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Guatemala trip report,Guatemala trip report

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean Guatemala trip report,Guatemala trip report

1. Posted by ReuvenNY (Budding Member 6 posts) 10y

Thanks to the suggestions and advice we received here as well as on other forums, my wife and I decided to visit Guatemala. Below is our report on the trip, so other members could benefit from our experience.

We arrived to Guatemala City late in the evening and decided to take the $30 taxi ride to Antigua. The driver wanted, in local currency Q. 200, which was a better deal for us ($30 =Q. 228.60 at the time). Thanks to the fact that we got some money at the airport ATM we were able to save a bit.

Antigua is a charming, touristic city, which feels like a ghost town after 9pm. We had reservations at Hotel Posada San Pedro (has 2 locations) on 3rd Av. Sur. The total rate for two per night was $35 (or Q. 280, a worse deal).
The hotel was not extraordinary, but was relatively clean. No breakfast included, but a beautiful view of the volcano (from the second floor).

The following day was dedicated to plan our trip with a local Travel Agent - a practice we successfully used in Peru. Since we also reserved two days accommodations (ahead of time) for Lake Atitlan, our planning started for after returning to Antigua.

We picked Aviatur Travel Agency, owned by Luis Fernando Jimenez - Fernando for short. (5a Avenida Norte #34 - phone 502-7832-5989, cell 502-5960-7344 or 502-5679-4844, email: [email protected]). While not very experienced in planning a complex trip the way we wanted, he did a good job and was very conscientious and on top of things. (No matter with whom you deal, put EVERYTHING in writing - avoids misunderstandings)

Where did we visit and our impressions:

Lake Atitlan

A must. A beautiful lake surrounded by three volcanos, with interesting towns on it’s shores. We reserved two nights at La Casa del Mundo 502-5218-5332 ( http://lacasadelmundo.com/) - a hotel on the mountain (unique setting). Great views, good and fresh food, well managed hotel, reasonable rates. Best rooms? 12, 13 as well as 11. A lot of climbing...

Panajachel

The biggest town on the lake. That is where you arrive and find the boat to La Casa del Mundo and other destinations. Make sure you go to the public dock, where a ride to La Casa del Mundo should be Q. 10 but could go up to Q. 20. If you end up in Playa Publica, they will try to talk you into taking a private boat for Q. 150 to Q. 175. Not a good deal...
Otherwise Panajachel is a typical touristic town - restaurants, hotels and shopping.

Chichicastenango

An hour away, a very interesting town with a huge arts and crafts market on Sundays and Thursdays. Make sure you negotiate tough, as the merchants will go up to 40% or 50% off the asking price.

Copan Ruins, Honduras

While it’s actually in Honduras, it has a very important Mayan ruins. Very interesting site, cute town and nice people. Make reservations for dinner at Carnitas Nia Lola (tel 504-651-4196). Great food and fun place. We stayed at Hotel Plaza Copan (http://www.sailing-diving-guatemala.com/hotels/index-copan.htm) . Very pleasant, at the center of town.

Quirigua

My wife loved it, I was not impressed. Some ruins, but a beautiful park. Worth stopping en route, but not a destination on it’s own.

Rio Dulce

The town itself is not very appealing. We stayed at Hacienda Tijax - Jungle Eco Lodge (www.tijax.com)
Get an air conditioned cabin, if it’s in you budget. Don’t panic if you find a scorpion in your room - they are NOT poisonous... Take the Jungle Tour, which includes a tree canopy walk.
The main attraction is a the Rio Dulce river ride to Livingston. This was a most beautiful and charming river ride - highly recommended. Make sure on the way back you stop at Restaurante Viajero (may be misspelled) for lunch. It’s literally on the river, not better than decent food but a great experience.

Flores

This is a charming small town (no ATMs). Good restaurants, but mediocre hotels, We stayed at Villa del Lago. Try other hotels.

