Places to Return to – Guatemala

I was quite torn about visiting Guatemala! While the pictures looked beguiling, I was taking my mum, dad and husband on a trip around central America, and was worried about their safety.   A legitimate concern given the violent crime rates are the highest in Latin America (which is a high bar to begin with).  My dad too is a stubborn hardy kiwi bloke who contrarily seeks out dangerous situations.  Case in point, when I asked him not to walk up Cerro de la Cruz in Antigua (as apparently it was a hot spot for tourist muggings).  He promptly went up there the next morning before breakfast.  I told him he might have been robbed, and he proudly told me he took no money so they couldn’t rob him.  Note to non frequent travellers – you really want to make sure you have some money for people to steal from you, at least $20 if not $50!  I am not joking!….. better they steal $50 from you than get pissed off and shoot you as you have nothing for them.   Anyway, parental frustrations and concerns aside, Guatemala was the highlight of that trip for us all.   The only other thing to note is there are more gringos here than I typically like to see on holiday, so make sure you time your visits to places to avoid them as much as possible!
Girl in the street in San Pedro
Girl in the street in San Pedro
Visiting the villages around Atitlan
Be smart, as there are quite a few tourists in Panajachel, so go and find the villages which are less visited.  There are lovely places to eat, and hugely photogenic local ladies to take pictures of.  The air is clean and it is is stunningly beautiful on the lake.  We went to Santa Cruz, San Marcos and San Pedro and enjoyed wandering around.
Buys carrying a heavy load in Atitlan
Stayed at Hotel Posada Don Rodrigo in Panajachel, but there are tonnes of good options in Atitlan, eat anywhere as it is a bit of a gringo paradise
Head to Tikal to see the ruins
Make sure you stay the night, as the flights from Guatemala city land en masse in the morning and then there are swarms of people all over the ruins (we made the mistake of being on the plane with the swarms).  Frances Ford Coppola has a famous hotel nearby if you feel like going glam
IMG_3662 (melanie smith's conflicted copy 2014-08-27)
Ruins of Tikal
The ruins are amazing, and if you are fit and ok with ditching your guide there is some terrific hiking.    While you are out there definitely pop over the border to Belize and see the ruins of Caracol and Xunantunich (a regret of mine that we didn’t as I ended up flying in 3 years later to see these)
go to the market in chichicastenango
Yes this was a tourist nightmare, overrun with gringos by 10 am.  However, if you want to see the locals, then stay the night, get up at 6am to watch them set up and get the hell out before the hordes arrive at 10 am on their buses.  We really enjoyed having breakfast at one of the stalls and chatting with the locals
Dad bargaining at the market
Hang out with the gringos in Antigua
Antigua really is lovely!  There is really nothing to do here except eat!  We whiled away plenty of hours drinking decent coffee and eating cake…. it is just one of those things you do when you have been travelling and haven’t had a decent coffee or anything yummy to eat for a few weeks.  Thats why places like Antigua suck you in and you get stuck doing nothing but energetically finding new coffee and cake places every day :-).  There are some nice things to see between the cake shops, so take your camera with you.  The plaza Mayor, Arco de Santa Catalina, Cathedral San Jose and Convento de las Capuchinas are all lovely!
Locals Laundry in Antigua
Locals Laundry in Antigua
Stayed at the uber luxurious Palacio de Dona Leonor.  It was beautiful and enormous.  Not my normal travelling style, but it was a gift for Ma and Pa for their 60th birthdays.  Eat anywhere with cake!
Additional tips
  • Reading back on this post it seems that visiting Guatemala is a bit like going on safari.  You want to be up and out between 6-10am and then again perhaps in the late afternoon.  But you want to avoid the middle of the day, when the gringos are at their most active.   It really is worth the early mornings
  • I prebooked almost everything in Guatemala as was keen to look after Ma and Pa.   Elizabeth Bell came highly recommended, but charged a premium.   Things did work like clock work.   You can contact her at If I was going by myself I would probably use local buses
  • Guatemala City is one of the dodgiest places in Latin America.  Antigua is less than an hour from the airport in a car, so there is no reason to stay in the City.  We were amused by how many carpet and plastic stores had armed guards!

Visited December 2011