Mexico & Central America Forums

Post New Topic

Recent Activity

View all Mexico & Central America activity »
  1. 1
  2. 2 1 month in Puerto Vallarta
  3. 3 Transportation from Airport to Panama City Hotel
  4. 4 My thought go out towards Mexicans
  5. 5 Help with Itinerary for Dec. 2017
  6. 6 Trip Report Airport Transfers from Los Cabos Airport
  7. 7 Must sees in Dominical and Uvita
  8. 8 Young Couple Looking for a Vacation Destination
  9. 9 Manuel Antonio to Osa
  10. 10 playa del carmen what to do
  11. 11 Panama Canal Excursions
  12. 12 Mexico City. Oct 13-16. Haunted tours + Halloweend / Day of the Dead
  13. 13 Costa Rica private driver recommendations?
  14. 14 Giving back to Mexio
  15. 15 2 months in Central America
  16. 16 Best time of year for Mexico City/Puebla?
  17. 17 Cabos to Todos Santos
  18. 18 Cabo to San Miguel de Allende
  19. 19 Belize planning help
  20. 20 12-day June CR trip with school-age kids
  21. 21 Excellent News!
  22. 22 Panama Canal transit - Panama to Costa Rica or reverse?
  23. 23 Mexico earthquake
  24. 24 1st visit to Costa Rica - Itinerary input appreciated!
  25. 25 Cabo
View next 25 » Back to the top


Jump to last reply

Hello, all! My friend Sylvia and I had a wonderful time in Guatemala the 1st 3 weeks in August, 2007. We're middle-aged educators with a desire to improve our Spanish skills, a sense of adventure, and a sense of humor. It was my 4th trip to Guatemala and Syl's 1st trip out of the US. Here's my report:

HEALTH AND SAFETY: The only times we didn't feel safe, as I'd predicted, were in chicken buses careening around curves in the passing lane between Quiché and Nebaj. We survived nicely and our luggage arrived with us, though we did have to sprint and haul ourselves aboard a departing bus in Quiché that was leaving with our bags on top. That whole trip from Nebaj down to Panajachel was like the Amazing Race and I'm pleased to say we won.

I wore my passport, bank cards, travelers checks, and full SD memory cards under my clothes and zip-tied my zippers closed when my bag was in overhead racks or bus tops. Kept my camera in a pocket but secured to a button. No loss or theft of any kind this trip, never felt threatened.

We each had a few bouts with "turista" which probiotics and cayenne pepper cleared up. Syl felt woozy once in Antigua and the tourist police called an ambulance (gratis) to take us back to our hotel. We also had a small collection of bumps and bruises - a sprained ankle, cracked molar, and bruised tailbone for Syl (what a trooper!) and a few scrapes for me from mountain goating on Pacaya and at Tikal.

PACKING: My packing list (#15 in the FAQ thread of the Thorntree Central America Forum) served me well once again, with several important additions/substitutions. I took a new Traveler Steripen for water purification instead of my usual filter, much lighter and smaller, easy to use. I was glad I packed a travel towel and silk sleeping sheet (search on ebay, I paid about $10) because they were needed in homestays this time around. I had a SD memory card reader and used it to load photos to our blog - really slick plus cheap and light weight. I'll post my photos to Flickr when I have more time but you can check out the ones I chose to blog at Sylvia and Stacey in Guatemala .

Even in Nebaj where my room was in the 50's at night one pair of long pants would have been enough; I wore capris a lot of the time and was comfortable with those, especially with standing water in the streets and my bathroom. I didn't take my sarong or a nightgown and didn't miss them (though I'd take them both to CA again if my trip included hotter climates and beach areas). Made good use of my sewing kit, 1st Aid kit, and my duct tape; ear plugs were even more necessary this trip than usual. I took a pair of Merrell Waterpro Ultra Sports instead of my usual Keens. I injured a foot a month before my trip and needed an orthotic and more heel stability. The Merrells were a great, comfortable, supportive, lightweight option. LOVED my Columbia Pakmandu conversion pack, yet again - a great way to travel.

