5 Days in Guatemala, is it Enough Time… Part 4: 5 days and only a backpack

*This is Part 4 of 4 posts of my trip to Guatemala. Here are the links to the other posts

Part 1: Guatemala City,

Part 2: Lake Atitlan,

Part 3: Antigua

The more I’ve traveled the smaller my bag has gotten. This time I wanted to challenge myself. Could I be comfortable and prepared, for a 5 day international trip, with literally only the clothes on my back? The quick answer is, yes, I was comfortable and prepared. So what did I fit into this little bag? Let me first share my mindset behind it all.

First of all, Guatemala wasn’t my final destination. After Guatemala, I would be traveling home to Philadelphia, where it is winter and cold. However, I have a home in Philadelphia where I have plenty of toiletries and winter clothes so I didn’t need to pack for Philly. Neither of my flights included free baggage so I would save money by not carrying any. Also, I hate checking my luggage. It’s such a waste of time. Between waiting in line to check your bags, even after checking in online, to waiting for your baggage to come off the plane, to check it in again to your connecting flights. Let’s not even talk about loss luggage. And what about carry-ons, sometimes they make you check them too. Finally, lugging around baggage from place to place is frustrating. To put it plainly, having luggage slows you down and is a huge inconvenience.

So how did I decide what to pack. I thought about versatile clothing and an easy color palette. I chose black and blue with a touch of color and 2 bikini’s that could become 4 by mixing and matching the tops and bottoms. In Central America, whether it’s the dry or rainy season, rain is unpredictable, so I packed a light rain jacket and tiny umbrella. All of my toiletries were packed in disposal bottles. My backpack came with a USB charging port which was very convenient so all I needed was a portable charger and cord. I wore my bulkier items on the plane, hiking sneakers, and denim jacket. I wore a pair of black Palazzo pants, a baseball cap and a t-shirt on the plane for comfort. I also took my coach crossbody bag along for my passport, credit cards, phone and money, things I wanted to keep close.

I packed my IPAD, a pair of sandals, sunglasses and eyeliner (that was all the makeup I took). I latched my Beats headphones to the outside of my backpack along with my plane pillow. For clothes, I packed 2 sleeveless tank top shorts romper (1 black, 1 orange). Both of these can me worn alone, with a cover-up, or as a tank top under bottoms. How convenient are these? I also packed, a colorful cover-up, a short black t-shirt dress that can be worn either alone or with a pair of bottoms, underwear, sports bras, a workout outfit and something to sleep in. All of these items fit in my little backpack and would you believe, I didn’t even wear everything.

I should also mention, the more I travel, the less souvenirs I purchase. I usually purchase a magnet and a treat. However this time, I really wanted to purchase some artwork but I didn’t have space for it. Carrying only a backpack does indeed save you money. I was able to fit in some coffee though.

Here are some pictures for reference and links to where I purchased some of my conveniences:

I purchased my backpack from Amazon and my Rompers.

Mismatched bathing suit at Lake Atitlan
T-shirt dress and sandals at Lake Atitlan
Black Romper and cover-up Lake Atitlan
Black romper worn underneath jeans,
denim jacket, hiking sneakers, coach crossbody
in Antigua
Flight Ready

Well if you have been with me since the journey began, thank you for sticking in there. I hope you enjoyed reading about my Guatemala trip. Here are some final thoughts.

Wishing for More Time in Guatemala

The title of this blog is, 5 days in Guatemala, is it enough time. My answer is NO. I would have spent more time in all three cities that I visited. I think 1-3 full days in Guatemala city is sufficient. Three-Five days minimum is needed for Antigua and you could easily spend a month in Lake Atitlan exploring the cities that surround it or 5 minimum to just relax an unwind. I would love to return and spend more time in these three cities but there are other cities I’d like to visit as well. Semuc Champey in the department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, near the Q’eqchi’ Maya town of Lanquín is one of those places. I’d also like to tour the Tikal National Park located in the municipality of Flores with the Mayan ruins. I hope to return but first, there are other Central American countries I need to visit.

Have you ever been to Guatemala? If so, what did you think of it?

I’ve already been to Panama, Costa Rica of course and now Guatemala. Which Central American country should I visit next, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize or El Salvador?

Leave your thoughts and comments.

5 Days in Guatemala, is it Enough Time… Part 3: Antigua

*This is Part 3 of 4 posts of my trip to Guatemala. I have provided links to the other posts as well.

Part 1: Guatemala City

Part 2: Lake Atitlan

After spending 2 nights in Lake Atitlan, we took a boat back to Panajachel and a shuttle to Antigua. Antigua or Old Guatemala was the third capital of Guatemala. It is an earthquake-prone region and in 1773 it was largely destroyed by the Santa-Marta earthquake. At this point the capital was moved to Guatemala City. Antigua has the reputation of being the best preserved Spanish Colonial city in Central American.

