February 27- March 2, 2020
Them: “Why would you want to go there?”
Me: “What do you mean? Why wouldn’t I?”
Them: “Well, isn’t it dangerous?”
That’s what I heard, almost every time I told somebody that I was traveling to Guatemala. And while it’s true that there is a high crime rate here, it should not stop you from seeing this incredible country!
But let’s be honest– I hear that reaction often, no matter the destination. As a young(ish) woman, going alone isn’t (or hasn’t always been) common. But luckily, all the solo female travelers I know and have met are breaking that mold wide open, saying to hell with the stereotypes. Some do it to prove to others that they can, but a lot of us started traveling solo to prove it to ourselves that we could. And then we became hooked and never stopped.
Also, look at what’s happening here in my country! Terrible things can happen even at home. So anyway, back to Guatemala.
As always, do your research before visiting, (stay away from hot spots in Guatemala City), avoid traveling at night, make sure someone back home knows your location/itinerary, use licensed taxis & book transport in advance, do not carry expensive items, and be especially mindful of your belongings when out & about.
This was one of my weekend warrior travel adventures- a quick 3-4 days in the beautiful country.
A peaceful afternoon reflection, Tanque La Unión.
I stayed in Antigua during the duration of my short trip, because it was 1. the most charming town, and 2. an easy departure point for a lot of popular day trips and other excursions. There are a lot of options for getting from the La Aurora International Airport to Antigua. For time and safety’s sake, I chose to pre-book a shuttle. There was one other woman on the shuttle, and we became quick friends. I’ll never forget both of our reactions when we first arrived in this quaint town.
You’ve probably seen the famous landmark, Santa Catalina Arch, shown below:
Santa Catalina Archway was built in the 1800s and is a bright landmark in the town.
Cerro de la Cruz was a beautiful and totally manageable hike from the center of town. You can easily get there using your phone’s GPS, a map, or just following the signs. You have a clear view of the whole city and Volcán de Agua in front. Also, volcanoes Acatenango & Fuego will be to the side when you look out, so be sure to watch for frequent eruptions! Together, the volcano complex is known as La Horqueta.
As far as food goes, Rincón Típico is hands down a great choice for delicious authentic food! Go early to get a spot. You’ll see women out front making tortillas. The serving size is plentiful, comes with a natural juice, and is budget-friendly.
I don’t even have to tell you that the coffee and the chocolate from this country is just the bestttttttt. Some favorite cafes:
-Fernando’s Kaffee is delightful, with the owner’s spotlight-stealing friendly cat, Misha, who soaks in the sun
-Café La Parada, which isn’t as lovely on the inside, but has some great coffee!
-Antigua Brewing Company, because who doesn’t want to sit on a rooftop & enjoy some craft brews?
-Cafe No Se, perfect atmosphere for cocktails, great vibe & even better Mezcal
Make sure you check out a restaurant/bar with rooftop views (see photo 3, above), and try fresh mango which you can buy on nearly any street corner, and enjoy it while you people watch at Parque Central (photo 4).
Other captivating highlights include: Convento Capuchinas, Antigua Cathedral, Santo Domingo (look out for parrots!), and the ChocoMuseo!
For my day trips:
Pacaya Volcano: This was an early start, and you get the option to take a horse up if you’d like, but I chose to hike up with new friends: Susan from Australia, and Sohil & Hammad who live in Canada. It was a truly awesome group, and we watched the sun set against the lava flow & eruption clouds. Note: If you have more time, I’d definitely check out Acatenango Volcano and do an overnight tour/hike!
It’s amazing how fast that sun sinks, but isn’t it breathtaking at every point in the day/night?
Lake Atitlán & surrounding villages: I had a couple friends who stayed at the lake, and had I had more time, I probably would’ve done the same.
We visited San Pedro, San Juan, and Santiago. Our departure point was Panajachel. Be prepared for bold colored crafts, blue stretch of water as far as you can see, and sweeping views of Atitlán volcano. We all loved visiting here.
A really incredible experience was watching this woman wrap her hair. We were told to time how long it took her, and I did- under 2 minutes! Her hands were steady, her smile welcoming, and her story was amazing. Pictured on the Guatemalan centavo coin is Concepción Ramírez, a peace activist. Her portrait is referred to as the “woman of the choca.” Here I am pictured wearing a tocoyal. (They aren’t light- and I could never wrap this myself, so kudos, as usual, to these amazing women.)
As you can see, I squeezed as much as I could out of my time in Guatemala. I also couldn’t get to Tikal, which is one of the most famous ancient ruin sites. There is always more to see, slower travel to savor, and shared memories to make.
And, in the way that travel does, it flirts with you. So this was just a little taste. I’m so grateful I went when I could because it was right before COVID-19 swept through our world and borders closed.
Until next time, stay craving adventure in whatever shape it takes, even if it’s keeping you grounded—