WEATHER: Great as always for me - my mom was known as the good weather grandma and still looks after me on trips. The weather was gorgeous in Antigua, cooler and rain every afternoon/evening in Nebaj, similar (but a little warmer) in San Pedro, hot in Rio Dulce but cooled by rains at Tikal. No complaints.

TRANSPORTATION: We took a combination of taxis (Guat airport to Antigua - quick and $25/two) and from Flores to Tikal after the long bus ride from Rio Dulce (same) - welcome splurges because they eliminated waiting, gave us plenty of room, dropped us right at our hotel each time, and presented interesting conversation opportunities with locals. Otherwise we took colectivos or buses - chicken buses in the highlands, 2nd class Litegua and Fuente del Norte buses GC to Rio Dulce and RD to Flores. We have our hilarious stories to tell, including cats battling their way out of produce bags, a young man falling asleep on Syl's shoulder, and the sheer volume of people on the colectivos and chicken buses; our records were 25 in a colectivo and 5 in a chicken bus seat. Met some really great people.

LANGUAGE: I can hold my own in a Spanish conversation now and usually catch most of native-speed speech, which added to this visit immeasurably. Wish I had the time and space to name every interesting, interested person I met and share more about the political, religious, and historical information I gained from conversations with non English speaking teachers, hosts, gardners, venders, and seat mates.

ANTIGUA: Beautiful as usual, great ruins (esp. Las Capuchinas) and churches, museums (especially Santo Domingo) and galleries. Enjoyed hiking Pacaya in the afternoon/evening (not for sisies, though!) and to Cerra de la Cruz Mirador with a police escort. The Inguat office has moved and was very helpful, nice map. Pepián at Fondo del Calle Real was a highlight and we found several great comedores for low cost local fare. We stayed at CASA CRISTINA ($24/nt/dbl) and recommend it highly. The rooms are small but clean and secure, great location, free internet and an incredibly helpful staff.

CHICHICASTENANGO: The indoor produce market in the commercial building there was one of my favorite sights of the whole trip - saturated with color and life, a sensory overload. Couldn't recognize the plaza for all the plastic roofs (haven't been there since the 80's) but thoroughly enjoyed the Saturday evening set-up and early morning church and market activities. We left before the day trippers arrived and it was the perfect length of time for us. Stayed at HOTEL GIRÓN ($14/nt/dbl if you call to book, no English spoken, website I linked is the picture page from a booking service which charges more); fabulous location, clean, secure, limited water times but a great place for one night.

NEBAJ: Loved this area - very traditional and friendly and safe. Most of the men wear western clothes but nearly all the women wear the traditional maroon faldas (skirts) with gorgeous huipiles in intricate geometric and animal designs; most of the older women wear the elaborate cinta head wraps. Interesting cultural events associated with their annual fair in August included a Señorita Nebaj competition, Conquistador dances in the square, special church activities and a demonstration of indigenas carrying signs seeking justice for Rios Montt's genocides and a huge quilt with squares for area folks slain during the holocaust. Lots of construction - tile roofs are being replaced with 2nd floors of cement with rebar left poking skyward in case of future building goals - not too attractive.

We hiked to some beautiful waterfalls (though the litter problem out that way was dismaying) and to the mountain village of Cocop, one of the hardest hit during the war, though lots of hope and new building now. We went there with a very interesting guide from GUIAS IXILES , Jacinto - injured in the war with stories to tell and very knowledgable about the history of Guatemala (Spanish only). We ate a delicious caldo soup and tortillas prepared as we watched in a very rustic village kitchen.

We stayed our 1st night there at the new HOSTEL ($4-7/nt) and attended the NEBAJ LANGUAGE SCHOOL ($115/wk including 20 hours of 1-on-1 instruction, free internet, guided hikes, traditional cooking lessons, and homestay with 2 meals/day) which is fairly new and very friendly; not many students, though. My teacher, Pedro Ramírez Cobo, an older Ixil gentlemen, was EXCELLENT. In addition to language activities we had hours and hours of conversations about our political and religious beliefs and the history of the area. He took me on walks to see sacred Maya sites encircled by cornfields in the surrounding hills and to the war memorials in local cemeteries. Sylvia's teacher, Angelica, was new and not so great. Our homestays were a bit on the rough side but the people were very friendly and generous with their typical food. Lots of Ixil spoken in the homes but good conversations in Spanish if I sought them; very little English spoken in the community which made it a good immersion environment for me.

