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luke7777 Feb 28th, 2007 05:07 PM

10 Days in...Guatemala, Belize, Mexico?
Hi All,

I asked some questions a few days ago, and I'm still trying to decide on my first trip between Guatemala, Mexico, or Belize. I'm a male US student and I will actually have longer than I thought I would, approx. 10 days (12 with travel time). Although I'm a first-timer, I'd like to stay out of the tourist traps and get somewhat off the beaten path.

If I stayed in Guatemala I would probably base in Antigua and then take day trips to see cultural areas and outdoor destinations in the area. I was wondering if anyone could comment on the "ease" and expense of travel by bus in Guatemala vs. Mexico and Belize. I was thinking that one of the appealing things about Guatemala is that everything except Tikal seems relatively near to Antigua, so I could basically base there and take day trips or take a 3-4 day trip around a region if I want. However, I've been reading through the archives and there have been a number of posts giving advice to travelers that travel in Mexico would be easier than Guatemala, which doesn't make sense to me. How hard/easy is it to travel around Guatemala? And how about Mexico (either the Yucutan or Mex City area) - isn't a lot of time wasted on buses since the country is so large?

Next, if I decide on Mexico, is there a good "base city" that you'll would suggest starting from, kind of like if I went to Guatemala I would base from Antigua? A nice, pretty town/city with proximity to a variety of attractions? I was thinking maybe Guanajuato, Oaxaca, Morelia maybe but I don't know how close these places are to things and it's so hard to judge transportation times...

Additionally, regarding costs...I know that Guatemala will be significantly cheaper but I've read in previous questions that prices are up...can anyone estimate costs from Guatemala/Belize/Mexico assuming budget hotel, eating reasonably in restaurants but nothing fancy, and "average" transportation costs?

Finally, the only other option would be to do some sort of combo tour - fly in to Guatemala city and out through Belize, or a southern Mexican city. I only mention this because Tikal is "on the way" to either Mexico or Belize, by bus, and not at all close to Guatemala City. Any suggestions for this, or am I overthinking?

Thanks so much for any assistance...sorry about the many questions.

PS - how impressive are the volcanoes surrounding Antigua? Are they worth planning a trip around, and is the lava visible?

hopefulist Feb 28th, 2007 05:26 PM

Hi, Luke - Although lovely, Antigua is one of the most visited cities in CA and couldn't possibly be more on the beaten path.

With just 10 travel days I'd pick either Belize (with a side trip to Tikal) or the highlands of Guatemala. Travel from Guatemala City to Tikal on the bus takes about 11 hours, I think, and can be done through the night. You can head east to Belize from there but that's an awful lot of ground to cover in 10 days, even with an "open jaw" ticket.

Happy trails, whatever you decide!

luke7777 Feb 28th, 2007 10:02 PM

Thanks hopefulist,

So you would say that antigua is more "touristy" than Belize? How does it compare to Guanajuato, Oaxaca, Morelia, etc? I guess I'm not "anti-touristy" - I am a prototypical tourist, after all - I'm just looking to go to a truly different setting, see the beauty of a different culture, preferably one that has not been overly corrupted by tourism. From what I have read, I was actually thinking that Belize sounds like the location MOST on the beaten path. What about Mexico - are Belize/Guatemala more interesting culturally?

I know I'm making too much of this decision but it's so difficult...

hopefulist Mar 1st, 2007 03:22 AM

I haven't been to Mexico so can't compare for you. Belize has an interesting mix of cultures and you could see 2 or 3 areas plus Tikal in the time you have. There's fabulous caving and hiking (IMO) and the coast and caye areas have a very Caribbean feel and great snorkeling, not readily available in Guatemala. Many residents are bi or tri-lingual but English is the national language so getting around is easier if you don't have much Spanish. It's more expensive, in general, than Guatemala, but there are great budget options in many locations. If you avoid Ambergris Caye you're basically off the beaten path in Belize since something like 85% of the visitors stay only there. You could bus straight to the San Ignacio area for some hiking, canoing and caving (ATM cave is an incredible day trip from there), then head to Flores for a night or 2 for a taste of Guatemala before overnighting at Tikal (worth the added expense to stay in the park, IMO, or do that 1st if transportation makes more sense back from Flores), then back to Guatemala City and ferry to Caye Caulker or to Belmopan and on to Hopkins or Placencia; they'd require significantly more bus time than Caulker, though. Check out

If you want to experience a truly different setting and the beauty of another culture, Guatemala is impossible to beat. Many people just hit Antigua, Lake Atitlán, and the Chichicastenango market - all relatively close and wonderful, the obvious beaten path. I visited Guatemala twice in the 80's and those were the main places I saw; the 2nd trip was to pick up our then 4-year-old son, Carlos, so we spent more time in Guatemala City at embassies, etc. We have wonderful photos and memories from those trips. Other than side trips in from Belize and Honduras I haven't been back since but am heading back for 3+ weeks this summer - can't wait! I'm planning to spend the bulk of my trip in the Ixil Triangle in Nebaj, about 3 hours by bus north of Chichi and definitely off the beaten path. You could shuttle straight to Antigua for a few nights and hike a volcano, pick a village around the lake (not Panajachel if you want off the beaten path), take the launches around to explore, and catch the market in Sololá (Tuesdays and Fridays, I think) or Chichicastenango (Thursdays and Sundays). If you're adventurous, you could take the chicken bus from Chichi to Nebaj and then head back down to fly out. Or take an overnight bus to Tikal and back or Copán in Honduras and back. I loved the ruins in both places but most folks find Tikal more impressive.

I don't think you're making too much of the decision, but in the end you'll love whatever you decide as long as you travel really light - small to medium (carry-on-sized) backpack and remember to keep an open mind and your sense of humor. Don't try to pack too many stops in so you can get a feel of the places and make an effort to speak with locals. I'm always in the planning stage for multiple trips - Guat this summer, Nicaragua the next, gathering files on Panamá and southern Mexico. Just pick the one that calls you most and figure the others will be there for the future. You should add Honduras to your list, too - we loved it there also.

You might want to check out;STARTPAGE=1
which has separate threads for each CA country; there's also a Mexico branch. Read a lot of threads before you ask questions there as some of the regulars are brutal if you ask the same weather, safety, and where-to-go questions that are addressed every week.

Hope this didn't make it more confusing! Happy trails, whatever you decide, and please keep us posted.

Suzie2 Mar 1st, 2007 09:53 AM

Many of the tour companies have inexpensive shuttles to the more traveled areas but from those you can easily get away. Finding towns and native people is not hard. Most tourists stick to the same few places and don't seem to head out too far.
Example: Guatemala City to Antigua is $10. Antigua to Panajachel is $15-20. From Panajachel you can easily get to some outlying areas by chicken bus. Keep in mind that the smaller villages around there don't speak spanish or english. San Pedro on lake Atitlan is a relatively small village but does have some gringos and places to stay. Best traveled to by boat from Panajachel. Do keep in mind that there is a reason that some places are tourist traps. Lake Atitlan is a beautiful place. The villages around it are almost lost in time. Sadly, some are still digging remains out from the landslides resulting from Hurricane Stan.

We went to Solola last year on market day and we were the only tourists.

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