Below are some of Guatemala's best known (but by no means only) destinations.
We go everywhere, so if you don't see what you are looking for please contact us.
Founded in 1543, Antigua was built in an era of fantastic colonial wealth. Three enormous volcanoes (Agua, Fuego and Acatenango) surround a city of great charm and grace. History and geology have combined to create one of the world's great travel destinations.
Earthquakes eventually forced moving the capital of Guatemala from Antigua to its present location in Guatemala City. The quakes that led to Antigua being all but abandoned in 1773, have largely prevented development since and, ironically, helped preserve the beauty and style the city enjoys today.
Van services are plentiful. They will pick you up at your hotel and drop you off at the door of your next destination.
Guatemala City has for the most part, avoided the third-world urban horrors of Mexico City or Bangkok, but it is still a noisy, busy modern capital of a developing country. While there are some great museums, the main reason one comes to Guatemala City is to fly in and out of the country.
A dozen small Mayan villages squeeze between the lake shore and the towering volcanoes and steep cliffs that contain the lake. Plentiful flowers and colorful Mayan dress garnish deep blue water and green volcanoes. A more exotic setting would be hard to imagine.
"Pana" as it is known locally, is the place to shop in the region. Hotels and restaurants range from primitive to first class, with everything in between.
Not that long ago Panajachel was pretty much the only village offering travel services on the lake ...primitive or otherwise. But over the last fifteen years some wonderful hotels have sprung up around the lake. The easiest, if not the only, way to get to most of them is by boat from Pana.
Panajachel, like Antigua is small and van services are plentiful. They offer local tours, trips to Chichicastenango, Quetzaltenango and all destination in the Western Highlands.
The Chichicastenango market on Thursdays and Sundays is not to be missed. It is unrivaled in North America as a native market. "Chichi" is a popular destination. One moment all one hears is Italian, French, German, English and vendors hawking whatever in shrill Spanish. Walk three meters away and only Quiche is heard. Be sure to make the effort to walk that extra three meters.
There are a couple of good hotels in Chichicastenango. One night in Chichi before or after market day is a not a bad idea, but many come to see the market just for the day. Van services coming from Antigua will drop you off in Chichi in the morning and take you on to Pana in the afternoon, or vica-versa.
Secondly, Monterrico is in the middle of a mangrove swamp. Until recently you had to take a ferry to get there. Better yet, it is right next to the Monterrico Nature Reserve. There is an endangered sea turtle hatchery and a small local zoo. Plus you can take a tour through the swamp in a small boat.
"Xela", or Quetzaltenango, is the largest Mayan city in the country. About eighty years ago it went through a neo-classic phase and Greek columns abound. Xela is close to Almolonga and Zunil on one side, and Totonicapan and San Francisco El Alto on the other; all of which are well worth visiting.
Getting to Xela is easy, again by van service, plus vans can take you to any of the other nearby villages.
The ancient archaeological Mayan site of Tikal is probably Guatemala best know feature, and with good reason. Its steep pyramids and setting in the middle of a tropical jungle is impressive to say the least. The surrounding vegetation is full of toucans, howler monkeys, tree frogs, parrots and even jaguars.
Flores, the city nearest Tikal, has an airport and many fly there from Guatemala City. Van do go between Flores and Antigua/Guatemala City and the road is new, but it's a long 12 hour drive. From Flores to Tikal is another hour and a half drive.
- Book Transportation to Tikal & Flores
- See our site on Tikal, Flores and the Guatemalan lowlands: www.mayan-traveler.com
Rio Dulce & Livingston
Rio Dulce connects Lago de Isabel to the Caribbean. Neither Izabel nor Guatemala's tiny piece of the Caribbean are all that interesting (save for Livingston), but the boat trip from one to the other most certainly is. Rio Dulce goose-necks down a cliff faced canyon overflowing with foliage.
Livingston is fun. The only way to get to there is by boat and far and away the best route is via Rio Dulce. The laid-back Garifuna speaking blacks of Livingston have more in common with the nearby Belizians, than they do with their fellow Guatemalans.
Vans from Guatemala City and/or Antigua go to Rio Dulce and back daily. Once you get off the van at Rio Dulce you will be swamped with offers of boats to Livingston.
A note on chicken buses
You can take chicken buses virtually anywhere in Guatemala, including all of the above destinations. However figuring out which bus line goes where, and when it goes there, is difficult at best. Still, for game and sturdy travelers (especially those with more time than money) chicken buses are great.
Just keep in mind that what may be an exhilarating cultural experience to one, may be nothing short of slow torture to another.