PANAJACHEL: Just one night there for a chance to relax and shop before we headed to San Pedro for another week of Spanish study. WAY too touristy for me, though we did most of our gift shopping successfully there; another place greatly changed since the 80's. We stayed at MARIO'S ROOMS ($16/dbl, link is just a photo site) which is a fabulous place to stay - rooms are small but clean, great beds and showers, in room safes, free agua pura and internet, great location.

SAN PEDRO LA LAGUNA: We studied for the week at the COOPERATIVA SCHOOL which was a truly wonderful experience ($112/wk for 20 hours of 1-on-1 Spanish instruction, a week in a host family with meals Monday through Saturday, and activities). My teacher was the director, Lorenzo, and Sylvia's was Luis who also taught the salsa classes, two excellent teachers. We both had interesting, good homestays and the other students seemed equally pleased with both teachers and homestays. Tuesday through Friday there was an activity each night: a film about the mining controversy in the San Marcos department that my son was involved in last June, an academic talking about the Maya vision of the world and their place in it, salsa dance lessons, and a nice dinner prepared by the school staff. The teachers are paid better than at all or most schools in San Pedro and all of the money paid for homestays goes to the host families. The school also invests heavily in the community in a program for supporting the education of a group of 16 deserving local students with high need. There are many volunteer opportunities available including volunteering in a program for disabled individuals which was a rewarding and memorable experience for Sylvia and I.

The town has a reputation for a large rasta/pot smoking crowd but we stayed away from the dock areas and rarely saw them. Our part of town (the school was a few blocks up from the Santiago Atitlán dock, my homestay was up the same street by the market) was quite traditional and very friendly. There are only a few main (regular-sized) streets and miles of little labyrinth walkways in between; we met some great people on those walkways.

We took a day trip to Santiago Atitlán and enjoyed the school fair happening in the plaza and the obligatory visit to Maximón; the tourist crowd and the hawkers in the street got old fast.

RIO DULCE: We stayed at BRUNO'S ($40/nt/dbl) which was a great choice for us; we had room 15 - best in the house in my opinion unless you don't like stairs. It had 2 doubles and a set of bunks, private bath with hot water, tv, air con and a big fan. There was a nice balcony shared with one other room with a hammock and a nice view over the water. The hotel is surrounded by huge trees that towered over our 3rd floor balcony. We thought the food in the restaurant was great and enjoyed the pool. Mostly sailors stay there, I think - lots of regulars. Internet was available but not very fast. We just stayed 2 nights with a day trip to Livingston between and arrived and left on long bus journeys so it was great having a hotel just off the bridge near the stations.

Our day trip to Livingston was worth it for the gorgeous views there and back but the colectivo boat captain spent hours drumming up business, returning over and over to area hotels with 10 people on board, so the 9 am boat ended up leaving Rio Dulce after 11 which gave us just an hour in Livingston. I had a wonderful tapado soup - a traditional Garifuna dish made with plantains, coconut milk, and lots of seafood including a lots of shrimp and a whole crab still in the shell and a whole fish complete with sad eyes and tiny teeth. I covered the fish's head with a chunk of plantain and enjoyed the rest.

TIKAL: We chose the TIKAL INN ($75/nt/dbl included dinner and breakfast) in the park and it was really lovely. We had room C-10, again a fabulous room with 2 double beds and private hot water bath and right near the pool, friendly staff, good food. We arrived via bus and taxi from Rio Dulce between 3 and 4 pm, unloaded our luggage in our room and spent until 6:30 in the ruins. The signs say the cost is now 150 quetzales or about $20 to enter the ruins but they only charged us 50 q each and our tickets were good for the next day as well. I especially enjoyed the spider monkeys grooming each other and bedding down for the night at eye level from the steps near the top of Temple 4. By the time we were passing back by the Grand Plaza storm clouds had gathered and the sunlight slanting in under them onto the buildings at sunset was truly amazing. By the time we got back to our room it was POURING and continued for most of the evening, all night, and through to noon the next day; enjoyed a quiet swim in the pool during a break. Wildlife viewing in the morning was practically nonexistent but the jungle was beautiful and wild in the rain and there were no mosquitoes; it wasn't hot, another blessing. I especially enjoyed the adrenaline rush of standing on top of Temple 5 in the wind and rain that spun off the fringes of Hurricane Dean.

