Travelled and written by Maria Prorok
Guatemala is still a somewhat undiscovered travel destination making it the perfect country for our family to explore. Guatemala is rich in Mayan history, indigenous culture and colonial charm. The countryside is beautiful and the people are warm and friendly.
What to do
We landed in Guatemala City, but quickly left for the country, starting in Chichicastenango. Chichi, as the city is called, is the home to a large and lively market on Thursdays and Sundays. The market is adjacent to the Church of Santo Tomas where both the Catholic and Mayan religions practice together. There are eighteen steps leading to the church to represent the eighteen months of the Mayan calendar.
In the highlands of Guatemala, the indigenous culture is Mayan, and though the people speak Spanish, the main language is Cachikel. The women still wear the traditional traje -- a hand-embroidered tunic called a huipil and a long skirt, wrapped around the waist. The women carry children and all purchases on their backs wrapped in mayan textiles.
The market is big and colorful with Mayan textiles, wooden masks and and food. After assessing the food stalls, we decided to eat at a food stall at the marketplace: it was our favorite meal of the entire trip.
We decided to stay in Chichicastenango the night before the market so we could see the local people setting up the stalls. There are not many hotels in town but Hotel Santo Tomas was charming, authentic and close to the markets.
Next we headed to Lake Atitlan, a picturesque lake surrounded by seaside villages and volcanos. We stayed at a beautiful and relaxing lodge on the water’s edge, Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort and Nature Preserve. The food was delicious and vegetarian, the nature reserve was a great climb and a boat excursion is a must.
Our hotel arranged a day long trip about the various towns on the lake: San Juan and San Pedro were our favorite towns. San Pedro has a backpacker vibe; full of students, cafes and Spanish schools. San Juan is known for handwoven textiles and natural dyes made by women. We stopped at a local artisan studio, Artesanos de San Juan to learn about the art of textile making.
Our final destination was Antigua, an UNESCO World Heritage site, since 1979. Antigua has maintained the romance of a seventeenth century colonial city and has incorporated modern touches of boutique hotels, fine dining and contemporary art/textile galleries. We enjoyed the mix of exploring the city alone and with a guide who gave as an interesting overview of the history of Antigua to the modern day.
What to eat
Pepian is one of the national dishes of Guatemala. It is a delicious stew made with chicken ( can also include meats) in a sesame and pepita sauce; definitely worth trying a few times.
One of our favorite cafes in Antigua was “Porque No?”, a tiny restaurant and bar with seating for twelve. The cafe has farm-to-table local cuisine with an eclectic and friendly group of customers. Half of the fun is climbing up the stairs to the second floor to eat.
In Antigua, we stayed at the lovely boutique hotel, Hotel Panza Verde located on a quiet street. The restaurant at the hotel is one of the best in Antigua. The hotel staff had great recommendations for restaurants.
The hotel arranged two excursions for us: a historic tour of the city and volcano climb to see active lava at Pacaya, it was challenging hike and awesome experience.
Our guide for Antigua was Elizabeth Bell, an American who moved to Antigua as a teenager about forty years ago. Elizabeth’s historical knowledge of Antigua and her current observations of the city were fascinating- even my teenage children were riveted. Additional day trip can include trips to coffee farms, Finca Filadelfia and nearby chocolate factories.
- The roads in Guatemala are not great. I highly suggest hiring a driver during your time there.
- My husband is fluent in Spanish but he had a difficult time understanding the Mayan dialects spoken in the countryside, be prepared for lots of hand gestures and broken Spanish conversations.
- The food is great is Antigua but it was more challenging to find authentic and good food in the highlands. Again, having a native speaker is helpful and we avoided eating raw vegetables.
- The weather was beautiful and mild. In the highlands, it can be cold in the mornings and evenings so pack some warm outerwear or sweaters.
- The roads and sidewalks can be steep and cobblestoned, please pack sneakers and/or walking shoes.
- Guatemala is rich in culture and historcal sites to visit. The ideal length of trip would be a whole week to experience the ancient city of Tikal. We were unable to visit Tikal due to time restraints.
Kelly’s Packing List
From top, left to right: Tory Burch sweater, Cult Gaia hat, Zimmerman sundress through Moda Operandi, Ouai beach wave hair spray, Johanna Ortiz swimsuit available through Moda Operandi, Corroon x Andraab cashmere scarf, Cult Gaia Kalitha sundress through Net a Porter, Figue slides.