Where To Stay In Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: Best Hotels and Villages

Where To Stay In Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: Best Hotels and Villages

Not sure where to stay in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala?

To be honest, I am not surprised.

With more than 10 stunning villages in Lake Atitlan, choosing the perfect place to stay at Lake Atitlan is no easy task. After spending more than 2 months backpacking Guatemala, I can tell you that picking the wrong place to stay in Lake Atitlan will affect your Guatemala trip!

That is why I am here to help.

Below you will find our recommended hostels and hotels in Lake Atitlan and their location. Then we will also discuss the different Lake Atitlan villages and the pros and cons of staying in them!

Enjoy!

Want A Quick Tip on Where To Stay In Lake Atitlan?

There are many different villages in Lake Atitlan with their own pros and cons. The three most popular villages/towns are San Pedro, San Marcos, and Panajachel.

If this is your first time visiting Lake Atitlan, you cannot go wrong with choosing any of the three places to stay. These villages are great bases for exploring some of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan.

Here are some quick recommendations on the best places to stay in Lake Atitlan.

Best Hostel in Lake Atitlan – Selina Atitlan

Check prices here!

Best Cheap Hotel in Lake Atitlan – El Delfin Hotel y Restaurante

Check prices here!

Best Luxury Hotel in Lake Atitlan – Hotel Atitlan

Check prices here!

Best Hostels In Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Free Cerveza, or “Free Beer” in English, is one of the most famous hostels in Lake Atitlan. Why? Because this fun glamping hostel offers free beer for an hour every evening. Well, that is only one of the many reasons why I consider Free Cerveza the best hostel in Lake Atitlan.

Located on the waterfront of the small Lake Atitlan village called Santa Cruz, guests can enjoy what Lake Atitlan is known for: Gorgeous scenic views, swimming in the lake, and just relaxing properly.

The hostel offers shared glamps, dormitory beds in the treehouse, and a private lakehouse that juts into the lake. If you are on your honeymoon or want somewhere romantic, the lakehouse is the perfect setting.

The hostel also has plenty of activities if you don’t want to just chill out on their private deck. Yoga, outdoor gym, stand-up paddleboarding, kayak, and even a sauna room are all available at Free Cerveza hostel!

Location: Santa Cruz

Click here for more info!

Selina Atitlan is an affordable hostel with the comfort and amenities of a luxury hotel. A huge pool area with sun loungers for guests to relax? Check. An amazing on-site restaurant featuring healthy and/or local cuisine? Check. Comfortable beds in spacious dormitory rooms? Check! The list of pros for Selina Atitlan goes on and on.

What I liked the most about the Selina hostel in Lake Atitlan were its very relaxing vibes. It is the proper place to sit by the pool and do nothing all day. However, if you do prefer to be more active, the hostel offers activities and tours for guests! 

Located in Panajachel, it is also very easy to get to and has many amazing shops and restaurants in its close vicinity.

Location: Panajachel

Click here for more details!

Sababa Resort is a newly open resort with dormitory-styled rooms in San Pedro. Featuring resort-like facilities such as a beautiful swimming pool and dainty decor, it is surprising how affordable this hostel in San Pedro is.

The private rooms are gorgeous and many of them face the beautiful lake. The dormitory rooms are even better in my opinion. Spacious, clean, and amazingly detailed with wood, the rooms speak luxury.

There is no better way to get your day started with their buffet-style breakfast!

Location: San Pedro

Check the price here!

Best Budget Hotels In Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Lush Atitlan is the place to stay in Lake Atitlan if you want to relax in some of the most calming environments. Located in the hippie town of San Marcos, the accommodation is filled with greenery such as gardens and jungles.

If your perfect day consists of waking up to a gorgeous sunrise and views of the charming Lake Atitlan, then spending the rest of your days exploring San Marcos and relaxing at your hotel, Lush Atitlan is the place for you.

Location: San Marcos

Click here for more details!

El Delfin Hotel y Restaurante is one of the best affordable hotels in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan. Though I did not stay there personally, I have heard good things from the travelers that have stayed there. The hotel features an on-site restaurant and a bar, as well as a well-equipped fitness center.

San Pedro is a backpacker town known for its crazy nightlife and noise. However, the location of this hotel is just far enough from the hecticness so you can get a good night’s rest!

Location: San Pedro

Check the price here!

Located in Panajachel, Hotel Utz Jay is one of the highly-rated cheap hotels in Panajachel, Lake Atitlan. Only one block away from the main street, the hotel is situated close to all the action in town.

If you want to take it slow and relax, the hotel grounds are filled with amazing native species of plants, cute decor, and lots of chilling-out spots.

Don’t miss this economical hotel when you are in Panajachel!

Location: Panajachel

Click here for more info!

Best Luxury Hotels In Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

If you are looking for a dreamy location to kick it and relax, consider Hotel y Cafe La Casa Del Mundo. Located on the side of the cliff, the views of this hotel is beyond your imagination. The hotel grounds feature many hammocks, chairs, and other cozy spots where you can just relax and read a book.

Guests can also go swimming at the lake or rent kayaks or paddleboards.

Located in a small town called Jaibalito, there really isn’t much in town. However, the hotel provides breakfast in the morning (at a cost) and a family-style dinner! It is the perfect way to meet other guests in the hotel and socialize!

Location: Jaibalito

Check here for more details!

If you want a place in Lake Atitlan to treat you like kings and queens, stay at Hotel Atitlan. Featuring a swimming pool and a jacuzzi, your legs will thank you after a day of hiking and exploring in Lake Atitlan.

As you sit in the pool to relax, you will be mesmerized by the stunning landscapes Guatemala is known for. Volcanoes after volcanoes, villages after villages, there is no better way to forget about all the worries in the world!

If you are not convinced of the quality of this hotel, check out their meticulous gardening work. It looks like a Japanese garden on the cover of a magazine.

The hotel is also a bird sanctuary of many exotic species!

Location: Panajachel

Check the recent price here!

If you haven’t been convinced by any of the hotels above, there is one more hotel that will blow your mind.

Porta Hotel Del Lago is a luxury hotel located in Panajachel. Featuring a gigantic swimming pool, a jacuzzi, and plenty of places to sunbathe, guests can properly relax in this high-end hotel.

The spacious rooms are clean and offer unparalleled views of Lake Atitlan. Nothing is like waking up to the sun rising over the beautiful volcanoes that surround Lake Atitlan.

Make sure you consider this hotel when you visit Lake Atitlan!

Click here for more info!

Best Villages/Places To Stay In Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

1. Panajachel

Panajachel is one of the most, if not, the busiest town in Lake Atitlan. With city-like facilities such as diverse accommodations, great food options, and a good mix between locals and tourists, it is not difficult to see why it is so popular.

If you are coming to Lake Atitlan from Antigua, chances are you will be dropped off in Panajachel or San Pedro because these two towns are the most connected ones in Lake Atitlan.

