Guatemala Travel Guide
Updated: Mar 28, 2019
Guatemala has been on my radar for quite some time. My intention between heading to the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico and then on to Guatemala was to learn more about Mayan culture and traditions. In my 5 or so weeks between the two, I of course still feel like I am scratching the surface and know it will be a place I will continue to return to study with the elders and learn more about the history.
Seeing friends crossing this magical lake to go explore a place where there are active volcanos, an influx of ceremonies around plant medicine, and high elevation so close to the equator, intrigued me. Only having experienced the subtropics in Malaysia 11 year ago, I hardly remembered how lush and vibrant these regions are. Guatemala, a short 3.5 week stay for me was a refreshing contrast to the hotter temperatures by the beaches, and I suddenly was forced to ask for more blankets, wear the one pair of warm socks I had into threads, and buy my first poncho.
Getting in and out of Guatemala took a little planning to become familiar with the lay of the land, the local customs, and how to allocate my time there. I will admit many people put the fear into me about Guatemala's theft and other annoyances so I made sure to do extra planning to feel comfortable about what I was about to enter in to. In the end, my trip went smooth, I felt safe along the way and would of course encourage you to make your way to Guatemala! SUCH a place. I found everything to be quite accessible for the first-timer and easy to navigate, with either shuttles, tuk-tuks, ubers, or boats running consistently and affordably to all the places my heart was called to go.
The Yoga Forest is where I was headed, an off-grid, solar-powered retreat center up the side of the mountain of San Marcos, at the epicenter of the magic of Lake Atitlan. It was there I stayed for 2 weeks to experience their Sound Ceremony course. Its lush organic gardens and tropical plants brought the property to life as permaculture and waste-free living is a main priority on the land. Health conscious people offering wellness services such as massage, private yoga sessions, essential oils, sound baths and personal training live there creating a abundant community within the grounds and allowing guests to really dive into whatever kind of inward journey they are on. Other ongoing happenings include daily yoga classes, the weekly Kirtan hosted for the community, retreats, and yoga teacher trainings put on by the Kula Collective (remember the training I did with them in bali?)
The value of sustainability extended to the accommodations for guests, including compost toilets, natural soaps and toiletries provided, and bedrooms either shared or private with jaw-dropping views of the lake. For me, I wanted to enjoy the company of the shared dorm, and with super warm and cozy beds, I wasn't so put off by the frigid temps in the mornings or at night. I felt well looked after and I must add that the views were the best from the (shared) compost toilets! It is also the kind of place where peeing outside is encouraged and no-one is bothered by a spotting of a bare bottom 😂.
With no fridges consuming the solar generated power and with no need considering the outside temps, the meals were prepared fresh with love from the local Guatemalan women. Farm-to-table Guatemalan style? Count me in!
My time there was truly eye-opening, learning more about Mayan culture and traditions, how to navigate this new country, and being exposed to a whole new community with its own style of musical offerings. My favorite outing was actually to head to San Pedro just after sunrise to get a tuk-tuk to the only functioning ATM in that town to buy a coffee to break the 100Q bill to pay the tuk-tuk driver and the rasta I went to see about a hair cut and highlights in a hostel there called Brothers, named after the British brothers who started it. In San Marcos town, we ventured out to ecstatic dance with DJ Mose at Eagle's Nest, did a Temezcal in a private ceremony, took a lancha boat to shop in Santiago and then again to indulge in wine and cheese at an unexpected spot in San Juan called El Artesano. I even took a lancha boat 5Q to go hang out in a favorite lake-side spot called Maya Moon in Tsununa. There seemed to be more happening at the lake than one had time to explore in such a short 3 weeks time, but I suppose that is part of what makes travel so addicting.
Getting there and away:
I decided to fly from Cancun to Guatemala for about $75 on Volaris. My flight out was booked after I arrived in Guatemala using my Chase Ultimate Rewards points flying with baggage allowance on Avianca. Once I arrived to GUA, I immediately jumped in the colectivo for 80Q($10USD) headed towards Antigua. The trip to Antigua took about an hour to an hour and a half. On my way in to Antigua the first time around, I decided to book a bed in a nice high-rated affordable hostel that was centrally located called Cucurruchos. With a curtain, private locker, free breakfast, wifi, women's only dorm or a bed about $10USD/night, I had all I needed. It was helpful too that I left some bulky and unnecessary items at the hostel for a few weeks as I knew I wouldn't need them at the Yoga Forest and seeing as the walk is fairly steep up the mountain to the off-grid center, I knew it was best to come back for them before I left the country.
On my way out of Antigua I was really needing to have a bed in a room by myself for a change - it had been 6 weeks at this point - so I booked a room on Airbnb in a house on the edge of town near Shakti Shala Yoga studio. The room was the master suite of a 5 bedroom estate, which I ended up having all to myself for $38USD/night 🤷🏼♀️. I got dropped off by the shuttle from San Marcos and walked to the house but could have taken an Uber.
I found the food to be particularly delicious and fresh in Antigua. Go to Wachuma if you get the chance! The local and artisan markets are also a good mix for learning the food culture, stocking up on tropical fruits, and finding any last minutes necessities in second-hand stalls in the backside.
I loved exploring Antigua for two days so much that I booked another two nights on my return to continue to explore places like Caoba Farms as I've become addicted now to knowing all the farm-to-table spots.
Getting in and out of San Marcos was quite easy as well. I booked the shared colectivo from the hostel, where I was picked up directly in the morning of the training start date, and I was dropped off outside of town where I picked up a tuk-tuk and was dropped in Bario 2 to be able to walk about half way up the mountain to The Yoga Forest. I only had a backpack on my back (a large one I bought for about 150Q in the Antigua local market) and smaller one with my camera and DJ equipment, so it was fine to take this route. Later I realized I could have arranged a porter and gotten escorted from the town of San Marcos to have help with the bags but I did this on the way off the mountain instead. Leaving San Marcos, I similarly arranged the shuttle the day before my departure and was taken directly back to Antigua. Getting back to fly out of GUA usually has two options - shared shuttle or private. Due to the more rigid schedule and my dislike of hanging out in airports, I took an Uber to the airport, half the price of the private car.
I certainly didn't feel like I had enough time to explore the whole country and felt I could have easily taken another month for volcano hikes, getting deep into the Mayan pathways of the jungles and ancient ruin viewings of Tikal.
For a full listing of things to do in San Marcos and around Antigua, more detail for how to get around, etc. feel free to email me and I will share it with you.
Guatemala....this is just the beginning.