Getting into Guatemala was a walk in the park compared to getting out of Mexico (to be fair that would have been hard to beat). The landscape immediately blew us away and we (along with Robin and Nina and our new Mexican friend who sat in the front of the van and kept giving us tips on where to go in Guatemala) booked a tour to Tikal, the Mayan ruins surrounded by a jungle in northern Guatemala, for the next morning (way too early but we hate ourselves and wanted to avoid other tourists so here we are. We grabbed a delightful vegetarian dinner at Los Amigos, Nina and Robin’s very cool hostel, where if you’re traveling alone it is super worth a stay but mostly it just reminded me of how grateful I am to not have to constantly talk to new people when traveling bc I am old and cranky and don’t want any new friends who aren’t locals.
We met up at 4:15am to drive 1,5h through the rainforest to get to Tikal. We got our tickets at the gate and drove another 20 minutes (exactly 20 minutes as they clock your entry so that you don’t drive too fast and hit animals like the cute pizotes whose English name I do not know) to get to the ruins which are in many places overgrown by the jungle, which we found to be way cooler than Chichen Itza despite not being a world wonder (Chichen Itza is). Entry is also way cheaper, so basically as far as ruins go, Tikal wins in every capacity.
We booked a night bus (with our main man Hugo) for that same night and spent the rest of the day walking around Tikal, grocery shopping, sneaking in showers at Robin and Nina’s hostel, and having Dani use the hostel kitchen to cook us a lovely vegetarian dinner. Robin and Nina walked us to our shuttle and we headed to our bus for a very cold and unsatisfactory sleep. We arrived in Guatemala City at 7am and were picked up by a shuttle which took us directly to our place in Antigua. Btw, everyone in Guatemala has been absolutely delightful – every “Buenos dias” was met with a smile and an “hola” and many people with whom we interacted for longer periods of time thanked us for visiting.
We got to check into our hotel, Casa Capirucha, on arrival at 9:30, and went for breakfast at a place with fresh local coffee (I finally pooped so I am a BIG fan of this coffee) before heading home, watching hockey (Dani used the rainy periods to his advantage) and rolling back out for a walk through the huge market in Antigua. This was where we happened upon the Maya artists collective and thereby the world’s most beautiful painting done by a lovely man named Samuel who explained the culture behind his beautiful paintings, and we promised to come back the next day to buy at least one painting.
We didn’t lie, we came back, and we bought his biggest, most gorgeous painting as an early Christmas gift to ourselves (but first Dani made me negotiate in Spanish which meant him actually formulating the negotiation and me translating his offer which I hated with every fiber in my being because I freakin’ hate negotiating but I digress). We spent the afternoon hiking Pacaya Volcano, a live volcano upon which you can roast marshmallows in the hot pockets of air on its peak. Yes, my standards for roasting marshmallows have been irreparably elevated. Yes, it was awesome. And it was worth it for the 15 USD we paid per person including the marshmallows (do it through Selina Hostel in Antigua, much cheaper for equal quality). I say worth it, which is strong phrasing considering the incredibly steep hike at already high elevation was absolute trash, but Dani and I (along with another German who heard us talking and decided he would be our friend) stayed at the front of the pack. Germans are nothing if not motivated, let me tell you. It started pouring rain when we got close to the peak so we waited a bit in a small hut while trying not to freeze bc we were not properly clothed or aware of the cold that was awaiting us bc you can’t roast the marshmallows if it’s raining and as we know I am very food motivation and the only reason I was willing to get my sorry ass up to the top of this volcano was so that I could enjoy some damn marshmallows at the top. Our guide shouted out to god to stop the rain and bring the sun – the first half worked, though we never did see the sun. The steam coming out from the lava underneath our feet was wild and we enjoyed several marshmallows before it started raining so hard that everyone was soaked to the bone, lightning was striking uncomfortably close, and visibility was limited to put it delicately. The entire ride back to Antigua involved a lot of shivering, sticking my fingers in my armpits to warm them up, and realizing the rain jacket I thought I had brought along was, much to my chagrin, a windbreaker, and thereby incredibly inefficient at keeping the rain off my body. Yeah. Do with that what you will. Back at the hotel I hopped into the shower and turned the water on so hot it felt like I was sitting IN an active volcano rather than standing ON one in the rain and we ordered in bc we refused to ever move again.