In general, Panajachel is great for more comfort-seeking travelers that are willing to pay a little more.

PROS: A variety of accommodations and restaurants. Lots of handicrafts and souvenir shops. Easily accessible.

CONS: Far from some of the best attractions in Lake Atitlan such as the Indian Nose Hike and San Pedro Volcano. Water is not the cleanest for swimming due to all the activities. 

2. San Pedro

Filled with affordable hostels, good street foods, and popping nightlife, San Pedro is a backpacker’s paradise. If you are solo backpacking Guatemala, you will meet many other travelers and have nights you won’t forget (unless you drink too much).

You are also located close to some of the best activities to do in Lake Atitlan. You will find plenty of tour companies that offer you tours and transportation around the lake. The water is cleaner (though not the cleanest) compared to Panajachel.

PROS: Very lively with great nightlife and trendy cafes. Affordable hotels and hostels. Good accessibility.

CONS: Can be noisy at night. Not a lot of locals unless you venture deeper inland. 

3. Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is one of the most relaxing places to stay in Lake Atitlan. Most of the hostels and hotels in Santa Cruz are located right next to the water so guests can swim and sunbathe under the Guatemala sun. 

The water in Santa Cruz is considerably cleaner than both San Pedro and Panajachel, making it a great option for any travelers looking to enjoy the refreshing waters of Lake Atitlan.

Many accommodations will have stand-up paddleboards and kayaks for anyone looking to do a little more than just swimming in the lake.

PROS: Affordable accommodations situated on the waterfront. Lots of water-related activities. Very quiet (except for Free Cerveza Hostel). 

CONS: Small town with not much going on. The town is quite steep to walk around. Could use a few more stores in town. Only accessible by water boat on the lake.

4. San Marcos

San Marcos has the nickname of hippie’s haven and it is easy to see why. Along the narrow streets of San Marcos, you will see various handicrafts stores, people rocking dreadlocks, and health-oriented restaurants.

This Lake Atitlan village itself is quite small so all of it can be seen in one day. But what ultimately draws a lot of travelers to stay in San Marcos is the magical and relaxing vibes of the town.

San Marcos is also the home of Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve, which is arguable the best place to go swimming in Lake Atitlan. Adrenaline junkies will also fancy this place as there is a 10+ meter high platform where you can safely jump into the water.

PROS: Best place for swimming. Relaxing hippie vibes. Great healthy food options. Lots of yoga studios and retreats around.

CONS: Might be too “hippie” for some travelers. The town is quite small. Hard to reach by land so generally only accessible by boat.

5. Other Notable Villages to Stay In Lake Atitlan

With a total of 11 villages in Lake Atitlan, there are many worthy places to stay. The ones we have mentioned above are the most tourist-friendly and will most likely be able to cater to your needs.

Other notable villages to stay in Lake Atitlan are San Juan, Jaibalito, Santiago, and San Lucas Toliman. If you enjoy the utmost peace and quiet, you might want to consider these towns. Otherwise, a day-trip to these towns should be enough to see their wonders.

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Falling in love with Lake Atitlan is inevitable, especially if you find the right town in Atitlan for you.

Hopefully, this guide has given you some insights on where to stay in Lake Atitlan.

Any questions? Leave a comment!

Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links. That means if you book through the links, we will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! The money will help run this site! Thank you 🙂

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The ULTIMATE Guatemala Packing List (And What Not To Pack)

The ULTIMATE Guatemala Packing List (And What Not To Pack)

Not sure what to pack for Guatemala?

We are here to help.

Having spent 2+ months backpacking Guatemala, there are some things I wish I had packed (and not packed) for my Guatemala trip.

Guatemala is a very unique place to pack for. It is a third-world country with diverse landscapes. The country is filled with mountains so the elevation varies from sea level to as high as 4,2000m above sea level. As a result, you need a comprehensive packing list for Guatemala.

Without further ado, here are the things we recommend you to have on your Guatemala packing list!

What To Pack For Guatemala: The Guatemala Packing List

1. Osprey 55L Backpack (Him/Her)

After backpacking in Guatemala for two+ months, I can honestly say traveling with a backpack in Guatemala is the best way to see the country.

My condolences go out to the travelers with huge rolling luggage dragging them across the cobbled-stoned streets of Antigua.

If you have to bring luggage, make sure it’s not difficult to carry them along.

The public transportation (chicken bus) is really not luggage-friendly and even the tourist-transportation can sometimes have difficulty with big pieces of luggage.

Keep in mind that your luggage will have to go on top of the transport van/bus when you are taking them. And as always, the ride is extremely bumpy in Guatemala, everywhere you go.

That is why I recommend traveling Guatemala with a backpack (Him/Her), it can even go on a plane as a carry-on!

The Osprey Farpoint 55L is my current backpack that I have been traveling with for 2+ years. It’s extremely reliable and Osprey offers a life-time warranty, no questions asked!

2. Reliable Daypack (Him/Her)

A reliable daypack is probably one of the most important items to have on your Guatemala packing list. Guatemala has more than 37 volcanoes and many of them are hikable.

Without a reliable daypack, it would be difficult to take a day trip and hike any of these volcanoes or mountains. The Osprey Talon 22 and Tempest 20 are my favorite daypacks because they have amazing back support as well as a hip belt. The hip belt is an absolute life-saver when doing a long hike.

If you want to hike Volcano Acatenango (and watch a volcano erupt), I highly recommend you to bring a nice and comfortable daypack with you.

The Talon 22 for men or Tempest 20 for women is the daypack that gets the job done.

A filtered water bottle is one of the most overlooked items to bring with you to Guatemala. The water quality in Guatemala is not good and it is not safe to drink from the tap. Even when you are using tap water to brush or teeth, there is a chance you could get sick from it.

Using a filtered water bottle will allow you to drink from ANY freshwater source. Tap water? Definitely. A stream you encounter on a hike? Why not? The gorgeous Lake Peten surrounding the island of Flores? Yes!

It is hands-down one of the most versatile things to bring with you to Guatemala or any travel destination!

My favorite one is the GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier and Filter Bottle. It is stylish and easy to use! You can have clean potable water in 15 seconds!

Click here for more details!

If you are backpacking Guatemala, a microfiber travel towel is an essential item to bring with you. A microfiber towel is a fast-drying and compact towel that can be folded up into the size of your hand. 

Traditional towels are amazing to have at home but they take too long to dry and they take up too much space in your luggage. That is why the microfiber towel is the perfect travel towel. 

If you are traveling Guatemala on a budget, having your own towel will save you lots of money because hostels will charge you to rent one of their towels!

My favorite brand is Rainleaf. Their microfiber towels have never failed me and I actually have two of them. They come in many different sizes so you can find the perfect one as your travel buddy!

Click here for more details!