FLORES: We stayed one night in Flores at CASONA DE LA ISLA ($52/nt/dbl) and loved it, too - room 303 with a view over the pool to the lake. Helpful staff, nice restaurant with a veranda by the lake, balcony by our room, great shower. We enjoyed strolling around Flores, people watching in the park, swimming in the pool, soaking in the hot (more like tepid) tub and enjoying the lake from our balcony and the restaurant veranda.

We headed to the Flores airport where we caught the 8:20 am flight back to Guatemala City, then on to Houston and Portland. On our last leg a woman sat next to us and shared that she'd just lost a tooth cap and the pain was horrendous, right at the start of her trip. I had an emergency temporary cap/filling replacement kit I've packed around for years - worked like a charm. Great karma stock toward my next CA adventure!

This was a productive, eventful, memorable trip that exceeded our (high) expectations over and over. It was varied in activity and geographic area and 3 weeks was plenty of time to be away from our beloved husbands - we were ready to head home when the time arrived. I can close my eyes and see the motion and the color and smell the strong, rich smells; hopefully I'll get to go back again to Guatemala before I lose the ability to do that.

  • Report Abuse

    Thank you so much for your wonderful post...I have been waiting for you to return and let us know how your studies/travels were. Much to dream of there and valuable accomodations to bookmark. Will definitely look in to the emergency dental kit as well - something I hadn't considered before. I know that chewing gum or those silcone ear plugs can be helpful when a crown is lost.

    Your Hopefulist has become my Hopefulist and I have followed up on many of your recommendations especially those from Copan, Honduras where I plan to study at Ixbalanque for a few weeks. Just purchased my Feb airfare into Guatemala City, as San Pedro Sula was considerably more expensive from Canada. Have already been in touch with Spanish School there and hope to study mornings and use my training in a nearby medical clinic in the afternoons.

    Hopefulist, did you happen to notice if there was a Hedman Alas ticket outlet inside the Guatemala City airport? They have a bus leaving for Copan a few hours after I land so I want to reserve a seat with them.

  • Report Abuse

    What a great report and blog! I had forgotten that this was Sylvia's first time out of the country. She sure jumped in with both feet LOL. She is indeed a trooper.

    I have not been comfortable about riding on a chicken bus after my son's experiences but I may have to give it a try. Nothing bad happened to him, he had been warned of what to expect but he was uncomfortable with people putting their hands in his pockets and stepping over him.

    Sounds like I should join you two in your travels, we would have every extremity wrapped, splinted or otherwise protected from further harm. I came home with a splint on my thumb and barely walking with a cane after hurting something in my foot while playing in the ocean. Not to mention the knee that is still bothering me from that steep hike down from Pacaya in Feb. Hope everyone on your end is recovering okay. I am still limping and thinking I should get my thumb looked at (probably my knee and foot too).

    You were quite brave to get all the way up to the hot lava at Pacaya.

    Rio Dulce looks and sounds like a good place to hit next.

    I think we stayed in that same hotel in Flores. Our room was so tiny that we could barely turn around. We had to take turns opening our suitcases on the bed and the bed was partly across the door opening to the bathroom. Lovely deck and pool area.

    What wonderful memories your pictures brought back of Atitlan and Chichi. The colors and fabrics are so amazing. We bought a huge bedspread this time made up of huipiles from many different villages. Weighed a ton.

    Your comment about feeling like a giant was funny. It is pretty incredible how small the mayans are. A friend that went with us our first trip is slightly over 6 ft and they were only about up to his waist!

    Welcome back and keep up the good work with the kids. My nephew sure has had good care over the years thanks to people like you and is doing so much better than anyone ever thought.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for the nice comments!

    Tripinink - I didn't notice a Hedman Ticket outlet in the GC airport but I doubt there's one there. I'd heard it's possible to book online now and I found this page: . You'll probably have to take a taxi from the airport (just exit the airport and they'll start saying "Taxi? Antigua?" and you can tell them you need to go to the terminal Hedman Alas "tairmeeNAL EDmahn AHlahs".