Tikal

A small “town” in the Tikal ruins park. For us it was the “main event”. Those ruins are in the middle of the forest, spread over a large area. Be ready for a lot of walking. Make sure to climb on Mundo Perdido pyramid to see the sunset and/or Temple 4 for the 5:30 am Sunrise.
We stayed in Hotel Tikal Inn (http://www.enjoyguatemala.com/hotels/hoteltikalinn.htm ) which also organized the tour and transportation. Very charming Inn, but have dinner at Comedor Tikal, a restaurant run by locals. Clean, good food and inexpensive.

Guatemala City

We flew on TAG airlines from Flores back to Guatemala City. Smaller plane, but cheaper than other airlines. The hotel we stayed at Hotel San Carlos ( http://hsancarlos.com/ ) has a free airport pickup and drop off for their guests. Also good food, free Internet and is in a safe neighborhood. We didn’t have to much time to tour the city, so no comments here. Just keep in mind that certain sections are dangerous, so check where the hotel you reserve is located.

All in all, we had a great trip, highly recommended destination.

A few comments and tips:

Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Guatemala City are in the mountains (about 1500 meters high) and are chilly in the evenings. Copan, Rio Dulce, Flores and Tikal are pretty warm in the evenings and very hot during the day.

When arriving, get some money from the Airport ATM - gives you the option to pay with local currency. Using ATM to get local currency is the best way in Guatemala, better than Travelers checks or charge cards. Keep in mind that your bank imposes daily limits on ATM withdrawals. The machines you use locally may have daily limits of their own.

Credit cards are effectively useless in Guatemala, as the merchants add a 5% to 10% fee to the price. In many places they are not even accepted.

When offered the option, compare the US$ price to the local currency price. Many times it’s cheaper one way or the other.

If possible, do not use the website reservations - call the establishment or use a local Travel Agency. Most of the time it’s cheaper.

We found that Lonely Planet’s Guatemala tour guide is accurate, most useful and is recommended.

When approaching a dock, bus station or any other public place of this kind, do not let the “chasers” on the way sell you the service you are searching for or approaching. Get there first, and talk to the officials. You will get a better price/deal that way.

At the ruins and other similar attractions, get an official tour guide. You will have a better experience and learn more.

Many merchants and people of Mayan decent you will meet, speak primarily one of the 22 Mayan languages. Their Spanish may be a secondary language and limited. Make sure they understand you... Although my wife speaks fluent Spanish, we experienced some confusion at times.

“Chicken buses” are fun experience. Use it once if desired, but do not depend on it for major travel. Used tourist shuttles or Pullman buses when possible .

Keep many Q.5 notes (about $0.65) for tips along the way. Helps when you have luggage and many other occasions.

In Guatemala’s restaurants, the tax is included, but the customary 10% tip is not.

Bring Tylenol, Aspirin, anti- diarrhea etc. medications from home. Less hassle when needed.

Just in case you may be using your credit cards, notify your bank/card company of you upcoming trip prior to departure. Due to security reasons you may have problems using those cards if you fail to advise them ahead of time.

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I tried to squeeze a 12 day tour here, which is a “mission impossible”, but I hope the info above would be of help to some. Please post any questions you have and I’ll try to reply.

Reuven, New York

2. Posted by GregW (Travel Guru 2635 posts) 10y

Great report - Tikal is on my list of things to see in the near future, so I found this very helpful.

3. Posted by dbloom (Travel Guru 586 posts) 10y

I was a guide in Guatemala until 1993. The Internet is very unreliable to make reservations (except high end hotels and resorts on booking engines), however to get a good overview of services offered in Guatemala (and neighboring El Salvador) view on line before departure the English Language "Revue Magazine" based in Antigua http://www.revuemag.com/ (pdf) Articles & archives and lots of adverts. For a comphrehensive walking tour of Antigua, excursions to Tikal, etc. view Antigua Tours, owned and operated by Elizabeth Bell, who has resided in Antigua over 35 years, historian and author of two books on Antigua view: http://www.antiguatours.net/. If going to Lake Atitlan and Chi-Chi take a look at http://www.atitlan.com/ and chat online with the English speaking webmaster, a long term resident of Panajachel. Finally view http://www.xelapages.com/ and http://www.quetzaltrekkers.com/ if heading to "Xela" (Quetzaltenanago)up in the highlands. The Spanish of the Mayans is very clear when spoken slowly, as their own native languages, like English or German are more guttural than Spanish. In the rest of Central America, many tend to speak Spanish very rapidly, slurring their words and dropping vowels.
For an overview of Indingenous Guatemalan trajes or textiles view: http://www.nimpot.com/ (my ex roomate in Antigua)
All in all a very good synopis of your journey.
For budget travelers:
The Antigua Bus Station has been moved to Zone 3 from Zone 1 in Guatemala city for security reasons, buses run 5AM-6:30PM daily if arriving in morning or afternoon take a taxi to "Terminal a Antigua, Zona 3"
This is now low season May and June. July and August are high season with travellers from the north on summer vacation.

