Hit The Road to Antigua

by EdventureGirl / Feb 06, 2015 /
EdventureGirl's picture

You’ve safely arrived in Guatemala, you’ve rented a car, and you’re looking for your first stop on the road trip of a lifetime. Guatemala is the ultimate travel destination for the adventurous, the “foodie,” the art lover, and all those wishing to experience a journey in a land steeped in history and vibrant culture. From the colorful streetscapes of Antigua to the blue waters of Lago de Atitlan, a lake ringed with majestic volcanoes, Guatemala promises to inspire and entertain!

Santiago Market. From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

With your own vehicle, you’ll be able to go farther than others; to delve into the culture and history of Guatemala’s highland and jungle people. Choosing to take a road trip through Guatemala will give you the unique opportunity to see Guatemala thrive up close. Don’t pass up the opportunity to stop at a roadside restaurant and sample some local dishes! Nearly all of Guatemala’s most interesting attractions can be reached within a two to three hour drive from Guatemala City, and many are under an hour away. Where will you go first?

Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

Antigua:

Distance from Guat City: 45 km (30-40 mins.)

A cultural hotspot, Antigua is famous for its unique architectural features, historical significance, and all-around beauty. Just a short drive from Guatemala City, you’ll find Antigua to be one of the most charming destinations in Guatemala. Once a capitol, Antigua is now home to an impressive number of colonial relics. Some are still extravagantly decorated, while others have gracefully crumbled into ruin, adding a certain charm to the manicured gardens. The three volcanoes which tower over the city create a unique opportunity for photographers searching for the perfect travel photo.

Due to the numerous Spanish schools which can be found scattered throughout the city, you’ll find Antigua to be very popular among the young backpacker crowd. But if you can excuse the busy atmosphere, this city is definitely worth the 40 minute drive from Guatemala City.

Antigua.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

Market.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

As a popular destination, Antigua has multiple attractions worth seeing. Consider the following when planning your trip:

Hotel Casa Santo Domingo

Not your run-of-the-mill five star hotel. In addition to being one of the most beautiful hotels in Antigua, Hotel Casa Santo Domingo has historical value, which attracts thousands of travelers each year. Located in the grounds of the Santo Domingo Monastery, the hotel preserves beautiful architecture from the baroque period of Ancestral America. Also there to be discovered on display are several treasures from this period. Tours are easy to book on arrival.

The Hotel’s restaurant is also worth mentioning, with a five star rating to match the accommodations. Rates are high for Guatemala, but considerably low in comparison to those in first world countries. For perspective, at Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, you can expect to order a nine-course, five star meal for two for approximately 120 USD. A foodie paradise, Hotel Casa Santo Domingo’s restaurant boasts hundreds of rave reviews.

Acatenango Volcano

Towering 2,000 meters above the Guatemalan Highlands to the north, the hike up this volcano is not for the faint of heart or knees. The view from the top is extraordinary, and well worth the climb. While not currently active, the regular eruptions of Volcan Fuego are clearly visible from Acatenango’s slopes. With dozens of travel agencies scattered around the city, finding a hiking tour that suits your budget and ability is an easy task.

Fuego erupting. Acatenango Volcano. From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

ChocoMuseo

How much do you know about the making of chocolate? At ChocoMuseo, artisans demonstrate the process from bean to bar. Guatemalan chocolate is very different from what you might find at your local grocery store, with a much higher percentage of raw cacao. It is also very much a part of Mayan history and culture, and multiple Mayan ceremonies revolve around the art of chocolate-making. Don’t forget to try a sample after you’ve watched the process!

Arco de Santa Catalina

You haven’t truly seen Antigua until you’ve seen the Arco de Santa Catalina. One of the most distinguishable landmarks of Guatemala, the Arco been a famous attraction since the 17th century. Originally built to provide the nuns of the Santa Catalina convent with private access to a school, the Arco now looks over one of the most beautiful streets in Antigua. Lined with bustling shops and restaurants, this street is a prime example of the vibrant life so evident in Antigua.

Arco de Santa Catalina.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

The Plaza (Parque Central)

Directly next to the Arco de Santa Catalina is The Plaza. The heart of Antigua, the Parque Central is where locals and newcomers mingle, mixing everyday life with new adventure. In the day, expect to see laughing local children playing in the Parque, cotton candy vendors standing at the corners with their multicolored candy swinging in bags on  their shoulders, horse-drawn carriages jostling with taxis, and tourists exploring shops. At night, the trees light up, fountains sparkle, teenagers dance on the corners, and elderly couples enjoy the night air. A rainbow of life and culture, The Plaza is the perfect place to go for a walk, day or night.

Pacaya Volcano

46.3 km, 40 min.  

Just a short drive from Guatemala City, Pacaya is one of the only active volcanoes in Guatemala that you can hike up. Pacaya Volcano has erupted at least 23 times since the Conquistadors first arrived in Guatemala, and has been erupting continually for nearly 50 years. As most of its activity is Strombolian (non-violent), it’s safe for guided hikes. Pacaya is known for being a challenging hike, but horseback tours are also available and are recommended by many as making the trip much more enjoyable.

http://guatemalareservations.com/guatemala-pacaya-volcano-climb/

Pacaya Volcano.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

Pacaya Volcano. Flickr cc: karlbert

Pacaya.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

Lago de Atitlan

118.6 km, 1hr 41min

Lago de Atitlan is easily one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Its pristine waters are cupped at the feet of three volcanoes: Atitlán, San Pedro, and Tolimán. The Lago has seen a steady increase in popularity over the past forty years, especially among backpackers. The deepest lake in Central America, Lago de Atitlan attracts a few divers as well, especially those looking to do some high altitude diving. The Guatemalan highlands are far less visited than lower regions like Antigua or Guatemala City, making them the perfect place to experience authentic Guatemalan culture and tradition. While you’re on Lago de Atitlan, make sure you check out Los Elementos Adventure Center, Nature Reserve Cerro Tzankujil, and the marketplace of Santiago.