    Glad you're heading to Ixbalanque! Please tell them Stacey from Oregon recommended them, and be sure to tell us all about your visit when you get home. I'm heading back there next July/August for 2 weeks, leading a group of teachers for Heritage Institute. Should be a great trip.

    Happy trails!

  • Report Abuse

    Stacey... Thanks for the tips and the phonics to get me going! Ixbalanque must be wonderful if an adventurer like you is making a return trip.

    I read a post by Shillmac referring to the energy drain that she experiencd in Spanish school, trying to absorb and listen so intently for hours on end and found herself just wanting some down time in her "off" hours at the end of the day. This might have been early on in beginner Spanish but that's what I am a bit concerned about, because this is my first Spanish speaking experience. Just curious if you encountered some similar "overload" or are you advanced enough now that conversing is not nearly the work it once was?

    I guess I am a bit worried, wondering if I am biting off too much - planning on half days in a clinic situation, though have no idea how hectic a pace it may be. Seems to me your son did something medical related - did he find it pretty laid back or more intense. I am thinking I might be able to help with vaccinations or start some IV's etc. Did your son take some supplies down with him? I may be able to get some donations from the private clinic where I do some casual shift. I need to find out what the Copan clinic would like and that is turning into a bit of a challenge.

    Oh, by the way, getting back to your Guatemala post... I was talking with some coworkers at lunch a few weeks back, explaining how I am doing this school in Honduras, and saying how it was cheaper to fly into Guatemala City. Well then someone says, Barry's brother lives in Guatemala. I turn to Barry, who I have known for years, who is totally quiet and shy and ask where his brother lives. It turns out Barry's brother is Denny and owns Denny's Beach, a little haven on Lago Izabel in Guatemala. Not an easy destination to get to but the resort looks awesome. Seems the only way in by boat and quite a variety of accomodation from backpacker shared rooms to individual villas. You may want to have a look ( sorry I don't know how to post a link properly). Oh there it is down at the bottom of the post. Yeah! Anyway, small world here, big world out there...

    This trip, I know I won't have a chance to see Denny's Beach but am considering taking a day near the end , on my way back to GC and stopping for the evening at Antigua overnight, staying in your reccommended B and B. Do you think one night in Antigua is worth the detour? I think it will be as it will get me closer to GC without having to overnight there - my plane does not leave until 1230 the next day and it looks like lots of busses and taxis availble into GC airport, right?

    Any opinions/thoughts would be appreciated.

  • Report Abuse

    Hello again, tripinink -
    I can relate to the energy drain. For me the trick is to get up and move around. It's usually not too hard to convince the teacher you'd like to check out the children's museum or buy a chocolate covered frozen banana. Mixing things up helps me sustain 4 hours of tutoring.

    There are a number of "clinic" options. Isaac traveled with a long term volunteer into area villages but there are local clinics, too. He didn't take supplies down but I think they need nearly everything, so your best guess may be better than their's.

    Your time there will be full but rewarding, too, I'm sure. Do tell us all about it when you get home!

    It makes good sense to stay in Antigua instead of Guatemala City. Hedman Alas (or a shuttle) can take you there; the Hedman Station isn't far from Casa Cristina and there are little "tuktuks" (golf cart-like taxis) that will likely meet the bus. Be sure to have the address as well as the name of the hotel just in case they don't know it.

    It IS a small world. There was a big sign hanging by the dock where we stayed in Rio Dulce that said Denny's Beach offered a free shuttle to their place every day; I wondered about it hadn't taken the time to check it out. Happy trails!

  • Report Abuse

    I really had an energy drain with my spanish lessons, not to mention terrible frustration. I knew nothing when I went for the first time and had to look up every single word. I found myself spending at least 4 hrs a day doing my homework after 4 hrs of class time. My second and third weeks were even tougher because I was the only person in the class so I didn't get a break while someone else had to come up with answers. Fortunately the person I had teaching me the last week realized that I didn't really have any nouns, adjectives or much of anything besides verbs which is what the school was pushing. I understand the importance of the verbs but you can't make a sentence out of just verbs so I was totally lost when I had to put the correct verb into a sentence because I didn't know what the sentence said. Forget even trying to write a sentence. There were very good things about the school as well like the people in general.

