Volcanoes, Villages, Markets, and More
Volcanoes, Villages, Markets, and More
After spending 6-weeks in Guatemala, we wanted to share our top 10 adventures with you. Most of them we did. Others we could not fit in, but wished we had the time.
Antigua is one of our favorite cities in the world. Surrounded by volcanoes, one of which is active, it’s a great base camp for mountain biking and hiking adventures, including hikes up the Acatenango volcano and mountain biking. Antigua also has awesome markets and restaurants. It’s a beautiful city at any time of day, but especially during the “golden hour” before sunset when it’s colorful buildings and churches glow in the beautiful light of the Guatemala highlands.
The markets of Guatemala are fascinating, regardless of whether you are visiting them to buy gifts for your family and friends, to shop for indigenous weavings or to stock up on food and supplies for your overland adventure (or in our case all of the above). Chichicastenango (“Chichi”) is a great market but it’s a pain to get to. You can find most of the same stuff in the Antigua market at a slightly higher price. Guatemala is also a great place to buy weavings. My favorites include the weavings found in Quiche (in particular the Ixil Triangle). The best place to go to find a good selection of weavings is Nim-pot in Antigua. But it’s even better to get weavings in the regions where they are made.
Several hours to the north of Chichicastenango, is a fascinating and off the beaten path indigenous region of Guatemala. It’s a great place for hikes through the Sierra de os Cuchumatanes mountains. Nebaj is the heart of the Ixil Region. We’d recommend going to Nebaj to stock up on food and supplies and to arrange tours at the El Descanso restaurant (which is also the location of an agency that runs tours). A better place to stay is Hacienda San Antonio on the outskirts of Acul which you can get to from Nebaj in a collectivo.
After an annoying steep descent to San Pedro La Laguna, we were unable to find a good place to camp in the town that was big enough for our rig (although it looks like there is a good campsite in San Marcos La Laguna). If we were to do it again, we would just head to Pana, accept it for what it is (a town filled with 20/30 something backpackers on a beautiful lake) and spend a few days cruising around the lake.
This lake is a great place to stop on your way from Tikal to the highlands. We spent our time in El Remate while most spend their time in Flores, an island in the lake which is also a great choice.
Good mountain biking is hard to come by in Central America. So I was psyched to get some great rides in Guatemala. While in Acul, I rode to numerous indigenous communities on dirt roads. Unless you are willing to wander around a bit looking for the trails, I’d recommend hiring Brendan, the gringo owner of Mountain Bike Guatemala, to ride with you. In addition to day tours, Brendan also runs multi day rides from Tecpan to Lago de Atlitan.
Guatemala is a great place to hike up volcanoes. We made the easy hike up the Pacaya volcano in Antigua. When we return, we will bring a longer telephoto lens on our trip and complete the harder ascent of Acatenangoo to get early morning photos of the Active Fuego volcano (yes, that’s our excuse for not hiking up Acatenango this time and we’re sticking with it).
Guatemala is a great place to learn Spanish. It’s cheap and there are numerous places to study it, including in Antigua. We took informal lessons from a woman in the Ixil Triangle but would have preferred to take classes in Antigua if we had been able to find a good campground there.
Even if you have seen plenty of Maya ruins in Belize or Mexico (like we had), Tikal is still worth it. It’s a huge ruin in the jungle and there’s a lot to see, including wildlife. It’s also sparsely populated compared to more other more popular ruins like Palenque or the larger ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.