• How to plan a trip to Guatemala

Data pubblicazione: 24 Jan 2022 - Categoria: No category

Our trip to Guatemala was one of the most beautiful surprises we could experience: planned by pure chance it represented a riot of emotions, a myriad of experiences and an authentic discovery of wonderful people.

 

WHERE GUATEMALA IS LOCATED

Guatemala is a Central American state that borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador and has the particularity of being bathed by both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Much less touristy than neighboring Mexico, it has long suffered from civil wars and several coups d’etat. Fortunately, the situation in this country is now quite stable even though it is obviously a poor country.

The official language is Spanish although 22 indigenous languages ​​are still spoken.

WHY CHOOSE GUATEMALA FOR YOUR TRIP

Choosing a trip to Guatemala and Central America might look as a rather “uncomfortable” choice on paper, as you have to be willing to open your heart and soul before your eyes. Traveling to Guatemala means trying to understand a world completely different from ours, setting aside typically Western prejudices and judgments. This country can really give you a lot, but you must be willing to welcome it.

Organizing a trip to Guatemala means living a number of experiences in just two weeks that you would hardly be able to do in a single country. In Guatemala there are two oceans, 37 volcanoes, two mountain systems, white, volcanic beaches, lakes and navigable rivers, all translated as the land “of eternal spring”.

Its proximity to the equator does not allow temperatures to drop too low even at 3000 meters above sea level: this is where the above term comes from.

 

HOW TO GET TO GUATEMALA

The main airport of Guatemala is that of the capital (Guatemala City called by the locals Guate, to differentiate it from the name of the country) and it is here that the planes of the main airlines land.

Whether you are departing from Rome or Milan, you can opt for Iberia flights with a stopover in Madrid or United flights that instead make a stopover in Ny and therefore require an Esta visa even for the stopover.

United flights often have a 12-hour stopover in Newark on return that could be used to visit the Mall near the airport. In terms of costs, Iberia flights are currently the most expensive, but it depends on the period.

WHEN TO GO

The best time to travel to Guatemala is from December to April. Having many microclimates it is necessary to dress in layers in every season.

If you don’t have any holiday problems, I recommend that you organize a trip to Guatemala for Easter as the Guatemalan Easter celebration is considered the largest in the world, especially that of Antigua. From Palm Sunday you can see processions every day complete with floats raised by hundreds of devotees and unique hand-made carpets that cover the streets of the city.

GETTING AROUND IN GUATEMALA

Given the low cost of living, I advise you to take a local guide as, in countries like these, it can represent the real added value to your trip to Guatemala.

Spending the entire journey with Jaime meant for us a 360 degree immersion in this world completely different from ours: his stories, his testimonies and his skills as a local expert allowed us to avoid queues or delays that would have been unavoidable for our tour.

Road conditions are not always optimal: there are often long stretches in the dark needed to reach the destination before night arrives, furthermore the presence of bumps made of concrete does not allow to increase the speed even in those stretches where it would be allowed. Consider that it takes almost 3 hours by car to travel 150km.

During long journeys it is very important to have someone able to decide where and when to stop as there are areas where even finding a simple sandwich would be a problem.

The alternative to a guide is the use of buses. These old school buses imported from the United States are painted according to the country of departure and connect Guatemala with a private transport system. I give you a warning: if you suffer from car sickness, rather go on foot 😉

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES IN GUATEMALA

It is very difficult to reduce this incredible journey to a list of places because each place visited, but above all lived, was an all-round experience that goes far beyond beautiful photography.

RIO DULCE

Navigating this river totally immersed in the forest is something you will hardly forget: the calm emerald waters that connect the great lake to the sea will lead you to the town of Livingston or a small town at the mouth of the river.

SEMUC CHAMPEY

Semuc CHampey is one of the most famous places in Guatemala and consists of a natural limestone bridge of 300 m, under which the Cahabón river passes. At the top of the bridge there is a series of turquoise stepped pools, where you can swim.

The best way to enjoy a spectacular view of Semuc Champey is to arrive at “El Mirador” which is the viewpoint that can be reached after a 45-minute uphill walk in the forest.

