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  • Writer's pictureMona Shah

Gorgeous Guatemala: Everything you need to know for a 10 day trip

From Mayan ruins to active volcanoes, this is a Central American gem captivates with its extraordinary landscapes and a civilization-spanning culture that reaches back centuries.





The best time to visit Guatemala is during the dry season, which runs from November to April. However, the country has a pleasant climate that lends itself to year-round trips, with temperatures between 72°F and 90°F. We went in mid-May, which is typically the beginning of the rainy season. We were lucky that the entire 10 days we were there it remained dry, except for one day in Antigua when it was torrential. I would recommend you combine your Guatemala trip with Belize, and if you do, then avoid travel in September and October, as the rain will be more disruptive in Belize.


Arriving in Guatemala


You will arrive in Guatemala City, and contrary to everything you hear and read, it is not dangerous at all. As with any travel, be sensible and take precautions and be aware of your surroundings. However, it’s a city like any other and so best to land and head right away to Antigua.


Be sure to pre-book a taxi or contact a travel agent to help you secure a car and driver to whisk you to Antigua. We used Antigua Tours by Elizabeth Bell to help with the transport to and from airports and for the caves, transport to Pacaya volcano and Tikal.


Antigua


Antigua is the old capital of Guatemala and A UNESCO Heritage Site. This candy colored city, framed by volcanoes is a lovely small town. A charming place, dotted with hip cafes and farm to table restaurants housed in beautifully restored Spanish colonial buildings.

The best way to explore is on foot. Check out the Church of La Merced and the Arch of Santa Catalina. The Arch is one of Guatemala’s famous landmarks, used to secretly allow transfer nuns in between convents without being seen.

All the hotels have lush courtyards with many mature trees, gardens and fountains. We stayed at Hotel Casa Antigua.


Pacaya Volcano Hike





Pacaya is an active complex volcano in Guatemala, which first erupted approximately 23,000 years ago. After being dormant for over 70 years, it began erupting vigorously in 1961 and has been erupting frequently since then.


To do the hike, it is mandatory to go with an appointed guide. You can get one from there, or pre-arrange. We had a 1:1 guide, so we could pick the time and pace that suited us. Also, try and go mid-morning or in the afternoon, you will find you have the place to yourself. Larger tour groups tend to come in the morning or around 4 p.m. Also, remember to take marshmallows, that you can roast in the hot steam at the summit. I packed mine from home (target!).


MoJo hiked (and killed it) the Pacaya Volcano, a 6 mile, steep, hard hike (because of altitude, elevation 2250 ft)—the last part is on the lava flow, so it’s a steam room/sauna and very rocky. Made it in a record 60 mins to the top and 45 mins down.


It is a hard hike, so, there are men in horses that flank you on both sides, yelling “taxi, taxi,” referring to their horse. Most people cave and get on the horse for most of the trip. We didn’t!!


Flores





MoJo in Flores, the gateway to the ruins: Yaxha and Tikal. Highly recommend a 2-day stay on the island of Flores. It is idyllic and beautiful. An hour is all you need to walk the perimeter of the island, there is so much to see.

  • Jorge’s rope swing

  • Rooftops bars: Isla de Flores and Skybar are the best.

  • Pickup basketball games

  • Sunday evening service (one of the best in the area)

  • Sunsets

  • Actin Can Caves

  • A boat-ride and a hike that lead to a tree house Mirador (lookout)

  • The Zoo which also rehabilitates animals

  • The square by the only church in town that everyone converges on in the evening. A taco truck with some yummy Mexican is a must eat place.

We stayed at Hotel Isla de Flores, an absolutely beautiful and very well located hotel.


Tikal






In order to get to Tikal National Park, you’ll either need to drive or fly from Guatemala City. We recommend flying into Flores to save yourself the 10+ hour drive from the city. Arrange for a private transfer to pick you up from the airport to take you into Tikal. As well as to the ruins, you cannot go in without a guide.


Rainforest, the ruins of an ancient city and being allowed to climb them without damage is an experience we will not forget! (There are wooden stairs at the back of the monuments).

A major Pre-Columbian political, economic and military center and one of the most important archaeological complexes left by the Maya civilization. Climbing and walking for 5 hours in 96 degrees temps with 90% humidity, still loved it….flushed skin without blush.


You can book several variations of guided tours: sunrise, middle of the day, or sunset tour around Tikal. Definitely make sure to visit Temples 1 & 2 in the Grand Plaza. You should also make sure to check out the Observation Temple and Temple 4 for the best panoramic views of the surrounding jungle. 


Make sure to keep an eye out for the plethora of wildlife here in Tikal. There are so many unique species such as spider monkeys, howler monkeys, parrots, toucans, jaguars, and pumas that roam around the park. 


Lake Atitlan





Is Guatemala’s second largest lake. The two-hour drive heading west from Antigua leads through the central highlands, dotted with colorful traditional villages to the stunning Lake Atitlán. The dramatic winding road leading down to the lake rewards you with incredible views of the lake and its spectacular backdrop of three cone-shaped volcanoes: San Pedro, Toliman and Atitlán.


The Mayan Indians throughout this area are undoubtedly the most colorfully dressed in Guatemala, with intricately woven shirts, huipiles and skirts of the brightest reds, greens, yellows, pinks and blues. Each village around the lake maintains its own traditional dress.

The lake itself is mesmerizing and spending time relaxing here absorbing the views, watching the effect of changing light and wind on the water is special enough, but the best way to enjoy the stunning scenery is to travel by ‘lancha’ (boat) visiting the Indian villages of Santiago Atitlán, Santa Catarina Palopo and San Antonio Palopo.


The highland area is also home to countless markets giving an intricate and enthralling insight into Guatemalan life. Chichicastenango is one of the largest and most famous, situated about an hour north of Lake Atitlán. Hundreds of locals and visitors flock for a bargain buy and there is everything here from souvenirs and clothes to food and household goods. For a more authentic experience go to more typical markets such as those held in the villages of Comalapa or Tecpan.


Fly back to Guatemala City for your flight back home.


We planned it so that we took a very early morning flight out (6 a.m.). Arrived in Guatemala City, from Flores at 6 p.m. and stayed overnight at l'Arora Inn.They had airport pick up and drop off and was less than a mile from the airport. Perfect location.







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