    I took from the same school Shillmac did but a couple of years before her. They may have changed things after I studied there, I don't know.

    All I can say is, I learned way more from my local University in the same amount of hours that I spent at the language school in CR because the lessons were more well rounded in terms of vocabulary and each one built on the last one. The book we used at the Univ. was Hola Amigos and I still refer to it. A great book for beginners. You might consider looking through it before you go.

    I would consider going back for more lessons in CR or even Guatemala but I would look into their lesson structures. I would (hopefully) do better now that I have more vocabulary. Would love to know more about the teaching methods at the school.

  • Report Abuse

    At the Cooperativa school the techniques varied with the student. For my friend who is a near beginner, after a written and verbal assessment she was put through activities that included reading and conversation using limited vocab in the present tense, with homework involving that tense and flashcards of the most useful nouns and verbs. The subsequent lessons built on those words and phrases. She couldn't believe how much she learned and her confidence soared.

    I'm an intermediate speaker with book knowledge of the most common 8 or 9 tenses and a decent voacabulary but very slow processing speed. In addition to putting me through hoops with conversations and activities geared to different tenses, my teacher and I spent hours in conversation about local politics, religion, history, etc., carefully using every tense. I can't wait to go back to that place! Happy trails...

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks Hopefulist,

    I know I´ll remember to take a break for a chocolate covered frozen banana. Yum! Yum! That is exactly the kind of activity I´m looking forward to. A few field trips can really break up the intensity of the classroom.


    You raised a great point. I hadn´t even considered the teaching methods, as I guess I was focussing on the destination and the culture. Copan certainly looks charming...will report on that later. I believe there is another couple of travellers going to Copan in Nov.

    Oh No! Hopefulist I have just seen your new posting and the methods used at the Cooperativa sound wonderful. Maybe I should be going there instead? If you had to pick, which would you choose? Perhaps it's karma that I'm flying into Guatemala City and have the opportunity to change schools. I would eventually like to do a homestay in CR but wanted to see another country this trip.

    I hope that my high school French helps with the Spanish vocabulary. I have been trying to memorize the verbs and the most common tenses, and try to practice a bit at every opportunity with Spanish speakers. I have also loaded some rather boring but helpful lessons onto my IPOD to listen to some Spanish music which is very enjoyable, now that I know a few words.

    Will be looking into Hola Amigos! At the moment I am working on Spanish Now! which is an interesting book with many fun exercises, though I could probably do each lesson over and over and learn something each time. There is just so much info there. Another really cool book is Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish by Joseph Keen. It is an easy book to pick up every now and then (bring mine to appointments). I am curently reading some humorous examples that point out Spanish words that sound like English counterparts but do NOT have the same meaning.

    buenos noches amigas

  • Report Abuse

    I had a great experience at Ixbalanque 2 years ago. At the time I had a year of community college Spanish under my belt - lots of data bits and no ability to understand or converse. The teachers there seemed young but well trained for the job. After a written assessment I was assigned a teacher who had a slew of games and ideas to help me practice. There was a series of workbooks that we used; I finished one the 1st week and started in a 2nd one. I don't remember as much about the specific methods but they seemed to have been trained in a logical sequence and had the workbooks to guide them. My son studied there for 3 weeks and waived a full year of university Spanish - I was GREEN with envy.

    Really, you can't go wrong with either place - I plan to return to both. Keep us posted!

  • Report Abuse


    Great trip report! Now you may have caused me to have to look at yet another place to study--San Pedro sounds like an adventure. The travel time would be tough but I think it would be fun.

    I was hoping to return to Ixbalanque next year but may have to check out San Pedro now. Thanks for sharing.

  • Report Abuse

    The travel time isn't so bad because of great stops along the way - stay a night or 2 in Antigua (or more if you have time) and overnight in Panajachel for some shopping before heading over by launch. There are frequent buses (the chicken variety) between Guatemala City and San Pedro, too. Keep me posted!

11 Replies |Back to top

Sign in to comment.