Just last month, my good friend/travel buddy (who also has a blog, Tarmacs & Tequila) and I decided to take a last minute trip to Guatemala and … it turned out to be AWESOME! To be honest, Guatemala was not on the top of our list of countries to visit right away, however we were pleasantly surprised on how beautiful it was. We are so glad we decided to go on this adventure and explore this lovely country!
Guatemala 101: It borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. It has population of around 16.6 million and it is the most populated country in Central America. Their currency is Quetzal and it is about 7.4 Quetzales to a USD. (March 2018)
During our adventurous 4 day trip, we stayed in Antigua, took a day trip to Tikal and hiked the Pacaya volcano. To get there, we took a direct flight from Houston to Guatemala City, then took an hour shuttle to Antigua and from Antigua we took day trips to Tikal and to Pacaya.
Enjoy this little highlights video 😉
Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that maintains its cobblestone streets, ruined churches and beautifully restored homes. It was founded in 1543 and was once the capital of Guatemala. It was later abandoned in 1773 after some major earthquakes. Antigua is now one of the main tourist destinations in Guatemala and it is centrally located, which makes it convenient for further travels within the country.
To explore the beautiful town of Antigua we started off by taking a walking tour with Antigua Tours, Travels & Hotels by Elizabeth Bell. Elizabeth, an American expat that has been living in Antigua since 1969 gave us a wonderful tour and took us to some of the main landmarks of the town. During our tour, we learned about the history of Antigua, got to visit church ruins, a Jade jewelry workshop and the museum inside Casa Santo Domingo.
This fantastic walking tour is only $25 and you can book it here!
Santa Catalina Arch: This 17th century arch, is probably the most distinguishable landmark in Antigua. In the background, you can see the Agua volcano. MUST photo spot! 😉
Captain General Palace: Is located in the Central Square of Antigua. It serves as the headquarters of the Guatemala Institute of Tourism, the Antigua Tourism Association, National Police and the Sacatepequez Department government.
La Merced Church: This temple was inaugurated in 1767 and it has an ultra-baroque Guatemalan style with two bell towers.
Hermano Pedro Church/Hospital: Was founded by monks in 1636 as the first hospital and monastery in Guatemala. It is still a working clinic for the locals.
Cathedral San Jose /Ruins: The first building of the church began in 1545, however its construction was hampered by frequent earthquakes. You can visit what is left of the church and in the back of the building you can visit the ruins of what once was a cathedral. Awesome photo spot!
Capuchinas: This convent was built in 1736. Cloistered nuns, ran an orphanage and women’s hospital here too. After the earthquake of 1773, this convent was seriously damaged and thereafter abandoned.
Cerro de la Cruz: You can walk, drive or take a tuck tuck (mini cab) over to this great lookout spot. Here you will find amazing views of Antigua with the magnificent Agua volcano, towering over the landscape.
Casa Santo Domingo: It was originally the most important and largest convent in the city. However, it was destroyed in 1773 and later abandoned after the transfer of the Dominicans to Guatemala City. The ruins were sold to individuals and converted it into Hotel Casa Santo Domingo in 1989. It is now a luxury hotel, museum and restaurant.
This lovely building has amazing spots for great pictures, so definitely check it out!
El Convento Boutique Hotel is located across the street from the ruins of the Capuchinas convent. This cute hotel has 26 stylish rooms, a small outdoor pool and a restaurant with excellent contemporary Guatemalan fare.
Los Tres Tiempos:Not to be missed! This vibrant restaurant is located just steps away from the Santa Catalina Arch. The menu features traditional Guatemalan cuisine and is a perfect option for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Enjoy your meal in the colorful patio downstairs or head to the terrace to get a view of La Merced Church.
Cafe Condesa:Cute garden patio near Parque Central. We stopped here for breakfast to fuel up before our walking tour. We especially enjoyed the thick corn tortillas, black refried beans, and scrambled egg dish. Make sure to ask for salsa! Guatemalan cuisine isn’t known for being very spicy. Antigua Tours, Travels & Hotels by Elizabeth Bell has a park office located inside the restaurant which makes booking the Cultural Walking Tour and Magical Tikal Tour easy!
Arrin Cuan: Traditional Guatemalan cuisine. We were able to try a bit of everything with their “Cuatro Caminos” plate. It included “Pepian de pollo”, or how we referred it as Chicken in Mole,“Jocon” / Chicken in Cilantro Tomatillo Sauce, “Kak Ik” / Chile and Turkey Soup (non spicy), and “Hilachas” similar to tamales. Our favorite dish was the Tamilitos de Chilipin.