What makes this excursion an incredible emotion is the way in which you reach the entrance of Semuc: the narrow and dirt roads do not allow ordinary cars to reach the top, which is why it is essential to get on local Jeeps doing everything a series of experiences that you will hardly have elsewhere. You will meet children, ladies who cook chicken others who tend their clothes, you will come into contact with a population with a pure and authentic heart.

Once you reach the entrance to Semuc you can relax in the crystalline pools or go up to the “El Mirador” to enjoy a view that literally takes your breath away: the majesty of nature echoes in every inch of this land and you can only be grateful to be part of it even for just a few minutes.

TIKAL

Tikal  is the largest of the ancient Mayan cities and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage National Park. This important archaeological site is a must for anyone wishing to organize a trip to Guatemala, not only for its historical importance, but also for the natural park that surrounds it.

Toucans, howler monkeys and raccoons are just some of the animals that you can see inside the park. To date, for safety reasons, it is only possible to climb the pyramids where stairs have been built.

Considering that the park is the main attraction of the country, avoid visiting it on public holidays.

LAKE ATITLAN

Lake Atitlan occupies a huge caldera formed by an eruption of 84,000 years ago and is known as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It seems that the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was inspired here for the Asteroid B-612 of “The Little Prince”.

This lake is of rare beauty for various reasons: its enormity and its being surrounded by volcanoes already make it very special but what makes this place alive, colorful and truly wonderful are the villages overlooking the water.

Our tour included several local realities: from Santa Catarina Palopò to San Juan La Laguna up to San Antonio Palopò. If San Juan is a riot of colors and traditions, San Antonio is a truly unmissable place since it is in this small community that it is possible to admire a truly ancient world.

The inhabitants of this small reality continue to have the uniform of the village, the women wash their clothes in the lake and the men wear the skirt: walking in the streets of the village brings back at least 50 years and the emotions that you feel wandering among these people is really a huge baggage to take home.

MARKET OF CHICHICASTENANGO
The Chichicastenango market (every Thursday and Sunday) is not only the most important market in Guatemala, it is also the most beautiful market I have ever visited.

I will never forget the colors and the “life” that I breathed in these streets because it is a real Guatemalan world from which one can only absorb authenticity. Fabrics, local creations, fruit and flowers are some of the products sold in this market.

One of the peculiarities of the place is the church at the end of the market: this Catholic representation was built on a Mayan pyramid by the conquerors and now has three different purposes. In the lower steps it serves as an exhibitor for the sale of flowers, in the higher ones as an area of ​​the Mayan rites and inside it the believers pray to a Christian God.

This cohesion of several worlds has literally moved me: what in the world often causes wars and violence here is able to simply coexist with the power of the heart and respect.

 

MONTERRICO

Here we are in the area washed by the Pacific Ocean. Monterrico for us had a unique importance in planning our trip to Guatemala since this is where it was possible to free the small sea turtles.

In this small place overlooking our favorite ocean, Clara had one of the most incredible experiences of her life: releasing the little turtles that have just hatched from their shells into the ocean.

We were very lucky because in addition to the liberation, we were able to participate in the hatching of the eggs together with the workers of the Tortugario: looking for the baby turtles in the sand as soon as they came out of their shells and taking them to the beach for their first great trip was truly an incredible emotion. . Being spectators of the force of nature that allows these little ones to immediately find their way to the sea is something truly magical. There is a little turtle named Souri released in my beloved Pacific that maybe one day I will see again: all of this is simply wonderful.

ANTIGUA
Antigua, once the Spanish colonial capital of Central America, is the most touristic and richest city in all of Guatemala. Surrounded by three volcanoes and located in the mountain area, it is a truly unmissable attraction.

Its colorful houses and its cobbled streets make this town simply beautiful.

Antigua had a very special importance for us on our trip to Guatemala: Jaime (our super guide) and his family opened the doors of their home to us inviting us for lunch and cooked typical local dishes for the occasion. We talked about many topics, they filled us with questions about Italy and what it is like to live in the “easy” part of the world, in that West that often oppresses and destabilizes us, but which still remains the right place to be born.

