Get The Most Out Of Guatemala
So you are thinking of going to Guatemala or already decided to go; Awesome for you! Guatemala is an amazing country full of beautiful nature, volcanos, colonial cities, natural rivers, jungles, breathtaking sites and welcoming/loving people! I totally fell in love with this country. I actually went twice in one summer and I plan on going back. In this article, you will find out about the best places to visit in Guatemala by getting to know about the places I visited and you will see why you should too. That way it makes it easier for you to get more of the country.
First of all, I want to explain why I went to Guatemala; I decided to join my roommate and a group of other girls to go volunteer in orphanages through Maximo Nivel, which we booked through IVHQ. We were volunteering for 2 weeks and visiting for one week. Since we were only volunteering 4 hours a day from Monday to Friday, we had our weekends off, it gave us a lot more time to visit Guatemala!
Let's get started. The first place I want to write about is Antigua. I suggest you get a cab from the airport and go directly to Antigua, it is only an hour away. If you arrive late and can't make it to Antigua I suggest you stay at the Theatre International Hostel in Guatemala City (that's where we stayed on our first night, it's a nice ''chill'' place).
So why Antigua? Because it is totally safe and fun! The best two combinations. Antigua is a beautiful colonial city surrounded by three volcanos; Agua, Fuego and Acatenango. Antigua is full of interesting places and things to do/visit.
Restaurants and Bars
There are delicious restaurants to satisfy all your cravings: you can find Mexican, Indian, Mediterranean, American, Canadian and, of course, Guatemalan restaurants. There is also a lot of little coffee, ice cream and pastry shops all over the city. For those of you that like good old McDonald's, Subway, Burger King and other franchises like such, you can find them in Antigua. Another thing you will find everywhere in Antigua are bars/clubs. This is the perfect place to party; great music and even greater people from everywhere. And ladies, we are treated very well here, there is a ladies night almost every night of the week! At some bars you can get a manicure, massage and 3 drinks for free!
For those like me that love to walk and just wander off in the streets, Antigua is perfect for you. The bright colours of the walls in the streets just puts energy into you. The streets are always full of locals or visitors, which is nice. You can easily find Travel Agencies at every corner that will book your shuttle busses and hotels for you. The one we used is: Gt Adventure Tours & Travel. The staff was very helpful and it was all reasonable pricing. We never had any trouble getting to our destinations and they were always on time. Convenience stores, liquor stores, boutiques, hostels (we stayed at Jungle Party Hostel), little markets are just all over Antigua! Hiking up to Cerro de la Cruz is a must, from there you get a full view of Antigua and the volcanos, it is breathtaking! It's only a 15 minutes small hike, here is a picture I took:
In this little city, there is also a lot of historical places to visit. There is Museum and old Colonial Churches that you can visit. You will find some ruins in some places of the city also. You need to go to the big market; all local people selling vegetables, fruits, meat, grain, well anything you need, fresh from their gardens and for reasonable prices! It's a great atmosphere.
If you love chocolate, go to the ChocoMuseo. You can take a course on the history of Cacao, how it's made and you get to create your own! They sell plenty of chocolate bars and have samples for you to try. I took the class and made my own milk chocolate bars; I loved the experience and the chocolate!
2. Semuc Champey
This place is paradise! This should be one of the wonders of the world, I have never seen anything as amazing as this place. Semuc Champey is situated in the middle of the jungle. You get to hike to see the beautiful view of the natural pools (where I took that picture) and then you get to go swim in them jumping from one pool to another! The water is clear, surrounded by beautiful trees. We went with a guide and he make us jump and slide from one pool to the other. Then, after swimming, we went in a cave, which was one of my best experience. I never wanted to leave this place. When we went there, we stayed at Hostal El Portal, which is also, the best hostel I've ever stayed in. El Portal is only 2-5 minutes walk to the entry of Semuc Champey's Park. They have awesome staff too. Here's a picture:
Monterrico is the perfect place to relax by the beach on dark sand. From what I hear, the sun is almost always out and it's always beautiful weather. For us, it was true, we were there for 3-4 days and it rained early in the morning once (I'd say around 6 am) and then the rest of the day the sun was out without any clouds. Here you can either work on your tan, read, write or just simply relax while having a drink. The hostel we stayed at is El Delfin. There was hamocs, two bars, one pool and direct access to the beach, great atmosphere and the food was delicious. Be careful if you go swimming, the waves are big! We still had fun paying in them though. Here's a picture of the Hostel that I took:
4. Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlan)
Now, this lake is like nothing you've ever seen before. It is surrounded by volcanos and has small villages all around it. When we went there, we stayed in Panajachel and we took a tour to see three of the villages; San Juan, San Pedro (the more party place to be) and San Lucas. The view while going to a place to another on a boat was amazing. We only stayed here one night. We got up at 5:00am to go see the volcanos more clear and to see the sunrise. We were tired but it was absolutely worth it; proof is that picture I took. We stayed at Hostel El Viajero, it was a super cute and clean place! We all loved it.
5. Rio Dulce
I came here on my second trip to Guatemala. I wanted to discover another side of the country. I got to see the Castle, boat on the river with a local that gave us an awesome trip; saw bird islands, stopped at someone he knew to drink coco, stopped at a place where there was hot spots, he even took us to Livingston (on the boarder, on the Caribbean side). We got to meet an awesome old man that gave us a tour, everyone knew him! He was a very sweet man. It is a small place and has around 11 hotels! Everyone there is very friendly, we got to meet other locals. On my next trip to Guatemala, I will go sleep a couple of nights in Livingston. We stayed at the hotel: Bruno's Hotel, right on the side of the sea. It was a beautiful place, lots of boats, a pool and a bar!
The Chichi Market is the biggest market in Guatemala. Once you think there can't be any more little markets, there is! You can find anything you need here as a souvenir. It was a very nice experience, we saw the locals working by selling their stock, met other tourists and got to walk around and just enjoy the colourful colours! If you want to bargain, that's fine ... but remember that these people are doing this for living, they're doing this to feed themselves and their families, they're doing this as their full time job, to live. They get there everyday with stuff that they made from their own hands (most of the time), set up their stuff and hope they sell a lot of it, and then when the day is over, they have to unset up everything and bring it home and restart it the next day. They work hard, so before bargaining at a low cost, please think about that.
7. Volcano Pacaya
Pacaya is very close to Guatemala City so also close to Antigua. You can easily do this in one day: it will only take you a couple of hours. The hike is a bit hard, but you take a lot of breaks and the guide gives you information about nature like trees and information about animals. Once we got on top, we walked on dry lava (it was very hot, I thought my sneakers were going to melt!) and we roasted march mellows! How cool is that? It was a great experience, I hope you get to live it too.
Well, this is it. I hope this will help you plan your trip to Guatemala by knowing the best places to visit, or atleast I hope it made you want to go. There are other places like the Mayan Ruins and Flores that I hear are very nice to visit, but I didn't visit them myself so I can't really say anything about that. Guatemala is safe (it is not dangerous as people make it seem) if you use your judgement and your gut feeling, it is a country full of adventures, beautiful places and amazing people!