Going to Guatemala
July 31, 2014 7:14 AM   Subscribe

In the fall I'm going to Guatemala for about 10 days. I plan on spending 5 days in Antigua and 5 days at Lake Atitlan. I think I have my lodging settled in San Marcos La Laguna, and I'm hoping you'll have recommendations for a clean, reasonably quiet inn/posada/BandB in a lively and safe but not too rambunctious neighborhood in Antigua.

English speaking staff and wifi is a plus. Good breakfast and hot showers would be grand. My budget is in the US$65 per night range. And, if you want to toss in recommendations for cafes or restaurants or things to do in both Antigua and in and around Lake Atitlan, that would be awesome.
posted by Pineapplicious to Travel & Transportation around Guatemala (2 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I can't answer your question directly, but I can offer some information that may help you make your decision.


In your price range, you'll have no trouble finding a decent place to stay in Antigua. I stayed in Casa Cristina, and it was attractive, clean, quiet, with friendly staff (Cristina, I think), English was spoken well enough, and it cost about $30-35 US per night. For $65/night you can probably go kind of upscale. I would swear that this was taken from the roof of Casa Cristina.

You can probably find most of the hotels/B-&-Bs in your price range online & email them to ask about wifi etc. Some are listed here. Instagram and Flickr are invaluable for getting a look at things before you go. They will all most likely have at least one person on staff who speaks serviceable English. Hot showers are very likely. If your hotel doesn't have wifi, lots of cafes around the Parque Central have decent wifi & you can get online during business hours.

If it were me, I wouldn't worry about breakfast at the hotel, because I would want to sample different restaurants and cafes for variety. For example, if I were staying at Casa Cristina or nearby, I would go to Fernando's Kaffee 1/2 block away for breakfast. Literally everything in the touristy, central part of town is in walking distance.

Gato Negro meets your requirements (lodging, wifi, breakfast), but it's a hostel and bustling with noisy freaks.

Antigua Restaurants:

Go to Sabe Rico. It looks like a cafe/boutique storefront from the street, and to get to the restaurant you wind through the establishment into a gorgeous jungly courtyard.

Doña Luisa has a decent restaurant (and a bakery that often smells of fresh cinnamon bread). The desayuno chapín is pretty decent, but if I remember correctly they don't have tortillas. Doña Luisa is also a couple doors down from the Choco Museo. Get some chocolate, try the cacao tea.

You want Guatemalan tortillas. They are fresh and amazing. I would go to a little tienda on Avenida Santa Lucia by the flowershop at the corner of Avenida Sexta Poniente and buy a bag of them fresh off the comál from the girls who sadly should probably have been in school. They make them at los tres tiempos: breakfast, lunch & dinner.

Sobremesa is supposed to be good, but the owner was a dick so we never went in. However, around the corner from the resaurant and 1/2 block off of the Parque Central Sobremesa has a little ice cream shop with ridiculously awesome flavors like tobacco-rum.

Speaking of ice cream, there's a little place on 3a or 2a Avenida Norte between 4ta & 5a Calle Poniente that has good ice cream (I think it may all be vegan). They have interesting local fruit flavor like mamey, as well as beet & other non-trad stuff.

Como Como is good. This was our go-to "nice" restaurant.

Frida's (near the arch) is decent. Fonda de la Calle Real has decent Guatemalan dishes like pepián & paches & their fried plantains are good.

Some food that is good and shockingly safe to eat:

Get seviche from a guy who sells it from the back of a truck on Avenida Santa Lucia near where the chicken buses to Guatemala City stop. Seriously, it's safe. Berries from the market soaked in bleach water gave me food poisoning, but the seviche never did me wrong. When you're there, order a michelada. He gives you a can of Gallo, has you take 3 drinks to make room, and adds Worcesterchire, salt, and lime juice with chiles mashed in. You eat it with crackers while sitting on a stool on the sidewalk. I don't think he gets a lot of non-local customers, so he'll probably be thrilled you stopped by.