This is what I want to remind my daughter every moment of her life, because respect for those who have not had this luck must always carry. I will never be grateful enough to this family for having taught Clara in half a day everything that no book can ever give her.

THE 3 MOST BEAUTIFUL HOTELS IN GUATEMALA

Never ever would I have thought of finding hotels of this level in Guatemala and being able to include these three names within a world ranking.

LAS LAGUNAS BOUTIQUE HOTEL

Simply crazy with a very high quality of services. This hotel located in Flores has bungalows directly overlooking the lagoon complete with a private patio and jacuzzi. The rooms are beautiful and equipped with every comfort.

The central area of ​​the hotel has a lounge where you can eat and a pool area with sun loungers placed both inside and outside the pool. Find detailed videos on my instagram page.

CASA SANTO DOMINGO HOTEL MUSEUM

This is the only hotel museum in all of Guatemala, located in Antigua and has hosted famous people from all over the world. It is a 5 * hotel that boasts a real museum dedicated to this civilization that you can visit even if you are not a guest of the hotel.

Known as an upscale wedding venue, this hotel boasts rooms and suites of all kinds and several indoor swimming pools. The restaurant of a very high standard offers both local and international dishes while a local artisan market opens its doors only on weekends.

The hotel garden is well cared for in every corner and inside there are huge colorful parrots that make this place a real jewel in the open air

HOTEL PANISTE ‘

Located in San Cristobal a few kilometers from Coban this hotel is nestled in the surrounding forest. Very similar to our mountain hotels in terms of furnishings, it boasts really beautiful rooms each with a fireplace as there are no heating systems in Guatemala.

CURIOSITIES AND LEGENDS

You hear a lot of legends during a trip to Guatemala, but my favorite is definitely the one related to Worry dolls. According to the native Guatemalan peoples, these small dolls (they come in all sizes, some really tiny one or two centimeters high) have a specific function: when you are worried, before going to sleep, you whisper your concern to the doll, put it under the pillow and you fall asleep so that she can absorb your every problem.

The curiosities related to this country have partly disturbed me because they are related to the little ones: most of the children do not attend any school and girls give birth at 13.

This is due to several reasons: children are “more profitable” if they start working early instead of attending a school that is often far away and reachable only on foot (in Guatemala there are no public transport services) where only Spanish is spoken (not everyone speaks the official language as many still speak indigenous languages).

A high percentage of the population cannot read and write but can cultivate the land from 10 years onwards.

Let’s just say that everything we take for granted for our daughter here is pure utopia.

IS GUATEMALA DANGEROUS?

Personally I never felt in danger during our trip to Guatemala, on the contrary I felt welcomed by any people even if sometimes considered or looked at as an extraterrestrial (here women do not cut themselves and do not even dye their hair and do not wear trousers)

This “security”, however, I owe to Jaime since having him a native of Guatemala has undoubtedly provided a sort of “automatic protection” for all of us.

I therefore recommend, also considering the negligible cost of a local expert and given the lack of an efficient transport service, to take a guide who can above all show you every aspect of this incredible country. Thanks to Jaime, we were able to deepen our knowledge without leaving a superficial smattering of what our eyes could see.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

For me, this trip was a thousand trips in one: the amount of experiences we were able to do in this small Central American country we had never done before. The colors, hearts and souls of these people have allowed a real inner journey that can make us reflect on many aspects of the world.

I give you three straightforward and straightforward reasons to plan a trip to Guatemala right away:

1- Very low cost of living: the maximum cost we incurred for a dinner is € 30 per person (including wine, appetizer, main course and dessert)

2- Guatemala is not a tourist country: here you will find an authenticity incomparable to that of neighboring Mexico; You have the opportunity to find that added value that you often have to look for in other countries in particular excursions or hotels with unlikely locations.

3- It is an ancient world and it is one of the “most different” and original journeys you will ever experience.

Personally, I say thank you “Guatemala” for what you left in my heart and for what you made me and my family experience at a time when the rest of the world seems full of aridity and loneliness. Thank you for giving us a real “breath of fresh air”

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