Lago de Atitlan.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

Los Elementos Adventure Center

If you’re looking for a complication-free adventure, trust your trip to Lee and Elaine Beal and their team. The Los Elementos Adventure Center is one of the best travel organizations on the Lago. From there, you can book tours, get local advice on what to see when, and take the chance to relax and learn about the diverse communities, ecology, and history of the beautiful Lago de Atitlan.

The “Trampoline.”

A sacred hill just west of San Marcos, a small town a boat ride away from Panajachel, this Nature Reserve is a popular hangout for locals and expats. The 15Q entry fee, equivalent to $2.00, will grant you access to hiking trails, incredible views, and best of all... the “trampoline.”  A wooden deck suspended approximately 25-30 feet above the water, the trampoline is a must-visit for adrenaline junkies and high divers. Of course, if you’d rather walk down to the water’s edge and endure some light teasing from the other visitors for not taking the leap, you’re more than able to do so.

Jumping off the cliffs at the Trampoline.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

cliff jumping into Lago de Atitlan.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

Will you jump? Trampoline, Lago de Atitlan.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

Shopping in Santiago.

Inhabited primarily by the Tz’utujil Maya, Santiago is famous for its traditions and market. Many of the Tz’utujil women still wear traditional garb, and can be seen in their purple striped skirts and huipiles on your way to the market. The best days to visit are Fridays and Sundays, as the market is in full swing. Pottery, paintings, fresh vegetables, and traditional carvings are on display here and make for a beautiful sightseeing trip.

Santiago Market.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

Santiago la Laguna is also famous for being the hometown of Maximón, a local deity. Carved of wood, Maximón enjoys the finest in liquor and cigarettes. In return for these gifts, the witch doctors who attend him will bestow blessings on visitors, as well as curing illnesses, and granting good weather to Tz’utujil farmers. The deity changes his location once a year. Finding a tour to see him is often an informal procedure. As soon as you reach the docks of Santiago, expect to be accosted by men offering to take you to see Maximón. Expect to pay 15-20Q per person.

Maximon.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

Important To Know:

-    You’ll need to take a boat to most of the towns on Lago de Atitlan. Panajachel is the main point of entry to the lake, and the closest to drive to.
-    Google Maps, GPS, and other travel devices will tell you that the drive from Guatemala City is just over an hour and a half long. Expect it to take twice that, as the roads are often in bad repair.

(more info: http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Caribbean_and_Central_America/Guatemala/Departamento_de_Solola/Lago_de_Atitlan-1671910/TravelGuide-Lago_de_Atitlan.html)

Chichicastenango

123.4 km, 1hr 51min.

Best known for its extensive marketplace, Chichicastenango is well worth the 2-3 hour drive from Guatemala City. Make sure to visit on a Thursday or a Sunday, when the market is at full steam. Handicrafts, wooden boxes, pottery, pom and copal (traditional incense), grindstones, pigs, and chickens are just a few of the things you’ll see here. Expect to spend a few hours exploring.

When you’ve finished with the market, head on over to the Church of Santo Tomás, right next door. At 400 years old, this beautiful church has been built over a Pre-Columbian temple platform. This is one of the best places to view the interesting mix between Catholicism and the old Maya traditions. The church functions both as a place to follow Catholic traditions and to slaughter chickens to the local deities.

Chichicastenango.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

Mixco Viejo

53.4 km, 54 min.

You can’t visit Guatemala without seeing a Maya ruin! Mixco Viejo is a moderately large ruin to the north of Guatemala City. A bustling city until the Spaniards finally conquered it, Mixco Viejo makes for a fun road-trip destination. In its day, Mixco Viejo boasted nine temples, two ball courts, and a population of around nine thousand. While the ruin is not the most decorated or well-known ruin of Central America, it’s certainly not to be passed up. Don’t miss the chance to see the secret cave passageway which allowed the Spaniards to conquer Mixco Viejo at last!

Mixco Viejo. From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

Mixco Viejo. Flickr cc: fernandoreyes

Mixco Viejo.  From Hit The Road to Antigua: Top Five Road Trip Destinations of Guatemala

With ruins, markets, and more, Guatemala could easily eat up a month or more of exploration, especially if you have your own vehicle. If you’ve only a few weeks in which to see Guatemala, don’t forget to take the time to sit back, relax, and soak in the sights and sounds around you. Guatemala is sure to sweep you off your feet and send you home with stories of adventure. Careful, lest you suffer my fate and fall in love with this beautiful and unique country!

 

 

 

About Hannah Miller: I’m a seventeen year old girl, with a serious case of wanderlust. Over the past few years I’ve traveled to over twenty-four countries, on five different continents, using bikes, buses, trains, planes, and of course, my own two feet. Wherever I go, a video camera and three instruments follow. I’m trying to change the world, one step at a time. By the end of my life I want to have visited every country in the world, and do it all through travel writing. I currently write for a few different travel sites; but this one is meant for my own personal thoughts and experiences. In my opinion, there’s no better school than the big world around us, and no better way to learn about the planet I live on than to see it myself! My greatest fear: to reach the end of my days only to be filled with regret for the adventures I never had. Find me at http://www.edventuregirl.com/

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Hannah Miller, except where noted