Also, on Sunday evenings people gather at the park at La Merced (the big yellow church) and sell food. I only ate the vegetarian stuff: "enchiladas," what I'd call a tostada, piled with pickled cabbage, beets, a chunk of hard boiled egg, crumbly dry cheese. And then an ear of corn roasted on a grill and served with a wedge of lime and some salt tucked into the husk. For dessert, try some rellenitos (mashed plantain stuffed with sweet black beans) and all the different kinds of atol - atol de elote, atol blanco, atol de arroz. These are warm sweet drinks made with corn or rice.

Panza Verde is a good splurge with a nice lounge. It will cost you, but a meal that would be hundreds in the US would be under $100 for two people. Don't bother going to El Tenedor up on the hill. The view is good, food is boring, atmosphere is crap.

Kids Restaurant. Arrange your trip so you're there on a Friday and make a reservation in advance for this place. It's a school that also teaches vocational skills to the kids, who basically run the restaurant. The food is great, the kids are the sweetest. You will love it.

Safety and rambunctiousness:

The whole of the touristy part of Antigua is safe. Stay alert & everything, and don't walk the roads out of town at night, but the place is patrolled by 4 law enforcement agencies, they depend on tourists to drive the economy, and people seem pretty bought into that idea that it's not nice to mess with tourists. Unattended things will disappear, but nobody's going to rob you or anything like that.

The area within about a block in any direction from the Parque Central is likely to be rambunctious, in that drunk people (tourists, hostel-types) will be loud & stupid in the streets late at night.

Deep Antigua:

There's an open-air market on the west side of town off of Avenida Santa Lucia. Anyone can direct you there. They have very cheap fruits & veggies & nuts & stuff. This stuff you want to soak in a sink full of diluted bleach before you eat it (they sell veggie sanitizer at La Bodegona). Don't rinse it after - let it dry. (All the restuarants that cater to foreigners will have sanitized their produce - don't worry about it. However, the fruit popsicle things across the street from La Bodegona should be avoided.)

Anyway, you'll notice little pathways between some of the stalls leading into a building. Go in there, and you'll be in a deeper layer of mercado. It's a fascinating labyrinth of produce, dry goods, spices, food of all kinds, and who knows what.

If you want to go deeper than that, there's a wholesale market twice a week (Tuesdays & Fridays, maybe?) out behind this place, and you can get a ton of stuff super-cheap. Local greens, edible flowers, all veggies, all extremely cheap. But you have to get there early - probably by about 6:00 am. Not that much good unless you have a kitchen, though.

Lago de Atitlan:

I remember San Marcos la Laguna as being beautiful and restful. Not a lot going on, but a good place to relax. If you can get a room at this place, it's awesome.
posted by univac at 11:43 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some of my fondest memories were of Lago Atitlan (and Guatemala) involve my extended stay at La Iguana Perdida, which is on the shore in a beautiful spot near Santa Cruz, about 15 minutes by boat from Panajachel. I know you have lodging arranged, but it might be worth checking into, I really liked the owners (US + UK couple) and spent much more time there than I expected. (This was back in 2003, so you'd surely want to do your own investigation).

Also, hikes around the lake are great, but, at least back in 2003, you needed to go with a group since there were frequent robbers on the trail.

I concur about San Marcos La Laguna. At the time, it had a very chill and very new age-y vibe, very different from the other cities around the lake. I don't think you'd want to spend much time in Panajachel, but I remember enjoying visits to Chichicastenango and Santiago Atitlan.

I don't recall where I stayed in Antigua [I was sick most of the time, my many street food snacks having caught up with me], but there was lots of lodging, you could probably just take a recent guidebook and book when you get there.

Enjoy, Lago Atitlan was just gorgeous, I'll never forget it.
posted by seventyfour at 1:35 PM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

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