Combination locks are crucial items to bring to Guatemala to protect your belongings. Whether you are staying in a hostel, out on a hike, or camping in Tikal ruins, a combination lock will make sure your belongings are there when you return.

I always carry a combination lock with me for the zippers of my backpack. It deters thieves from just unzipping your backpack and taking whatever they can find, especially on the crowded chicken buses of Guatemala.

The other combination lock is always in my accommodation. It is either on a locker or around the zippers of my main luggage or backpack. That way I always have complete peace of mind when I am out exploring.

Always bring two combination locks with you when you travel.

My favorite ones are these TSA-approved combination locks. They make sure your luggage doesn’t get damaged during inspection!

Click here for more details!

Packing Cubes transformed my travel experience. Their individual cubes allow you to separate your articles of clothing and toiletries. If you have dirty laundry, you can separate them in their own cube. Wet clothes from swimming in Semuc Champey? Throw them in the water-proof pouch. 

Packing cubes have made traveling so much easier. If you are traveling with family members, you can designate one cube just for them. The potential for packing cubes is endless. 

My favorite brand is the YAMIU 7 pieces of packing cubes that include a shoe bag and toiletry pouches. 

Click here for more details!

7. Proper Rain Jacket (Him/Her)

One of the biggest mistakes when traveling to Guatemala is not packing a rain jacket. Guatemala gets a common misconception of being a country of eternal sunshine but that is just not true.

In the northern part of Guatemala is a region called the Peten rainforest. A place filled with mysterious Mayan ruins such as Tikal ruins, a visit to the Peten region is a must on any Guatemala itinerary!

In addition to the rainforest region, many of the hikes in Guatemala take you to high elevation. At high altitude, the weather is unpredictable and the possibility of rain is high.

That is why I highly recommend you to bring a portable rain jacket with you on your Guatemala vacation!

Click here to see my favorite rain jackets (Men/Women)!

8. Hiking Boots (Him/Her)

One of the best things to do in Guatemala is hiking its numerous volcanoes. Many of the easy hikes such as Volcano Pacaya and Indian Nose can be easily done without proper hiking shoes.

But if you want to hike Volcano Acatenango, Volcano Santa Maria, or even Volcano Tajumulco, I would highly recommend wearing proper hiking boots.

My friend broke your leg while going down the steep Volcano Acatenango and surgery in Guatemala is not pretty.

Pack some proper hiking boots (Men/Women) for your Guatemala trip!

Insect Repellent is an essential item for your Guatemala trip, especially if you are visiting the Peten rainforest, Hobbitenango, or Lake Atitlan. In areas in Guatemala where the elevation is below 1,500m, mosquitos can be a problem.

With the presence of mosquitos comes the danger of malaria. Though malaria is not rampant in Guatemala and close to none of the travelers I met protected themselves against it, there is still a possibility. At the time of writing, there is a Dengue fever outbreak in Guatemala as well.

Dengue is spread by mosquitos so it is imperative to bring insect repellent with you to Guatemala.

Protect yourself from malaria and dengue with insect repellent with Picaridin. It is known to be as effective and more pleasant than DEET.

Click here for more details!

You should also consider purchasing travel insurance when visiting Guatemala!

An all-purpose travel medication kit is another essential for your packing list for Guatemala. Whether you have motion sickness from the terrible roads in Guatemala (from Lanquin to Flores), food poisoning from eating the wrong food, or just a fever from the flu, an all-purpose medicine kit will have you covered.

The kit is portable and doesn’t take up a lot of space in your luggage. It is an item I always bring with me when I go traveling.

Click here for more details!

How can you travel to Guatemala and not bring a camera to take photos as memory? But don’t just bring any camera with you, you must bring a compact travel camera. A compact travel camera is portable, fits in your pocket, and gets the job done in terms of quality. 

The Sony CyberShot RX100 VII is exactly one of those. When you take it out in Guatemala and use it, the locals won’t think it is an expensive camera because of the size.

If you take a huge DSLR out, the locals will automatically assume it is an expensive camera because of the size. If they have bad intentions (wants to rob you), then you might run out of luck.

In wealthier countries, I would recommend a bigger camera for better quality, but not in Guatemala. 

Click here for more details!

Do you want to look like a lobster when you come back from Guatemala? No? Then make sure you pack some good sunscreen from home! You can also purchase sunscreen in Guatemala but the quality is not so good. Locals in Guatemala just don’t use sunscreen.

Many of the cities in Guatemala are located very high above sea level. Antigua, arguably the most popular city in Guatemala, is located 1,500m above sea level. Quetzaltenango (Xela), another big city in Guatemala, is located 2,300m above sea level.

The sun at high altitudes is much stronger and damaging to the skin. Make sure you pack some sunscreen for your Guatemala trip!

Click here for more details!

Most of the Guatemalans you encounter on your trip will not speak any English. That is why it is important to either have a basic level of Spanish, bring a translator, or carry a basic Spanish phrase and dictionary book with you.

I find that having a physical phrase booking is not only helpful, but will also help you learn Spanish in Guatemala.

Click here to find out more about the Spanish phrasebook & dictionary!

If you don’t already have a portable charger to charge your phone when you are on the go, you need to get one right now. 

A portable charger will keep your electronics alive when you are out exploring the city or on a hike. It can charge your phone, some cameras, and other electronics. 

My favorite brand is Anker and I have had it for 5+ years and it is still functional! 

Click here for more information!

Guatemala uses the two-pinned plug similar to the ones they use in the United States. If you have one, you don’t need to buy a travel adapter. If you don’t, then I highly recommend this EPICKA travel adapter

It is universal so you can use it for any destination in the entire world. There are also USB plugs so all you need is a cable to charge your electronics! It is so versatile!

Click here for more info!

16. Warm Clothing (Hat and Gloves)

Bringing warm clothing to a country called the “country of eternal spring” might be a strange thing. But if you are doing any multi-day hikes such as the Volcano Acatenango hike or the Tajumulco hike, it is wise to bring so warm clothing. Once the sun sets in Guatemala, it can actually get quite chilly.

A light windbreaker is a must for Guatemala as well as some gloves and hat if you are going to be in high elevation at night. Don’t just bring t-shirts and shorts. You will regret it!

Here are my favorite hat and gloves for combating cold weather!

Documentation/Vaccines/Currency/Etc For Guatemala

1. Passport, Visas, and a Return Flight

Self-Explanatory. Make sure you have your passport and the proper visa to enter Guatemala. If you are not sure if a visa to required for you to enter Guatemala, make sure you check beforehand. 

There is a possibility that the airline will ask your proof of onward travel. That means you need to prove you are leaving Guatemala via a flight ticket or bus ticket to another country. You will not be able to board the flight unless you have proof of onward travel. 

