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No matter how well you know a place, there is always so much more to discover. Though Jess lived here for two years, the 10 wonderful weeks we spent in Guatemala in 2010 led to some of our most magnificent discoveries and experiences of our travels so far. Read on for a list of 33 things, in no particular order, we absolutely love about Guatemala.

1.    The impressive Maya ruins of Tikal – We had visited several ruins in Mexico and Belize, but Tikal is by far the most spectacular of them all.

2.    Lake Peten Itza – Unlike the more famous Lake Atitlan, swimming in Lake Peten Itza is perfectly fine. Jump in off one of the many piers and dry off tanning on the dock. If you see Miguel (a highlight all its own – below) ask him to take you to the zoo on a little island in the middle of the lake. You’ll see all wildlife native to the region.

3.    Our friend, Miguel de San Miguel

4.    The boat ride through the jungle on the river between Rio Dulce and Livingston.

5.   The children of Chichi who were our friends and guides throughout our time there.

6.     The Mennonite Bakery in Xela – Open Tuesdays and Fridays only, this tiny bakery outside the center in zone three offers up fresh homemade breads, pastries, butter, peanut butter, jams and yogurt made by the Mennonite community based outside of Xela. Get there early, as the goods go quickly!

7.    Women carrying giant baskets on their heads – Although this happens in many parts of the world, in our own experience, Guatemalans seem to do it the best. It is unbelievable how big /full these baskets can be.

8.    The colorful ‘trajes’ or dresses of the Guatemalan women – We loved this in Mexico, too, with the difference being that in Guatemala the traditional dress is just so vibrant. Plus the little girls are so darn cute in their miniature versions!

9.   The volcanoes – Volcanoes in Guatemala, which jut aggressively out of the verdant countryside, smoke, erupt and shake on a daily basis. All that volcanic activity is even more intriguing when you climb one yourself.

10.    The Maya village of Todos Santos in the Western Highlands, although we ask you to please not go there.

11.    Yellow House hostel in Antigua – After trying out a few other hostels and hotels in Antigua, we finally found Yellow House, which is the perfect combination of light, spacious rooms, huge free breakfasts and super cleanliness for under $20 a night.

12.    The huge, cheap licuados (freshly blended fruit juices).

13.    The beautiful colonial town of Antigua.

14.    The craziness of a chicken bus rideAlthough some people warned us of their safety, we traveled Guatemala almost exclusively by chicken bus. We will never forget hanging on for dear life, smashed in between families of six on either side of us, marveling at the ‘ayudante’ or helper as he squeezes with ease through the packed bus collecting money, exiting through the back door with the bus still in motion, climbing up the ladder to the top, and getting exactly the right bags down for the passengers disembarking before the bus has even come to a screeching halt in the middle of what appears to be deserted countryside, wondering where the people who got off even live, and also how the helper made it back in the bus so quickly?!

15.    Hiking between villages along Lake Atitlan.

16.    The colorful cemeteries, such as the one in Xela or Chichi.

17.    The Caribbean feel in Livingston, completely unlike anywhere else in Guatemala.

18.    Eating steaming hot Buñuelos.

19.    The way that traditional indigenous life becomes a part of the everyday experience. It is amazing to ‘get used to’ such a different lifestyle, but in the end, we are all very much the same.

20.    D’NOZ antipasti platter & huge bagels in San Pedro La Laguna.

21.    The amazing markets – Guatemala has an incredible market culture, and we love to visit  both the food and handicraft markets to soak up the atmosphere of the busy traders bargaining prices.

22.    Canoeing on Lake Atitlan under that shadow of the impressive San Pedro volcano and the Indian’s Nose mountains.

23.     Cowboys – Most of the men in Guatemala have long ago shed their own traditional ‘trajes’, but the cowboy culture is very much alive amongst the men complete with hats, big belt buckles and horses.

24.    Watching Volcan Fuego erupt from a rooftop terrace in Antigua

25.    Marimba music, the traditional music of Guatemala.

26.    The many fiestas all over the country – including traditional dances, masks, voladores and lots of fireworks.

27.    The ruins of cathedrals and churches in Antigua

28.   The island town of Flores in Lake Peten Itza – With its red roof tops and church on a hill top, Flores seems more like a town in Turkey or eastern Europe. The people in this small island village are some of the friendliest we met in Guatemala.

29.    Lush green gringo-safe, amoeba-free salads and fast wi-fi at Sundog Cafe in Rio DulceThe town itself, also known as Fronteras, is more of a stopping off point for onward travels. If you do stay, eat all the roughage you want here.

30.    The exotic flowers for sale in the markets and along the highway.

31.    Visiting Maximon in Santiago Atitlán – The popular Mayan folk saint who is worshipped in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, and the figure in this Lake Atitlan town is the most celebrated of all those scattered throughout the region.

32.    Guatemalan Coffee.is.the.best.

33.    The Israeli restaurant Hummus Ya, and especially their Shak-shik dish, in San Pedro La Laguna. We think we would go back to the Lake just to have this one more time…

If you found this interesting, why not check out what we love about Mexico and Belize.

Have we forgotten something spectacular about Guatemala? Do you love something we haven’t mentioned? Please add to our list below!

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Tags : Guatemalathings i lovethings we love

31 Comments

    1. We were just saying how we didn’t include the Verapaces (Lanquin / Coban / Semuc Champey) at all. But we preferred the Western Highlands around Todos Santos and it just wasn’t one of our favorite places, although many people say that Semuc Champey is one of their favorite places in Guatemala. Two weeks in Guatemala is definitely not enough 😉 – do you think you’ll go back one day to explore more?

