Family adventure in Guatemala
After a busy few weeks exploring Costa Rica, we boarded our penultimate flight to a much anticipated stop… Guatemala! Lots of fellow travellers had to suggested it’s the best place to visit, so we were really excited for our family adventure in Guatemala.
It’s another destination on the ring of fire and so volcanoes and hiking feature prominently on the list of ‘things to do’. But what we didn’t realise is how much time we’d be spending on water!
When first planning out our route there were lots of destinations listed. But we found we had to sift through the reviews to find out whether this was really for us or whether it was just another ‘must see’ because everyone else goes.
Getting to and from Guatemala
We flew into Guatemala with Volaris airlines. A budget airline that got us from A to B, but definitely was a no frills airline.
After a short 1 ½ flight we arrived at Guatemala city and were greeted with a rowdy welcome party. It appears we were on the same flight as a local sports team and their families had put on quite a show!
From Guatemala airport we immediately booked an Uber, who picked us up from outside the terminal building (usually you have to walk a short distance away as Uber tends to have conflict with local taxi drivers!). We were on our way directly to Antigua as Guatemala city doesn’t have the best reputation, so we didn’t stop. All very easy!
Places to visit in Guatemala
Getting to Antigua was easy from Guatemala. There are shuttle buses leaving regularly from the airport. But they are US$18£14 each and an Uber was only Q175/£17. So for 4 of us it made sense to go with a taxi. It’s not recommended to navigate Guatemala city in search of a chicken bus. But I’m sure the more adventurous travellers manage it!
The traffic into and out of Guatemala was mental. Just crazy. And when we neared Antigua we were practically at a stand still. It appears we arrived for a day of celebration at the annual flower festival!!
I was quite grateful for the slow moving traffic as the cobbled stones of Antigua don’t make for the most comfortable of rides. In the end we jumped out a few streets early and made our way through the festival crowd.
We found Antigua to be a completely different place in the morning. It was very quiet and serene. As I mentioned the streets are all cobbled and the town has been aesthetically kept. It really is a very pretty town.
But that’s about it. There’s not a huge amount to do here other than to stroll the streets or walk up to the viewpoint.
If you are feeling more adventurous (like Keith) then there’s a tough hike up to arcatengo mountain. This is a popular trek and provides amazing views of the very active volcano de fuego. Check out Keith’s amazing pictures!
While in Antigua we booked a slightly posher place, called Selinas. It’s not the type of place we usually go for, but as Keith was going away for a night I put my princess hat on and wanted an easy going place. It was definitely sociable, but also a bit institutional. I had a love/dislike feel about it. I certainly didn’t hate it. But it’s like the Hilton of backpackers!
Plus it had a food court on site.
The area is only a short drive away and there are regular shuttles buses servicing this route. However, we found that rather than booking online you tend to get a better deal if you book with an agent.
We booked an Uber from Antigua to Guatemala, which turned into quite a rollercoaster ride (Jasper got a bit car sick!), But the return journey in a shuttle was much better.
And although we didn’t experience them first hand, we did see a very near crash with a chicken bus (local buses!). It was so scary!! But then again so was their driving. I know their cheap, but geez! I think that put us off future journeys.
We arrived in Panajachel which, is the main stepping stone to the lake itself. The town itself isn’t overly pretty but there are lots of shops and stalls for buying local merchandise.
We stopped for 2 nights to look around the town and arrange our boat across the lake. It was more than enough time. Plus it gave us chance to get money from an ATM and stock up on some snacks.
After much research we had decided on a stay in San Pedro la Laguna. It’s known as the party town, but actually we found it to be quite low key. There are a few backpackers here. But we based ourselves back from the main Street and had a lovely hotel, el delfin, with the most gorgeous breakfast and even Netflix! The boys were in heaven. So after exploring and adventuring we could chill out and even had a movie night!
While in the area we took kayaks out for a few hours, visited San Marco (the yoga town) & enjoyed the views.
We took a boat back to panajachel and organised a shuttle to return us to Antigua for 1 more night.
This part of our journey was in and out more times than the hokey cokey! The reviews are so unclear. It’s a complete mixed bag. So after much deliberation we decided we were just going to go for it. It broke up our journey to Flores & were glad we did!
So let me explain. Rio dulce is a town next to a highway. It’s known for its heavy traffic. But there are places to stay under and around the bridge. It doesn’t make for a pretty visit.
At the other end of Rio dulce River is a town called Livingston. It’s on the coast but it’s not a beach place.
There’s nowhere to swim and it feels more like a port than a seaside town. Therefore, I wouldn’t suggest staying here!
Instead, find a place on the actual River. We stayed at a lovely, laid back place called Casa perico. It’s run by a group of swiss friends. They were all very friendly and nice, albeit with a European abruptness that we know as ‘to the point’ rather than rude as some reviews suggest!
Its a self contained site, which always worries me but the menu was varied, delicious and reasonably priced.
Our room was basic but functional with a shared bathroom, mosquito nets (don’t forget your spray!!). They had free kayaks to use too!
The stepping stone to visit the Lost world of Tikal; the famous Mayan ruins. Flores itself is only a small island and so don’t plan to spend a day exploring here. You can walk around it in an hour. But there are some lovely sunsets and many people enjoy a boat trip on the lake.
We decided to stay across the water in San Miguel, only a short boat ride taking 5 minutes and costing 5 quetzals pp. We had some lovely views across to Flores from our hostel, Zapote Tree Inn.
The visit to Tikal was impressive and I liked that it was a temple complex you could walk around. You didn’t need a guide, but if you’re looking for additional information then download the Tikal audio guide before you go.
As described by others, it definitely had an Indiana Jones feel to it – tall temples jutting up through the jungle. And not forgetting the fabulous Star Wars viewpoint.
You only need a couple of days in Flores, and maybe an extra day recovery in case you decide to do the very early start!
Other places to visit in Guatemala
The Spanish learning centre of Guatemala! Ok, it probably isn’t but we heard there’s a high number of people who travel here to learn Spanish. It’s where people tend to base themselves for immersion courses. If I had more time I’d definitely consider this for learning Spanish!
As for the town itself I hadn’t heard amazing things and as we weren’t going to have time to learn Spanish here’s, we decided not to continue here.
It’s worthwhile doing your own research. But for us, I decided the 8 hour bus journey there and another 8 onto Flores wasn’t worth the hassle for 1 day. This is a review that we’ve seen repeated. There are ziplines and pools to jump into but most people suggest only staying a day or maybe add another day for tubing and swimming. It just didn’t sell for me.
Sometimes you see a place mentioned as a ‘highlight’ but it doesn’t mean you have to go there… Each to their own.
Out of all the Central American countries so far, this has been our favourite. In fact, I’ve heard Nicaragua is even better so I’m gutted we missed it! But Guatemala has a very easy going feel to it. The town’s are not over developed and you can find the rustic lifestyle.
There’s not a huge internet presence here. Booking buses and travel are predominantly done through your agents – advance booking is not necessary. We also found it was usually cheaper! But we did still use booking.com for accommodation.
We’ve met many lovely travellers on our route here. One of our favourite things to do is to engage with other people. We love listening to their stories and hearing about their adventures It’s a shame though, as we’re not meeting other travelling families – it’s seems to be a less travelled path. Which is a shame as it’s such a lovely place ❤️.