As a fun tip for you adventure lovers out there: Acatenango Volcano + Fuego Peak should be an absolutely incredible experience if you have/rent the appropriate gear. We considered it but realized we didn’t have the right gear for an overnight hike (before learning we could rent the gear) but also a tent at the top of a volcano in that weather may have resulted in it being my last night on Earth anyway so perhaps it’s good we decided against it this time. Regardless, everyone else should do this. It’s an active volcano and you can literally watch it erupt (without endangering your life) at the top.
We spent the next morning on various very full (and I mean three people to a seat bc they are small humans) chicken buses (in Spanish: camionetas, not autobuses de pollo please or you will be judged so hard, but actually old US school buses which are used for local transport in Guatemala). We were making our way from Antigua to Lake Atitlan which would have cost 25 USD per person with a shuttle bus, and we decided we wanted the joy of the experience (and to save ourselves like 20 bucks each). Suffice it to say it was an adventure. We saw it all, from our driver almost crashing into another chicken bus as they laughed and competed for who could go faster (we did, but at what cost??), to getting charged extra (still only a few bucks total) for our transit bc we were clearly not from around here – which Dani and I agree is fair enough considering we are in the privileged position to be tourists in this country and we can afford a few extra bucks for our bus tickets.
Connections were easy to catch, and the “yeller” i.e., the man who stood at the front of the bus next to the driver and announced the stops and shouted to people on the street where this bus was going, made sure to let us know when it was time to hop off the bus where they knew the next bus would come for our end goal. We arrived in Panachel, the main port town on Lake Atitlan, and very reluctantly ran to the grocery store, knowing Pana was the only place with big stores where we could buy our own grocery food before taking a small public ferry (speed boat) to our small village of Santa Cruz where we had booked the world’s cutest AirBnB. We hiked up the very steep mini mountain to “Casa Panorama” with a full view of the lake including all three volcanoes bordering it. For future reference: do not walk up the hill. Take a tuktuk. It costs 10 quetzales per person, i.e., 1.50 USD per person. Worth it. The hill to get up to the town of Santa Cruz is no joke. Put away your pride and take out your wallet, people. We quickly settled in for the night with an entire season of Brooklynn 99 (our fav show which had a whole new season available in Guatemala) + pasta pomodoro (our go-to quick travel meal bc it is so simple and so delicious).
We had a slow morning and headed to San Juan, a gorgeous and colorful neighboring town on the lake, by boat. Our next stop was another lake town, San Pedro, where we were asked to pay twice the price for a two minute boat ride after the man literally had a conversation with his friend about how he would make us pay more bc we are tourists, despite knowing I speak Spanish bc I had literally just asked him for the price in Spanish, but alas. Like I said, we are happy to pay a little extra, but this guy definitely took issue with us in some way or another. We tried to shake off the bad mood that accompanied this experience and walked through San Pedro (a backpacker town, which if you ask us was not particularly life changing) and took a tuktuk (Dani’s first ever) back to the port so we could head back to Santa Cruz and took Dani’s second ever tuktuk up to town (with a quick stop in the middle of the road so the driver could refill on gas). Another solo traveler hopped onto the tuktuk with us and we were pretty sure we were too heavy to be carried up the steep hill, but the tuktuk powered through and we did not roll back down and die, despite my active imagination suggesting we might.
We enjoyed pepían (a traditional vegetarian soup from Guatemala and a Mayan meat-based soup whose name escapes me accompanied by some Guatemalan hot chocolate (AKA the most delicious hot chocolate I have ever experienced) before climbing further up the hill to the grocery store to get onions for dinner (Dani complained the whole time, I was much too out of breath to be complaining.
We headed back halfway down the mountain with a tuktuk (don’t judge it costs 3 USD total and it’s a beheamoth of a mountain) to our AirBnB and spent the night playing cards, watching Home Alone 2 (one of Dani’s favorites) and looking at videos on what to do in Kenya for my upcoming work trip (more on that later).
