Hasta la vista, winter (for a while)
February 8, 2007 3:36 AM   Subscribe

Travel: Our brief "escape the chill" winter trip to Guatemala is impending. Recommendations on sites?

Thanks to fine recommendations from the MeFi gang, we settled on Guatemala as our destination for our winter holiday this year. Antigua , Lake Atitlan, and possibly Tikal are on the base itinerary. Any additional ideas vis-a-vis easily accessible, interesting, and relaxing sites?

Recommendations on good eats also welcome, especially in the fish department.
posted by Gordion Knott to Travel & Transportation around Guatemala (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The ultra famous market at Chichicastenango you shouldn't miss. It's like traveling in time, really mental.

Now, my favorite place in Guatemala is Livingston. It's the one place in Guatemala where the Garifunas settled. Garifunas are the only black people in America (that is, from Alaska to Argentina) to never have been slaves, and they take a lot of pride in it. Their music is a mind-blowing mix of African and Latin American influences, like nothing you've ever heard, their food is great (very Caribbean, based on fish, plantains, coconut and so on) and they are the most chilled out and friendly people in Guatemala.

Livingston is about six hours away from Guatemala City, on the Caribbean coast. You have to take a Litegua bus from Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios - about three dollars- and a boat from there, to cross Amatique Bay into Livingston.

Have fun.
posted by micayetoca at 5:13 AM on February 8, 2007

Oh sorry, forgot to say, for food in Guatemala City nothing, NOTHING, beats Arrin Cuan. I recommend the Kak Ik, or the Suban Ik. God, I'd kill for one of those now.

Great breakfast? El Rey Sol (Octava Calle 5-36, Zona 1), vegetarian, but a great option.

If you want a fancy place you should try Kakao, which is in Guatemala City, in Zone 10, right across the street from the Intercontinental Hotel. It combines the traditional indigenous dishes of Arrin Cuan with high-flown international cuisine.

One last thing, not many people know it, but Guatemala produces the best rum in the world, Zacapa Centenario and even if you don't like rum, or even i f you don't drink alcohol at all, I'd suggest trying it. It's doesn't taste like alcohol, and it is quite something. Try it, you'll see what I mean.
posted by micayetoca at 5:27 AM on February 8, 2007

One last personal recommendation. Sorry to do this in parts, but I forgot about it until I clicked "post" and this is something you won't find in travel guides, I think.

There is this little herb in Salvador and Guatemala called Loroco. I've never had it anywhere else and it's delicious. There is a restaurant in Guatemala city, on avenida Reforma, right accross the street from the US embassy where they sell pupusas and you can get pupusas de loroco there. Their plain cheese ones are also fantastic. Oh boy. Do I miss that stuff.
posted by micayetoca at 5:35 AM on February 8, 2007

If you do happen to get up to Tikal, rather than stay in Flores, check out the town of El Remate (which is on the other side of Lago Peten). There are some nice rustic accomodations there and an early morning shuttle to the ruins.

Appropriately enough, we stayed in a place called El Gringo Perdido and because it was the "off season" had the place largely to ourselves.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:12 AM on February 8, 2007

here are notes on places we've visited (and wished we had time to visit):
1) Antigua - definitely a must-visit! colonial architecture, quiet nice town.
- definitely try Las Mixtas (it's close to the bus station) for lunch - good deal & authentic experience
- do NOT try the bagel shop place Lonely Planet mentions, unless you want to eat the worst bagels in the world and their suspicious cream cheese like concoction.

2) Lake Atitlan - another must-visit, 3 hours away from Antigua, maybe a little more.
- we stayed at Mario's, which was really nice, and highly recommended. It's on central drag in Atitlan, and the rooms, atmosphere, price are all great.
- Las Chinistas is a great Malaysian place on the main drag (definitely a welcome break from the monotony of tortillas :)
- The Uruguyan steak house is another really great meal (called something like Quijibos), also on the main drag
- there's an Italian place close to La Chinistas that has live Peruvian/Bolivian music every night, good lassagna- check it out!

We took a ferry to Santiago - a mayan town across the lake. very nice day trip, and go see Maxemon there (little kids will offer to take you there for some small price)

3) Quriigua - it's the only Mayan ruins we got to see (we didn't have time to go to Tikal or Copan in Honduras). I guess the ruins in Copan are more impressive, so you'll probably want to go there if you have more time. But we met people who first went to Copan, Honduras and then to Quirigua - depends on how much ruins you want to see.

