Guatemala highlands – an itinerary of highlights and lowlights

Our journey in Guatemala got so colorful and controversial that we had to spill it in two articles! Check out how we started the journey of highlights and lowlights in part one of this story! So here it is, the last part of the story about country number three of our Central America Grande journey. We still can’t just write a regular blog post on our Guatemala highlands itinerary.

A panoramic view of Antigua with the erupting Volcano El Fuego and Volcano Agua in Guatemala

The story goes on…


  • The bus to Guatemala City is freezing cold, the driver is another NFS fan. We struggle to stay in our otherwise large seats. 
  • We’ve had some sleep and arrive around 5 a.m. in Guatemala City. The shuttle guy is waiting for us (we were told to wait until 6) so good news!
  • But the shuttle is somewhere else so we go out for a walk in a very non-tourist friendly area in the dark. 
  • We reach the shuttle and our driver is of course in a hurry but we need a real bed so OK.
  • At some point in time, he asks for money. We paid the other day and we have a voucher. He’s not happy as it Is obviously something not agreed with the agent in Flores. A fight follows, he refuses to give us our backpacks. Just before I call the police, Nace convinces the driver to call the agent. Driver not happy but what can he do?
  • Todo bien. We head to the house we’re supposed to stay. It’s a quiet local neighborhood. I mean everything’s quiet on a Saturday morning before 7 a.m.
  • They don’t expect us that early and there’s at least one dog inside. 
  • The dog is friendly and they allow us to use another room to sleep until it’s time to check-in. 
  • We wake up fresh and enthusiastic for a walk. Antigua is full of cars and tuk-tuks and smells like something you don’t want to spend hours walking in. We wonder how so many people are attracted to this town.
  • We haven’t eaten for almost 25 hours and we stumble a lovely family-run restaurant where a mother and daughter pampered every our whim.
  • For dinner, we had less luck and waited half an hour for very small and expensive sandwiches. And everywhere we get surrounded by street merchants and beggars.
  • Ok, Antigua has its cool vibes. The colonial architecture, the food scene, the language schools. And this important religious procession is like a small carnival. And the pancakes for late dinner! If you’re a digital nomad in Antigua, you’ll have opportunities to work and play.
  • We won’t be doing a volcano hike this time. We don’t have the proper equipment, also the mental and physical shape and mostly the weather isn’t very promising for nice views of eruptions. But seems like we missed a lot – a volcano Acatenango hike is quite the experience.
  • But the view from our balcony is worth millions! Erupting Volcano del Fuego, the majestic Acatenango, and the nearby Agua. We are enchanted by the smoking eruptions of the coughing volcano. And a sunny walk in the morning reminds us why so many people are attracted to the photogenic Antigua. This time even better pancakes!
Bistra is posing at Tanque de la Union in Antigua, Guatemala. It was used for public laundry place
Observing the sunrise over the Atitlan Lake in Guatemala

Lake Atitlan, San Pedro la Laguna

  • The shuttle is running an hour late. We wait on the road wondering what to do. After two phone calls from the street phone and a procession which blocked the traffic for an hour, we are headed fast and furious to Panajachel.
  • We meet some nice Americans on the shuttle and we manage to cover the topics of travel, blogging, US, Bulgaria, Guatemala, politics, and even Trump during the ride. 
  • There is a cycling race along the main road which was nice to watch for a few seconds and worse for our delay which is already huge anyway. 
  • It turns out to be good we are late in Panajachel as there’s nothing to do and see there so we hop on a boat to San Pedro La Laguna.
  • It’s foggy and the boat is crowded. Boats don’t leave unless crowded. San Pedro has plenty of restaurants but no choice for food in mini markets. We’ll have to eat out.
  • San Pedro has some cool vibes though. It’s a bit party town, but also has quiet streets and great views of the lake. This will be our base for three days. And the hospedaje has warm water in the showers! The town has a great backpacker atmosphere – you can totally go backpacking in Guatemala!
  • There are some amazing underwater Maya ruins. We research and find the perfect underwater walks. But they are once in a month thing.
  • Indian Nose is part of the surround steep hills, mountains, and volcanoes, overlooking the lake as it’s trapped inside them. The views are said to be amazing so we decide to hike in the early morning to watch a sunrise.
  • The transportation to the trails passes non-existing roads, empty villages with some scary faces. A bumpy ride and we are sure no one is asleep and also not eating anything was a great idea.
  • We start hiking with a couple of local guards with machetes. They’re here to protect us from the famous bandits who assault independent hikers by mostly scaring them with machetes and asking for money.
  • Our group consists of too many loud Israeli teenagers that are almost ruining the peace in the woods and the opportunity to remain quiet and unnoticed by potential bandits. 
  • Teenagers brought cake which is a nice supplement to the morning tea up there.
  • We had to deserve every tiny bit of the cake by crazy fast climb on the wet muddy trail. Experienced guides, ha?
  • The fog is disappointing until it starts to float in the right direction and we see the lake, the nested villages and the whole world waking up, from above. It was worth the hike!
  • This is how our skillful driver lost his tip: he bragged to a fellow-driver that he’s just getting back from “Nariz del Gringo” implying that the Indian Nose is a gringo place.
  • We found lovely fruit smoothies so our energy levels were up again. We needed that after waking up so early.
Taking photos over the lake Atitlan and Santiago Atitlan village in Guatemala

