January 2011, I turned up in Guatemala. No, not because I was kidnapped (note: I never once felt unsafe there), but because I missed one flight, which made me miss another flight, and so the story goes…
That I loved Guatemala, and I was more excited to grab the last seat to Guatamala City, than San Jose, Costa (but don’t mention that to my travel buddy Jesse). It wasn’t until only an hour left in flight did I remember that it’s usually easier to fly into a country, stand-by, than out. Uh-oh…worry about that later.
We arrived in Guatemala City, and immediately, rented a little car, affectionately named Maruti. Although the silver box was a mere two years new, it looked more like something from 1982.
We drove the 25km or so to Antigua, known for its baroque architecture as well a large selection of affordable Spanish language immersion courses (For $4 USD you can get an hour of private instruction). Jesse haggled our car rental to something like $15/day, but there are numerous shuttle vans that take tourists directly to Antigua for only $12 USD, one-way.
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Guatemalan currency is the Quetzal, and is named after the national bird. Currently the exchange rate is 1.00 USD to 7.76 GTQ. Guatemala is a great place for the budget traveler. We stayed at hostels for about $7 USD a night and at Lake Atitlan, where we found a private room with a TV for about $15/night.
I went a little shopping crazy with buying scarves, because for some reason, when I travel, I always buy scarves. At work one day, a girl on my flight was wearing a scarf and I commented that I had the same scarf and asked if she got it in Guatemala. Vietnam she said. Yep…made in China. Yeah. The irony of travel. Souvenir shopping is pointless. (But, Chichicastenango…tourist, souvenir, spend your money, paradise. And yes, a bit overrated, but watching the buses drive the mountain roads there is dangerously entertaining).
I hiked up this volcano in my work dress flats, and Jesse roasted a marshmallow. We got lost a lot, because I’m a terrible GPS, and there are no road signs. I wouldn’t recommend driving around unless you speak Spanish. It’s critical for direction asking. Thank God I had Jesse.
The Food- Antigua is very vegetarian and vegan friendly. It’s trendy like that, with some very nice restaurants. And, we ate at Taco Bell, because Jesse just thinks Taco Bells in foreign countries are better, which, at least in Guatemala, is true.
Don’t stay in Guatemala City if you visit the country, although there is a hostel we stayed at called QuetzalRoo, owned by the coolest Guatemalan/Aussie couple, who had no rooms available, but let Jess and I crash in the TV room for free. That night, we fell asleep watching Taken (of all movies right? In a city that’s known for crime. Ha!The irony).
Take a look at these links, and plan your trip to Guatemala:
Spirit Airlines: Absolutely no frills, but direct, cheap, flights from Ft. Lauderdale to Guatemala City
QuetzalRoo: If you have to stay in Guatemala City because of flight schedule or something, this is a good spot.
Jungle Party Hostel: Where we stayed in Antigua, and if you are needed a job/adventure for at least six months, they are looking for a front desk person, no Spanish necessary. The free breakfast is actually really good. You get your choice off of a menu. Can’t go wrong with the fresh fruit, granola, and honey…yum. Also, they plan tours, bbq’s, and other activities.
TripAdvisor: Always a good place to check out.