachel but 100% worth it. It has a beautiful garden with fantastic flowers and big Macaws. The bar and restaurant are very good and have a large selection on their menu. We had fajitas served with a regional Guatemalan clothing!
Our server at Hotel Atitlán
The next day we woke up early (again) to be ready for our fabulous tour on lake Atitlán. A private boat with a guide was waiting for us in Panajachel. We visited the communities along the shore: San Marcos, San Juan, where we visited a textile workshop, and San Pedro. Each village is a gem, and you get around by tuk tuk or on foot.
After two days of wonderful views on the lake we were back to Guatemala City to spend the night and catch our 6am flight the next morning to Flores. Once at Flores airport, there is an hour drive to reach Tikal, one of the most spectacular Mayan sites that you can not miss! Tikal is a magnificent ancient Mayan citadel in the rainforests of northern Guatemala.
Temple I and II
We stayed a night in Flores but I don’t recommend it. It’s much better to take the flight back to Guatemala City and fly to the next destination.
Ours was Belize, we crossed the border by car and it was a nightmare. A two hour drive from Flores followed by at least two hours queuing under a burning sun at the customs. Pushing our way among people who wanted to bypass us. Excuse me? And another two hour drive to finally reach Belize City. It’s only worth the drive if you stop at Xunantunich Maya site in Belize, located 5.5 km from the border, which we didn’t end up visiting.
We booked the hotels and flights ourselves but all our transportation and visits we made through Adrenalina Tours, which was highly recommended by reviewers all over the web. We were very happy with the organization and the drivers were always on time! The guided tours are useful as Guatemala has a very interesting and rich historical past.
Our accomodations in Guatemala:
Antigua Guatemala – Hotel Soleil (One of the best three hotels in the area)
Chichicastenango – Hotel Museo Mayan Inn (I highly recommend this hotel)
Panajachel – Hotel Atitlán (Beautiful hotel)
Guatemala City – Holiday Inn hotel
Flores – Hotel Flores
Belize city – Villa Boscardi
San Pedro – Las Terrazas
Please don’t hesitate to send me your questions. I’ll be more than happy to answer the best I can!