2. Travel Insurance

I cannot stress this enough. Travel insurance is an essential part of traveling, especially if you are visiting a poor country like Guatemala. Stealing an iPhone form you is worth two months of their salary, if they even have a job. Guatemalans are some of the friendliest people I have met but people can do bad things in desperate times.

Some cities in Guatemala are safer than others. For example, the safety in Antigua is quite high but it is dangerous in most parts of Guatemala City.

Don’t let a few mishaps ruin your Guatemala trip.

Purchase travel insurance beforehand.

3. Foreign Currency (Guatemalan Quetzal)

I recommend exchanging for some Guatemalan Quetzal currency before you arrive in Guatemala. Nearly all the shops in Guatemala (except Guatemala City) will only accept cash.

You don’t need to take that much though, just enough to get you from Guatemala City Airport to Antigua. Antigua has numerous ATMs where you can withdraw Quetzales from for a small additional fee. It is the most economical way to get local currency in Guatemala.

Guatemala City airport does not have an ATM. 

4. Credit and Debit (ATM) Card

As I said above, the most economical way to get the most amount of local currency is to use a local ATM with your debit (ATM) card. Credit cards will work in Guatemala cities and some shop in Antigua, but is useless in most of the other places in Guatemala.

Always remember to make a backup of your cards and document by taking photos of them and uploading them on Google Drive or Dropbox!

5. Vaccines

As I am not a medical professional, refer here for the list of vaccines needed for Guatemala.  Though some of those vaccines are only recommended and not required, I recommend you to get them anyways.

Peace of mind is the most important thing when traveling abroad.

What To Not Include On Your Packing List For Guatemala

Most packing guides will just include the things to bring with you, but never mention the items you should not bring. In our guide, we will also mention the things that are not really worth bringing to Guatemala for various reasons. 

1. Fancy and Bulky Electronics

Fancy and bulky electronics such as a nice camera will inevitably capture the attention of the locals in Guatemala. They know that those fancy electronics are worth a fortune and taking them from you could means months of their salary. 

You are essentially putting a big target on your back if you bring them. If you want to bring a professional camera, I recommend a high-quality compact mirrorless camera such as the Sony A7III. It is one of the best backpacking cameras!

2. Jewelry

Similar to fancy electronics, jewelry is completely unnecessary for your Guatemala trip. The locals rarely wear it and if you wear a fancy watch or a diamond ring, you will stick out and become a target. If you have to bring jewelry with you, make sure you keep it in a safe place! 

3. Huge Luggage, Especially Big Rolling Luggage

Rolling luggage has its place and time, and Guatemala is not the place for it. Its lack of infrastructure and cobbled-stoned roads will be a challenge for you. Imagine dragging your 50-lb luggage across the cobbled-stoned streets of Antigua, your luggage bouncing up and down with every step you take. It is not fun.

Besides the roads, transportation is not very big luggage friendly. Most of the time it is a van that fits around 10 people and your luggage will have to go on top of the van.

If it rains, your luggage gets wet. If the van goes on a bumpy part of the road, your luggage might get damaged.

These are some things to consider when bringing big luggage to Guatemala.

Safety In Guatemala

Guatemala is one of my favorite countries. With its diverse landscapes, rich culture, and friendly people, there are so many things to love bout Guatemala. However, Guatemala is not all perfect.

Guatemala is not the safest place in the world, or even close to it.

Generally speaking, most of the touristy places in Guatemala is safe. Antigua, Flores, Semuc Champey, and Lake Atitlan (not between the villages).

But that doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen to you in those places. If you make yourself an easy target by being under-the-influenced, you will increase the chances of being the victim.

Guatemala City is unsafe, especially at night. Some parts are safe in Guatemala City in the day time such as Zone 1, but it is not advisable to go out at night due to safety reasons. The good thing is there isn’t much to see in Guatemala City.

Quetzaltenango (Xela) is another city with questionable safety. Though safer than Guatemala City, I have heard stories of people getting robbed and held at knifepoint.

Chicken buses are the main form of pubic transportation in Guatemala. They are what the locals take to get from one place to another. They are super cheap and riding them is an experience unlike any other. However, pickpockets are common on chicken buses. Watch your belongings carefully if you decide to take one of them.

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This concludes our guide on the Guatemala packing list! I hope now you know what to bring to Guatemala for your next vacation!

Questions? Leave a comment!

Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links. That means if you book or make a purchase through the links, we will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! The money will help run this site! Thank you 🙂

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How To Get From Guatemala City Airport To Antigua: 5 SAFE Ways

How To Get From Guatemala City Airport To Antigua: 5 SAFE Ways

How to get from Guatemala City airport to Antigua?

Anyone that is traveling to Guatemala by plane will inevitably have this question.

Haven’t been to Guatemala City and its La Aurora International Airport a few times, I can tell you it’s a nightmare if you don’t prepare ahead of time.

In this guide, I will tell you the best ways to get from La Aurora International Airport to Antigua, Guatemala! 

Is It Worth Visiting Guatemala City?

Is it worth visiting Guatemala City? Probably not. 

Guatemala City is not what you think of when you close your eyes and picture Guatemala. Guatemala is known for its rich Mayan culture, beautiful volcanoes, rich landscapes, and ancient colonial town. Unfortunately, Guatemala City doesn’t have much of those. 

Mainly a metropolis, Guatemala City is just similar to any other big city. Bad traffic, work-heavy atmosphere, and skyscrapers. But what is the most unappealing thing about Guatemala City is its safety.

Guatemala City is not safe.

Parts of the city are safer than others, namely the touristic Zone 1. Even then, walking around Zone 1 in Guatemala City can be dangerous. Armed robberies, mugging, and pickpockets are common in Guatemala City, especially at night. 

I would not visit Guatemala City if I were you.

If you arrive in Guatemala City at night and there is no way for you to get to Antigua, stay at one of the hotels near the La Aurora Airport with a free shuttle. I recommend Barcelo Guatemala City.

Distance From Guatemala City To Antigua

To decide which mode of transportation you take from Guatemala City to Antigua, you need to know how far apart the two cities are and how long it takes to travel between them.

The distance from Guatemala City to Antigua is about 40 km and takes about 60 minutes to go between the two. It is, however, under one condition: without traffic. 

With traffic, it is a completely different story. I found out the hard way. Being stuck on a shuttle bus for a 5-hour journey that was supposed to take 2. When it is rush hour in Guatemala City, it could take 3 hours or more to get from Guatemala City to Antigua.

So please be aware of that when you are traveling between the city, whether you are just arriving or departing and trying to catch a flight!

Consider which kind of transportation you want to be stuck in for 3 hours!

Make sure you have travel insurance when traveling in Guatemala. Here is what we recommend:

How To Get From Guatemala City To Antigua

1. La Aurora International Airport Official Taxi

If you hadn’t done any planning before arriving at the Guatemala airport, taking the airport taxi is probably the most convenient way to get to Antigua. 

