From the travel journal – Guatemala May/June 2011
“The heat of El Salvador that petrifies forced me to prolong my stay in Playa El Tunco, not that I mind it, in fact, here I found a small but extended family concentrated in a seaside village, inhabited by surfers, mainly surfurs to be accurate, but I have to go.
In 10 days Julie arrives to Antigua and I want to welcome her but, since I want to take a week Spanish course, I really have to go now trying to be there before she arrives and, then, keep on traveling toward Mexico.
It was more an effort to buy the ticket to the border that traveling to Antigua itself. From the warm, crazy hot actually, of El Salvador, suddenly the temperatures dropped. I checked in at 1500 meters of altitude on the sea level in the mountains of Guatemala and it happened in no more than 4 hours ride.
After living for months in contact with the Central American community, stories about Guatemala seem just ordinary stories of imprudence in this area of the world, you only need to remember you are not at home and take the usual precautions you do in Latino America and even the “most dangerous place” will be fine to you.
However, what I can see now is a different world from the one just left did surf and gringos villages hybrids and “cosmopolitan”.
Antigua is elegant, peaceful and surrounded by beautiful volcanoes. And here is where I want to stay for 10 days. I don’t mind about the “too touristic” places ad long as they deserver being known, I keep on thinking, and the more I travel the most I believe it, that being a traveler doesn’t mean necessarily traveling off the beaten track but, instead, means taking the best of a Country trying to get in touch with the people (and that’s why I try to learn the languages spoken, without it even if “off the beaten track” I will always feel an outsider).
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I settle down in a very nice hostel with a patio, where I can work and have breakfast, that fills my stomach until dinner, and the good news is that here I’ve met again Erin, I met already from Nicaragua, and Martin from Montreal, now in Antigua for three weeks and .. who knows till when, seems like he like here even more than I do.
I love the feeling of being in “GuateMaya”, as I like to call it. This Country has something more I haven’t experienced yet anywhere in Central America, it’s a “sui generis” country with an unknown soul that somehow is talking to me.
I am sure this green lands and rainforests are plenty of stories not yet told and I decided to settle down for a while and wait, till the day I’ll understand what this whistle is trying to say to me.”
Two weeks travel itinerary in Guatemala
Day 1/3 – Antigua
Day 4/6 – Atitlan
Day 7/10 – Semuc Champey
Day 11/13 – Flores e Tikal
Day 14 – Guatemala City
Day 1/3 – Antigua
Antigua is beautiful, surrounded by volcanoes in the valley of a mountain and it’s the former capital of Guatemala,
Land of Mayan traditions, Antigua is a beautiful example of colonial city, and, probably with San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, the most interesting and fascinating, colorful and full of life city in Central America.
The city is popular among backpackers from all over the world, mainly for the high number of schools that offer Spanish courses for all levels at economic prices and with excellent professors.
Therefore, it is an international city, where you will hear of lot English and is very well organized for tourists offering beautiful hotels and hostels, restaurants, bars and markets.
Antigua invites to get into the guatematelco mood, quiet and slow, and so the days pass strolling or bargaining in the local markets in search of some gifts to take home (hammocks are a pretty cool souvenir to take back home).
Where to stay in Guatemala
If you backpack I would adviceEL Hostal delightful hostel with patio and good breakfast. For those who want something typical in a colonial house I then recommend theHotel Casa Antigua, central location and idyllic garden.
How to get to Antigua from Guatemala City
A taxi from Guatemala City to Antigua costs about €30, usually hotels make do with the transfer by minivan. Otherwise outside the airport there are minivan heading to Antigua and will leave you right at your hostel. The cost of travel by minivan is $10 per person.
If you are coming from El Salvador or from Copan (Honduras), respectively, you can take a minivan organized by agencies in El Salvador (from El Tunco too) that will take you directly to your hotel. From Copan you can get a minivan to Guatemala City and from here a the bus to Antigua. Pretty easy!
Day 4/6 – Atitlan Lake and Chichicastenango (during market days)
Aldous Huxley called it the most beautiful lake in the world, even more beautiful than Como Lake. It’s a magical place where you can lose yourself for a few days and live for a while the maya life.
7 villages to choose from, craft markets, boat trips, and 1 hour and a half from here on Thursday and Sunday is held the most famous market of Central America, to Chichicastenango.
This place deserves at least 2 days, but if you think you can stay more then DO IT! It’s soo worth it!
About Atitlan Lake will follow a detailed post so you can fall in love with this place too!
For a list of hotels and guesthouse suggestions to Atitlan click here.
How to get to Atitlan lake
Lake Atitlan is easy to reach by shuttle organized by hostels, hotels and travel agencies. The price is $12 each way. It’s recommended to book a day in advance because the shuttles fill up easily. The trip takes about 3 hours, the roads are mountainous so if you suffer from motion sickness is the case to take pills.
Day 7/8 – Flores and Tikal
Flores is delicious, pastel-colored houses and a few bees around, there is a lake to cool off and the tranquility typical of Guatemalan villages that still doesn’t seem too touristic, at least compared to other destinations, even if is from here that you can reach one of most famous attractions of whole Central America: Tikal National Park Unesco
The visit to Tikal will take a whole day so book quickly your tour for the day after.
