In February I was looking to get away somewhere for a long, 4-day weekend. Flights to Panama from San Francisco are cheap this time of year but I waited too long and the price jumped up a couple hundred dollars. Doing a little more research, I came across a flight from SFO to Guatemala for only ~$350! I was sold, Guatemala it was!
The flight worked out perfectly in that I was able to leave Thursday evening around 7pm after work, arrive in Panama at 5AM on Friday morning for a brief layover and then arrive in Guatemala by around 10AM Friday morning! This left plenty of time on Friday as well as Saturday and Sunday before flying back on Monday. When I arrived in Guatemala, a friend of mine who lives in Guatemala City picked me up and took me around to some of the sites in Guatemala City such as Parque Central (central park) which is in zone 1 and is sort of the historic center of the city. After a bit of touristy things and a quick drink at a bar we headed to his house for some lunch with his lovely family! After lunch we headed to Antigua where I planned on spending the weekend and make day trips out from there.
I didn’t have much of a plan for the weekend aside from wanting to climb a volcano! I originally thought I would take a bus from Guatemala city Friday night towards Tikal and spend Saturday at Tikal but this trip would involve ~22 hours on buses and as amazing of a site that Tikal is, it just wasn’t feasible….for this trip. But hey, there is always a next time!
Getting to Guatemala and Antigua in particular I was very surprised by the amount of tourists here and Canadian tourists in particular! I’ve never seen such an abundance of Canadian tourists anywhere outside Canada as what I came across in Antigua! Quite literally, the first 11 people I met here were all from various parts of Canada.
Friday night involved sampling bars around Antigua. There are a lot of cool little bars around this town and being the weekend now the town was abuzz with activity! I stayed at the Terrace Hostel in Antigua. Dorm rooms run about $9/night here and the hostel has a great rooftop bar with an incredible view of the nearby volcano. However, keep in mind this is more of a party hostel so getting sleep was a bit difficult before 3AM.
I’m not the kind of person who looks to stay up all night partying and drinking and then sleep all day when traveling. I can do this at home if I wanted. I’m here to see new things, new sites, meet people and experience a new culture, not just get drunk.
When I arrived at the hostel on Friday afternoon I tried booking a tour up Pacaya volcano on Saturday morning but they were already fully booked. So I booked the tour for Sunday morning and Saturday I decided i’d head to Lake Atitlan for the day. I booked the shuttle through the hostel (~$20 each way).
The shuttle picks you up at about 7AM and does some rounds in town for about 30 minutes picking up other passengers. Once we’ve got everyone we start the journey to the lake. it takes about 3 hours each way to the lake so I finally arrived at the lake at ~10:30-11AM. It was a pretty long/rough ride at times but the views especially towards the end as we descended the mountains towards the lake were incredible!
I got off the shuttle at the little town of San Marcos. Well near the town that is. When the shuttle drops us, you get picked up by a tuk tuk and driven the last couple km in to the town. San Marcos is a little hippie town where the vibe is chill and the scent of weed is strong. When I say little, I mean little. It’s basically comprised of just a single street along which you can find all the vendors, shops and little restaurants to unwind and relax the day away. I strolled through making my way to the docks where I caught one of the boats over to San Pedro on another part of the lake.
San Pedro is one of the bigger, busier towns that dots the lake. Here there are a ton more restaurants, there are more hawkers trying to get you to buy their product or take their tuk tuk ride. Being that it was around lunch time I wandered around trying to find somewhere to eat that wasn’t just American burgers or pizza. I wanted some legit Guatemalan food! After a while I wasn’t too successful in finding much in the way of local cuisine but I did happen to stumble across this nice restaurant on the water who’s menu included Milanesa de Pollo!!! I’ve written before in other latin america posts that one of my favorite dishes to have in these areas is Milanesa! It’s basically just breaded chicken (sometimes cooked with an egg) served over rice and a salad. It’s a super cheap dish and so freakin delicious! I relaxed here for a little bit enjoying the meal, a beer and some incredible views. What a perfect Saturday!
After lunch I roamed around San Pedro a little while longer before heading back to the docks and grabbing a boat to my next and final stop of Panajachel. It’s worth noting that these ferry/taxi rides around the lake cost only a couple dollars per ride! There isn’t much to do at Panajachel but this is where my shuttle back to Antigua was picking me up at 4PM. There is a nice beach area at Panajachel from which you can see the 3 volcanos surrounding the lake. I relaxed here for a little bit before grabbing the shuttle back to Antigua.
Sunday morning I was up bright and early again! Today we’re climbing a volcano!!! I was up at 5:30 AM to catch the shuttle that comes around 5:45-6:00AM and just like the one on Saturday drives around town picking up more passengers from different hotels and hostels. It took about an hour to get to the volcano and once there we had a couple minutes to get our tickets, use the restroom and then we began the hike up Pacaya!
It takes a couple hours to climb the volcano all the while you are inundated with absolutely incredible breathtaking views! Is this real life!? Perfect way to spend a Sunday morning. I ended up being very, very lucky this day too!. Every other day I was in Antigua there were some low hanging clouds shrouding the top of the volcano’s in fog. I heard stories from other hostellers mentioning they couldn’t see anything at the top due to the cloud but today the skies were completely clear and we had full, unobstructed views from the top! The hike itself isn’t too tough. Just take a few breaks and take it easy. If you are in even decent shape you’ll be fine.
Once you reach the top just take in the beautiful landscape that is Guatemala! You don’t actually hike to the very top of Pacaya where you could look int he rim because it is still active with lava but you get high enough to be able to enjoy the surrounding beauty. From the top of where we hike to we then descend a little bit to a large cooled/hardened magma field. There was a ton of lava rock here from an eruption a few years ago. Interestingly the ground is still warm beneath these rocks even years later! Our guide brought marshmallows and we were able to roast marshmallows in the volcanic rock! How cool is that. Definitely a unique experience you can’t just do anywhere!
We ended up being extra lucky today not just because of the weather but because you could see some lava erupting from the top of Pacaya! Most days you don’t see any activity from Pacaya but today you could see little bursts of magma coming out of the top of the volcano. Our whole group just sat around for a while watching the show. Afterwards its about an hour climb back down and then an hour back to Antigua.
That afternoon I explored more of Antigua and the surrounding area. Just on the edge of town is a trail that leads up the side of a small hill to Cerro de la Cruz where you are offered incredible views of Antigua. This is definitely a must-visit place for anyone visiting Antigua. I heard lots of stories online and in-person about it being unsafe to walk up here on your own but I felt absolutely fine. I never felt uneasy and once up there there are tons of other tourists (who mostly got there by car….lame!).’
The weekend in Antigua is a lot of fun. The city is vibrant and full of life. There are a ton of tourists and locals alike who came here to unwind for the weekend. The city center is a bustle of people, vendors, music and other entertainment to just take in and enjoy!
Monday morning was back to Guatemala City to catch my flight back to SF. It’s only about an hour from Atigua to the airport but unfortunately there are not shuttles on a regular basis back to the airport so I had to leave at about 8AM from Antigua eve though my flight wasn’t until 12PM. Oh well, it was an amazing weekend and I was so relaxed by this time!
If you want a great weekend escape or somewhere to visit for longer I definitely recommend checking out Guatemala! There’s so much to see and do here especially for those that love to get outdoors, experience nature and do some hiking!