There are airport taxis once you grab your bags and exit the airport. They are white so they shouldn’t be too hard to miss. They are safe and reliable but do charge quite a bit.

A trip to Antigua from Guatemala City on an airport taxi cost about 40 USD.

Make sure you are getting into an airport taxi and not a normal taxi! Normal taxis can be dangerous! 

2. Calling an Uber From Guatemala City Airport to Antigua

When I found out that Uber works in Guatemala City, I was literally in tears of joy. Nothing easier than going on your phone, pulling up the app, typing the address, then happily waiting for your driver to arrive.

Uber is my favorite option to get from Guatemala City to Antigua because it is safe and reliable. If your flight is delayed, that’s fine. Just call your Uber when you are ready. If you had arranged a shuttle from a third-party company and you arrived late, who knows if they will wait for you.

The Uber cost around 160Q to 200 Q (21 USD to 26 USD), depending on the traffic. If there are huge traffic jams, expect the price to be even higher.

If you have to pay per person to take a shuttle, then getting an Uber to Antigua is a much more economical option. 

Getting a Sim Card at The Guatemala City Airport

It’s great that you can get an Uber at the Guatemala City Airport. But without a SIM card and data in a foreign country, how can you call an Uber?

Don’t worry.

There is a Claro (one of the top phone service providers) sales counter at the Guatemala City Airport.

They offer various packages depending on your needs. However, like everything in the airport, prices are inflated, including the SIM cards.

Depending on how long your Guatemala trip is, it might be cheaper to buy the cheapest SIM card with data to call an Uber, and then buying another one in other cities in Guatemala, like FloresLake Atitlan, or Xela.

You MUST have an unlocked phone for the Guatemalan SIM card to work!

WiFi at The Guatemala City Airport

What about WiFi at La Aurora International Airport? Is there WiFi that we could use to order an Uber?

The answers is… Yes and No.

Guatemala City airport does not have an official WiFi.

However, here is a trick that you could use. There is a dining area in the airport with restaurants and cafes. Some of the cafes there will have WiFi for the public to use. Chances are you will either have to buy something from them or pay in order to use one of their WiFi services.

I paid 5Q (2020) for an hour of WiFi at one of the cafes at the airport.

With WiFi, you can call your Uber to meet you in front of the airport and walk out when you see that the driver has arrived.

There are also currency exchanges at the airport.

3. Arranging A Shuttle from Your Accommodation in Antigua

If for some reason ordering an Uber from the airport doesn’t sound feasible, the most reliable way is to have your accommodation in Antigua arrange a shuttle for you.

Many of the accommodations in Antigua will offer a shuttle service for visitors arriving at the Guatemala City airport. You tell them your flight number, estimated time of arrival, and they will come with a paper sign with your name on it.

This option is great for anyone that prefers luxury and reliability over cost because shuttle service from a hotel is usually much pricer than an Uber.

It is also a great option if you are arriving late at night!

4. Shared Public Shuttle from Guatemala City Airport to Antigua

The public shuttle transport from Guatemala airport to Antigua is the best option for anyone traveling Guatemala solo. It is the most economical option and doesn’t require any pre-planning, except making sure they still run when you arrive.

I am not exactly sure when the first and last shuttle is, but I’ve heard that after 8 PM it is unlikely to find a shared shuttle from Guatemala City to Antigua.

Once you exit the airport, you will see people holding a sign that says “Antigua”. Go up to them and tell them you are interested in going to Antigua.

The price is around 10 USD.

If you are paying someone, it should be the driver, and not the middle man. If you pay the middle-man, you will end up paying more!

The only downside about the public shuttle to Antigua is that it only goes when it is full. So sometimes you might end up waiting for another plane to land just so there are enough passengers.

The public shuttle drops you off at your accommodation in Antigua but you need to clearly convey your destination to the driver. There are many hotels and hostels with similar names in Antigua.

I recommend having the name of the accommodation and address clearly written on a piece of paper or on your phone.

5. Private Shuttle From a Third-Party

Websites like GuateGo will offer a shuttle service from Guatemala City to Antigua. Their services are reliable and I would recommend them for anything transportation-related in Central America.

The price is 15 USD per person from La Aurora International Airport to Antigua. (At the time of writing)

However, if your flight is delayed, the shuttle won’t wait for you. So there is a little bit of risk picking a third-party company like GuateGo.

There is also a new company called C.A. Express. Though I have not taken it, they are advertised as the luxury option to get from Guatemala City to Antigua.

6. The Crazy “Chicken Bus” (Not Recommended)

The chicken bus is the main form of public transportation in Guatemala. They are old retired American school buses that have been sold/donated to poorer countries such as Guatemala.

In Guatemala, they are known as camionettas, and not “bus de pollo” or “pollo bus” Unless you want Guatemalans to laugh at you, please don’t call it “pollo bus”.

No one knows exactly why they are called chicken buses. Maybe it is the fact that passengers are crammed like livestock on the bus? (Seats intended for two will fit at least four.) Or maybe the fact that chicken buses sometimes transport chickens? Though I have not seen any.

Either way, locals take chicken buses from Guatemala City to Antigua. There are no chicken buses that go from the Guatemala airport to Antigua. All chicken buses must be taken from the city center.

That is one of the reasons why I don’t recommend taking the chicken bus. The other is for safety reasons. Theft is common on the chicken bus!

Where To Stay In Antigua

Best Hostel in Antigua – Adra Hostel

Adra Hostel is one of my favorite hostels in Antigua. Its beautiful common area is a great place to relax and meet other travelers or locals. The beds are comfortable and each bed is capsule-like with its own light and electric socket. 

Click here for more details!

Best Cheap Hotel in Antigua – Meson de Maria

Well-decorated and carefully designed, Meson de Maria is my favorite budget hotel in Antigua. Located one block away from Arco de Santa Catalina (the best attraction in Antigua), the location cannot be more perfect. The reception is also very friendly and the hotel offers free Guatemalan chocolate!

Click here for more details!

Best Luxury Hotel in Antigua – Hotel Palacio de Dona Beatriz

Hotel Palacio de Dona Beatriz is a proper luxury hotel in Antigua Guatemala. The colonial-style architecture breathtaking and the pool cannot be more perfect. The hotel also offers shuttle service from the Guatemala City airport to Antigua. If you want a quiet and luxurious place to stay in Antigua, don’t look any further.

Click here for more details!

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15 UNIQUE Things to Do in Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala

15 UNIQUE Things to Do in Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala

Quetzaltenango, or commonly known as Xela, is the second-largest city in Guatemala after Guatemala City.

As the second-biggest city in Guatemala, Xela rarely gets any tourism. It is not the typical place travelers see when they close their eyes and imagine themselves on vacation. There are no fancy hotels, no posh restaurants, and generally no luxury. There is no sugarcoating to the representation of Guatemala in this poor city.

