The Beautiful Guatemalan Lake Atitlan and Antigua

Posted on July 29, 2013

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Moving from a country with so much soul is hard and I got under the skin of, was never going to be easy, especially when security is an issue and it’s hard to find the true local spirit. But what I missed in that respect, Guatemala made up for in spectacular scenery.

Coming from San Cristobal in Mexico to Atitlan took almost 13 hours door to door – 8 hours driving and several hours at the Mexican and Guatemalan borders. Mexico asks for M$295 for leaving the country (stays over 7 days only) and although Guatemala gives 90days visas at no charge, many at the border are asked for cash. It’s best to go with an organised group through the border to avoid issues.

La Iguana Perdida in Santa Cruz is ideal for solo travellers and friends, or couples that are very sociable. They have both hostel and hotel

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accommodation, the latter of which goes up to around US$50 depending on the season. If you are travelling on a very low budget they are also known to provide free accommodation for a few hours work. Food is excellent and each night there is a communal ‘family style’ three course dinner for 60Q (around US$8). We enjoyed home cooked food and chatting with fellow travellers who all had interesting backgrounds and stories – one guy was there teaching Guatemalans how to build and use solar power.

If you are a diver, the Iguana Perdida is also convenient as ATI Divers is hosted there and is the only licensed dive centre on the lake. Wildlife isn’t abundant but it’s the deepest lake in Central America and is heated by the volcanoes surrounding it. The Dive master will show you some good spots of hot muds and some underwater tricks with the mud.


Hostel San Marcos
in it’s name’s sake, the next town along from Santa Cruz and is nice to spend a few hours wandering around.As a couple, or for people looking for something quieter, Casa del Mundo is a great option and came recommended to me. Accessible only by boat it’s built into the hill and has stunning views.

One day a few of us walked along the coast to VenAca for lunch and a swim. The mojitos are great (rumoured to be the best outside of Cuba)  and the infinity pol (complete with swim up bar) and hot tub are just divine. Well worth a visit for an afternoon.

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Lake Atitlan is laid back to say the least but days are easily filled by walks (check in with the hotel first as some routes can be dangerous for wild dogs or muggers), kayaking on the lake, or visiting some of the towns (we have been told that San Juan is worth a day trip). Note that most shops, hotels and restaurats work solely in cash. Those that do take cards usually charge an extra percentage for card or other payments (7% at Iguana Perdida to pay by PayPal!).

Asking about food in Guatemala most responses have been – it’s like Mexican food, only the quality isn’t as good. I think we were generally pretty lucky although we didn’t find street food as we did in Mexico.

DSCN2745When I asked friends for recommendations for the whole trip, one unanimous tip came in for a hotel in Antigua. It’s more than we had been paying for the trip in general but it was my birthday and we had heard mixed reports about safety in the country so decided it was worth the extra few dollars. Casa Santo Domingo is possibly the most beautiful hotel I have ever stayed in. It is a converted convent and has stayed true to it’s origins with much of the original stonework still in tact. It is also a museum. Even if you don’t stay here (which I highly recommend that you do) make sure you pop in to look around. The buffet breakfast on a Sunday is worth the trip alone, 120Q for copious amounts of good food.From Atitlan we took a shuttle, at US$12, to Antigua. They leave four times daily and the journey takes around 3 hours, usually with a stop. It’s convenient and drops direct t the hotel. Other travellers on more of a budget took the chicken bus, leaving only once a day and much longer due to the number of stops.

DSCN2758Antigua itself is a quaint town to wander around (and safe in the centre) with shops and markets. There are a few restaurants to choose from, Calle 4 is a good street to go for with a few French influenced restaurants, including Bistro Cinq which we enjoyed.  My favourite was surprisingly on one of the main drags and called El Sabor del Tiempo. Walls are lined with bottles for sales, like an adult version of the Candy Man’s store. The food was reasonably priced (compared to US or Europe) and everything we had was home made and succulent.

Make sure you pop to Cafe No Se for some Illegal Mezcal, now exported all over the world. We heard that Mono Loco was a real hot spot and were disapponted to find a sports bar.

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There are a few day trips, the most popular of which is a short hike to the still active Pacaya Volcano. There are tons of companies that make the trip at 6am or 2pm. We have heard the views are better in the morning and there is more risk of rain in the afternoon so set your alarm early! It costs $10 plus 50Q (US$8) for the entrance fee. For those that aren’t hikers there are plenty of people with horses ready to take you up for an extra fee of 100Q (US$13. Or less if your negotiating skills are up to it).

When travelling in Guatemala be wary. It is not as safe as Mexico or Belize and some routes are well know for highjacking tourists (the volcano climb at Atitlan is one). In all the main places and hiking trails there are security guards (I spotted 4 on the 1hr hike up the volcano). Stick to the tourist track and everything will be fine.

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