Okay, yall. Put this country on your radar.
Guatemala surpassed all our expectations. We enjoyed this trip so much!
And now we want to share everything with you – including tips for traveling to Guatemala yourself. Get comfortable. This is a long one.
When traveling to Guatemala, you’ll most likely fly into La Aurora International Airport, located in Guatemala City. Our final destination was Antigua, Guatemala, but we had such a late flight in to the airport (midnight), we figured it was best to spend the night in Guatemala City.
La Aurora is actually a nice-looking airport with quite a few shops and restaurants. And the bathrooms were fairly clean – always a plus.
Where to Stay
Knowing we planned to head straight to Antigua the next morning, we just wanted a hotel that was a) close to the airport and b) clean.
Enter the Hilton Garden Inn Guatemala City. This hotel is just a few miles from the airport, offers a free shuttle to/from the airport and has free WiFi.
We strongly recommend staying at this hotel if you’re landing in Guatemala City at an off hour and need somewhere to stay. The decor was modern and updated and apparently close to Guatemala City nightlife. We heard lots of partying late into the night (nothing too obnoxious though).
A lot of bloggers and travelers warn against wandering around Guatemala City too much for safety concerns. While we DID NOT do this that night, the next morning, we had a pleasant walk to get coffee.
The hotel has a nice buffet breakfast, which we ate before booking a driver to take us to Antigua.
It’s only about an hour’s drive from Guatemala City to Antigua, depending on traffic. We booked the cutest Airbnb in Antigua – The House of Pots. Click here to read all about it!
And in case you can’t tell, we definitely recommend you stay at The House of Pots, too. We were walking distance to markets, museums and tons of good restaurants. Speaking of food…
Where to Eat
Being the traveling foodies we are, we’re always on the hunt for good eats. Guatemala was no exception.
Aside from the buffet breakfast at our hotel in Guatemala City, we were lucky to have the most interesting restaurant right across from our Airbnb in Antigua.
L’Osteria Antigua located inside the Good Hotel was our first meal in Antigua. First of all, can we just share the mission behind Good Hotel? It’s all about community as the hotel sources its ingredients, materials and labor locally. Also whenever somebody books a room directly from the hotel’s website, a portion of the booking goes to helping a poverty-stricken child get a quality education.
The restaurant is just downright beautiful. An open garden fuses into the beautiful kitchen. It’s colorful and tranquil. We’re talking hammock chairs, water fountains and even bookshelves. We stopped in for lunch and were too excited about the Rose Prosecco.
We also popped in for breakfast on our last full day and were very impressed with their fresh juices and their Guatemalan coffee. The restaurant just opened early 2019, so everything is new and modern.
Another restaurant to keep top of mind works well for a late-night spot or a casual place when you’re craving street tacos and good margaritas – two of our favorite things!
Ta’Cool gave us our Tex-Mex fill! We went twice during our trip and contemplated a third time! If you’re a fan of street tacos, you’ll love these. The carnitas were to die for! And order the classic margarita with the tamarindo with tajin rim. Thank us later!
While in Guatemala, we also had the privilege of partaking in a traditional Guatemalan meal with a pretty awesome family. The best thing about it – YOU can experience it, too. For more on that and how to book it, check out this blog.
What to Do
So what is there to do in Guatemala? Depends on what you’re into, really.
Our Airbnb in Antigua was in a great location, so we were able to walk everywhere. We spent one full day just exploring. A few blocks away, there’s central park. We took in the colorful buildings and architecture, stumbled upon an interesting museum and bargain shopped for trinkets and souvenirs at a local market.
Shots from the Museo de Armas de Santiago de Los Caballeros (The Weapons Museum of Santiago de Los Caballeros)
Now probably the most adventurous thing we did while in Guatemala was hike (*cough) a volcano.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Guatemala has 37 volcanoes – three of them are active. Pacaya is one of them and the “easiest” to climb.
So we knew we both wanted to do this during our visit. We booked a full-day tour through our go-to operator Viator and were excited to take it on!
The guided tour picked up from a hotel just a few blocks from our Airbnb, so we just walked and met him as well as the two other people who would be on our tour that day. Pacaya is just about an hour’s drive from Antigua, so it wasn’t too long of a ride. HOWEVER, the altitude is something you need to get used to. For that reason, we purchased altitude medicine before our trip and made sure it was in our system a couple of days prior to our hike to avoid altitude sickness. And the ride up the volcano is full of sharp twists and turns, so we can’t help you on the car sickness front. Just something to take note of.
When you reach the entrance to Pacaya, you’re allowed time to use the restroom and purchase a stick, if you’d like. The stick is to assist in climbing the volcano and is very cheap (like less than $1 USD). There are also horses that you can rent for 100 quetzales (or $13 USD).
We declined the horses, because no need! We were ready to hike for two hours, right?
Ten minutes in, we both were completely gassed – maybe less than that (shrug). Luckily, the operators anticipate this and they have several horses accompanying tourists on the hike. We each just picked one, paid our money and hopped on. Thank God for horses!
From what we’ve been told, the hike itself isn’t THAT bad – just depends on the level of shape you’re in. One guy in our tour did it with no problem – so there’s that.
As you get closer to the peak of the volcano, you can feel the heat from the lava. The horses have to stop at a certain point (for obvious reasons), so we were left to hike the last 20 or so minutes on our own. Please be sure to wear the appropriate footwear – sandals or any shoes that are not athletic or for hiking are a strong no! The lava and rocks are not always steady and it’s extremely slick going down. Not one person didn’t take a slide/tumble at one point – even the guides.
It was beautiful at the top though. We could see the lava shooting up from the volcano and we even roasted marshmallows in the lava – yes, it was that hot!
Going down was done without the horses and was a bit easier than the hike up. But – as we mentioned earlier, it is extremely slippery. People were sliding left and right – ourselves included! But just take your time and enjoy the sights – all in all, it is pretty amazing!
The full-day tour we booked included a visit to a hot springs at a nearby resort as well as lunch. This was extremely welcomed after the strenuous tour!
The driver took us to the Santa Teresita Hotel and Spa Termal, a beautiful resort that made us feel very welcomed. We had a delicious lunch and then were able to wash off and change into our bathing suits and relax in the heated pools – they ranged from frigid cold to very hot! We were also given a complimentary non-alcoholic fruit smoothie (part of the tour).
So listen, yes the volcano hike was a wee bit more than we anticipated as far as energy, but it was so worth it! Definitely book this one!
So there you have it! Essentially everything we did on our visit to Guatemala and we loved every minute. If you’re planning a trip to Antigua or just have questions in general, shoot us a line in the comments!