Monday, July 29, 2013

2-3 weeks, starting in GUATEMALA

OK - So here we go, planning a band girls getaway to Guatemala!

This is the place where our trip dreams are visualized - input gratefully received. I'll get us started with a couple of the places we're likely to want to explore and we can edit the plans and this site as things clarify. Whether I travel with you on the flights coming and going depends on your time frame since I'm likely to stay longer.

Most of the names of hotels and tour operators below are links you can click on to check out the websites.

1ST STOP IS LIKELY TO BE ANTIGUA, but if your flight arrives late or your flight home leaves early, you might consider a night near the airport in Guatemala City. Here are 2 places I can recommend, 1 budget and 1 midrange; both are just a few minutes from the airport and prices include airport shuttles and breakfast.

Dos Lunas, $15/night per person.
Villa Toscana, $38-66/night, depending on the room.
If you're not staying near the airport in Guatemala, I'll arrange transportation from the airport to our hotel in Antigua, about 45 miles away. The driver will wait for you as you exit the airport with a sign bearing your name (or a recognizable group name), even if your flight is delayed; depending on when people are flying in and the number flying in at once, I might be waiting with the driver.

My favorite Antigua hotel is Casa Cristina - secure, great location, cute (though smallish) rooms, free purified water and internet, and friendly, helpful owners, $25-40/double, depending on the room. Here's the Moon Handbook write-up about this hotel:

The excellent value Casa Cristina (Callejón Camposeco #3A, between 6a and 7a Avenida, tel. 7832-0623,, $22–37 d) has beautifully decorated, colorful rooms with wrought-iron accents, Guatemalan bedspreads, tile floors, and private hot-water bathroom. Pricier “standard plus” rooms have cable TV, while deluxe rooms also have gorgeous volcano views and minifridge. Room rates include unlimited use of wireless Internet, purified drinking water, coffee, and tea.
This is the view of lovely La Merced church from the rooftop terrace:
and here's a closer view of La Merced.
Another hotel I've enjoyed is just around the corner, Posada La Merced, similar general description but with more rooms and courtyard areas at a slightly higher cost. This might be a better choice for some as it has more variety in terms of room configuration. Here's what the Moon Handbook has to say about Posada La Merced:

Posada La Merced
(7a Avenida Norte #43, tel. 7832-3197, $20–25 d) is another good choice offering nicely decorated, furnished rooms with private or shared hot-water bathroom. It features a courtyard where you can help yourself to purified drinking water, baggage storage, and a communal kitchen. Candles add a nice touch in the evening.
Fernando's Kaffee is a terrific coffee and breakfast place on the corner between those 2 hotels.
There are lots of great eating and lodging options at all price points in Antigua in case you want a more upscale experience or something cheaper; there are links for searching below and in the links list on the right.

Antigua is a United Nations World Heritage Site. The streets are lined with interesting architecture and lots of cultural color.
There are lots of ruins to explore,
fascinating markets and stores,
and some excellent museums.
If we have enough time we could choose from a range of tours and adventures including coffee fincas,
 and bike tours of Antigua and the surrounding villages and countryside,
volcano hikes,
and cooking classes.
Another great option is a chocolate making class at the ChocoMuseo - really entertaining. Chocolate has a huge significance in Maya history - there was a time when its trade value was higher than gold.
Antigua's altitude is about 5000 feet and weather is springlike year round. Daytime temperatures are usually in the 70's with night temps in the 60's. A July visit is during the rainy season (they call it winter) so expect mornings to be gorgeous and for it to rain sometimes in the afternoons/evenings. That close to the equator the days are a similar length year round; in summer the sun rises around 5:30am and sets around 6:20pm.

Here are some links to adventure providers in Antigua:
Filadelfia Coffee Finca and Adventure Tours (includes a zipline and paintball)

NEXT STOP MIGHT BE LAKE ATITLÁN, considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
Author, humanist, and philosopher Aldous Huxley said, "Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissably picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing."

Weather on the lake is similar to Antigua's - gorgeous mornings, temperatures averaging in the 70's, occasional rain in the afternoons or evenings. Sometimes the breeze picks up in the afternoons and makes lake crossings a bit choppier.

