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Trip Report - Guatemala

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First of all, a little bit about us. I’m in my mid-50’s (still working), my husband is 60 (retired). We’ve done a lot of travelling in Mexico, also other parts of the world, but never been to Guatemala. We aren’t real budget travellers, but I’d say in general, we’re “frugal”, but are willing to indulge ourselves a little as well. I speak a little Spanish.

We left Toronto very early on Friday, November 30th and flew Toronto > Atlanta > Guatemala City. We had decided to go carry-on only because we only had an hour at Atlanta and worried about our bags arriving with us in GC. We arrived in Guatemala about 12:30 PM. We had pre-arranged a taxi pickup with our hotel (Casa Florencia) and the guy was right outside the door waiting for us. Cost of the cab was $25, so I thought it was worth it.

Casa Florencia is a small 2 story hotel near La Merced – rate was $45 USD / night. Rooms are small, but there are 2 double beds, private bathroom, a flat screen TV with cable, as well as a closet. The room was spotless. From the corridor, where there are a couple of chairs outside each room, we had a wonderful view of the volcano. The staff were very friendly, even calling on my behalf when I wanted to book a hotel in Chichi. We were about a block from a great coffee place – Fernando’s Kaffe.

We had 3 nights there. We just explored Antigua on our own the first day (the day we arrived), picking up cash, orienting ourselves, but on Saturday (second day), we took Elizabeth Bell’s walking tour. It’s $20 each and we really enjoyed it. There were only 5 of us on the tour, and she’s really knowledgeable. We tried a few restaurants in town, and were pleased with our choices. One night we splurged and went to Panza Verde for dinner – it’s a gorgeous place – but other meals were much more economical, including Fonda de la Calle, La Pena del Sol and Café Condesa. We loved Antigua – lots of great shopping, nice little courtyard restaurants, very picturesque.

We had booked an overnight tour to Tikal, and that included a 4 AM pickup at the hotel to take us to the airport on the Monday morning. We left 1 bag at the hotel, since we were planning to come back there for 1 night after the tour. We were flying TAG. We got to their office in about 50 minutes, where we sat, and sat, and sat. Because of fog in Flores, our 6:30 AM flight was delayed 3 ½ hours. By the time we got to Flores, there was no one there from the Tikal Inn to meet us, and we ended up having to pay for a taxi. The guy wanted to charge $40 USD for the taxi, but I complained and he said he’d do it for $20. It actually rained during the cab ride to Tikal, so if we had been on time, we would have been in the jungle during that rain. (That was the only time we had any rain in 11 days.) Of course we had missed the morning tour, so we were booked to go on the tour the next morning. We had lunch at the hotel – that was included in our package. It wasn’t great – but considering we hadn’t eaten since the previous night, we were actually fairly hungry. We tried to go into the park, but the guy was going to charge us, and it didn’t seem worth it, since my husband wasn’t feeling all that great by that time. We ended up going to the museum and that night, we had dinner at one of the little comedores near the hotel (or at least I ate). Next morning, husband was feeling fine and we got up before 6 AM and went into the park. We were too late for sunset, but it didn’t make much difference – people who were there early enough said that it was too foggy to see much. But it was fun to hear the howlers at that time of the time. Our tour started around 9:30 AM and it was pretty good – the guide seemed knowledgeable and we got a lot more out of it than we would have just walking around on our own. We caught the shuttle back to Flores for our 4:30 PM flight and we were back in GC by 5:30. Right in time for one of the worst rush hours I’ve ever seen! Our shuttle met us for the ride back to Antigua. We cleaned up and went out for a really good vegetarian pizza at El Sabor del Tiempo.

The next day, we had booked a shuttle to Chichicastenango. Everyone else was going to Pana, and the guy stopped in Solola for us to transfer to another shuttle. We had been delayed due to construction on the road, so it was fairly late by the time we got to Chichi. We had booked the Mayan Lodge (not to be confused with the much more expensive Mayan Inn). By now, I wasn’t feeling very good – with the long curvy drive, my stomach was doing flips and I just felt like going to bed. But we had dinner and then hung around the market area in the evening. I ordered chicken, but I didn’t eat too much. Husband ate a giant meal – it came with sausage, a big pork chop and steak – obviously he had recovered his appetite. The market was odd – it seemed like they were set up and then they seemed to dismantle most of it before the end of the evening. We finally decided to turn in and our hotel was freezing. It seemed colder inside than out, so I don’t know what that was about! I was starting to think we should have tried another hotel but I piled on the blankets and we got up early the next morning to see more of the market, the church, etc. I would have liked to have explored the cemetery, but I’ve read that it’s not all that safe – I don’t know. We didn’t buy anything in Chichi, just looked around, which was fun. We were supposed to meet our shuttle to Pana at the Hotel Santo Tomas, so after we got tired of the crowds, we dragged our bags there and had a nice relaxing lunch there.

Next up, Lake Atitlan. We had booked Lomas de Tzununa, which is a small hotel, perched on the hill above the lake. It’s about a 20 minutes walk from the village called Tzununa. Most people (including us) take the public lancha to the hotel dock and then walk up 420 steps to the hotel, although you could take a boat to the village and the hotel would pick you up there. It was gorgeous! They include a small continental breakfast with the room rate, or you can order off the menu. Overall food was pretty good and some choices were excellent. They have gorgeous gardens and a nice little pool. There are 10 rooms, which were full 2 of the 4 nights we were there. The rooms are very private, with a totally unobstructed view of the volcanoes across the lake. We’d go out during the day – we took the boat to San Marcos, San Juan and San Pedro one day, back to Pana to shop another day, and to Santiago to see Maximon another day – then head back to the hotel to relax (after the 420 steps up to the hotel), enjoy the view and have dinner. It’s a really nice place to stay and I’m so glad we had booked it.

Our last night was spent in Antigua. Elizabeth Bell’s tour ends at the Santo Domingo where we saw the museums and the gorgeous grounds. Anyway, we decided to splurge and we had Elizabeth book our last night there. Yes, it’s pricey for Antigua (I think we paid $116 / night + 22% tax, although the posted room rate was $400 – yikes!), but that’s cheaper than the corporate rate for the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in Montreal and it’s fabulous! We got to the hotel early enough to go through the museums again, and enjoy the property. After dinner (which we had at the hotel), we went back to our room, which was beautiful – we had a fireplace which we used and a little balcony with a view of the volcano (which we also used when we drank the complimentary hot chocolate in the afternoon). It was indulgent, but it was the perfect way to end the trip. We had breakfast there the next morning and then headed to the airport. Flight back seemed to take forever and now we’re back here in the frozen north.

One funny thing on our way back. We had to clear US immigration in Atlanta. In Antigua, we were told that we’d need to pick up our bags there to go through security again. (We had done carry-on going there, but decided to check them on our way back, since we had so much time in Atlanta.) Anyway, only 1 of our bags showed up. I spoke to someone and was told that none of our bags should have shown up – they were all supposed to be checked through to Toronto. Anyway, we picked up the one bag and re-checked, wondering if we’d ever see it or the other bag again. Luckily, both of them appeared in Toronto!

Thanks to everyone who provided us with advice. It was definitely one of our best trips ever! We enjoyed the Guatemalan people, the weather was perfect (with the exception of Chichi, it was much milder at night than I had expected) and we had a great time.

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