Guatemala is a magical country full of beauty, adventure, and peace for those who are looking. Learn about the history of colonial Antigua, take in the culture and picturesque views of Lake Atitlan, or laze away on the black sand beaches of El Paredon and Monterrico. Whatever your interests are, this country is a paradise for yogis, hikers, surfers, and anyone looking to get away.
There are various ways of getting around, though the easiest way to travel through the country is by shuttle. Chicken buses are the cheapest option, but do run some risks in terms of safety and the possible loss of luggage. Shared Shuttles from Guatemala City Airport (GUA) to Antigua or Panajachel can be booked ahead of time online or you can try to get a seat on one at the airport if arriving early enough. Check out GuateGo for options.
If your flight is arriving at night the best option is to get a taxi to Antigua for around $25 and stay the night, it’s not recommended to stay in Guatemala City, especially when traveling solo. Shuttles can also be booked through hotels/hostels or local tour company offices once you’re in the country.
One could easily spend all day walking through the cobblestone streets of this UNESCO site, with the right footwear of course. My white chucks looked cute but betrayed my feet by the end of the day, so learn from my mistake. I only had a day in Antigua before going to the lake, so I made it a day of leisure.
My first stop was to see Volcan de Agua through the Santa Catalina Arch before walking to Plaza Mayor to see the Cathedral and Palace. I made sure to see some of the important sites such as the Santa Clara Convent or San José el Viejo. I enjoyed popping into some of the artesanal markets along the way to see local art and goods, and do a little shopping because I can’t help myself.
There are so many ways to make the most of 24 hours in this city and this is a great place to start your trip. If you’re not a planner, there are many tours and excursions that can be booked here.
What to Do
Chocolate Museum- I shouldn’t have to convince you why you should stop in to get some samples, take a workshop, or bring home some sweet souvenirs. The best thing is that entry is free, though there is a fee for workshops which can be booked in store or online.
Centro Iberoamericana- Also known as El Centro de Formación de la Cooperación Española or CFCE, this institution showcases ancient artifacts, history, and modern Guatemalan artists. I highly recommend spending an hour here to learn about the wonders of this country and to take dive into it’s rich art scene and culture.
Santo Domingo Monastery- Dating back to 1538, the convent was eventually destroyed by an earthquake in the late 1700’s, but the ruins can still be viewed today. A portion of the grounds are free to walk around, and the museums charge an entrance fee. Even if you don’t pay, come to enjoy the garden and scenery. The property has also been converted into a lovely hotel and spa for anyone interested in accommodation.
Take a Spanish Lesson- Antigua is a popular place to learn the language, you’ll find many travelers staying in the city for a week or longer to attend Spanish schools. There are plenty of programs to choose from, but Maximo Nivel seems to have some of the cheapest options. Do some research to find the right one for you.
Where I stayed- Maya Papaya Hostel They offer free breakfast in a lovely courtyard plus free use of the kitchen and plenty of space to relax.
Getting around the Lake
The boats, also referred to as lanchas, are the mode of transport between villages. Rides between villages should cost between 10Q-15Q, make sure to settle a price before disembarkation. The Captains in the white and orange polos will have a consistent price, but charge more for tourists so I don’t recommend going with their boats. The non union boats are just as safe and will charge a fairer price.
Where to Practice Yoga
The Yoga Forest- theyogaforest.org Located at the top of the Valley above San Marcos, it houses some of the best views of the lake. There are different options for personal retreats that can be booked directly through their website, keep in mind that there is a three night minimum. Daily meals, yoga/meditation classes, and some ceremonies are included with all stays. They also have spa services for an extra fee. Drop ins for a class or meal are also welcome.
Mystical Yoga Farm- mysticalyogafarm.com This center has it’s own boat dock, which is closest to the village of Santiago. You can get here by taking a lancha from Santiago or Panajachel. Yoga classes, meals, and use of kayak and SUP boards are all included with the stay. They have a volunteer/work exchange program covering multiple areas that you can apply for through their website, the only requirement is a minimum commitment of one month.
Selina Hostel- selina.com Classes are offered every morning at their waterfront bar in Panajachel, their man made beach serves for yet another amazing view of the lake. Sign up at the front desk the day before or the morning of right before class starts. This is a chain hostel, so they have multiple locations worldwide offering similar classes. Anyone can drop in for a class, but if you’re looking for a deeper experience consider one of the yoga resorts mentioned above.
San Marco Nature Reserve, Cerro Tzankujil- This is a very easy hike, only taking about an hour in total, though this area is more popular for swimming. After paying the small entrance fee, there is a trail that hugs the water and eventually leads to the trampoline, a dock with an 8 meter jump into the water. Admittedly, I attempted this with a big group of people cheering me on chickened out at the last minute. If you’re scared of heights, just keep walking, there is a walkway that leads down to the lake for those who don’t want to jump.
Volcan San Pedro- Having an elevation of almost 4,000 feet, the trail is roughly 4 miles and is a rewarding all day activity. Many claim this is one of the best views of the lake when the weather is clear, so be sure to start early as it becomes foggy later in the day. Entry to the trail includes a guide which is recommended to deter any pesky bandits, they are known to scam tourists who choose to do the hike on their own. This isn’t meant to scare anyone, just to inform of the risks and necessary safety precautions.
Shopping- Panajachel will more than likely be the first town you arrive to on the lake and is the place to get all your souvenirs. Walk down Calle Santander to find jewelry, clothing, and other locally made goods. When you’re done shopping, stop at one of the restaurants nearby for pupusas or some refreshments.
Water Sports- For those who are interested in more than enjoying the view of the lake, there is the option to rent kayaks, SUP boards or even visit ADI Divers to explore the depths of the lake. If you just want a nice swim, ask locals or your hotel about a place to get in away from the boat docks.