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Solo travel in Guatemala

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This is my first post so I hope people will be kind. I'm a 36 year old guy who's fairly well traveled in Europe but not in Latin America at all. I have been thinking about going to Guatemala for a week and studying Spanish in Antigua and have a few questions:

1. How safe is solo trave to Guatemala? I was thinking of flying to Guatemala City on a Saturday..staying in the Zona Viva that night (hopefully find some fun nightlife). Sunday would be free..should I go to Antigua early or spend more time in Guat City? Also - where can I go out solo for nightlife and some light drinking and be safe?

2. I was going to go to Antigua on Sunday night or Monday and start a one week Spanish program. Any suggestions for which school (fyi..I know ZERO Spanish at this point but the idea of studying it in Guatemala sounded fun).
Any hotel suggestions for Antigua? preferably walking distance to bars, nightlife etc. Is it safe to do that after dark?

Finally..after my last day of classes on Friday I will be free until Monday when I fly back to the US. Where should I go?

Looking forward to your suggestions..

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    OK, here goes . . . I've been to Guatemala 3 times (every 5 yrs over 15 yrs), one trip I was solo, studying Spanish . . . love Guatemala! I am female, early 60s, last trip was summer of 04.

    Guatemala City is not safe, get out as soon as possible . . . you can take a shuttle to Antigua from the airport (there's a booth, ask around or see if anyone on your flight is going on to Antigua).

    There are probably 100 Spanish schools in Antigua, a lot of them have websites and it would be really easy if you booked ahead and let them pick you up . . . but not necessary. Once in Antigua, let the kids help you (pay them a $1 or $2) . . . they can find you a hotel, a Spanish school, they speak many languages, and are fun . . . and most are only about 10! If they don't find you, you can find them in the park.

    I booked ahead and went to Centro Linguistico Maya, 5a Calle Poniente No 20, one of the best schools in Antigua. It's easy to just show up in Antigua and let the kids show you the different schools and book on the fly . . . or they could even find you a private teacher . . . you can't go wrong whatever you do.

    You really aren't leaving yourself much time in Guatemala and there's lots to see. Any chance you could extend your trip? It would be a shame to miss Tikal.

    Most travlers try to take in the big market in Chichicastenango and Lake Attitlan in Panajachel, you would be hard pressed to even see those in your time left.

    You'll have a wonderful time whatever you decide . . . just go and have fun . . . you'll be learning Spanish whether in or out of a classroom . . . just watch your stuff and don't take anything of real value . . . and don't let anyone talk you out of riding the local (chicken) buses, they really are safe enough and part of the overall experience.

    Buen viaje,
    Sandy (in Denton)

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    Sandy - another first time Guatemala visitor (though maybe I will get totally sidetracked in Mexico and never make it!) loved your post and thanks you for the info.

    OP - I've never been to Latin America either and have to say I am not in the least worried about travelling there. It will just be the most amazing adventure!!

    So - have a great time - and the best advice I can give is to just go with the flow. Has worked for me elsewhere and have no doubt it will work for me in CA.

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    Thanks for the helpful responses. Is October a good time to visit Guatemala or will it be too rainy?

    I am now thinking of landing on Saturday, going to straight to Antigua and spending the night there. Sunday I am thinking of booking with a tour company to do the day trip to Tikal (any tour company recommendations? I know it will be a long day I want to maximise my time). I hope to start Spanish lessons on Monday (doing the 4 hours a day in the morning option which would leave me afternoons and evenings free). What are good activities for those time? How about the afternoon volcano hike? Maybe one of the city walking tours? On Saturday I will take the day trip to Lake Attilan. Then back to Guat on Sunday for my flight home. Does this sound doable? Any suggestions or changes?

    Finally, any hotel suggestions for Antigua? Since this will be my first time away in a while I'd llike to treat myself to a hotel on the nicer side.

    Thanks.

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    DCGuy73,

    Your classes will be 1-1 and there's no reason to sit in a classroom all a.m., you can learn Spanish anyplace. So, you and your teacher can walk around (small) Antigua, visit the market, etc. and she/he might even be willing to take some afternoon trips with you . . . or can tell you what bus to take, where to go.

    It is dangerous to climb the volcano alone, be sure to ask what the situation is when you are there and go with a group.

    Tikal is really too great to do on a day trip. You could skip class on Fri and go . . . early shuttle to GC, flight to Tikal, be sure to spend the night in one of the hotels in the park, return to GC on Sat, stay near the airport, fly out on Sun. All the travel agents in Antigua will have a trip like this.