4. Posted by rar (Budding Member 4 posts) 10y

I am airline reservations to Guatemala in November for two weeks. I found your trip report very helpful. If you have a more detailed trip report somewhere I would like to read it. I've read 5-6 travel guides (pretty much ALL they had to say about Peten, Guat Cty, Coban, and Rio Dulce area), have been to many websites, and have read various trip reports (most somewhat dated). After all this study for two months, knowing all the warnings for lone female travelers, but hearing some who ignored them and had a good time, I welcome comments from those who have been to Guat recently--particularly those whose interests are similar to mine. My primary interest is birding, but of course I will enjoy the scenery, the fellowship, and the new experiences along the way. Here are some quandaries:
1. Whether to fly or bus to Tikal from Guat City (I arrive at the Guat City airport about 2pm).
2. Whether to stay overnight in Guat City or leave asap.
3. Whether to bus to Tikal (if I bus) via Coban, with a stop at Biotopo Quetzal, or via Rio Dulce, with a side trip to Livingston and back, by lancha. In other words, is Tikal birding worth two whole weeks, or should I not miss those other places?
4. Whether to stay in El Ramate with daily excursions to Tikal, or stay in Tikal itself.
5. The following quandary is a big one for me as I am not a seasoned traveler. I've made cross-country birding trips in my van (complete with all my comforts), but never by air. I have a lightweight birding chair with a shoulder strap which has been invaluable to me since birding sometimes requires a lot of patient waiting and standing (which can be uncomfortable as one passes 60 years of age). With all the walking necessary at Tikal, it seems a good idea to take the portable chair, since I could stay out (with a packed lunch) most of the day, sitting whenever and wherever I need. On the other hand, it would be an extra weight anywhere else I would go. It would have to be packed into a suitcase too large to carry around on my back. But then, of course, I could pack a few other luxuries like my favorite pillow and some snacks from home for birding excursions. It would be no harder to wheel along than a smaller case, but would make me stand out more as a tourist since it would be always with me. But then I would have less weight to carry on my back (or waist) not only for the flight day but daily excursions as well. But then it might be harder to deal with in lanchas or a chicken bus. Confusion...

Thanks to any of you who respond. Or maybe I haven't posted this in the right way to get responses. I'm also new at this internet/forum business.

5. Posted by rar (Budding Member 4 posts) 10y

After proofreading my long posting and then submitting it, I see that I missed an error in the first sentence. Of course I meant I "have," not I "am" airline reservations... Sorry.

6. Posted by ReuvenNY (Budding Member 6 posts) 10y

Hello rar,

This report is the only one I have made - sorry, nothing more detailed. Also, it's now 4 months since we came back, so my memory is a bit bleary.
Your questions are very specific and related to places I have not visited. But still, I can make some comments, hopefully helpful:

1. Guatemala is relatively safe (except some sections of Guatemala city). We have met quite a few women traveling alone and heard no complaints. Caution is always recommended when traveling

2. We stayed in Tical and suggest you do it too. The ruins are in a "jungle" with a lot of birds. You may want to wake up early and take a walk there to watch.

3. For us the boat ride to Livingston was one of the highlights of the trip. This Rio Dulce boat ride is a must.

4. I am not into birding, but I do not think Tical is worth two weeks. Travel all over, you will benefit more.

Hope those comments were helpful.