Places to visit in Guatemala
Any traveller who loves archeology, nature, adventure and wants to chill out on lakesides will love Guatemala. Nestled around the country are many colonial villages, volcanoes, lovely cities and incredibly well kept archeological sites. As the Lonely Planet would put it, this is a place of rare beauty, majour historical significance and vibrant culture. If flights to Guatemala all land in Guatemala City, the dangerous capital of the country, the rest of Guatemala is safe and travelling is fairly easy.
La Antigua Guatemala:
Few cities can be as charming as the former capital of Guatemala, La Antigua Guatemala. This is one of the places to visit in Guatemala, a city which underwent several major earthquakes (and I surely felt one during one of my visits) during the colonial period. Surrounded by three volcanoes, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for a good reason: picture colonial relics, pastel facades, terracotta roofs, precious little squares. All of this accompanied by a pleasant weather (never too hot, never too cold, but it does get chilly at night), and a number of excellent services geared to travellers on any budget.
How to get there:
Most people travelling to Guatemala by plane fly through the United States (don’t forget that it is necessary to have a US ESTA!), land in Guatemala City and go directly to Antigua catching one of the many door to door shuttles leaving from the airport. These run regularly between 7 am and 9 pm, but some hang around to wait for the last flight until midgnight.
There are regular buses and shuttle services to Chichicastenango, Panajachel (from where you can reach all destinations in Lake Atitlan) and other main destinations in the country, as well as shuttle services to Copan Ruinas (Honduras).
Things to do in Antigua Guatemala:
There are many things to do in Antigua Guatemala – other than just walking around and admire its beauty. Spanish courses and biking are just two of them. There are many Spanish schools, and it is possible to rent a bike (Old Town Outfitters may be a good choice) to bike around the hills surrounding the city.
Another option is hiking the volcanoes near Antigua – Agua, Acatenango and Fuego. Most agencies in town can organise this. I really wanted to experience the thrill of an active volcano, so I opted for the Volcano Pacaya, about 1 hour and 30 minutes drive from Antigua. There are morning or afternoon hikes. The afternoon hikes have the bonus of letting people enjoy a stunning sunset and, if I was lucky enough to have a good guide that took the group on the backside, so we were all able to see the many explosions. The hike is not so challenging, but wear appropriate gear as it does get chilly once the sun goes down, and it is slippery on the way back, once descending on the powdery slope. Carry a flashlight as at some point it will get dark!
Another one of the things to do in Antigua Guatemala is participating in one of the many workshops. My favourite was a traditional cooking class, where I even learned how to make the fabulous corn tortillas.
Where to stay, eat and drink in Antigua:
Whatever budget one is on, there never is a problem in finding a place to stay: there is something for any taste, any need and, most of all, any budget. Quieter backpackers caring for a good night’s sleep will find comfort in and a good budget accommodation Hostal Antigua (5a Avenida Sur 22): $8 per night per person in a 4 beds dormitory (no breakfast included), it is a clean, quiet option. Unless a 20-something party bum, avoid La Terraza (The Terrace Hostel in 3a Calle Poniente 24): picture old beds, mouldy bathrooms and guests coming back at 4 am in the morning, completely drunk, singing, screaming and gagging.
Eating: street food is abundant, and the market offers a great variety of fruits and vegetables (and it is gorgeous to just look at!). For something more substantial, there are many restaurants. Travel Menu, a small restaurant and bar in 6a Calle Poniente, serves huge portions of chow mein and curry and cold beers (if in a group, opt for the litre bottles to save extra pennies) for as little as 5 dollars. On the top notch side, Sabe Rico (6a Avenida Sur 7) is an organic café and restaurant which has an excellent list of drinks, wines, juices and excellent food and also serves filling breakfasts. Angie Angie (1a Avenida Sur 11A) is supposed to have Argentinian food, but serves hardly anything else other than expensive pasta and pizza dishes (isn’t that supposed to be Italian?) in a crowded and loud environment. Como Como, on the other hand, is simply great and to me the best restaurant in town.
For a chilled beer, Café No Sé (1a Avenida Sur 11C) is a small bar that serves a varied crowd and often offers live music too.