So let’s talk about Guatemala. Shortly after the holidays, it was the Tuesday after in fact, I came across an amazing deal. It was a flight to Guatemala City from Dulles (VA), for only $124 roundtrip, inclusive of fees. Yes, I said $124. I can’t even fly to New York for that, so who would have ever thought I could fly to another country that’s almost 2,000 miles away for that much.
After doing some research and connecting with others who purchased the same great deal, I decided staying in Antigua would make the most sense. Antigua is a city about 45 minutes from the Guatemala City airport and has a fairly significant expat population, didn’t learn that its population is about 40% expat until we were there. Since a few of us were going for the same long weekend, we decided to rent a house through AirBnB. We decided on Casa Colibri, a home in a gated area about a 10 minute walk to Parque Central or the central area of town.
We did so much during our short time there so I’ve listed everything below.
Antigua City Tour – Tours by Elizabeth Bell
We figured it would make the most sense to book a tour our first morning to get better acclimated to the city. Our walking tour began at Central Park and learned about its rich history. At the beginning, our guide Elizabeth asked us what our interests were to better tailor the tour to what we want to learn about. We visited City Hall, Royal Palace, and a Cathedral that is being restored. We learned about Maya archeology at the Maya Jades Museum which is located inside of a local chain called Jade Maya. The shop was nice, just expensive. The last part of the tour we went to Hotel Casa Santo Domingo to check out their museum, Paseo de los Museos. It’s a fairly small museum but it featured a mix of old and more modern and contemporary pieces.
Street Food Tour – Taste Antigua
Anyone that knows me, knows that I love food so whenever I travel there has to be some type of local food experience. This trip was no exception. I think the street food tour may have been the first tour I booked.
Our tour guide and the owner of Taste Antigua was a young lady by the name of Arianna, who’s originally from Austin, TX but settled in Guatemala a couple of years ago. She provided some historical context but didn’t go into too much detail of all of the spots because we’d told her we’d just done a city tour. She took us to mix of street food vendors, some places we ate off of carts, others we went to “restaurants” I use term loosely, another we ate in a tiny kitchen. Each of the dishes were very unique and honestly there wasn’t one I didn’t enjoy.
I will say my favorite was the jocón which is a stew with the base being tomatillo and cilantro, I hope to learn how to make it. Getting hungry just thinking about it. I don’t want to give too much away so I won’t talk about the other dishes we got to sample, I’ll let you see for yourself. Definitely recommend this tour for foodies and others who just like to immerse themselves in the surrounding culture.
All about coffee – Finca Filadelfia Coffee Tour
First of all I will say I am not a coffee drinker, I’m a green tea girl all day. When the idea of going on a coffee tour was brought up I had a little hesitation but I figured it would be something interesting to do. Since the place had great reviews I said why not.
They gave an in-depth history of coffee in Guatemala, showed us where it’s grown, then took us through the facility to see how the beans are processed. We ended the tour with a sample of coffee and I would have to say I was impressed. There was no cream only a little sugar and I definitely could have had the entire cup. The best part of the tour was we did the option that included breakfast. It was a preset menu and I don’t eat eggs so they gave me the choice of pancakes instead, you must get the pancakes!! They were very fluffy and tasted more like cake which is probably why I loved them. Definitely the best breakfast I had during our trip.
They also have horseback riding, zip-lining, and other activities so this place definitely has more to offer than just coffee.
Chocolate Making Workshop – ChocoMuseo
We spent our afternoon learning about the history of chocolate going back to the Mayan days. It was very informative but let’s face it, all I really cared about was actually getting to work and making some chocolate. I will say this was my second chocolate making workshop, the first was in Brussels last year, and this one by far requiring way more effort, which was cool.
We actually roasted the cacao beans then grounded them up into a paste and made hot chocolate from the paste. When it came time to make chocolate candy to take home with us, we were able to choose from milk or dark and had tons of options of things to put into our candies. Also, since I volunteered to be the Sous Chef for the class, I got to wear a chefs hat so that was an added bonus.
