Guatemala - Top Tips

Super Seven


Antigua


If you prefer to base yourself in one city, rather than move around, make that city Antigua. It's a small city packed with colourful cobbled streets that are lined with Spanish colonial buildings. The backdrop is just as beautiful, as you're surrounded by volcanoes in the distance. Antigua is a great base to take advantage of multiple day trips, but there's also plenty to see in the city itself. I'd recommend Santa Catalina Arch, Antigua Guatemala Cathedral, Convent of La Merced, the ChocoMuseo, and the Cerro de La Cruz lookout point in the late afternoon. The city is compact, so just keep walking and you'll see stunning spots at every turn.


Pacaya Volcano


A great half day trip is a hike of Pacaya Volcano, which is a one hour drive from Antigua. This will enable you to get up close to a volcano without hours of hiking and an overnight camping. The hike is straightforward with a direct route form the visitor centre and takes around two hours. You'll be rewarded with 360 degree views, as well as seeing volcanic steam rise from the rocks in some spots. I've hiked many volcanoes around the world, but still found this very rewarding.


Chichicastenango


One of the most colourful cities I've came across in Central America. Chichicastenago is located in the highlands region and known as "Chichi". The main draw for both tourists and locals is Chichi Market, with its vibrant colourful clothing, as well as souvenirs and everyday items, with a church located at both ends of the market. The absolute highlight for me was the cemetery, which was so colourful and offers a great viewpoint of the city. I appreciate recommending a cemetery is a little bit "out of the norm" but this place is special!


Lake Atitlan


The beauty of Lake Atitlan is evident even from the description "a body of water in a massive volcanic crater". The main tourist town is Panajachel, but you'll get so many amazing viewpoints all around the area. The lake itself has many Mayan villages dotted around, as well as multiple volcano craters towering above the horizon, which makes it all the more spectacular. There are boats going back and forth along the lake, but my advice would be to rent a kayak and explore some of the local villages. You can sit back on the kayak, admire the majestic view, and get a glimpse into everyday village life.


Acatenango Volcano


The absolute highlight of my Guatemala trip was the Acatenango volcano hike. which is an overnight camping excursion. At 3,976 metres, it's a decent size and is definitely regarded as a moderate trek, potentially advanced if you suffer with altitude sickness. This hike offers spectacular views that are completely different during daylight and darkness. You'll wake up before sunrise to hike to the summit, where you see an amazing sunrise bounce up above the clouds, as well as seeing lava bubbling at the adjacent Volcan de Fuego. Do NOT miss this hike!


Chimaltenango


A 1 hour drive north-west of Antigua and you can visit the beautiful town of Chimaltenago. You've got Chimaltenago Central Park which is the central point. Here you'll find colonial buildings, some interesting monuments, a traditional market, and plenty of food stalls. There's also some great street art on the main road as you're leaving the town to head back to Antigua. If you're a souvenir buyer, you can also pick up some great art here, as this is a popular indigenous art centre.


Tikal


Another highlight not to be missed, is the ancient Mayan site of Tikal, which is located in the rainforests of northern Guatemala. The easiest way to reach is via domestic flight from Guatemala City to Flores, followed by a 1 hour drive. The towering pyramids above the jungle canopy are really impressive. There's multiple pyramids and other sites, so my advice would be to definitely get a guide in order to get maximum benefit. Tikal was the Mayan capital and had a population of almost 100,000 at its peak. Definitely check out the Star Wars film location spot, and the abandoned archaeological camp where there's still vehicles slowly being eaten by the jungle.


Accommodation Advice


I stayed in two separate hotels whilst I was in Antigua, and both were superb. However, if I was to pick one to recommend, it would be Good Hotel Antigua. This place is a real gem! It's centrally located, has a boutique feel, but is also very homely. The rooms are spacious, WiFi is good, staff are helpful, and there's a great adjoining restaurant called Saul. I'd definitely stay here again on my return!


Food Factor


I was pleasantly surprised by the number of great dining options with many restaurants spread along with winding streets of Antigua. The one that really stands out is "Fermento". A small menu of both local and international dishes, including vegetarian options, with a nice outdoor seating area, and well priced. Worth noting that you can easily walk straight past many of the restaurants that are discreetly located inside many of the old colonial buildings.


Good Guide

You can definitely self-drive in Antigua and surrounding areas, as the road conditions are very good. If you do want to book excursions with a tour company, I can highly recommend Antigua Tours by Elizabeth Bell. They were really accommodating with itinerary adaptions, as I essentially wanted to create my own. Communication was always prompt and I found them to be very competitive on cost, compared to rivals.


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