Hotel Museo Spa Casa Santo Domingo was our home for the 2 nights in Antigua. I specifically chose this place due to it’s high rating, prime location and the excitement of staying in a museum. There is more than just a museum to see on the hotel grounds including a chocolate factory, a candle store, artwork, gardens, a fountain, and even a crypt- that we happened upon. Had I known there was a crypt there, I probably would not have stayed. There are 2 macaw birds that stay in the courtyard as well. However, I was not impressed by our room. It reminded me of a cave but at least the bed was comfortable and the wifi worked well, which was welcoming after our stay in Lake Atitlan. Despite how lovely the grounds were, I would not stay at this hotel again. I think it is over-rated and over-priced. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the experience.

Casa Domingo hotel entrance
Hotel Fountain
Hotel Garden
Hotel Crypt
Macaws

A short 8-10 minute walk from our hotel, landed us right at Antigua Guatemala Cathedral and Santa Catalina Arch. Antigua is a beautiful city with colorful buildings, cute cafés, great shopping and trendy hostels. We took a self-guided walking tour to explore the city.

Cathedral de Santiago
The Plaza Central Park

Ayuntamiento

Colorful buildings and a volcano in the distance

Tanque de la union
Antigua at night

Unfortunately, I got pretty sick on day 2 and was unable to leave the hotel room. The night before, I began to feel fog headed and dizzy. I believe it was due to the diesel gas emitted from the vehicles on the street. The next day, I suddenly had a terrible allergy attack and medicine was not helping. So I lost a day in Antigua which was pretty sad because we only had 2 days there. Before we left Antigua to head back to Guatemala City for our flight, we stopped in a little bar which was also a hostel. We had a farewell drink and wrote our names on the wall.

Ai Li Li and I
We were here

I really wish I had more time in Antigua. One of the things I really wanted to do was hike the Pacaya Volcano and there was so much more to see and do. Two days was not and is not enough time to fully enjoy Antigua.

Native Woman at Work

Part 4: 5 days and only a backpack

5 Days in Guatemala, is it Enough Time… Part 2: Lake Atitlan

*This is Part 2 of 4 posts of my trip to Guatemala city. Here is the link to Part 1. You will find the links to additional post at the end.

Lake Atitlan

There is a 3.5+ hour drive from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan (LA). You have to drive past Antigua to get there.

Small town on the way to Lake Atitlan

We would be circling back to Antigua after our stay in Lake Atitlan. Our Shuttle dropped up off at Panajachel. This town is located at the North shore of LA and the only place where private shuttles take you. From here, you go to the Panajachel docks and take a public boat to the village you’ll be staying. The boat ride should cost between $20-$25. (Suggestion: Don’t let them charge you more than this.) Panajechel is a great place to shop for textiles and souvenirs. It’s also one of the towns you can stay on LA. As soon as you’re dropped off you’re met by the beauty that is Lake Atitlan.

Panajachel dock

If you’ve ever visited Lake Como in Italy, you may have a bit of nostalgia. Lake Atitlan is just as beautiful but with volcanoes. Lake Atitlan is approx. 18 km wide and 10 km long. Surrounding it is three volcanoes: Atitlán, Tolimán and San Pedro. At its deepest depth it is about 1,100 ft. In comparison Lake Como is about 4 km wide and 47 km long with a maximum depth of 1,358 feet.

We stayed at La Casa Del Mundo which is located in El Jaibalito. The boat ride to the hotel is not for the faint of heart. The boats are old and the water is extremely choppy. (Suggestion: sit in the back of the boat for the easiest ride) However, this is the way people travel back and forth all day, so it’s pretty safe. It takes about 50 minutes to get to La Casa Del Mundo from Panajachel and the boats make several stops to transport other travelers along the way.

Unsettling transportation
Another hotel along the Lake, loving this room
Homes on the Lake

The hotel sits on a cliff on the edge of the lake and is surrounded by colorful gardens. There are a lot of steps, that you have to climb daily to get to various parts of the hotel grounds. Even if you are in shape, these stairs will leave you winded. They have one restaurant and bar. There is a jacuzzi that you have to pay for and book for private usage. We were told that there was no room service. The hotel employees were very nice, but very slow with service. The language barrier is real if you don’t speak good English. The food was ok, when it came, but I appreciated the fact that they had tofu. Despite all of this, the hotel is absolutely charming. There are breathtaking views all over the hotel and places that you just can’t help but sit and admire.

Approaching La Casa Del Mundo
Such a lovely setting
We made it to the hotel safely
You will definitely get your exercise on. Thank God they help with the bags
The setting is gorgeous
Just one of the breath taking views
Colorful gardens all over

Before we left we actually met the owner and builder. He is American and his wife is Guatemalan. They met in Alaska. You can read all about their story and how La Casa Del Mundo came to be here.