Here you will experience true Guatemala culture and their ways of life. You will see the struggles and poverty that every family has to deal with every day. And in a way, I fell in love with the authenticity of this city.

Without a lot of visitors, I wasn’t able to find any good information about things to do in Xela (Quetzaltenango) online.

So after spending one month in Xela studying Spanish, I decided to write a complete guide on Xela and answer any questions about what to do in Xela (Quetzaltenango). 

What To Do in Xela: 15 Best Things To Do in Xela (Quetzaltenango)

Go Hiking in Xela!

Tajumulco Volcano , The Highest Mountain in Central America

Volcano Tajumulco is the tallest peak and volcano in all of Central America at 4220 meters. You can say it is the Kilimanjaro of Central America. With such an intimidating title, hiking Tajumulco Volcano might seem like a daunting task at first.

Believe it or not, the Volcano Tajumulco hike is not so difficult.

Part of the reason is that you start relatively high at 3,000 meters, so I huge chunk of the work is already done for you.

You will ascend 1,200 meters to reach the top, and that is usually done in 4 hours. Then it takes about another 3 hours to reach back down. The whole journey is only about 7 hours of hiking.

Hiking Tajumulco can be done as a day trip from Xela, but most hikers prefer the two-day trek instead.

That is because on day 2 of the Tajumulco trek, you wake up in the morning to see the sunrise over the highest mountain in Central America. The panoramic view of Guatemala on Tajumulco is not something you will forget for a long time.

The hike itself is not so difficult but altitude sickness becomes a problem at such high elevation!

Duration: About 7 hours of hiking, either in 1 day or split into 2 days.
Difficulty:
Moderate
Maximum Altitude:
4220m

Hike Volcano Santa Maria And See Volcano Santiaguito Erupt!

Volcano Santa Maria is an active stratovolcano located about an hour away from Xela. Its last eruption was in 1902 and now it is being monitored carefully.

Measuring at 3,772 meters above sea level, hiking Santa Maria is no easy task. However, when you are at the peak of Santa Maria Volcano, you can see the nearby Volcano Santiaguito erupt. The frequency of its eruption is very inconsistent compared to Volcano Fuego.

If you want to see a volcanic eruption with your own eyes, then I recommend going to Antigua and hiking Volcano Acatenango.

We waited for an hour at the top of Santa Maria and did not see Santiaguito erupt.

The hike to the top of the volcano takes about 3 to 4 hours. On the path, you will pass by making different biospheres and it’s quite an interesting experience. The top of the volcano is also filled with offerings from the local Guatemalans.

To what? I am not entirely sure. But it is common for locals to hike up Santa Maria and lay down offerings on the weekends.

It is easy and safe to hike Santa Maria independently, so you can save that little bit of money you save on the tour guide for yummy Guatemalan food! But if you don’t want to take a chicken bus, you can always opt for a trekking tour with Quetzaltrekkers.

Duration: 6 to 7 hours of hiking + 2 hours of transportation
Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult
Maximum Elevation: 3,772m

Hike Volcano Chicabal And See Its Sacred Crater Lake!

Volcano Chicabal is a 2,720-meter inactive volcano located in the Quetzaltenango Department. It is one of the most famous volcanoes in Guatemala not because of its height, but because of its sacredness to the indigenous people.

In the center of Volcano Chicabal is a holy lake called Laguna Chicabal, or Chicabal Lake in English. A sacred lake to the local Mayan people, it is not uncommon to see traditional rituals and practices on the weekends. With the heavy fog that rolls in almost every day in the afternoon, sometimes you will hear shaman’s chantings and not see where they are coming from!

Combined with the rainforest that surrounds the rim of the crater, it creates a mysterious atmosphere and an eye-widening experience.

Swimming in the sacred lake is prohibited. Often times, you can see offerings floating on the surface of the water.

To get to Chicabal Volcano and its sacred lake take a chicken bus from the Minerva Market to San Martin Sacatepequez, also known as Chile Verde. Let the driver known you want to visit Volcano Chicabal and he will drop you off accordingly in San Martin.

Then either follow the signs to Chicabal or use an app such as maps.me to guide you. The path is quite straight forward.

Duration: 3 to 4 hours of hiking + 1.5 to 2 hours of transportation.
Difficulty: Moderate
Max Elevation: 2,720 meters

3-Day Trek From Xela To Lake Atitlan

For anyone looking for a tough multi-day trek in Xela (Quetzaltenango), worry not. The intense 3-day hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan is a popular trekking option for experienced hikers. If Lake Atitlan is the next stop on your Guatemala itinerary, you can take this trek and have your luggage transferred to Lake Atitlan.

If Lake Atitlan isn’t your next stop, it should be! There are so many amazing things to do in Lake Atitlan.

This 3-day trek from Quetzaltenango to Lake Atitlan is one of the most enriching experiences you can have in Guatemala.

You will hike through small villages, coffee plantations, crop fields, rainforest, and much more in your 3-day journey. On the last day, you will arrive in Lake Atitlan and watch the sun rise over the beautiful volcanoes that surround this serene lake.

You won’t need to hike Indian Nose in Lake Atitlan if you do this trek!

Duration: 3 days
Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult

For more information, click here!

Visit Some of The Best Guatemala Markets

Minerva Terminal Market (Mercado La Terminal Minerva)

Minerva Terminal Market is one of the biggest markets in Xela. Located in front of the bus terminal, chances are you will have to pass through this market to get to the terminal.

Words cannot describe the chaos and insanity I witnessed in Minerva Market. You can try to make sense of it all you want but it won’t work. It is messy, people are everywhere (sometimes cars), the whole market is like a maze and you are trapped inside.

Anything you want in this market, you will find it in the Minerva Market. The market does target local Guatemalans so you will see low prices and mostly produce.

I bought 15 avocados there for 3Q (less than 50 cents). Though a lot of them were rotten, it is just ridiculous how affordable Xela, or Guatemala in general, can be.

When visiting the Minerva Market, be careful with your belongings because pickpockets are common there, especially if you are the only foreigner in the entire market!

Location: Minerva Market
Hours: 5 AM – 6 PM

Democracy Market (Mercado La Democracia)

Democracy Market, or Mercado La Democracia in Spanish, is another hectic market in Xela. While the Minerva Market has a close resemblance to a traditional market with its stalls and tarps, the Democracy Market is quite the opposite.

Lined with baskets of fruits and vegetables on the side of a road (with cars), some of you might not even consider this a market. If chaos was for sale, you would find it for free in the Democracy market. It is definitely one of the best places to visit in Xela because it is just so shocking.

The Democracy Market is the best place to shop for fruits and vegetables. The freshness and the prices are some things that even the Minerva Market can’t beat.

Location: Mercado La Democracia
Hours: 8 AM – 5 PM (Guatemalan Time!)