7A Norte Pizzeria: Instagram worthy! Relax with a cold beer or a refreshing cocktail on the terrace while overlooking the cities ruins.
Fonda de la Calle Real: Typical homemade Guatemalan dishes. Try the unofficial national dish, Pepián, traditional meaty, spicy stew rich in flavor. We were surprised how many aromatic spices were used in Guatemalan cuisine – bold flavors without making the food spicy like their Mexican neighbors. However, this restaurant won our vote for best green salsa…we like it hot!
oh… and don’t forget to try cerveza Gallo!
Need a picker upper? Stop by the adorable Café Estudio !
Café No Se:Mezcal lovers, rejoice! A favorite for locals and travelers, this dive bar specializes in “illegal” mezcal (still not sure why it’s illegal, but it’s good!) Look out for the small special entrance inside marked “2 Shot Minimum” and sip on a shot of Joven, Reposado, or Añejo mezcal. New to this smoky liquor? Try a Mezcal Mule!
La Casa del Ron:Great tasting experience! Ron Zapaca is a premium local Rum produced in Guatemala and well known throughout the world. We sat at the bar to get a preview of the aeration process as the bartender poured two shots of Ron Zacapa 23. Rum connoisseur? Try Ron Zapata Royal and watch as it gets infused a smoky flavor from a wood barrel. Delicious rum cocktails and light bites also available!
Our favorite spot for getting the best souvenirs was “El Mercadito”. They had a great selection of beautiful traditional Guatemalan crafts and typical Mayan attire “Huipil”. Check out ours! 😉 They looked AWESOME for our Tikal tour.
We booked a day trip with Antigua Tours, Travels & Hotels by Elizabeth Bell to explore the Mayan ruins of Tikal. The tour includes round trip shuttle service and airfare from Antigua to Flores, lunch, entrance into Tikal National Park, and local guide. The quick 45-minute flight allows you to return to Antigua by dinner time.
Tikal is one of the most important archaeological complexes left by the Maya civilization and holds major significance in Pre-Columbian history. Research shows the first settlers arrival around 800 B.C. to the last stages of historic occupation around the year 900 – wow!!
Fun Fact: Tikal is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site
You’ll visit principle monuments such as palaces, temples, ceremonial platforms, residences, ball-game courts, roads, and plazas. Many of the temples and pyramids have yet to be excavated, but can be clearly identified by large grassy “hills”. You’ll hike through the jungle, explore the inner complex, and climb Temples II, IV and V. Wooden stairs have recently been built on the side of the temples for easy access.
INSTA PIC TIPS
Best view of the jungle – Temple IV
Best for Instagram – Temple I
Best view for Temple I – Temple II
Fun Fact: Today, 50% of Guatemala’s population is still Mayan.
Don’t forget to pack non-aerosol bug spray and sunscreen (ours was confiscated at the airport), water, snacks, and wear comfortable tennis shoes! Your visit in the jungle will last approximately 4 hours. And if you’re lucky you may even spot some howler monkeys!
This trip is a little bit pricy, but we promise you it is worth EVERY PENNY! 😉 Book it here!
We spent three days admiring Guatemala’s several volcanos from a distance, so the time finally came to hike one! We booked the Payaca Volcano Tour with Mayan Tours in town, by the central park. They offers two tours a day: 6am and 2pm. The tour includes shuttle service to and from Pacaya and the local guide. Entrance fees will be paid once you arrive at the National Park. In total, it was about $25 USD.
The climb up the active volcano isn’t terribly difficult, but it does include long stretches of steep inclines so your heart will be pumping. Horses are available if the journey gets too tough or if you are traveling with small children or elders. Local guides lead you to the top of the 8,373-foot peak where you will roast marshmallows in the geothermal heat from the volcano. What a fun reward! The views of Lake Amatitlán below are wonderful, even shrouded in fog near dusk. We opted for the 2pm tour, but it was dark during the descend around 6:15pm. The morning tour may provide more visibility of the lagoons, city, and other volcanos.
Fun Fact: Guatemala has 37 volcanoes. From which 3 of them are active, including Pacaya.
More day trip options:
Chichicastenango – an indigenous town that is famous for Thursday and Sunday markets where vendors sell handmade crafts, food, flowers, pottery, and most importantly traditional hand-woven blouses.
Lake Atitlán – explore small Mayan villages around the beautiful water filled volcano crater.
I hope this colorful post inspires you to come visit this beautiful country! 🙂
Post in partnership with Antigua Tours, Travels & Hotels by Elizabeth Bell , all opinions are our own.