A Getaway to Lake Atitlan

I personally think Lake Atitlan is one of the most gorgeous lakes in the world. The image of volcanoes towering over the rippling water, the fisherman waking early to set off in their wooden boats and the sun setting between the volcanic peaks are experiences not to be missed (and why would you since the lake is only 3 hours from Antigua). Lake Atitlan also offers the explorer many thrilling activities from hiking to paragliding, or cultural experiences like boat tours and visiting local deities.

 Boat Dock at Casa del Mundo

Boat Dock at Casa del Mundo

The lake is surrounded by many villages in which Mayan culture is still the predominant custom. Head to these communities to see the traditional dress and view colorfully authentic textiles and fabrics produced by these towns. Santiago Atitlan is most notably known for housing Maximon, an idol created from a fusion of traditional Mayan deities, Catholic saints, and conquistador legends. Panajachel (Pana) is the usual tourist town boasting of restaurants, shopping, and an abundance of hotels. Pana is the most common destination for visitors heading to the lake. While Pana is worth checking out, I think it detracts from both the serenity of the lake, as well as the appreciation for the traditional lifestyle of those who live there. If staying overnight, look at places that are a little farther removed from the tourist scene. My vacations to the lake always involve a stay at La Casa del Mundo in Jaibalito. Trips also include hiking and kayaking. One of my favorite hikes is the San Pedro Volcano which gives way to incredible views from the top. 

 View on the way to the top of San Pedro Volcano

View on the way to the top of San Pedro Volcano

Even if you are in Guatemala for a short time, head to Lake Atitlan (if only for a day trip). Whether it's a weekend or 1 day, you will be awestruck at the serenity and beauty of this incredible lake.

A Visit to Tikal

Tikal was the capital of one of the most powerful Mayan kingdoms. The site reached its peak during the Classic Period that ranged from 200 to 900 AD. The city of Tikal was extremely important politically, economically, and militarily. For many people, Tikal is a must visit while in Guatemala. And if you have the time to do so, then Tikal is absolutely worth the effort to get to its remote jungle location.

Historians place the existence of Tikal to go as far back as 400 BC, reaching its peak in the Classic Period at which point the city fell in 562 AD. Tikal was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979 and even today, archaeologists are still uncovering some of the temples. 

Tikal is one of the most captivating and enjoyable of the Mayan sites to visit. Getting to Tikal is relatively easy and most tourists are provided with the option of either bus or plane. If flying is not in your budget then simply hop on a bus to Santa Elena which run daily and depart in the morning or at night. The trip is long so stock up on movies and books (and snacks).

Once you have arrived in Santa Elena spend a day or so checking out Flores and its surrounding lake. Flores is colorful and quaint and a wonderful spot for a brief R&R. Most visitors choose to stay in Flores and take day trips to Tikal (which usually include a sunset or sunrise tour). However, if you have the option, it is worth spending the money to stay in the park. Accommodations range from camping, to mid range, to luxurious. By being in the park you can take advantage of sunsets and sunrises (and hopefully get that beautiful shot of the sun peeking above the canopy while exquisitely illuminating the temples). You will also get the opportunity to experience the park after the hoards of visitors have returned to Flores.

Tikal is sunny, hot, humid, and over run with mosquitos so dress accordingly (you are in the jungle after all). While weather conditions may not be the most pleasant (unlike the beautiful weather of Antigua), Tikal is a sight like no other and if given the opportunity, it is a must visit. The magic of the place with surround you. Bring mosquito spray and take lots of photos! 

Why You Must Visit Antigua

A former capital and a place of rare beauty, Antigua rests beneath three volcanoes, boasting a vibrant colorful culture, and a city of major historical significance. Wrecked and rebuilt due to earthquakes, Antigua is a global hot spot with many modern amenities, yet still manages to transport you back in time. Antigua, Guatemala commands a place on your travel bucket list; and here is why.

Architecture and Ruins

From the luminous ruins of the old cathedral, to the numerous convents and courtyards, the ruins in Antigua have been impeccably maintained to dazzle lucky tourists who come to this beautiful city. You can spend an entire day walking to ruin from ruin and delving into their history and beauty. Not to mention, it’s a photographer’s paradise!

Shopping

Antigua is a shopper’s dreamland! Ceramics, textiles, leather, pottery, oh my! Price ranges (and quality) vary, so every shopper is guaranteed to find something to his or her liking. The colors are vibrant and enticing, so make sure you save room to bring things home. To be on the safe side, bring a second bag solely dedicated for your shopping purchases!

Spanish Schools

Antigua is known as a destination for people who want to learn Spanish through immersion. There are many Spanish language schools in Antigua, and it is one of the most popular and best recognized centers for Spanish language study by students from Europe, Asia and North America.

Adventure Awaits

With it’s volcanoes, natural beauty, hilly terrain, and lush greenery, Antigua offers endless amounts of outdoor excitement. Lovers of hiking and mountain biking will find unlimited options offered by local adventure companies in town. And what’s more, Antigua is only hours away from Guatemala’s black sand beaches and the country’s incredible Lake Atitlan.

Food

Travelers to Antigua should not miss out on Guatemala’s flavorful and complex food scene. Be sure to indulge in the infinite varieties of stews, or dig in to a tamale, and don’t forget to try a few desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth. Ingredients are fresh and the dishes are cooked with love, guaranteeing your eating experience to be unforgettable.

The New York Times released a great article for those spending 36 Hours in Antigua. Check it out here! Use it as a reference point but also do some exploring on your own in order to truly discover the magic that Antigua has to offer.