Chichicastenango Market, The Biggest Outdoor Market in Central America

Chichicastenango Market is definitely one of the places you cannot miss in Guatemala. As the biggest outdoor market in Central America, you will find an endless amount of artisan crafts, Mayan souvenirs, traditional textiles, and much more. 

Locals from all over Guatemala gather on Thursdays and Sundays in this mountain village to buy and sell their goods. Though it contains several vendors with Guatemalan souvenirs targeting tourists, the market is still dominated by local activities. 

It is not uncommon to see a mother with her newborn baby wrapped behind her back with handcraft textiles. Not only is this a place to shop, but the Chichicastenango Market is a great place to just people watch. 

Situated a few blocks from the market is the Chichicastenango cemetery, a colorful cemetery that is worth making a quick detour for!

There is tourist transport that will easily take you to Chichicastenango from Xela. However, save yourself the extra buck and do it yourself. It is a very straight forward journey even if you struggle with Spanish!

To get to Chichicastenango from Xela, head to Minerva Market Terminal and take a chicken bus (camionetta, not pollo bus) to Los Encuentros. The bus station is located in the rear of the Minerva Market. 

Once you get off at Los Encuentros, you will see many different buses headed towards different places. Find the one to Chichicastenango and you are all set! 

Remember to watch your stuff on the chicken bus! 

Visit the Quetzaltenango Cathedral In Parque Central (Central Park)

In every city in Guatemala, there is always a famous church as the most iconic landmark. In Xela, it is the Quetzaltenango Cathedral in Parque Central (Central Park).

Located in touristy-friendly Zone 1 of Xela, this church is very easy to get to if you are staying in one of the few hostels in the area.

Called Catedral del Espiritu Santo de Quetzaltenango, this Catholic church was built by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

The church is by far the most impressive building in Quetzaltenango. You can see its well-preserved facade stand proudly in Central Park.

Admission Fee: Free
Hours:
9 AM – 12 PM Saturdays; Sundays Closed; 9 AM – 5 PM Mondays to Thursdays
Location:
Quetzaltenango Cathedral

Study in a Spanish School And Do A Guatemala Homestay!

Studying in a Spanish school is probably the most popular thing to do in Xela (Quetzaltenango). The city itself is known for its professional Spanish school that offers intensive programs for the backpackers to medical personnel.

But why should you learn Spanish in Xela? Having studied there for 1 month, I will tell you why I’ve selected Xela as opposed to the popular alternative, Antigua.

The Spanish classes in Guatemala, especially Xela, are some of the most affordable in the entire world. Not only are the classes cheap, but Guatemala Spanish is also known as one of the easiest types of Spanish to learn. There aren’t that many slangs, the tones are neutral, and the talking speak isn’t that fast.

But what made me decide on Xela instead of Guatemala is the “total immersion” programs in Xela. A lot of the locals in Antigua will speak English to you when they see that you are pale-skinned with blond hair.

In Xela, no one can speak English even if they want to. You are forced to speak Spanish every day at the restaurants, at the markets, and everywhere you go. It is a sink or swim scenario.

To top off the learning experience, you should definitely do a homestay in Xela! It is one of the best cultural-enriching experiences I had in Guatemala. Our “Guata-mama” made us some of the most delicious Guatemala cuisine (as well as hell-inducing spicy salsa). 

If you come to Xela, you have to try some of the Spanish Schools They have short-term programs as well as long-term ones!

Visit the Hot Springs Fuentes Georginas

Xela, at 2,330 meters above sea level, can be cold most of the time. To combat the coldness, visit the nearby Fuentes Georginas Hotsprings!

Though I did not go myself (no way am I taking my clothes off in the Xela cold), a lot of my friends went and said it was amazing.

The pools are situated in a nearby town called Zunil. It is possible to do-it-yourself but the prices come out to be around the same because you need to take a taxi from Zunil town all the way up to Fuentas Georginas Springs.

Surrounded by lush mountains, visitors can relax in their hot natural volcanic springs and admire the beautiful scenery. A lot of my friends did not find the main pool to be hot enough, but you can pay a little extra to access the hotter lower pools.

When you visit remember to bring warm clothes, your bathing suit, cash, and a combination lock to use their lockers. To use the lockers, you have to pay an extra fee.

Hours: 9 AM – 6 PM
Admission Fee: 60 Q for the main pool, an additional 25 Q for the hotter lower pools (At time of writing)
Location: Fuentes Georginas

Visit the Xela Cemetery (For Fun)!

Believe it or not. One of the best attractions in Xela (Quetzaltenango) is its cemetery! Though this might be strange and downright disrespectful in some cultures, the cemeteries are quite popular attractions in Guatemala, Mexico, and more countries.

The Xela cemetery is a wide area filled with various different types of tombstones. You will see traditional tombs with just a cross contrasted with remarkable mausoleums. Many of them are decorated really well (especially if it is around Day of the Dead) and it’s a strange feeling seeing such a photogenic graveyard.

With a beautiful volcano as the backdrop, it’s hard to not upload a photo on this beautiful scenery on Instagram.

Please be respectful when you visit. It is an active cemetery after all!

If possible, I recommend going with a tour guide as the cemetery is full of exciting history and interesting facts!

Location: Cementerio General
Admission Fee:
Free

Do Yoga at the Yoga House

Feeling a little tight after doing so much hiking in Guatemala? Or are you a yoga extraordinaire? Come take a yoga class at The Yoga House!

Featuring daily classes of various difficulty, visitors are bound to find something they like. The teachers are very professional and come from various international backgrounds. The owner and head instructor Kevin will also give you a good high-intensity-interval-training workout if you want!

My favorite part of The Yoga House is the close-knit community. Frequently, you will hear chatters and laughter from students and instructors in the hallway. It is a good place to work out, get a nice stretch, or even to make some friends!

For more information, please visit their official website!

Get Wet At the Xocomil Water Park

Though we have not personally been to Xocomil Water Park (Because we found out after we left Xela), a couple of my friends did and I will speak from their experiences.

Located an hour and a half away from Xela in the Retalhuleu Department, the Xocomil Water Park is the biggest and most-visited water amusement part in Guatemala. The park covers an area of 77,300 square meters and is themed after historic places in Guatemala, such as the Jaguar Temple in the Tikal National Park

The quality of this water park matches that of the United States, without only a fraction of the entrance fee. You can spend a day relaxing in the numerous pools and get adventurous and jump in the slides. 

If you are traveling Guatemala with kids, there are also kids-friendly pools such as the wave pools and baby pools for them to enjoy. 

To get to Xocomil, head over to the terminal in Minerva Market and look for a chicken bus that goes to San Martin Zapotitlan in the Retalhuleu Department. It is the perfect day trip from Xela and the perfect way to escape the cold weather in Xela

Location: IRTRA, Unnamed Road, Retalhuleu, Guatemala
Hours: 9 AM – 4:30 PM Thursdays To Sundays; 9 AM – 6 PM Mondays; Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

Go Watch a Soccer (Football) Game

Xela is the home to some of the biggest soccer fanatics in the world. Their enthusiasm is just overwhelming and going to one of their games is such a good way to enjoy yourself and meet some locals.

