Guatemala was initially not planned on my itinerary, but then, after chatting with other travelers in Mexico who have been there, seeing the number of people asking about this destination on the forums and Social networks, I thought, “why not?”.
The image that is commonly conveyed on Guatemala and that – mea culpa – I had, is that of a very poor country, with a large indigenous population (in Guatemala, 40% of the population is of Maya origin) and quite violent and sexist (for example, 560 Feminicides in 2012), and if it is not completely wrong, I discovered a country with an amazing culture and a very welcoming inhabitants.
So, Guatemala, is it worth it? Here are my essentials!
Flores is a tiny island lost in the middle of Lake Petén Itza, in northwestern Guatemala. Here, we walk in the streets with colorful houses, until we arrive to a part of the island totally flooded, which gives the impression that the place the place is completely abandonned (but no, behind the flooded sidewalks, restaurants and hotels are still open!). Also enjoy the lake by renting kayaks or by taking a boat ride.
Finally, don’t miss the visit to the ruines of Tikal, Guatemala’s largest Mayan ruins. I recommend you to take a guided tour which is definitely worth it. Tours for sunrise or sunset are also available, for a small fee. You will learn more about the history of the site and the Mayan culture, and in addition, you will do some sport by climbing up the temples!
Where to stay?
Hostel Los Amigos. Very nice scenery, like a jungle inside, good food and not too expensive. Count 80 quetzales (around 9-10 €) a night in a dormitory of 10 people, unfortunately located near the reception so quite noisy in the morning.
Lost in the middle of the mountains, the road leading to the natural swimming pools of Semuc Champey is very steep. However, after about thirty minutes walk to reach the Mirador, the view is breathtaking. Despite the gloomy weather, the color of the water remains striking. After going down, a well-deserved swim in the crystal clear waters is necessary. We were even entitled to a free pedicure fish (if you’re ticklish don’t do it)!
Where to stay?
El Retiro Lodge. Located in the small Maya village of Lanquin, right next to Semuc Champey, the setting is beautiful, on the banks of a river, overlooking the green hills. And it’s very cheap, 70 quetzales (7-8 €) for a private hut.
Antigua reminds me of San Cristobal de las Casas with its colorful colonial architecture and backpacker atmosphere, low prices, and the view of the volcanoes in addition. Not to be missed, the market, as well for fresh products as for crafts or clothes.
I particularly recommend the two days one night trek on the Acatenango volcano. I give you all the info in a next article!
Where to stay?
There is many hostels in Antigua, but I opted for Selina (special mention for the great kitchen). But be careful, prices are really fluctuating from one day to the next, including for the same night, take a few days in advance to compare prices.
Where to eat?
- Samsara, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant with Indian influences and also serving food and beverages based on superfoods. The service is (very) slow but the kitchen is excellent.
- Toko Baru, Thai/Indonesian/Indian restaurant, cheap, with homemade delicious food.
Lake Atitlan is considered one of the most beautiful lake in the world, and it’s for a reason! Surrounded by several small villages, each one with a different atosphere, you move from one to the other by boat or tuk-tuk.
We spent a week in San Juan la Laguna, a very quiet little village, to recharge. Do not miss the small local crafts shops, including the herbal shop (plants are picked in the garden just behind) or the Chocolate Factory (their chocolate for hot chocolate is delicious).
We then travelled to the nearby village of San Pedro la Laguna, known to be more festive. This is where you will meet most of the backpackers in the area.
You can walk between the 2 towns (about 20 minutes walk) or take a tuk-tuk, but beware, from San Juan, the price is 5q per person (the driver will automatically try to make you pay 10 at the beginning, before you pretend to leave and make you pay the normal price), on the other hand, from San Pedro, the price is 10q per person.
We deliberately skipped Panajachel, very touristy and expensive. San Marcos is the hippie village: Yoga enthusiast, meditation, New Age and crystals, this place is for you.
Also to visit in the area, the market of Chichicastenango (around 2h in chicken bus). This market is just huge, you can easily get lost and spend hours walking around the aisles in the middle of handicraft products. This is a good time to buy all your souvenirs for very cheap, especially since you can bargain a lot.
Where to stay?
- In San Juan, La Posada Mana, 75 quetzales for a private room, with a charming old South African lady who will be happy to recommend you everything you need to do in the village.
- In San Pedro, the Santa Elena Hotel overlooking the lake, 100 quetzales for a private room.
Where to eat?
- Idea Connection in San Pedro, good Italian food and good Internet (WiFi in Guatemala sucks).
- Sabada, still in San Pedro, with a view of the lake and small swings as a chair. The Raspberry-mint smoothie is amazing, and their pasta dishes are very good and copious.
I really don’t regret this 3 weeks trip to Guatemala. People are so nice, in all the small villages that we have crossed, people greet you and share a little bit of conversation with you, the children are smiling at you and waving at you all the time. Whether it’s to rest by the lake or to push your limits with a trek, it’s the perfect place.