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sessa Sep 11th, 2008 09:40 AM

Guatemala, Honduras, or Panama??
I need help deciding on a Latin American destination for May 2009. I am stuck between Guatemala, Honduras, or Panama. I have read a ton of information on Guatemala and Honduras, but I threw Panama into the mix also since I think that could be an interesting place to visit.

The dilemma is that airfares to all 3 places are running the same right now, and that is usually what helps me to narrow down the choices.

We are going to Costa Rica in January 09 and hopefully Peru in September 09, so we are looking to continue that Latin American theme with another trip in May.

We are fairly adventurous and are looking for a great mix of culture, scenery, and outdoor activities (i.e. hiking). We would be looking at approximately 1 week.

For Guatemala, we would probably target Antigua and the Lake Atitlan area. For Honduras, it would likely be Roatan and La Ceiba or Copan. Not sure about Panama - maybe just a long weekend in Panama City.

So, please help! Which would you choose and why?

jpan Sep 11th, 2008 03:02 PM

I can only comment on Guatemala and Honduras and if your looking for culture, scenery and hiking I would have to say Guatemala is your best bet. Antigua is a lovely colonial city and the hike on volcan Pacaya is not be be missed. The Atitlan area has plenty of good hiking trails and the lake has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The local Mayan people are very friendly and their clothing very colorful.

sessa Sep 11th, 2008 05:47 PM

jpan - How far is Atitlan from Antigua? From what I've read it appears to be a couple of hours. Do people hire a driver to make this trip or is renting a car okay?

Do you think a week to explore these two areas of Guatemala is enough? Too much?

One thing I forgot to ask in my original post is - how is the scuba diving in Roatan?

My husband just told me his top choice would be Panama so curious to hear comparisons from anyone who has been there, too...

hopefulist Sep 11th, 2008 06:27 PM

I vote Guatemala, too, though I love Honduras and have never been to Panamá (but will some day).

With just those 2 areas and a day trip to Chichicastenango a week would be fine. 3 days in Antigua would be plenty for me and I could spend a week or more on Atitlán with ease. You might consider adding a few days and paying a visit to Tikal, too - really incredible.

My photos and travelogues are below if you're interested; there are Tikal sets in Guate 2007 and Belize collections. Happy trails!

jpan Sep 12th, 2008 06:54 AM

Antigua is a 2+1/2 hr drive to Atitlan. Most people use the 'shuttle' services in Guatemala to get around to most places. When you are in Antigua there will be many travel places that offer shuttle service to many locations. A week to explore this area is certainly not to much time but should be enough.

qwovadis Sep 12th, 2008 08:33 AM

GUA usually cheapest air TACA
out of MIA

Atitlan my fav

2 hr shuttles from Antigua.

Culturally most interesting

Dip down and do a little Copan

if you have the time.

qwovadis Sep 12th, 2008 08:38 AM

For me Panama not as interesting in developed areas pretty much the same maybe even a little more developed than CR.

San Blas very interesting and pretty
but pretty remote.

airwayvz Sep 12th, 2008 09:01 AM

Chalk up another vote for Guatemala...the culture, scenery, & hiking around Lake Atitlan all seem to be right up your alley. Toss in Antigua and you've got yourself a great trip.

Had a good time on Roatan as well, but Guatemala has got it beat unless you want some ocean time.

pat Sep 12th, 2008 10:02 AM

Don`t want to highjack your thread, but I have a chance to to to either Guatamala or Equador. Which do you think is the is most interesting? We like culture and the outdoors too.

sessa Sep 12th, 2008 12:34 PM

Thanks all! Great info, and I think you have pretty much sold me on Guatemala. Just a couple more questions:

1) We would be flying from Atlanta, and airfare into Guatemala City is approximately $420. Is that about right? Seems like an awesome deal to me compared to Europe fares right now!

2) I gather that flying is the best option for Tikal. How much time do you recommend spending there? Approximately how much is the domestic airfare?

3) What is the weather like in May? I know this can be rainy season in Latin America, but is it generally an okay time to visit?

Thanks again!

sessa Sep 16th, 2008 05:31 AM

Topping in hopes that I can glean some more great info on Guatemala!

hopefulist Sep 16th, 2008 07:05 AM

I forgot to post the link to my travelogues and photos mentioned above:

Airfare between GUA and Flores (near Tikal) is about $115-120 one way, I think. Do at least one night so you can take advantage of the cooler evening and early morning hours when the wildlife is active and the crowds are gone. You could stay one night in the park (recommended) and one in the island village of Flores, flying back to GUA in the morning to head on or fly home (if it's at the end of your trip).

The rainy season doesn't always start in May, but even in July and August (when I typically visit) the rains fall mainly in the afternoons or at night, depending on the area. It will be HOT in the lowlands around Tikal but the rest of your trip will be in the highlands where it's springlike year round. I just reserved my flights to head back in July. :o) Happy trails!

sessa Sep 24th, 2008 09:53 AM

Thanks, hopefulist! Your travelogue and photos are pretty much what peaked my interest in the first place.