    1. Jaime, you will love Guatemala! No doubt. We’re planning on meeting up with you in Costa Rica for sure – and you’ll get a ton of tips from us then for Central America 🙂 We are in Nicaragua at the moment which we love just as much as Guatemala.

    1. Thanks Erin. We can highly recommend the Mennonite bakery for some home-made yogurt, whole-wheat bread, honey & granola, if you’re going to Xela. We had the best weather in December, so a visit at the end of the year is not a bad idea 🙂

    1. There’s a big fort near Rio Dulce (about 10 miles up the river from Livingston) – I don’t know if that’s the one but it looked pretty cool. We only saw it from the boat but we didn’t go in, although I wish we had… we were just a bit tired from traveling at that point and didn’t do much in Rio Dulce & Livingston except for hang out and relax in the sun 🙂

    1. Federico – yes, we made it to Flores! It was one of the highlights in Guatemala for us, we spent much more time there than we had intended. We took a few boat trips – to some of Lake Peten Itza’s beaches and to the little zoo island. We always recommend spending a few days in Flores and not only use it as a base for Tikal.

    1. Hi Rebecca – the Livingston experience is definitely worth it, especially because it is just such a different environment than the rest of Guatemala. Black carib Garifunas replace indigenous Maya populations, and the contrast is really interesting. You’ll definitely have to let us know when you go for a visit!

  1. Great Post!

    So my boyfriend is coming with me to Guatemala but has only 8 days with me to spare (I’m staying longer) would you recommend heading north to Lanquin or going to Lake Atitlan? Or try to do both with some careful transport planning?
    Anita recently posted..Thailand Part IV- Diving

    1. Hi Anita, we would definitely recommend Lake Atitlan over Lanquin. The ride to Lanquin is really long and apart from visiting Semuc Champey, there is not much to do. The lake is so beautiful and has so many villages to visit – it is one of our favorite places in Guatemala. Where will you be based when you go to Guatemala? If you can squeeze in both in 8 days depends on where you are based and what other places are on your list – it’s possible but it would be a tight schedule. Feel free to get in touch if you need more tips 🙂

  2. When I went to Guatemala for a missions trip, I absolutely fell in love with its people, especially the children. As an American, it was quite a humbling experience to see how much less the people had than me, but yet how much happier they seemed to be.

    Prayerfully, I will travel there again soon. I just can’t stay away from those wonderful people (nor those savory plantains) for too long.

  3. I’ll be traveling through Guatemala, (from San Ignacio Belize) in May. I’ll have about three weeks to spend in Gua (then onto Nicaragua). I’m planning to spend the first few days in Tikal/Flores. I was wondering if you’d recommend then heading toward Antigua and Lake Atitlan etc then El Salvador to Nicaragua OR heading to Livingston/Rio Dulce then Honduras to Nicaragua? Or would it be possible to do both the Lake Atitlan area and the Livingston area in the 3 weeks without spending all our time on a bus? I’m so torn, it all sounds so beautiful but I know some stuff will have to be saved for the next trip.

    1. Hi Zina, I would suggest you go through El Salvador. We found the colonial towns there more enjoyable and travel was easier in general. The only place I’d recommend in Honduras – if you’re into Mayan ruins – is Copan, the ruins there are quiet nice and we had a good time in the town. You can go there straight from Flores, and then take a shuttle from Copan directly to Antigua (for about US$10). Instead of Rio Dulce / Livingston, I’d add Chichicastenango to your itinerary – we loved it there (on market days and on non-market days, when it seems like a different place). If I remember it right, there were direct shuttles from Flores to Rio Dulce though (the buses have to go that route), so you could stop there for a couple of days. The boat ride from Rio Dulce to Livingston was nice, we did it as a day trip. Three weeks in Guatemala is a good amount of time for a few days in Flores and Tikal, at the lake, Chichi and Antigua, and I think there would be room for a visit to Rio Dulce 🙂

      1. Thanks for all the info! I’m now thinking I may spend 3 weeks in Guatemala and then fly to Costa Rica (cheaper to get there than Managua). It’s a bit more than I want to spend (one way for $211) but may be worth it to save time and the frustration of long distance bus travel. And after reading “33 things to love about CR” it seems like I wouldn’t be too disappointed! Yet, I also don’t want to feel like I’m missing out on the adventure by flying. So many decisions to make but that’s all part of the journey of travel!

        1. It is a long way to go down from Guate to CR on the bus, so I think you’ve made the right decision to take a flight instead. Costa Rica is awesome, especially for wildlife and beaches – it’s nothing like Guatemala! Hope you’ll enjoy your trip! 🙂

  4. Currently on our 4th week in Guatemala & heading up to Tikal next week. Been volunteering just outside Antigua (we love Antigua & will be so hard to leave). Guatemala is our absolute favourite place in Central America to date.
    Love your posts … Thankyou will keep reading them.
    Dawn Punter recently posted..Guatemalan Food – The Best so Far

    1. Oh you’ll love it! Guatemala is one of my top five countries in the entire world. I love it so much! Enjoy, Joe! 🙂

    1. Brittany, so happy to hear you’re traveling to Guatemala!! One of my favorite countries 😀 I can’t wait to go back to Guatemala – it’s one of the countries I’ve been wanting to return to the most! I almost went there this past winter, instead of Colombia. Maybe my next winter escape will be Central America 🙂

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