Tikal was a city home to 100,000 inhabitants, was the seat of the Clan of the Jaguar. More than 3,000 structures scattered over about six square kilometers, easy to recognize buildings, temples, ceremonial platforms, terraces, plazas, avenues and bathrooms.
The Maya began building Tikal around 600aC, for 1500 years from that date the area was an important religious, scientific and political.
Where to stay in Flores
A nice hotel in Flores is theChaltunha Hostel San-Miguel, private rooms and dorm bungalows. Alternatively a great and comfortable option is the Hotel Casona de La Isla, with pool and lake view.
A city buried in the jungle where you can also see howler monkeys and parrots, deer, toucans and jaguars in rare situations (which may occasionally get a glimpse).
How to get to Flores and Tikal
From Antigua to Flores
All hotels and hostels organize shuttles to Flores, the departure is usually in the morning. And ‘the safest and most economical. Otherwise you can do it in the night bus. Ask your hotel for the cost is.
From Atitlan to Flores
There are two solutions. Or go back to Guatemala City and take a direct bus to Flores. Or, this is for the more adventurous, take a bus to Quiche, then change and take that to Coban, via Sayaxche, and change direction again Flores.
From Flores to Tikal National Park
To get to Tikal National Park if you are staying in Flores can book a shuttle from the hostel (1 hour and a half), which costs about 150 quetzales. Entrance to the park costs $ 25, you can also pay a guide is highly recommended especially if you are in a group (average cost $ 25)
Day 9/10 – Lanquin and Semuc Champey
Hidden Pearl of Guatemala, well not that hidden anymore (but when I was there definitely was) this is my favorite spot not only Guatemala but in the whole Central America.
Semuch Champey is made of rocky pools and caves where you walk through the underground tunnels holding a lighted candle (the walk into the tunnels it’s a bit scary, you have also to get into the water and yes, the only light you have is the candle).
The two main excursions from Lanquin, the caves of Lanquin and Semuc Champey pools, are made usually in one day and cost $15 with the fee entry into the parks included. The hotel will help you organize your day.
The second day you can do tubing along the river sitting on a donut floating leaded by the placid river currents.
How to get to Lanquin
From Flores to Lanquin
Shuttles organized by hotels and hostels run every day to Lanquin.
Alternatively, take the bus to Coban and then change with a one directed to Lanquin (travel time 2 hours and a half or 3 depending on the conditions)
From Antigua to Lanquin
From Antigua take a bus to Guatemala City (chicken bus, $1.50 one way, just over an hour away). Then from the railway Monja Blanca take the direct bus to Coban ($ 7 one way, 4.5 hours). Here take the minibus to Lanquin ($ 4, which lasted two hours).
Alternatively take a shuttle organized by hotels and hostels (it costs about $ 10 more than you spend doing it alone but save a lot of time and you will travel in better conditions. It’s going to be a long trip anyway).
Day 11/13 – Rio Dulce & Livingston
Guatemala has its caribbean, very special and different from the ones in Panama or Mexico but definitely more wild.
Here you will find yourself into a mixture of spirits and Jamaican colors and musical Spanish sound. Dark skin, white beaches and jungles, these are the caribbean in Guatemala, forget about the waters of Corn Islands or San Blas, Little time to discover it, but if I can do it is worth this hippest seaside village.
The journey will be long, so the better thing to do is sleeping in Rio Dulce the first night and take the panoramic boat to Livigston the next day.
One night in Livingston and then leave the next day or possibly early in the morning of day 14 if the flight to get back home is in the late afternoon or night.
The hostels and B & B are basic and perfectly integrated in nature. Two good options are The Round Hostel, that offers dormitory beds but also private rooms and the pretty bungalows of the Finca Tatin, really close to the sea, peaceful and typical!
How to get to Rio Dulce and Livingston
From Lanquin to Livingstone
The bus to Rio Dulce Cahabon start at 6am so this would oblige them to sleep in Cahabon. Alternatively hostels and hotels organize shuttles to all directions, including Rio Dulce. Cost $ 15 per person. 5-hour trip is not just comfortable taking pills if you suffer from motion sickness. Livingston add two hours to reach by boat.
The boat ride Rio Dulce – Livingston costs Q15 ($ 2) and takes about 90 minutes, departures are from Puerto Barrios at 10am and 5pm. Otherwise, every two hours, the boat part just is full. Cost $ 4, travel time 30 minutes. Collective boats leave from the pier Rio Dulce to 9.11 and 13 per day ($ 15 or $ 24 round trip).
Livingston Guatemala City take the boat to Rio Dulce (the last is at 13) or Puerto Barrios, from there take a direct bus to Guatemala City ($ 7 between 5 and 6 hours).
For those who continue to the Bay Islands (Honduras) continue 2 hours of boat to Livingston on the Caribbean coast. Quiet seaside village. From there, continue for a few days after the Bay islands, it will take a full day trip
General information about Guatemala
Daily Budget (backpackers): $15/20
Hostel: 35 – 50 quetzales (about 5 euro)
Language spoken: spanish and maya
Currency: Quetzale, 1 euro = 11 quetzales
Time zone: – 6 Europe
Documents and Visas to go to Guatemala: For European Countries – Passport with at least 6 months validity is enough. It does not require an entry visa. With a valid passport you can stay Guatemala for three months from the day of entry. There isn’t any fee to pay when you get it but there is one to pay when you get out. The exit fee is 20 quetzales ($ 3).