We woke up with the sun which would be more poetic if you didn’t know the totally not-charming way I wake up in the morning and meditated and breakfasted before taking the ferry back to Pana to hop onto the back of a pickup truck for a stop in Santa Caterina, a small (non-touristy) town on the lake. Eventually we made our way back to Pana with a stop at the huge market, where we bought the majority of our fresh food for the next few days. We took a moment to check our privilege when the lovely Mayan woman from whom we bought our veggies asked us where we were from and was fascinated by the fact that we arrived by plane in Guatemala. Dani and I also considered how even the jobs and branches in which we work and study – humanitarian aid and sports/health/coaching – are an incredible privilege, as we do not need to do more manual labor to survive.
We spent the next day hiking to a neighboring town, Jaibalito, and enjoying a relaxing day of hocky, naps, ice cream breaks, and calls with the family.
We spent our last morning on the lake SUPping (stand up paddleboarding) which started as a peaceful experience and ended with Dani repeatedly charging me on his board and me knocking him into the water. Very on brand for us, to be fair. We spent the afternoon in San Marcos, a very, very hippie (like crystals and healing hippie) town where my life choices (i.e., working for “the man” even in a nonprofit capacity) were judged by someone who classified his profession as that of a “professional hummer”. That was a new low for me, tbh. My pride damaged, we headed to Panachel to catch the first of two shuttles to get to Guatemala City for the night (don’t go there for fun, kids, it’s v dangerous and you should only go to your airport hotel and then to the airport). Our way was blocked by the entirety of a town close by dancing in the streets in celebration of the anniversary of the establishment of their town. We wanted to join in, but we had another connection to catch so we rerouted and (after a very necessary bathroom break for Dani) transitioned in Antigua into a small car with a super nice driver. We were almost to Guatemala City when we got rear ended (which resulted in some whiplash). The police came to handle the situation and upon their departure shared with me in no uncertain terms that we should get our asses and our bags back in the car bc it was not safe for us where we were (right outside Guatemala City) so obviously we listened to the very kind officers and got our asses back into the car until our replacement transfer arrived. Our replacement vehicle was there in less than half an hour to get us going further on our way. We ordered food to the hotel bc we knew going into town wasn’t an option and I watched Dani slowly lose his mind as the order kept getting delayed.
We slept for what felt like 5 minutes and were up early to walk to the airport (5 minutes from our hotel) and spend our last 400 quetzales on things like Guatemalan coffee and coffee cups and breakfast for us before boarding our flight to Cancun, where we spent our last night before heading home. Landing in Mexico immediately reminded us why we liked Guatemala more – we were bombarded by taxi drivers and restaurant employees who wanted our money but we made it to dinner at a place just outside Mercado 28 with fabulous tacos and margaritas run by a nice man named Eduardo who happens to also speak German (a rarity for anyone who isn’t German bc I can confirm it is a shit language to learn). Our desire for one more beach moment before we left was almost left unfulfilled as the beachy area of Cancun is taken up entirely by all-inclusive resorts and it’s almost impossible to enter the beach area itself unless (like us) you find a gate you can sneak through. We enjoyed a few moments of calm and listened to the beautiful sound that is waves hitting the ocean before making our way back to our super cute AirBnb which made us a delicious breakfast in the morning and allowed for a late check out before our flight – 10/10 would recommend. We stocked up on Ibuprofen and Paracetamol (bc they’re super cheap and super strong here, unlike in Germany) and made our way to the airport while I complained about how I didn’t want to go home (relatively unsurprising coming from me I guess).
All in all, it was a beautiful trip full of quality time with my very best friend and a whole bunch of beautiful people. Guatemala is vastly underrated, but I liked it that way bc that’s part of what made it so incredible.
But for now, I am sitting on a flight to Nairobi for my first ever big work trip and I couldn’t be more excited. So I guess I’ll get some actual work done instead of writing this for you people.
I will, however, leave you with some small notes which act as reminders for me and might illicit a chuckle or two from you:
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About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
USA, Mexico, Iceland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Poland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece, Vatican City, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guatemala, Kenya