We had the best room at La Casa Del Mundo, with amazing views of the lake and volcanoes from our patio(2). (Suggestion: Ask for room 20) The only things I didn’t care for were the bed and the lack of working wifi. The beds were too hard and very uncomfortable and the wifi was extremely unreliable.

But I would put up with hard beds and no wifi, to wake up to this everyday.

Our arrival day, we relaxed at the hotel.

Talk about a meal an a view

But on day 2 we booked a tour, with the hotel, to visit some of the surrounding villages. The tour was a little pricey, as to be expected when you book through a hotel. (Suggestion: If you are tight on money, use the public boats as transportation to and from the villages and explore on your own.) We visited San Pedro, San Juan and Santiago. The towns are so cute. We visited some markets. Attended a weaving demonstration. We basically did the tourist thing for a day. The lake was very choppy on this day and one of the benefits of having a tour guide is the knowledge and ability to pivot. Our guide booked us a tut tut to get from San Pedro to San Juan to avoid one of the boat rides.

Women washing clothes in the Lake
Farm Raised Fish
A village on the lake
A market in Santiago Town- The largest town on Lake Atitlan
Fascinating textured Artwork
17th-century church
Such a beautiful mural, I couldn’t resist
St. Peter’s church in San Pedro
Chicken Bus in San Pedro
Tut Tut ride
Don’t forget to support the local co-ops
Umbrella street
Back at a dock

The next day we were headed to Antigua. I would have loved more time in Lake Atitlan to explore more villages and to learn. We didn’t even explore the village where we were stayin, El Jaibalito. Two nights is not enough to fully explore Lake Atitlan; it is only enough time to gaze upon its beauty and touch the surface. I could spend 2 days here just looking at it. Hence all the pictures…

Part 3: Antigua

Part 4: 5 days and only a backpack

5 Days in Guatemala, is it Enough Time… Part 1: Guatemala City

*This is Part 1 of 4 posts of my trip to Guatemala. You can find links to the additional posts at the end of this one.

When I moved to Costa Rica, I knew that visiting all of the Central American countries would become a travel priority. What I didn’t know was that it is not always cheap or fast flying to other Central American countries from SJO- the primary international airport of Costa Rica. Guatemala is one of the easiest Central American countries to travel to from Costa Rica. There are direct flights between SJO airport and Guatemala and you can book a flight for around $160 roundtrip. Guatemala also has a pretty good reputation of being safe and beautiful.

Side note: My first flight on Avianca airlines was very nice. It was only an 1.5 flight, the attendants were nice, the plane was clean and the seats were comfy (I paid for an exit row seat). The flight itself was calm compared to descending into Costa Rica which is often choppy.

A Little bit of Background

Guatemala is bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize to the northeast, El Salvador southwest and Honduras to the Southeast. Guatemala has 27 volcanoes. Typical temperatures range from 50º-80º depending on the location within the country. Mestizos make up more than three-fifths of the population; most of the rest are Maya. The colorful native attire is common all over. The official spoken language is Spanish. Many people call Guatemala a 3rd world country but according to Worddata.info, it is considered a developing country. Developing has replaced the term 3rd world which is considered offensive and outdated. Guatemala is a sovereign democratic republic. “The birth, death, infant mortality, and fertility rates are among the highest in Central America, and life expectancy is low.” (Britannica) The countries currency is called the quetzal. One Quetzal equals 0.13 USD. Guatemala City is the capital.

Guatemala City

We flew into La Aurora International Guatemala Airport or GUA on the evening of Dec 17. My friend flew in from Washington DC and we met up at SJO airport where she had a layover. We stayed our first night in Guatemala City. GC is separated into zones. The zones make it easy to know which parts to venture to and which to avoid due to safety. Zones 9 & 10 are considered the safest. While zones 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16 are also considered safe. The historic district is in zone 1. We stayed at the Real InterContinental in zone 10. A very nice hotel with helpful staff. That evening we walked around a bit to check out the nightlife. We felt safe walking around this area at night.

The Lobby bar was packed
Couldn’t believe they still had pay phones

We had a shuttle to De Lago Atitlan booked at 11am but we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to check out some sights in GC so in the early morning we took an uber into the historic district. Again we felt safe walking around this area. There were also guards in the main square. We even walked down a side street and found a pretty little cafe, where we enjoyed breakfast.

Cathedral of Guatemala City
National Palace
National Palace of Culture
Main Square and Guatemala Flag
Nice cafe
This picture influenced my decision to eat here.

It would have been nice to spend a full day here to see some more historical sites. I think 1 or 2 days is enough for GC.

Click the links to read more about Guatemala.

Part 2: Lake Atitlan

Part 3: Antigua

Part 4: 5 days and only a backpack

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