Planning Your Trip to Guatemala

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tortillas

A Guatemalan woman making fresh tortillas in Antigua

Looking to travel to Guatemala? Here are six essential tips you should know before you go.

1. Have Money Before You Go

It’s not uncommon — especially at the end of the month — for ATMs (or cajeros) to run out of money. On my trip to Guatemala I went to four ATMs before one actually had money/wasn’t out of service. Do yourself a favor and either order Guatemalan Quetzales from your bank or at least have American cash on you.

2. Don’t Neglect Lake Atitlan’s Lesser-Known Islands

Sure, Panajachel and San Pedro are definitely worth a visit; however, I would also recommend exploring Lake Atitlan’s lesser-known islands. While San Marcos is known for its rich holistic culture, the Mayan village of San Antonio has beautiful locally crafted ceramics. Then there’s San Juan, with its beautiful fabrics. These are just a few of your choices around the lake. If you’re short on time, for about $50 for two people you can hire a private boat for the day to visit three to four different islands.

earth lodge

View from my window at Earth Lodge

3. Stay At Earth Lodge

The highlight of my entire trip to Guatemala was staying at Earth Lodge, located in the Pueblo of Hato right outside Antigua. This eco-friendly mountain/yoga/hiking/outdoor sports/sauna/treehouse and more retreat is truly an escape from reality. Plus, for a “non-budget” accommodation in Guatemala it’s still very affordable, with their famous Treehouse being $35 a night per couple (dorms are about $6), meals about $8 and bar drinks about $2.

4. Make Use Of The Shuttle

While chicken buses and taxis can provide an interesting culture experience, your safest bet is the shuttle. Not only is it affordable, it’s comfortable and is mostly filled with other travelers.

indian's nose

Sunrise as seen from the top of Indian’s Nose

5. Pacaya Is Not The Best Hike, Indian’s Nose Is

Before visiting Guatemala I heard many people rave about how amazing Pacaya was. After climbing this active volcano myself (sort of, you don’t actually go to the crater) I can honestly say it was nothing to write home about. While I’ll admit it was fun and the scenery was interesting, I didn’t see lava or smoke like I was told I would by my guide — which I’m sure you sometimes do — but clearly not always. What I would recommend is Indian’s Nose, which literally provided the most spectacular sunrise I’ve ever seen. Hiking up in the dark provided excitement, while the sunrise itself was a scene of swirling clouds over Lake Atitlan and volcano views streaked with neon hues. Since it’s hard to put into words, check the photo above.

6. Don’t try to pack too Much In

Guatemala is a place where time slows down and you can just relax with a Gallo beer and enjoy the volcanic views or head or enjoy the country’s many holistic offerings. Because of this, it’s best to not try to move around too much. Choose one or a few select places and really get to know the personality of where you are.

Have you visited Guatemala? What essential tips would you add to this list?

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  • sean

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are no islands on Lake Atitlan. Also, are you sure it wasn’t your ATM card. I’ve lived here for many years and over the past three, four years, I have found ATMs to be pretty reliable. You were probably just unlucky.