Lake Atitlan, Santiago Atitlan

  • We decide to head to Santiago Atitlan. The boat mafia is trying to trick us to go to another pier or pay more. Then the competition calls another boat. Then the competition’s competition offers to sail us in just 5 mins. When 20 minutes have passed, we send Nace to speed things up and here we are on our way to Santiago, finally!
  • We are approached by a young local with great Spanish so we decided to go for what he offered. It is a tuk-tuk tour of the town. We visit nice viewpoints, spot the local life. He tells us the story of how the whole town decided that there will be no crime anymore. So many people suffered from the military and the guerrillas that it was time for a change. We hope they keep this up for as long as possible!
  • We read about the weaving workshop and we thought this is going to be fun. It is just a small store with overpriced stuff and an uninterested in showing us anything from the weaving process person. 
  • We find a cheap restaurant with vegan dishes. Everything is super fresh and delicious. 
  • The local indigenous people called atitecos are so impressive in their daily routine. We enjoy watching them crafting stuff, doing the laundry in the lake, or just walking around.
  • The women wear traditional purple-striped skirts and huipiles embroidered with colorful birds and flowers. The women have also adopted the practice to ask you for money every time they feel you point the camera at them.
  • Time to reflect on the surroundings. The lake is so cool and calm. Surrounded by volcanoes, with villages nestled in the foothills of the mountains. You can absorb the rich Maya culture around, you can observe the fishermen, or you can rent s kayak and get active. 
One man is fishing on the edge of an almost sunk platform at the lake Atitlan, San Marcos la Laguna village in Guatemala

Lake Atitlan, San Marcos la Laguna

  • It starts raining heavily. So you can do pretty much nothing outside.
  • This is a sign we can catch up with sleep and blogging. Maybe also do some planning for the next few days. 
  • In between rains we go out for some food. We are approached by a guy who is really keen on talking to us. He is really chatty and tells us he’s from Martinika and he’s here to play music and so on. Then he mentions he’s selling his guitar because his aunt was sick. We know where this is going so we lose interest in talking to him. He sees he’s not getting a penny from us so he leaves.
  • We love the food at the Indian restaurant so for dinner we go to its twin-restaurant in another part of the town. Falafels are so good!
  • Guess who arrives and sits next to another couple! The couple is French so he is not from Martinika this time but from El Salvador. He initiates many conversations with them but the leave early so he can’t get a penny. He recognizes us and doesn’t say a word.
  • The next day we sail to San Marcos – the most spiritual and meditation-oriented place on the lake. Some say it has a special position under the stars and its energy helps for finding yourself and self-development, maybe even finding the greater powers.
  • Greater powers definitely don’t help us navigate through the village so we got lost and had to walk in the mud twice. Eventually, we reach our hotel.
  • It has amazing views towards the lake and volcanoes, green everywhere, a garden to relax, spring water to drink. Our treehouse is waiting for us!
  • The owner doesn’t care about the guests at all, he even promises he will cook us dinner and then he says it’s too late for dinner (it is before 8 p.m.). We walk to the center too many times because of him, in the dark of course. His huge dog barks at us…
  • Nace managed to fulfill his goal of steps for the day at least. We find great places in the center, with fresh food with some world-cuisine touch and delicious local ingredients. Wine is fine, too. We really enjoy the fresh air in San Marcos and its ambiance. 

