I decided very last minute that I needed a little escape from the routine – booked a flight and two weeks later, (after one cancelled flight and an overnight layover) was en route to Guatemala. I chose Guatemala for a few reasons, it's less than three hours from Austin, provides the instant culture shock I’m always looking for, and we love buying beautiful Guatemalan textiles for our shop!
There are so many things to do and see in Guatemala but with only one week – I chose to start in Antigua for a few days and then traveled to Lake Atitlan for the remainder of the trip.
I flew in to Guatemala City on Sunday evening and went straight to Antigua. I love this city. The cobble stone streets and brightly colored buildings bring a colonial feel and make it a unique city in this country. Great hotels, restaurants, and shopping make for an excellent entry point to getting your feet wet in this developing country.
I stayed at Hotel Casa del Parque – a very central location (less than a block from Plaza Mayor) – and bonus, they have a lovely courtyard with a sparkly pool. You should know, I base my hotels on the pool situation.
I didn’t have much time in Antigua, so I chose my dining wisely. I’m usually a fan of local market stall dining to get a feel for the local cuisine, but with the food scene being so top notch, I couldn’t pass up a few restaurants I had heard about. Los Tres Tiempos (photo below) is great for drinks and a new spin on traditional Guatemalan cuisine. Saborico is another not to miss restaurant that serves great breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus super tasty smoothies and juices.
From Antigua, I traveled to San Marcos la Laguna – located on Lake Atitlan, about 3 hours from Antigua. There are quite a few towns around the lake – all easily accessible by their boat taxi system. San Marcos was what I would imagine an adult medicinal summer camp to look like – meditation, yoga, acupuncture, organic farming, and a lush, tropical topography with a view of the lake at all times. I arrived in the evening and had a star-filled sky and complete silence waiting for me.
I stayed at Lush Atitlan – a BEAUTIFUL hotel that I highly recommend for anyone staying on Lake Atitlan. I stayed in the Cascada room – with two bedrooms and two baths – a multi-story suite with an indoor/outdoor feel. I also spent some time with my upstairs neighbor staying in the Mirador Suite which is also incredible with an entirely outdoor bathroom and incredible views of the lake. Pretty much perfection.
Each town around the lake offers something different. I spent quite a bit of time in San Juan as they have a large amount of artisan co-ops selling fair trade textiles, offering weaving and natural dye classes and is just a very welcoming village to roam for the day. I spent an afternoon with the women of the Tinte Maya Cooperative learning how to use the backstrap loom. Although my Spanish could use some practice, I sat with them for hours as we chatted about our lives – and I wove myself a scarf!
San Pedro is a backpacker paradise – with tons of “gringo” restaurants, inexpensive hotels, Spanish schools, and a very easy place to meet other travelers.
Panajachel is the largest town and is the entry point for most who come to Lake Atitlan. “Pana” is a bustling city on the water with a plethora of hotels, shopping and restaurant options. There are also a few hotels right outside of Pana accessible via tuk tuk that are beautiful and might provide a little more tranquility.
My last full day was spent exploring the highlands of Guatemala - visiting with a women’s artisan co-op, “Nuevo Sol,” followed up by lunch and shopping at my favorite market in the entire world, the “Chichi Market.” Chichi is a nickname for the city, Chichicastenango – with a bustling market every Thursday and Sunday filled with fruits vegetables and textiles.
If you haven’t been to this incredible country, I highly encourage you to do so. My favorite thing about Guatemala are the people. Their kindness and welcoming spirit leave you feeling like you are with family – and I promise you will return again and again.