We spent 6 wonderful weeks in Guatemala in Nov\Dec 2017. The culture, colour and friendliness we experienced made Guatemala one of our favourite places to visit. There is much poverty in the area but yet the people seem happy and are very welcoming. Yes you may get scammed, 65Q for one Coca-Cola and Pringles (Lanquin) or 45Q for a bag of popcorn (Antigua) but if you keep your wits about you and ask the price upfront it’s avoidable.
Below is an overview of where we went and what we got up to during our 6 weeks in Guatemala.
Flores is the base for Tikal – and its sunrise tour
Flores is a beautiful town situated on a small island on Lake Peten Itza. It is connected to the less touristy town of Santa Elena by a bridge. We spent 4 nights here and stayed in Los Amigos Hostel – really good chill out area and a resident rabbit!
What we did in Flores
- Walk around and admire this picturesque town and catch the sunset over the lake.
- El Mirador, well worth a visit to the mirador in San Miguel for a panoramic view over Flores. We followed the trail on map.me and also DIY Travel HQ website.
- Tikal at sunrise. Amazing hearing the howler monkeys and birds waking up to a new day and watching a beautiful sunrise. Would I do the sunrise tour again, probably not, 2am wake-up call!! and I much prefer walking around at my own pace. We did managed to spot a toucan, howler and spider monkeys while there. It cost 350Q, 250Q for entrance (includes extra 100Q for going in for sunrise) and 100Q for transport and guide.
The view of Flores from El Mirador
More things to do in and around Flores: Jorges Rope Swing, rent a canoe, go for a swim, visit Yaxhá a Mayan city, visit Ixpanpajul National Park.
The streets of Flores
Lanquin is the town we based ourselves for the majestic and alluring waters of Semuc Champey. Where I relaxed on a hammock and read two books! Click here for more on Semuc Champey. We spent 4 nights here in El Retiro Lodge which has a really nice bar\restaurant beside the river.
The stunning pools of Semuc Champey
Xela, we spent 2 and a half weeks enjoying the normal life in Xela where we studied Spanish for 2 weeks and climbed the highest peak in Central America. Click here for more info.
On top of Central America – literally!
Lake Atitlan, we arrived into Lake Atitlan after our 3 day hike from Xela and enjoyed a perfect sunrise introduction to this lakeside paradise which was to be our home for Christmas. We spent 5 nights in San Pedro La Laguna and one night in Panajachel.
A sunrise introduction to Lake Atitlan
San Pedro is known as the backpackers destination as it is cheap with a good selection of restaurant’s and bars. We enjoyed Christmas here and even managed to find turkey and ham for dinner (thanks Alegre!). 12 o’clock on Christmas Eve the night sky was alive with the colours of fireworks. It was spectacular! We had perfect undisturbed view across the lake which we enjoyed waking up to each morning. We stayed in Hotel Don Chema which is about 15mins walk to the main pier.
Some of the San Pedro locals
The fireworks on Christmas Eve
What we did in San Pedro la Laguna
- Walk up the long hill to the non-touristy area to find the church and walk along the market.
- Visit one of the many towns around the lake. We visited San Marcos, its very chill and a small pretty town. Bring swim gear to go for a dip after climbing to the mirador in Cerro Tzankujil nature reserve. We also visited San Juan which is a more traditional town.
- Go to Mary’s comedor for some tasty orange juice and sample the food in one of the many restaurants. I had my fill of pancakes and fruit (yum!).
- Relax and enjoy a few beers while looking out over the lake, loads of pubs to chose from so walk around to find what scene you fancy.
More things to do in San Pedro: Climb San Pedro volcano or the Indian nose for sunrise or study Spanish in one of the many schools.
Panajachel. We stayed in Hotel El Sol for one night. Its a very quiet hostel about a 20-25min walk from Pana or a 5Qpp tuk tuk ride away. I really liked strolling the market lined streets where I could admire the many souvenirs and colourful clothes. We ended the day by watching the sunset behind the volcanoes down by the pier. Next up was our last stop in Guatemala – Antigua.
A selection of products for sale at the market in Panajachel
Antigua, a very pretty cobblestone city overshadowed by the ever powerful volcanoes of Agua, Acatenango and Fuego. We enjoyed New Years Eve here where fireworks were set alight and a few madmen strapped fireworks onto their back!! We spent 6 nights in Antigua, it can definitely be done in less days but bare in mind the Acatenango hike is 2 days.
Santa Catalina Arch
What we did in Antigua
- Santa Catalina Arch to capture the iconic archway with Volcan Agua luring over.
- Climb the 20-30min scenic lookout point of Cerro de la Cruz.
- Walk around the colonial streets and admire the architecture and many churches and finish with a relaxing coffee in the park.
- Tackle the third highest point in Central America by climbing Acetenago volcano (3976m) and watch the lava explosions from the active volcano Fuego. We did this hike with Gilmer Soy (400Q pp) which we definitely recommend. It was a difficult climb but the reward of watching, hearing and feeling the eruptions made it all worth it. With lava explosions at night and rumbles beneath your feet, its a must for all volcano lovers!! Tip – bring warm clothes.
- Visit the markets near the bus terminal. All kinds of everything can be found.
See the power of Fuego at night on top of Acatenango
But its a tough climb up!
The views from the top are amazing!
More things to do in Antigua: Climb Pacaya Volcano, visit some museums – beer/chocolate, Spanish classes or try your hand or feet (!?) at salsa.
Overall Guatemala is a brilliant destination to visit with so many different activities to enjoy. There’s something here for everyone! Comment below on your experiences in Guatemala or feel free to ask more about our time in this unforgettable country.