In addition to the natural beauty, Lake Atitlán's shoreline is dotted with villages.
Each has it's own unique customs and traditional dress - a visit to this part of the world feels like a step back in time. We'll stay in San Pedro La Laguna.
Hotel Mikaso is on the lake in San Pedro a short walk from my beloved Cooperativa Spanish School. It has a terrace, a restaurant, a hot tub, a pool table, a common kitchen, and a variety of room configurations (1-4 or 5 per room) with rates from $18-$49. I think all or at least most of us will want to stay there to have a common base. Here's the review from the Moon Handbook for Guatemala:

The nicest place in San Pedro is Mikaso Hotel (tel. 5973-3129,, $8 p/p in dorm, $25–45 d) with 11 rooms and a dormitory housed in an attractive Spanish neocolonial-style building fronting the lakeshore. Rooms have tile bathrooms, ceiling fans, tile floors, and tasteful decor. The rooftop restaurant here is also quite smart, serving Mediterranean Spanish food, including delicious bocadillos (sandwiches), and open 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Movies are shown three times a week on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday nights.
Here are 2 other good value options if anyone wants to stay in a different spot or spend less per night. Hotel El Amanecer Sak'cari is a few blocks away. It has simple, clean rooms and a garden overlooking the lake for $19-32/double. Here's the Moon Handbook summary:

Hotelito El Amanecer Sak'cari (7a Avenida 2-12 Zona 2, tel. 7721-8096, $26 d) feels a bit like a motel, though the rooms on the second floor have nice lake views with hammocks out front. All rooms have a private bathroom.
Tepepul Kaan is up off the lake in a quiet neighborhood a bit further away and charges about $10 each for clean, funky rooms.
In addition to the cultural aspects of Lake Atitlán there's something for everyone in terms of outdoor adventures; these vary in expense and degree of difficulty. Some can be done without a tour provider and I have friends who can help us set up others. Also, Atitlán Adventures has been recommended to me.

Panajachel Reserve offers a beautiful waterfall plus canopy bridges and monkeys. We'll stop in Panajachel coming and going and if the weather cooperates, some of us will take a quick hike.
San Pedro volcano and the hike to La Nariz de Indio (Indian Nose, top peak in the photo below) are both popular options - challenging hikes rewarded by gorgeous views. Here's a blog post about my hike last summer to the top of La Nariz de Indio.
There are options for ziplining,
horseback riding,
and kayaking on the lake, easy and popular.
San Pedro also has a nice pool.
I'll set up cultural activities for anyone who is interested.
These might include salsa dance lessons,
weaving demonstrations,
cooking classes,
visits to art galleries,
and visits to other villages for shopping and cultural experiences.
Here is Maximón, patron saint of tobacco, alcohol, and prostitutes who moves to a new home every year in the village of Santiago Atitlán.
The Beca Project is a main focus of mine in San Pedro. The staff of the Cooperativa Spanish School (below) helped me establish this project.
Visiting some of the students in their homes can be a powerful, memorable experience. Homes are humble and construction materials vary; cinder block, mud or adobe bricks, corrugated metal roofing, corn stalks, and/or plastic sheeting are used. Most have dirt floors and lack running water. The families are friendly and welcoming.
We'll need the Beca Project's main advisor in San Pedro, Mynor (below), to lead the way and serve as translator. The native language in the community is Tz'utujil, a Maya language. The Beca kids learn Spanish in school but the parents - who had limited access to education for financial reasons - rarely do. There are only a few streets big enough for cars in San Pedro; most of the families live on narrow alleys and footpaths like the one shown here.
We may decide to leave Saturday afternoon and spend the night in Panajachel, across the lake from San Pedro. The shopping is fantastic there - likely the best in Guatemala - and we'll stay at one of my favorite budget hotels anywhere, Mario's Rooms.
Then we'll head back to Antigua or Guatemala City, maybe with a side trip to the world famous market in Chichicastenango
and/or the small but historically important Iximché Maya site.
NEXT, we could consider spending a few nights in northern Guatemala to visit the world class Maya ruins and surrounding jungle at Tikal. I have an archaeologist/naturalist friend, Roxy Ortiz, who would be happy to show us around. Tikal is a quick flight (spendy) or an overnight bus trip each way.
Maybe we could make time for another favorite of mine, Yaxhá.

That may take up all the time we have in Guatemala but there are lots of other options - geographically and culturally diverse - including the Rio Dulce, Livingston, Monterrico, Quetzaltenango (called Xela by the locals), and secluded areas like Semuc Champey and Laguna Lachua. I won't take the time to add them here, at least for now, but you can put the names into Wikipedia and/or Google Images for quick reference.

Another option (after or in lieu of Tikal) is to visit the Copán Maya site in western Honduras which is actually closer to Antigua and Guatemala City than Tikal is. I'll start a new post about our options for heading into Honduras (hit "Newer Post" at the bottom).

You can search for other hotels by looking in a guidebook (Moon Handbook and Rough Guide are both excellent) and by using Guatemala Story and Trip Advisor. You can also search for lodging, restaurant, and tour reviews and forum threads using the latter.

There are additional links to the upper right including travel forums (always search 1st before asking a question) and my photo collections on Flickr; check out the blog, travelogue, and review links on the main page of each collection if you're interested. If you click on a set there's a slideshow link above on the right. 


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