Just got back from a visit to Guatemala, first visit. What a beautiful country! Wanted to share some trip planning advice, as we only had literally 6 full days in Guatemala, and felt like we got to see quite a bit. Of course, did we fully experience all of the villages in the mountains of Lake Atitlan? No, but we made good use of our time and wanted to share some tips.
We flew into Guatemala City- that night, we were catching a flight to Flores. We had a couple hours to kill in Guatemala City.. yep, there's not a whole lot to see here. You can walk a bit in zone 1 just to appreciate some of Guatemalan City city life. Zone 10 has some nicer restaurants and hotels. We were there on a Sunday so there were more Guatemalans just hanging out in the central park, but yes, not much to do overall in Guatemala city.
We spent one night outside of Flores, and one night in Tikal National Park. Flores was a cute little town and a nice place to stay if you want to do 2 nights in this region. Staying in Tikal was solely for the purpose of doing a sunrise tour. And yes, getting up at 4am for the sunrise tour is absolutely worth it. We used Roxy Ortiz, as suggesting by other posters on this site, and she was in fact a great tour guide. One thing to note- after you've done your 4 hour or so tour in Tikal, there isnt much left to do in the area. We ended up doing a tour of the Uaxactan ruins with Roxy later that day.
We then took an overnight bus (this is where our trip started to get more spontaneous) from Flores to Guatemala City so that we could save one night and end up in Antigua the next morning. This worked out very well. We took the ADN company bus- very safe, and the seats recline so much that you can get quite a good rest. From a 9pm departure, we arrived in Guatemala city at 5am. It was a little tricky then figuring out how to get to Antigua, as at the bus station, we didnt really know where to go. We ended up getting a taxi to the airport for the sole purpose of finding a shuttle bus to antigua.
We spent the next day in Antigua and also hiked volcano pecaya. no active lava now but still a very pretty hike. Of note, this was a low in their tourist season. I'm not entirely sure why. Sure, this is the start of the "rainy season", but frankly, it rained in the late afternoon/early evening every day, but that was about it.
The next day, we wanted to get out to Lake Atitlan. One hiccup in our trip was the relatively poor reliability of making reservations for shuttles. If you didnt pay more to make your reservation, you can forget about the reliability of it. If they dont have enough customers, they simply wont make the route. Unless you put down $$, then I think you have more of a guarantee. We eventually did get a shuttle bus to Panajachel.
Lake Atitlan was beautiful and we were very glad this ended up on our itinerary ( we originally didnt feel that we had enough time). We spent two nights there. Both of the nights were spent in Panajachel. I did feel as though Pana was quite touristy oriented. If we had known more, we probably would have chosen San Marcos or San Pedro to stay, but frankly, it was the convenience factor of getting to pana from antigua that made us stay there. That being said, in two days, we saw Santiago Atitlan, San Pedro, San Marcos, and did a nice hike (Indians nose) in San Juan. All of those cities were wonderful. Did we get the full experience of what many people on here have with 2-3 weeks or more on Lake Atitlan- nope, but in just two days, we were able to get to see quite a bit.
The last night, we decided to stay in antigua as this was just closer to Gua city to fly back. Given our experience with the shuttles, we felt that was safer than booking an early morning shuttle all the way back to Gua city/airport to fly out. Antigua did seem like a nice base to see a lot of places from.
Would've loved to see Semuc Chupey, Rio dulce, Xela... but alas, 6 days isnt all that much time. Feel free to ask any questions for you first timers out there with limited time.
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