What to do in Guatemala for 10 days?
March 7, 2007 3:00 PM   Subscribe

What to do in Guatemala for 10 days? I'm flying to Guatemala City, Guatemala tomorrow for a ten-day vacation. This will be my first real international trip, as well as my first solo trip. What destinations/experiences/attractions can't be missed?

More details: I'm planning on getting out of Guatemala City as quickly as possible and heading to Antigua, and I have some ideas after that but nothing definite. I plan to (at some point) head up around Lake Atitlan, see the market at ChiChi and probably one of the smaller markets in the area, and I'd like to climb one of the volcanoes at one point on my trip. But I have no specific towns/lodging places that I have my heart set on in Atitlan or anywhere else, and I am totally open aside from these priorities. What should I do, where should I go? Where should I eat, outside of Antigua? Is Tikal worth the 11 hour ride each way (flight is probably above budget)? Should I consider Copan instead?

One further caveat: I'd like to spend as little money as possible without overdoing the cost-cutting - I have no problem staying in budget hotels/hostels and taking crappy buses from town to town, but I can afford more than bean and rice for every meal.

posted by btkuhn to Travel & Transportation around Guatemala (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Previously, hope that's useful.
posted by micayetoca at 3:26 PM on March 7, 2007

FYI, just be really careful while you're there. From Lonely Planet:
Travel in Guatemala is generally safe, but a relatively high level of violent crime is committed against foreigners. Vehicle-jackings are almost an everyday occurrence, especially in Guatemala City. Inter-city travel after sunset should be avoided. Travellers should exercise extra caution on the roads in rural areas, particularly in the northern and western regions. Exercise caution when taking photographs in rural areas as some locals believe foreigners come to kidnap children.

posted by miss lynnster at 3:29 PM on March 7, 2007

I lived in Guatemala for a year. Tikal is definitely worth it, it was one of my favorite places in Guatemala. It's just amazing. There are lots of tourist there, but seeing the ruins is well worth fighting the masses. Plus, you aren't going at a terribly touristy time of year in Guatemala so it shouldn't be awful. You don't need for than a day there. If you have the money, I strongly recommend booking a tour to Tikal while in Antigua. You can fly there and back in day and it's worth the cash to do so.

Antigua is very nice, if touristy. It's definitely geared toward tourists and Guatemalans with money. It is worth a day there to explore and have some very yummy food. Make sure to check out the ruins of the old churches. You can also hike up a volcano while in Antigua.

Avoid Panajachel. Go to Lake Atitlan and hope immediately on a boat to get yourself to a small town. There is a nice hotel called Hotel del Mundo (i think) that is somewhat pricey but beautiful. If that isn't worth the money to you then there are any number of small hotels all around the lake. I liked San Pedro a lot.

I really loved Copan. It is incredible and I've never seen anything like it since. I would spend a few days there and then go to the Garifuna communities around Livingston. You can catch a bus to Copan in Guatemala City.

If it were me, I would do a day in Antigua, a day at Tikal, a few days at Lake Atitlan, a day at Chi-Chi, and a few days in Copan and hope over to Livingston if you have time.
posted by sara558 at 3:31 PM on March 7, 2007

Yay, my area of expertise (seriously. . . I write about Central America professionally).

You'll find some Panajachel-haters on this board, but I have to admit, it's one of my favorite places in the entire world---and I've been to every country in C.A., and almost every village on Atitlan. I even chose to take a Spanish immersion course there last summer. Sure, there are tourists, but when you compare it to Costa Rica, or even Antigua, it's not bad at all. The fun part of Pana is that it's a melting pot of cultures, set against this exquisite backdrop---Atitlan is so beautiful, it'll break your heart. Make sure you eat at Cafe Bombay (vegetarian/organic; try the tempeh burger and the homemade ginger ale), and say hi to Roberto for me! Panapan is a great little hole-in-the-wall coffeeshop/bakery, and Pana Rock is worth a visit for live, local music---Guatemalan hipster kids. It's easy, though, to spend a day in Pana, a day somewhere like San Pedro, and a day somewhere even smaller, like Santa Cruz (La Iguana Perdida offers awesome communal dinners for $5-ish) for a wider variety of experience.

Chichi is also fantastic---the market will blow your mind, make your eyes go googly. When you need a break, grab a meal up on one of the balconies overlooking the madness.

When I went to Tikal, I took the night bus. At $20, it was pricey by Guate standards, but it was the equivalent of first-class seating on an airplane. Snacks, drinks, fully reclining cushy chairs, A/C. I recommend you take some Tylenol PM, though, since it's a bumpy, mountainous ride you'd rather not be conscious for.

One of the best things I did in Guate last summer was take a riverboat ride down the Rio Dulce to Livingston (as sara558 mentioned). You pass through impenetrable piles of rainforest, echoing with the spookiest sounds. Livingston is a funky Caribbean town; we spent a day hiking to the 7 Altares waterfalls in a ridiculous rainstorm--by the end we were drenched in red mud--but it was so worth it. At least, until some kind of rainforest beastie gnawed my foot and made it swell to an enormous size, but that's another story. . .

Have a wonderful trip! I'm so jealous!
posted by changeling at 4:08 PM on March 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

see my comment with lots of tips here, for a prior post:
posted by barmaljova at 5:30 PM on March 7, 2007

When barmaljova mentions Atitlan, he's also speaking about Panajachel (the main drag is called Calle Santander). I also stayed at Mario's Place once---nice, cozy, but as the courtyard has no overhang and you have to cross it to exit, terrible if it rains!
posted by changeling at 6:04 PM on March 7, 2007

FYI, President Bush will be there while you are there. I've heard Antigua is nice.
posted by Frank Grimes at 6:04 PM on March 7, 2007

Guatemala is one of my favourite countries, but I'll just concentrate on the Tikal question: go there. My advice is to take one of the over-night first-class buses, sleep to Tikal, spend a day exploring Tikal, get one of the cheap sleeps on-site in a hammock, spend some more time in Tikal and then take the first-class bus back. It *will* eat up some of your time.

Also: don't sneak into Tikal so that you can see the sunrise from Temple IV. I did it, and experienced a glorious sunrise, but got the pants scared off me by two extremely menacing guards with automatic weapons. (They're there for good reasons; trying to protect us touristas from robbery and other unmentionables, but kind of scary when they rise spectrelike from the brush)
posted by arnicae at 11:31 PM on March 7, 2007

I haven't seen it mentioned but outside of Zunil are some amazing hot springs in the midst of a beautiful rainforest, that I think is south of the city. It consists of 3-4 springs in consecutive levels of heat and a number of cabins that you can rent on the property. It is a nice mellow place to escape to for a day. It has been some time (3 years) since I've been there and things might have changed but it is worth the trip.
posted by aisleofview at 7:29 AM on March 8, 2007

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