The goodbye

  • Time to go. After a cold night in the treehouse, we are eating coconut and waiting for the boat to San Pedro. Guess who is also there at the pier. He doesn’t even look at us this time and there are no other foreigners to ask money from. 
  • Last lunch at the lake. The electricity is down again, which we had started to enjoy. That means also no wifi, and no smoothies but that’s life. When the water stops, we know we are leaving just on time.
  • After four hours of a bumpy ride with no space in the tiny shuttle, we arrive in Antigua. 
  • This time we are lucky and the hotel has this colonial inner yard, it is clean and there is electricity, water, and soap at the same time!
  • We buy some of the famous bakery stuff on our way to El Salvador. The shuttle arrives with just a small half-an-hour delay. We are the last two people to be picked up and guess where we have to sit – in the small additional chairs. Size for babies. For the whole journey of 6 hours.
  • We are waiting for the well-known corruption-based exit tax for leaving Guatemala. Advised by the locals, we prepare small bills so at least we don’t spend lots of money (as you can imagine they don’t have change). It is supposed to be an expected exit from a country so controversial for us. Our experience was highlights and lowlights in a row. But it is time to finish with something positive! Nobody asks us for money! We leave the country smoothly without having to feed the corruption practices.

So every chapter started with a low-light, then a series of lows and highs, and always a happy ending with a highlight. The whole Guatemala itinerary we end with a highlight! So we will stick to the positive and give Guatemalans a chance!

Taking a boat ride in the lake Atitlan in Guatemala

In a few words

  • Nature is stunning! Jungles, beaches, rivers, volcanoes, highlands, lakes. It’s an unbelievable mix!
  • We loved the indigenous people, their traditions, and their culture. Some places were like fairy tales. We didn’t like being treated as cash machines.
  • Our experiences were controversial but nothing bad happened to us. This kind of controversiality is fine for us as it just made our time in Guatemala more memorable! 

So that was our highlights from roughly eight-nine days in Guatemala. It made it to our embedded hard drives for a long time, controversial or not. We read this slogan on a magnet, but still – guateva, Guatemala!

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Have you ever been to Guatemala? Did it live up to your expectations? Do you have a favorite experience there?

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8 Responses

  1. Dan

    It seems like you had quite a few less than positive experiences. If you could do it again, would you do anything differently knowing what you know now?

    • That’s a thought-provoking question! Thank you!:-) We usually never regret any experience as we believe everything happened the way it should have. We wouldn’t change our first time experience in Guatemala. But we would change our expectations for future visits, that for sure! We really want this country to surprise us in a positive way!

  2. jillian

    What an adventure! Lake Atitlan looks stunning! I like how you describe the ‘vibes’ of each of the towns.

    • Thank you, Jillian! Lake Atitlan is indeed an amazing place, every village and town has their own lifestile and vibes! It was great being able to switch from one to another so fast 🙂

  3. Guatemala looks just incredible! I wish I had had a chance to explore more of this country! I dipped in briefly to explore Tikal, but it was such a small taste! I need to get back and explore more.

    • Yes, the country is quite big so it offers lots of different regions, climates, experiences. Tikal is super cool though, a nice intro to Guatemala!

  4. yashajoy

    Wow! Guatemala seems to have changed a lot since we were there in 2007! Antigua sounds like it’s being over-loved by tourists – it was much quieter and a really lovely place to spend some time then. And we spent a month on Lago Atitlan learning Spanish in Panajachel – and now there is nothing to see or do there… sometimes when I read blogs I am glad I have already been to a place because your experience would probably not inspire me to go now. I am happy to hear there were some highlights to balance out the lowlights!

    • Guatemala was a colorful journey for us, to say the least. It has definitely changed over the passed 10 years, other travelers also found it more lovable some time ago. But it was a special experience for you, to learn Spanish in such environment, or to enjoy less-touristy Antigua. We found the lovely Granada and Leon in Nicaragua, and people told us they are what Antigua was 10 and more years ago. We only hope that charming towns won’t get lost in commercialism thanks to travel bloggers, like us. 🙁