But we had a very nice expereince in the town of Quirigua, then walking through a wonderful banana plantation to the ruins, and exploring there. If you do go to Quirigua, DO NOT stay in Hotel Royal - unfriendly,
disgusting place. there's a place that seems much nicer and is much cheaper just a little bit down the road, called Hotel Paraiso or something like that.

4) Rio Dulce - definitely recommend to go there and stick around for a few days. GO THERE!!!! I wouldn't recommend staying in town itself - stay at one of the hostels on the lake - the boats will pick you up and bring you back.
We stayed at Casa Paricos (it's in the LP book), which was a pretty nice experience. There's a good backpacker community there (even if the hosts are not the friendliest). And they cook good food, plus you can get
free canoes there and explore around the lake. Definitely make a trip to Hacienda Tijax (or you can stay there instead) - the jungle walk there is really awesome.

> 5) Livingston - you can take a boat from Rio Dulce to Livingston, and it's a really nice ride. It's also a good jumping point for you to get to Belize.
> BUT note that the ferry from Livingston to Belize only runs like twice a week (whatever it says in the LP book is correct), so you have to plan ahead.
> The other alternative is to go to Livingston by boat, and then take a ferry to Puerto Barrios, and then a boat to Belize. But you'll be making a bit of a circle that way.
We stayed at Casa de la Iguanas in Livingston, and we'd definitely recommend it (just bring ear plugs - this is general advice - the roosters can get a bit unbearable at night). In Livingston, definitely have a meal at Tilingo Lingo (in the LP book). There's not much to do in Livingston if you're going to Belize -I think Belize is going to be a better-traveled more expensive version of Livingston, plus the snorkeling & the diving. (Livingston doesn't really have beaches)

6) After Livingston, we just had a couple of days left, so we went to Salama and a couple of Mayan villages around there. That was a wonderful experience for us - not touristy at all, just a very pleasant real town with a beautiful square in the center and friendly people.
posted by barmaljova at 12:39 PM on February 8, 2007

previous AskMe on the subject
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:16 PM on February 8, 2007

also here
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:17 PM on February 8, 2007

Recommend Rough Guide over lonely planet. Safe place overall (aprt from guate and antigua >2am), but keep some money in your shoe, and your money belt. Have copies of all your documents scanned on an accesible email a/c.

It's worth splurging for the overpriced hotels at Tikal to get the EARLIEST frikking guide around the ruins. Best observed when no-one else from the hordes of visitors that arrive at 6am start to tromp around the site there. Watching the jungle wake up from the top of a 220ft 100yr old mayan pyramid at 4am is up there in my list.

Eat in livingston! Find francis the guide (gold teeth, dreads, will sell you weed, he'll probably meety you off the boat) and ask him to take you to a special dinner. Pricey ($15-20?), but someone by the beach cooks up the most amazing fish stews with coconut and stuff that I've ever had.

If you have time, go to Semuc Champey (long all day bus ride!) and do spelunking, climb the forest for the view of the pools and swim with the fishes. Unforgettable.

Copan ruinas
(Honduras) is nice, 2-day bus trips from guate, like a mini antigua (the city) and a mini tikal (the ruins). . Probably the best stelae in Central america. If you go, you MUST go to the museum with a re-creation of the red temple and the carvings.

Atitlan: DONT stay in panajahel. Horrible touristy dump full of hawkers and ripoff merchants.

Highly recommend staying 1 night in hippyville aka San Marcos de atitlan at Aaculaax

When in San Pedro de Laguna, do look for 'Maria' and her tienda. She's a nice old lady with an. Erm. Interesting product line. The 'cookies' at Zoola (sp?) are good too.

In Antigua, go to "No Se" : a bar away from loud fratboy language students and hideous tourist traps, run by bitter, misanthropic new yorkers with a mescal bar and a penchent for drag dressing, chain smoking, incestuous relations with anything with a pulse and some of the snarkiest snark around.
Say Cletus the englishman sent you.

Guatemala city is rough.
posted by lalochezia at 8:49 PM on February 8, 2007

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