Three weeks of exploring the fairytale villages and volunteering with a local indigenous Mayan family across Guatemala.
- + 5
North America24 days / April 2021
Highs & Lows
Lake Atitlan and Antigua are stunningly beautiful and brimming with local culture, and the chicken buses can't be missed!
Prices in Antigua are comparable to U.S. prices in most areas
The journey began by taking a chicken bus from the border with Mexico down to Quetzeltenango, and from there taking a taxi to Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan deserves at least a week or more of your time. There are many different villages all around the lake, easily accessible by boat, and they all have unique charms and personalities. I started in San Pedro, which is the heart of the "nightlife" and very fun, plus you can hike the San Pedro Volcano and see amazing views of the lake! It's a good place to start, as it's easy to reach the other villages from San Pedro. You can also start in Panajachel, an extremely bustling and vibrant town with a very large local market full of all kinds of goods! There are vendors selling everything from clothes to pies to alcoholic drinks right on the street. It's a must-visit when in Lake Atitlan. San Marcos, San Juan and Santa Cruz are gorgeous and tranquil and have amazing workshops and local places to visit to learn about the traditional weaving, sacred cacao, beekeeping etc. You can also scuba dive right in the lake! Watch out for "Bandidos" while you're there particularly on long hikes - hike in groups if you can!
Next up, a bus to Antigua! Antigua is a beautiful, safe, well-organized city that cannot be missed. The food is delicious, and there is a great combination of street food, local markets as well as French bakeries and diverse cuisine. Beware drinking the water/eating some street food - getting food poisoning here is very, very common! There are some lovely short hikes to viewpoints around the city, and anywhere you walk in the city will be extremely beautiful! This city is extremely walkable, but uber is also available for longer trips to the many nearby active volcanoes, which cannot be missed! There are also various farms in the surrounding area that you can walk or uber to.
Then I took the chicken bus to a local village just 20-30minutes from Antigua. This village is a real gem to experience authentic life for Indigenous Mayan families. The prices are extremely cheap, the people are extremely friendly, and there are beautiful walks to take through the mountainside, providing you with views of the many active volcanoes in the area. I recommend spending at least a week or two living with a local family here to really appreciate the culture that has been maintained for many hundreds of years. While I was here I had the opportunity to learn backstrap loom weaving, handmaking traditional tortillas and Guatemalan dishes, working out in the farm harvesting wild-grown plants for dinner, hand grinding fresh coffee, making fans from bamboo leaves, and more!
Q & A
What would you have changed?
I would have gone on more day or multiday trips from Antigua.
Anything go wrong during the trip?
I got food poisoning on no less than 2 occasions while spending one week in Antigua, so be really careful about the food that you get!
What tips would you give a friend?
Antigua is quite expensive compared to the rest of Guatemala, so if you're on a budget be prepared to maybe buy your own groceries, or only eat the street food.
Most people wear the typical outfit of jeans and a dark t-shirt. The weather is very nice, warm but not too hot. Shorts and tshirts are suitable. Pack some clothes to wear out dancing or to the bars, and bring some good hiking clothes and boots to hike all of the nearby volcanoes.
Chicken buses are the way to go in Guatemala! Very cheap and surprisingly easy to use! The hardest part is knowing what to pay - watch or ask the locals how much it is to get to your destination. Don't worry about paying as you get on the bus, just sit down and eventually someone will come by to collect your payment.