Cooking Class – La Tortilla Cooking School
I was so excited when one of my travel mates suggested doing this. After getting turned around for about thirty minutes (GPS is not your friend in Antigua), we finally made it. We met our teacher for the evening Sara, a native of Antigua, and our interpreter a nice German woman.
I’d done international cooking classes before but this one was very hands on and since there were only three of us it required a lot of prep and everyone had something to do. The unlimited wine was a nice touch as well. We made pepian (a traditional dish), beets, a rice dish, tortillas, and a plantain dessert. It was mashed plantains filled with chocolate and black beans. One word, yum! At the end we sat down together and enjoyed our fabulous meal, with more wine of course.
One of the first things I remember when looking into going to Guatemala was hearing about a place called Chichicastenango, or Chichi for short. The Chichi market is a huge outdoor market that is open on Thursdays and Sundays. It’s a place for locals and tourists alike. Since it’s in close proximity to Lake Atitlan, another place I wanted to go I knew we had to make it happen. We looked into various tours that went to both places but didn’t like the limited timeframe and wanted more flexibility so we decided to hire a private driver. We hired our driver through Tours by Elizabeth Bell.
The Chichicastenango Market was everything I hoped it would be and more. The vibrant colors and all the people were a sensory overload. I’d read a tip about getting there early to beat the crowds, so we made sure our arrival was at 8am (versus 10am when most tourists start to arrive). All of the people were so welcoming, because of course they wanted us to buy things but I didn’t feel as harassed as I have been in other places. I love haggling and found most of the vendors willing to make a deal. We walked up to Santo Tomas church and got some great shots of the people congregating an the steps. I think we all left with some great finds, some more than others.
Next stop Lake Atitlan, our driver connected us with a guy in Panajachel who said we could explore some of the other villages that surround the lake. We had two options public or private boat. We decided on doing the private option because it was only about $32pp (I’m sure that was the Gringo rate, because guidebook said it would be around $15-20), and we wanted to be able to stay as long as we wanted at each place.
I will warn you if you get motion sickness do not take the boat, that water was very choppy. Otherwise, be prepared for a rough ride but the chance to take in the amazing scenery. At our second stop, I had a delicious, fresh fried fish meal. If you like seafood, this is the best place to get it.
We went to two of the villages San Pedro and Santiago, both were very different but had a unique American influence. I’d gotten used to seeing a lot of Americans in Antigua but I wasn’t expected to see as many there too. I was just thankful to not see any American chains there like McDonald’s, Dominos, Dunkin Donuts, or GNC. It was definitely crazy to see these places exist in buildings that are over 300 years old in Antigua.
All in all my trip to Guatemala was all that I’d hoped it would be and more. If you’d told me in December, that I’d be going there I probably wouldn’t have believed you. From our flight on Copa Airlines, to our lavish AirBnB, to all of the sites and tours, I definitely would love to go back to Guatemala and spend more time. Next time, I look forward to visiting Tikal, the Mayan ruins, and venture over to Copan.
Before I forget, quick shout out to Copa Airlines. For no additional fees, we had exit row seats going and coming and meals on each flight. Also, the seats were comfy and they had plenty of leg room. I wasn’t expecting much since we only paid $124 so I was pleasantly surprised. Would definitely take Copa again.
A few tips:
- Don’t rely on GPS, download a map before you go.
- Free WiFi is not plentiful, either get a international plan or an int’l SIM card.
- It’s in the tropics, so there will be bugs. Think huge roach-like creatures.
- Wear sunblock. You’re closer to the equator. Even though temperature wise Guatemala is pretty moderate, that sun will do a number on your skin.
- Bring Pepto Bismol tabs and chew them before eating local foods. Trust me.
- When in crowds, keep a tight grip on your valuables (i.e. wallet and cell phone)
- Keep your passport in a safe or locked away, don’t bring it with you.
- Download a currency conversion app, like XE, to easily see how much something costs in USD so you don’t get ripped off.
- Take a ride in a Tuk Tuk (little cabs), but negotiate the price before getting in.
If you’re heading to Antigua or any of the places I mentioned, feel free to leave any questions in the comments below.