    When I wasn't doing a homestay (recommended), I stayed at a wonderful small hotel across from the market--Posada Juma Ocag, Calzada Santa Lucia Norte 13, ph (502) 832-3109, in 04, we paid 100 Q/double ($12); private bath, hot water, purified water, quiet, pretty rooms. There are lots of hotels and finding one you like will not be a problem.

    I typed up my travelog from my 04 trip and would be happy to email it . . . on that trip, I went to Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala . . . drop me a line if interested (behrens@unt.edu).

    Fuzzylogic, I also LOVE Mexico and have been to a lot of places there and have reports, let me know if interested.

    Sandy (in Denton)


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    Hi DCguy,
    I like Sandy am a +50 female and have travelled to Antigua 3 times to study Spanish - the first time alone.

    I studied at 3 different schools - mainly to get varied experiences. My criteria for choosing were simple. I wanted a school that did not require you to pay before you got there and did not have an extra registration fee. The three I have attended are Centro Linguisico Maya, Probigua and La Union. I just checked out the various web sites. The whole thing is a bit of a crapshoot - as it depends on the teacher you get. One of my teachers told me that she sometimes gets time at Francisco Marroquin which is one of the schools that seems to charge a higher price. So I don't think you can say that because a school is more expensive, you will automatically end up with better instruction.

    Sandy is right - many people wait till they get there, check out a few schools and then decide. However, since you are only spending a week there, you are best off to just choose one and go with it..
    As for things to do around Antigua, Sandy is spot on. At various times with my teachers we did things like go to the supermarket, go to a cafe for coffee, the mercado or just walk around. The schools also usually organize some kinds of activities. One was a trip to one of the volcanoes. They warn you not to go alone and our group was accompanied by an armed guard.

    Another time, my teacher and I went to Panajachel - lake Atitlan. We took the local "chicken bus". We left at about 6.00 AM and were back by about 4 PM.

    As for Tikal - I did exactly what Sandy said - left Friday afternoon and spent a couple of days in the area. I enjoyed Flores - it had sort of a laidback quality to it. The ruins at Tikal are amazing and you would really be rushed as well as probably exhausted.

    As for Guatemala City - yes it does not have a good reputation. However, I did spend time there and found it interesting. I think that if you stay in the Zona Viva, stay "low key" and be careful you should be OK. If you do opt for the 1 day option at the beginning of your trip - there would be no need to go to Antigua first - since you would just have to come back to Guatemala City airport to start the trip.

    Good luck. I too loved Guatemala. Antigua - though probably not the best place to learn Spanish - too many distractions and too many English speaking people around - is a fascinating place.

    raquel

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    fuzzy,

    While I admire your enthusiasm, I have to caution a bit: Don't go into Guatemala without at least a little bit of concern for your well-being. I say it not to scare you, but to remind you that this is one of the more dangerous countries in the region. Most of the travellers I know who have been there - myself included - have emerged unscathed not because it's a calm, idyllic country, but because we've employed enough caution and common sense to avoid potential problems. (Note Raquel's advice for Guatemala City.) I think Guatemala is a beautiful and wonderful country, and a smart, sensible traveller will be equally taken with the place. But always have a healthy respect for your surroundings, and don't take anything for granted.

    Chris
    Travel better. Travel Gator.
    www.travelgator.com

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    Point taken, TG - and thx for taking the time to post.

    Thing is - I've booked this trip which will take me to Mexico City - then I will have four weeks before having to pitch up in LAX for the flight home.

    I may not even get to Guatemala - I may end up spending three days here and three days there, in Mexico, and never make it.

    If I do - then my antennae will be bristling and I hope I will remember all those lessons I learned in Africa, India and Asia.

    Who knows - maybe this will be the trip when I come to grief!! I've had some close calls in the past - like turning up in Chora Sfakion in August thinking there must be somewhere to stay - and discovering that there really wasn't. Ho - hum. Spent the night on somebody's rooftop.

    Or thinking I could cross the Tanzania to Malawi border without taking into account that the post might be closed. Well they let us through - me and my new found Kiwi friend - but there was nothing on the other side. We spent the night on a hillside sans tent, sans anything really.

    My rules of the road:

    Be aware that you are privileged and fortunate to visit another's country.

    Keeep your eye on your stuff all the time - oh, yeh, and don't travel with anything you can't handle losing!!!!!

    Happy travels, all.

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