Trip Report: A Week in Guatemala

Jan 8th, 2018, 02:29 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: Jan 2018
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Trip Report: A Week in Guatemala

Our driver Renato and his girlfriend Maria picked us up at the Guatemala City airport on Thursday, 12/28. We headed for Panajachel but encountered A LOT of traffic. The trip to Panajachel took about 4 hours along a curvy, traffic filled road. I would not recommend driving in Guatemala City! We arrived at the Grand Hotel Panajachel which from the outside looked a bit ominous. However, the gates opened to a gem of a hotel with beautiful gardens.

On Friday, the 29th we had breakfast at the hotel and headed out to find a boat trip across Lake Atitlan to Santiago, San Jose and San Pedro. It was a beautiful trip across the lake with a view of both volcanoes. Upon arrival in Santiago we took a tuk tuk around the island to the Mirador, saw the house with Maximon and visited the church.

We then embarked for San Pedro which most people only visit to hike the volcano. After a short walk up the main street we headed back to the boat and cruised along the entire coast back to Panajachel. We had a peaceful lunch at the deli just outside the strip of shops then headed back to the hotel to rest.

The town of Panajachel is cute but very touristy. If I were to return I would try to find a hotel or rent a house in San Jose, a small town on Lake Atitlan.

On Saturday morning 12/30 Renato picked us up and we headed to Antigua. The drive was about 2 hours along the same curvy, traffic filled road. Upon arrival in Antigua we checked in to the Hotel Meson de Valle, a small hotel with a beautiful courtyard filled with tropical flowering plants and a terrace. That afternoon we were invited to lunch at the home of a local doctor, who has a relationship with the hospital my husband works for. We enjoyed a delicious, traditional lunch of soup, chicken with vegetables finished off with traditional desserts- candied fruit and pastries. Later that evening we strolled about 4 blocks to the central plaza to enjoy the vivacious energy of the city. Children played with newly purchased trinkets from vendors populating the square. Families seated on benches chatted over sweet treats while others enjoyed a coffee at one of the many cafe's bordering the plaza.

On Sunday 12/31 we again strolled the city streets, were entertained by a costumed street performance and perused the wares of local shops. After a few days of local food we enjoyed a more American lunch at Ganache, a cute cafe with a French flair.

For New Years Eve dinner I made reservations at Hotel Santo Domingo. An absolutely beautiful hotel, that was previously a monastery, it occupies an entire city block. The meal was delicious, music festive and decor spectacular; truly a memorable occasion.

After dinner we walked the city streets along the main plaza, absorbing the celebratory atmosphere. We headed back to the hotel and to our delight enjoyed first row seats of the firework show from our terrace.

On New Years Day Renato and Maria took us to Finca Filadelphia, a coffee farm and manufacturing facility that exports coffee all over the world. We arrived a bit early for the tour, so we imbibed in a Bloody Mary at the terrace restaurant where diners enjoyed brunch. The tour of the coffee plantation took us past the nursery with plants 2 years and younger, a field with mature trees and the processing area, with a guide explaining the process from start to finish. Naturally, at the end we sampled a delicious cup of coffee.

For lunch, Maria recommended the Vivero y Cafe de la Escalonia, a wonderful restaurant and tropical plant nursery. We all ordered the Caldo Tlalpeno a la Escalonia, a delicious tomato based soup with vegetables, chicken and cilantro. After lunch we ambled through the nursery admiring the beautiful plants.

That evening we boarded a flight for Flores, Peten to explore the ruins at Tikal over the next couple of days. The flight is about an hour to Flores, then a shuttle must be arranged for the 1.5 hour drive to Tikal. We arrived at the Hotel Tikal Inn at about 10pm. Just about the same time the electricity went out for the night. Electricity is available at Hotel Tikal Inn from about 8am - 10am, 12:30-2pm and 5:30 - 10pm or so.

The most important thing to note is tickets for Tikal must be purchased in advance. Tickets are not sold at the park. Many people who planned to take the sunrise tour at 4am were unable to because they hadn't purchased tickets. Another valuable piece of information is the sunrise tour ticket is 100 Quetzales and is separate from the day ticket. If you wish to go on the sunrise tour, then stay at the park after 8 am a day ticket must also be purchased for 150 Quetzales. Right now the exchange at a bank is about 7.5 Q for $1 US.

On Tuesday, our first day at Tikal, we spent the morning exploring the ruins on our own, getting a feeling for the park and wandering at liberty. The next day we awoke at 3:30am for the 4am tour with Roxy, a local archeologist. Roxy explained the history and cultural impact of the Mayan people of Central America along with the meaning of stone inscriptions and structures at Tikal. I highly recommend the tour with Roxy. Her dialogue was interesting and easily digestible; I will definitely retain the information she conveyed. Furthermore, Roxy recognizes all of the noises in the jungle and pointed out spider monkeys, white-nosed coatis, many different bird species along with indigenous plants and their uses. Our time spent with Roxy is an experience I will remember for many years to come.

Guatemala is not often on the top of one's travel list but I would happily recommend it. I would even consider returning to hike the volcanoes, which we weren't able to do this time. It's a short trip from FL, inexpensive and beautiful with a rich cultural history.
kpotenti is offline  
Jan 8th, 2018, 03:18 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 4,182
I enjoyed reading this travelogue - thanks so much for taking the time to share with us. My husband and I have a place in San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlán and visit 2 or 3 times/year. Maybe if you return you'd like to base in San Pedro - the traditional part of town is lovely and it's a great base for lake and volcano hikes, kayaking, and visits to other towns and villages around the lake. I think you might mean San Juan instead of San José - it's a 20 minute walk from San Pedro and is a cute town with wonderful women's weaving cooperatives.

Roxy is my all-time favorite guide. I first toured with her in 2009 and try to get back for a few days every year or 2. She's not only a wealth of information but has great people skills with folks of all ages. Here's her website in case others are interested:
www.tikalroxy.blogspot.,com

Happy trails!
hopefulist is offline  
Jan 8th, 2018, 08:26 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2005
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Just a note about Tikal tickets: You can buy them at Banrural bank branches in Guatemala including at the Banrural kiosk at the main gate of the Tikal National Park which is 20-25 minutes from the hotel area/gate to the Maya site. The problem arises when folks don't decide until they're at the hotel that they want tickets for sunset or sunrise and don't have transportation back to that main gate. Here's the latest:
https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntr...banrural-banks
hopefulist is offline  
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