Our trip to Guatemala exceeded our expectations in so many ways. Not only is it a gorgeous country with beautiful scenery and the most amazing ruins, but we also found the roads and infrastructure to be very good for travelers and the people to be super friendly and hospitable. As with everywhere, there are places to avoid, precautions to take and upsetting levels of poverty in some areas. We donated to a dog rescue that helps take dogs off the streets and get the care they need. In fact, we adopted our dog, Nico, from this program years ago.
We had quite a posh trip by our standards and found it to be relaxing, beautiful and memorable. Here are the things we think can’t be missed on a trip to Guatemala.
1. Visit Lake Atitlan
This stunning lake is the deepest in Central America and is surrounded by volcanoes. The lake was actually formed in a massive volcano crater.
There are several wonderful towns around the lake and each has a different vibe, so look them up and figure out which one is for you. If you’re looking for the party vibe, go to San Pedro. If you’re feeling the hippy vibe, hang out in San Marcos. Panajachel is the main hub.
Our trip was all about rest and relaxation, so we stayed a 15 minute tuk-tuk ride outside of Panajachel (Pana). We had a luxurious Airbnb with the most stunning views, a hot tub, private cook and in-home massages. Three nights was plenty of time for us here, since we were not in walking distance to anything. One day we hired a boat to take us around to the other towns, which was fun. Tip: take a boat out early—the water gets rough as the day goes on.
Seriously, Lake Atitlan offers some of the most extraordinary views. Get a book or a bottle of wine, sit on the balcony, and enjoy.
2. Explore Antigua
We love exploring colonial towns in Latin America: Old Town San Juan, Puerto Rico. Casco Viejo, Panama City. Granada, Nicaragua. Cartagena, Colombia.
Antigua, Guatemala, was easily our favorite. It’s a great town to wander around and offers plenty of breweries, bars, restaurants and adorable cafes with delicious food. The volcano views are extraordinary and so are the ruins at the Iglesia de San Francisco and the shrine of Santo Hermano Pedro.
We highly recommend going to Y Tu Piña Tambien for breakfast, Cafe Sky for lunch (amazing volcano view) and Cafe No Se for drinks and live music (super cool, dark, candle-lit bar).
Our hotel, Porta, was beautiful and also had an amazing restaurant for dinner.
You can take some day trips to surrounding organic farms and other cool spots. You can also go for a volcano hike. We just decided to wander and relax with some cervezas by the pool.
3. See the Tikal Ruins
The Tikal ruins, in our opinion, are cooler than Chichen Itza. They are so unique and interesting and really worth checking out. The site is a bit far from the other attractions in the country. You can take a flight or a (long) bus ride to Flores from Guatemala City, but we actually did a day trip to Tikal from San Ignacio in the Belize jungle because that was easier. Even then, it was a really long day, but it was so worth it!
4. Stop in Guatemala City
Many people told us to skip Guatemala City, but we decided to stay for one night to regroup before making the 3 hour trip to Lake Atitlan. We loved Zona 10 in Guatemala City! It’s very close to the airport and our hotel was swanky like a Miami Beach hotel, but way more affordable and less crowded (and without the beach, of course).
The Hyatt Centric has a rooftop pool with great city views and a nice bar and restaurant, as well as spacious, comfortable rooms and a great breakfast. The neighborhood was incredibly clean and safe to walk around. There’s a mall and some nice restaurants near by—we opted to try some Guatemalan Pepian (for the first of many times. Yum!) We wish we had stayed an extra night to explore the city.
5. Hire a Driver
If you’re on a tight budget, there are plenty of affordable transportation options, including buses and shared shuttles, to take you around the country. We decided to hire a private transportation company to take us from place to place, which was still reasonable. This was easy and convenient and got us everywhere quickly and comfortably. We could have arranged pick ups and drop offs through our hotels and Airbnb’s too, but either way, we like to arrange our transportation in advance to make our travel a bit smoother. We went with ADRENALINA tours and highly recommend them.
We’ve been to every country in Central America and absolutely love the region. Our trip to Guatemala quickly rose to the top as one of our favorite destinations, and we highly encourage fellow travelers to explore this beautiful country. Lakes, volcanoes, ruins, jungles, beaches, colonial towns, beautiful people, and delicious food. What’s not to love? What’s your favorite spot in Guatemala or overall in Central America?