With only a week off, Guatemala was the perfect getaway from Montreal. However, decisions had to be done, we had to choose a specific region and aimed for Lake Atitlan and the surrounding volcanoes as they were the closest to the capital and beach wasn’t a necessity.
As we arrived at the airport, we had our driver waiting for us at the exit. The capital is fairly dangerous and getting out as quickly as possible isn’t a bad decision considering there is nothing to do there.
Guatemala City to Panajachel, Lake Atitlan
The ride usually takes anything from 3 hours to 5 hours. We got unlucky and it took us closer to 8 hours. In the mountains, traffic started abruptly and we eventually stopped completely. Cars stopped arriving from the other direction, and for a while nothing happened. Some cars started to get impatient, and using the other lane to bypass the traffic. From there chaos emmerged, eventually the two lanes were filled by cars going east, and on the other side the same thing happened. It took a few hours for the police to show up and get things moving again slowly.
We arrived at Panajachel in the dark and finding our hostel in the dark alleys was challenging but felt very safe, and once we dropped our bags, we found a restaurant on the main street.
Panajachel has the nicest view amongst the villages surrounding the lake as the volcanoes are all visible from here. We started our morning with a walk around the city, and took a coffee with this view.
Our goal was to cross the lake that day and spend a few days in San Pedro. The boats in the main section are a rip-off for tourists, to take a boat with the local, we had to our hostel host and locals tried to discourage us as we headed that way.
The boat ride was one of the highlights of the trip, we stopped multiple times along the northern shore of the lake to get locals on and off while enjoying a beautiful view.
San Pedro has one of the chillest vibes I’ve seen in my travels, a mix of locals and expats built a dreamy village full of coffees, restaurants and bars. The hostel we were at, Mr Mullet, was one of my favorite hostel ever – the owner made our stay so much fun!
We spent the entire next day walking around Lake Atitlan between Santa Cruz and Tzununa. At 1550 meters, it’s a good exercise to do before going climbing volcanoes. The trails are not easy to find, and asking around is necessary.
Indian Nose sunrise hike
We got told that the MUST-DO around lake Atitlan is to hike the Indian Nose in the morning. Hence, we booked the excursion with the hostel for the next day. We woke at 4 AM and hoped in a van in front of the hostel.
The hike started 45 minutes away from San Pedro in complete darkness. Cellphones were needed the entire way up to the view point. The first 30 minutes are flat, while the next is a a step 20 minutes of zigzagging.
The guide made us a coffee once we reached the top and we watched the night transition gloriously towards the day.
Antigua and Volcano del Fuego
The real reason, I chose Guatemala over another country was to sleep near the summit of an active Volcano. BUCKET LIST – CHECK!
This is not an easy hike, but with will, anyone can do it. You go up in groups of a dozen and start at 2600 meters with guides. The hike takes you all the way to 3900 meters.
This was easily one of the top 5 hikes I did in my life. Volcanoes don’t break clouds, clouds simply go by them and quickly you stand above a sea of clouds!
We hiked from 10 am to 4 pm, taking several breaks and eating our lunch along the way. The fact you need to climb with your entire backpack and several liters of water makes this much harder than the average hike.
Once we reached our tents, we started to enjoy a different view. As it got darker, the lava started to be visible with every explosion – at least one ever 2 minutes.
At this point, altitude screwed me over, around 8 pm I went to sleep with a massive headache, strong envy to vomit, and a fever. I received some pills from the guide and the fever woke me several times during the night. Some bigger eruptions also woke me, usual one are like a thunder noise, but deeper – however, bigger eruptions sound like bombs blowing up in your tent.
I felt great the next morning, the body adapts quickly! Going down the volcano was easy since we had walking sticks, and it barely took 3 hours. We took the rest of the day relaxing and visiting Antigua.
The city of Antigua used to be the capital but got destroyed several times by earthquakes. This makes this city very unique as not everything was reconstructed and many ruins can be visited. Almost all tourists transit through Antigua city sooner or later as they visit Guatemala. There are tons of restaurants, bars and clubs. The week-end, locals from Guatemala city also flood the city to enjoy the nightlife.
The next time I go to Guatemala I plan to visit the Pacific Coast and the ruins of Tikal!