Guatemala: Volcanos, Kites & Culture

Visiting Guatemala for the first time three years ago, I didn’t expect to fall in love with the country the way I did. Guatemala turned out to be just what I had been looking for without even realizing it. It was one of my first trips as @travel_inhershoes, and I only had about 1,000 followers at the time.

 

I never would have guessed that three years later I would be invited to come experience this incredible country by the El Insituto Guatemalateco de Turismo (INGUAT) and Expedia. I am so honored that I was able to experience this beautiful country again and see more of what it has to offer.

 

Lake Atitlan (bigger)

 

Our first stop after getting a night’s sleep in Guatemala City was to visit Lake Atitlan. After an early departure from Guatemala City, we stopped for breakfast and enjoyed some huevas rancheros and, one of my favorites, plantains. From there we continued to the shores of Lake Atitlan.

 

San Juan La Laguna (smaller)

 

Once we arrived, we headed to the docks to cross Lake Atitlan to San Juan La Laguna. This area has been left mostly untouched by tourism, and I loved that. One of my favorite things about Guatemala even from the first time I visited is the way they hold on to their traditions and roots. I experienced this once again by learning how to make traditional clothing using natural fabrics. The experience was amazing and I recommend giving it a try, but it is much more difficult than it looks!

 

Clothing is not the only form of art in this area of Guatemala. After learning about the natural textiles, I visited an art museum called Galeria de Arte Chiya. The artwork is beautiful and covers the walls and ceilings. If you are looking to come to this region, Expedia offers a few day tour options to experience the culture and art in San Juan La Laguna.

 

Panajachel (smaller)

 

After a day of exploring, it was time to retire to our hotel and relax. Hotel Casa Palopo is amazing. Our room included three different terraces and a shower with a beautiful view of the lake, but then they upgraded us to a villa.

The villa included its own pool with an incredible view of the lake and volcano. It provided the perfect place to relax and take in the natural beauty of Lake Atitlan. Just when I thought the hotel could not get any more amazing, the sunset lit up the sky and reflected the colors onto the private pool. We enjoyed breakfast the next morning on our terrace overlooking the lake, taking in the morning calm before moving on to Antigua. It was hard to leave the view and the peacefulness of this hotel, but I was also excited to visit Antigua again.

Antigua

 

Antigua is a small city in southern Guatemala and was one of my stops on my previous trip to Guatemala. There are so many beautiful streets to explore and places to see including the historical monuments in the town that survived earthquakes throughout history and Parque Central, one of the more popular places in Antigua for tourists and locals.

 

Lunch that day ended my search for the perfect frijoles. Up until Antigua, I felt like Goldilocks since all of the frijoles I found were too hard or too soft. La Cuevita de los Urquizu offers lots of choices and you can pick whatever you would like to eat. I loved the frijoles and the guac there and recommend it if you are in Antigua. Cesar, our guide, also taught me quite a bit of Spanish relating to food, helping me reach my goal of learning 100 words in the language of each place I visit.

 

While in Antigua, I stayed at Porta Hotel Antigua, booked of course through Expedia. The hotel provided a place for us to get ready for Halloween. We chose Dia de los Muertos inspired makeup and headed out into the streets of Antigua to take in the celebrations. There were so many good costumes, and it was fun to experience this before a more local tradition the next morning.

 

Santiago & Sumpango

 

The Barriletes Gigantes (“giant kites” in English) festival takes place every year on the first two days of November and has been around for thousands of years. I did not know what to expect, but I was blown away. The kites are decorated throughout the year.. They are colorful, and the designs are meant to share family history as well as promote peace among the living.

 

These kites are not like the kites you might have flown on the beach or in a park; they are huge. In fact, some are over 40 feet (12 meters) in diameter. The kites are flown over the graves of family members to remember and honor them while flowers are beneath them on the ground.

 

It was an incredible sight to see all of those kites raised up and watch how they were lifted into the sky, filing the sky with color. I was even able to design my own (much smaller) kite. The larger kites are made of bamboo, paper and cloth. Once they are all lifted into the sky, it becomes a friendly competition to see which kite will last the longest. In the cemeteries on those days, you can buy the traditional food, fiambre, that is prepared for this day, drinks and all sorts of other things. This was an experience I will not forget, and I am so thankful for Expedia and Visit Guatemala sharing it with me.

 

Back to Antigua

 

We spent the rest of the afternoon taking in Antigua on our own. I enjoyed a Kombucha Gin and Tonic and veggie burger at a local vegan restaurant and then we watched the procession that ends the Dia de los Muertos celebrations. The procession goes through the streets of Antigua and signals the end of the Dia de los Muertos celebrations on All Souls Day (November 2). I even tried some street food while we were out enjoying our last night in Antigua.

 

Pacaya Volcano

 

After another night of rest at Porta Hotel Antigua, the next morning came too early with a departure at 3 a.m. to hike Pacaya. Expedia offers a few tours that include this hike, so you can take your choice of which one works best for you. The hike is of moderate difficulty, and you do not go to the crater as it is still a very active volcano.

At first our hike was a disappointment due to the weather. The volcano was covered in fog when we arrived at the highest point just before 6 a.m. We couldn’t see anything at all. Luckily we waited because about five minutes later, the fog started to dissipate. Within a few minutes, you could start to make out the volcano and see a lava stream coming from it. It is not always possible to see lava coming out of the volcano, so for the clouds to break and then the lava to be visible was amazing. After waiting a little bit longer, the sun broke through, giving us an incredible sunrise with the volcano and lava.

 

After seeing the volcano, some tours also include the thermal circuit. On the thermal circuit, you immerse yourself in several thermal pools, going from hot temperatures to cooler temperatures in a circuit. It is the perfect way to treat your muscles after hiking the volcano.

 

Guatemala City

 

Our last stop of the trip was the place where it all began. We spend our first night and the last two nights of our trip staying at the Hyatt Centric Guatemala City. Our room design was beautiful and I loved the motion sensor lights in the bathroom. I love working out when I’m staying in a hotel with a gym, and this one included some amazing healthy snacks including chlorophyll to boost your immune system and give you some extra vitamins.

 

While staying in Guatemala City, we toured the city and also got to have an extra special experience provided by the locals. I got a DM asking if we wanted to go for a helicopter ride, so of course I said yes.

 

The last day of our trip, we met Giani and Fermin who took us up in Fermin’s helicopter and to his house on the beach. The flight was amazing and included flying low over the surf along Guatemala’s beaches. His house is right on an empty black sand beach, and it was an incredible way to end the trip. The locals are always the best part of a trip, and these two made the last day of my time in Guatemala extra special.

 

***

 

Thank you to VisitGuatemala.com and Expedia for giving me a chance to return to Guatemala and explore more of this beautiful country. If you want to experience a beautiful culture, volcano adventures, stunning natural beauty, and amazing food, Guatemala is the place you have been searching for!

 

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