Last Updated on March 19, 2021
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 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, including some interesting Guatemala facts – things you may not know about this small Central American nation.
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! (Check on Google if the bakery is still around, if you happen to find yourself in Quetzaltenango).
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 ride – Although 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. (Update: Sadly, D’NOZ has permanently closed.)
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 Dulce – The 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 Fact: Guatemalan Coffee.is.the.best.
33 The Israeli restaurant Hummus-Ya, and especially their Shakshuka dish, in San Pedro La Laguna. We think we would go back to the Lake just to have this one more time…
Have we forgotten something spectacular about Guatemala? Do you love something we haven’t mentioned? Please add to our list below!