SAFETY? We ran the Guatemala idea by some friends that we would like to go with, and both questioned safety. One friend has spent time in Honduras and the other in Guatemala (not sure which areas and both were there probably 10 years ago). But they both said that there are weapons checks at places like McDonalds and police walking around everywhere with machine guns.

Is this true?? My guidebook and other things I have read caution about crime, but these friends just made it sound like we are ridiculous for wanting to go there. Hopefully some of you can dispel this so that we can start the real planning!

SusanInToronto Sep 24th, 2008 11:04 AM

We also had heard some stories before we went to Guatemala. A friend of a friend said that she and her husband were afraid to leave their hotel in Antigua, that kind of thing.

I don't want to minimize security concerns, but we didn't encounter any worrisome situations when we visited Guatemala. I didn't eat at McDonald's, but I certainly didn't see armed police everywhere I went. (We were there last December.) On the other hand, you do see armed guards at banks, etc.

Guatemala is a gorgeous country - I'd go back any time.

In February, we're planning to visit Panama. It won't be the same kind of trip as Guatemala, but I'm also looking forward to that.

sessa Oct 28th, 2008 06:34 PM

I am back for more help!

Interestingly, I was about to buy our flights to Guatemala the other night (they were down to $390 for a nonstop!), but I did some more reading on Thorn Tree and, boy, is there a difference of opinion on safety in Guat. over on that forum. So, I held off to do more research and think about it, and flights doubled overnight so I have to now rule Guatemala out anyway - maybe it was a sign? :)

Now on to planning for Honduras! Flights into San Pedro Sula are only $400 right now. From there, is it relatively easy to travel to Roatan? I'd like to also do the ruins in Copan. Do you think that both places are feasible in a week's time? This would be for May 2009.

hopefulist Oct 28th, 2008 07:41 PM

Yes, you can hit both Copán and Roatán in a week, but 10 days would be more fun. :-)

From the San Pedro Sula airport (SAP) you can take a bus or shuttle to Copán, stay 2 or 3 nights (or more if you end up with more than a week), bus back to SAP and fly to Roatán. It's possible to bus and ferry there and back but with your short time frame flights might be worth the extra money. If you end up with a late night arrival or early morning departure you might have to overnight in San Pedro Sula which would be a bummer. If that's the case, you might want to save Copán for another trip. La Ceiba area has some great activities on offer, too. My photos are linked in a post above if you're interested. Guatemala is still my favorite but we've been to Honduras 3 times and will happily return one day. Keep us posted!

shelleyk Oct 29th, 2008 07:09 AM

If you decide you want to go to Guatemala, recheck the price of the flights. Just as it doubled over night, it can fall by one half. But if you are truly afraid for your safety, you would be better off going somewhere where you would be more comfortable. I decided to go for 2 weeks in Feb. despite some safety concerns.

sessa Oct 31st, 2008 05:54 PM

Thanks for the great info again, hopefulist. We are thinking about doing 3 nights in Copan at Hacienda San Lucas and 5 nights in Roatan at West Bay Lodge maybe. Do you know anything about either place? Both get rave reviews on Trip Advisor.

What is the minimum amount of time we should allow between a domestic flight and our international flight to return home? I am trying to decide if we would spend our last night in Roatan or if it's better to stay in San Pedro Sula. Our int'l flight would leave around 12:30pm back to the States.

hopefulist Oct 31st, 2008 07:04 PM

Hacienda San Lucas is fabulous - really beautifully done, rustic, great hiking, nice people. I've heard the food is good, too. I've never stayed there but I've visited 4 times over the last few years. The only disadvantage is it's a few miles out of town so you'll have to get a ride back and forth in order to explore. I don't know what they offer in terms of shuttles. From town it's easy to catch mototaxis (they call them tuktuks in Guatemala - like golf carts) and they could call one to come get you at the Hacienda if they can't shuttle you. If you go to my photos link in a previous post and select the Copán 2008 collection you'll find a Hacienda San Lucas set. From the hacienda you can hike to the Los Sapos site and the village of La Pintada which has a weaving cooperative.

Another place that's nice in Copán is Casa de Café: . The ambiance wouldn't be as special as the hacienda's but the location would be convenient.

I haven't been to West Bay Lodge but have read positive reviews. If you book an early flight in advance and pay for it (as opposed to not paying and hoping they don't decide to give away your seats) you should be fine staying your last night on Roatán. It's only 10 or 15 minutes from West Bay to the airport. I'd follow the airline's advice about the local morning flight (they may say 2 hours ahead and I'd honor that). The local flights run late sometimes so I'd take a 6:30 or 7:00am flight even though it may mean you'll end up with an extra hour or more at SAP. Conventional wisdom is to arrive 2 hours ahead of an international flight.

On Roatán don't miss the Carambola Reserve if you like to hike.

Happy trails and keep us posted!

sessa Nov 1st, 2008 01:16 PM

Is Taca the only airline that flies from SAP to Roatan? That is the only one I can find online, and their morning flight would only give us 1.5 hours before our flight back to the US which makes me nervous.

Also, do we need to book the domestic flights in advance?

Maybe we should do Roatan first and Copan second since we could take the early morning bus (I think there is a 5:15am) from Copan to catch our 12:05pm flight.

Thanks again for all of your help! I think we are almost ready to book...

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