Xela has its own soccer team called the Xelaju M.C. Their mascot is the Super Chiva (Super Female Goat). And if the fans had to pick between winning a match or living 5 years less, it would be a clear choice for them. 

Insider Tip: It is also one of the best ways to learn some profanities in Spanish.

They play at the Mario Camposeco Stadium and you can purchase tickets by going to the ticketing booth a day in advance!

Location: 14 Avenida, Quezaltenango, Guatemala

Go Thrift-Shopping at the Mega Paca!

Shopping at a thrift shop? That’s fun. Shopping at a thrift shop in Guatemala? That’s even better.

Xela is filled with huge thrift shops and the most notable one is called Mega Paca. If you have the patience, you can spend an entire day here going up and down the aisle hunting for treasures.

Most of these clothes are leftover clothes from thrift shops in America. If no one buys them in the thrift shops in America for a long time, they get packaged and sent to Guatemala!

You can find lots of good brands here such as Levi’s, J. Crews, and much more. If you are into denim jackets like I am, you will find lots of antique denim jackets!

Location: 7a Calle 29-60, Quezaltenango, Guatemala
Hours: 8 AM – 8 PM

Where to Stay in Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala

Best Hostel in Xela – Casa Seibel

Casa Seibel is a beautiful and cozy hostel located in the touristy part of Xela. They have shared rooms with single beds so no more climbing up ladders in the middle of the night. Their showers are hot, which can be hard to find in Xela sometimes. My favorite part is the sunny courtyards that make the perfect place to relax after a busy day in Xela!

If you want more of a party vibe, the nearby Casa Kiwi is the perfect place to stay in Xela!

Click here for more details!

LATAM Hotel Plaza Pradera is one of the most luxurious hotels in Xela. This is the place celebrities and soccer players stay when they come to Xela! Guests can enjoy a panoramic view of Xela on their gorgeous rooftop swimming pool. The hotel also has a fitness center and an on-site restaurant!

Click here for more details!

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I hope this guide answers your question on “What to do in Xela Guatemala”. Xela has a special place in my heart and I hope you enjoy this authentic city as much as I did!

Questions? Leave a comment below!

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17 Unique Things to Do in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

17 Unique Things to Do in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

It is not surprising that Lake Atitlan is one of the best places to visit in Guatemala. A beautiful volcanic lake surrounded by traditional Mayan villages and majestic volcanoes, Lake Atitlan is an absolute paradise.

Lake Atitlan spans a total of 130.1 square kilometers and is made out of 11 ethnic towns and villages.

Yes! There are 11 Lake Atitlan villages!

You could spend weeks here and not get through the list of things to do in Lake Atitlan.

That is the exact reason why I loved it so much when I was in Lake Atitlan. There are so many different Lake Atitlan activities that you will inevitably find something you like.

Without further ado, here is our guide on what to do in Lake Atitlan!

What To Do In Lake Atitlan: 17 Best Lake Atitlan Activities

1. Hike Indian Nose At Sunrise (One of My Favorite Things to Do in Lake Atitlan)

For any traveler looking for an epic sunrise where the skies burn with vibrant colors, the Indian Nose hike is one of the things you must do in Lake Atitlan.

The viewpoint at the top of the Indian Nose rises above the mountains, and for a second it feels like you are the guardian of Lake Atitlan when you are overlooking at the small villages down below. It is an unworldly feeling that can only be explained by experience. 

A short 30-minute hike that will reward you with the best views of Lake Atitlan, hiking Indian Nose is one of the best activities in Lake Atitlan.  

It is possible to hike the Indian Nose independently. However, I’ve heard of travelers getting solicited by bandits on the way up there. Hence, I recommend you getting an affordable tour in San Pedro or one of the other small towns in Lake Atitlan. 

2. Go Cliff Jumping at Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve in San Marcos

If you are tired of chilling in your fancy hotel in San Pedro and want to do something adventurous, go cliff jumping in San Marcos! The platform is about 10 meters above the lake and I have to be honest, I chickened out. A few of my friends did it and they said it felt like they were falling forever, and falling forever doesn’t sound like fun to me. 

But if the platform in Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve is too high for you to cliff jump from, there are some rocks near the bottom where you can jump from as well. Also a great place to swim or relax in the beautiful environment,  Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve is a hidden gem in Lake Atitlan!

3. Kayak From One Lake Atitlan Village to Another 

Not sure what to do in Lake Atitlan? Why not rent out a kayak for a few hours and kayak across the lake, from one village to another. It might seem like a daunting task but Lake Atitlan is actually not that big. We rented a kayak from San Pedro and kayaked to San Marcos and it only took 30 minutes. If your heart desires, you can village hop on a kayak!  It is a great way to stay in shape especially if you are backpacking Guatemala for a long time. 

4. Do Yoga in Lake Atitlan at Yoga Forest

Yoga is one of the most popular things to do in Lake Atitlan. With beautiful and tranquil views, amazing natural environments, yogis ad yoga-lovers can absorb the zen atmosphere while doing the upward-facing dog pose.

The best place to do yoga in Lake Atitlan is unquestionably Yoga Forest in San Marcos. A fully-equipped yoga retreat facility featuring traditional Mayan altars and hot springs, yogis can connect with Mother Earth in a zen-like environment.

Yoga Forest has an activity for beginners to advanced yogis. First-time visitors are encouraged to try out one of their daily drop-in classes at 7 AM, 10:30 AM or 4 PM to see if they like it. 

5. Visit San Juan For Some Local Crafts

San Juan is one of the most authentic indigenous towns in Lake Atitlan. With about 95% of the population Tz’utujil, one of 21 ethic Maya groups, you can immediately feel that the vibe is different from the touristy San Pedro. Marked by their colorful outfits and their vibrant hats, you can find many indigenous Tz’utujil people walking around the tranquil streets or selling some of their local crafts.

San Juan is also one of the best places to buy souvenirs from Guatemala, as any purchase will go directly to the local communities you are buying from. Hand-woven clothing, paintings, other crafts, and jewelry, you will find lots of flavors of Guatemala not found anywhere else. Buying directly from locals is one of the best ways to travel responsibly!

6. Go Swimming In Lake Atitlan!

What is the point of coming to Lake Atitlan if you are not going to swim in the lake? That’s the equivalent of going to the beach and not swim, or going to a restaurant and not eat!

But can you swim in Lake Atitlan? Yes, and no. Lake Atitlan was officially labeled as a contaminated water source in 2009 due an excessive amount of cyanobacteria.

Polluted by aging sewage systems, agricultural fertilizers, and locals tossing their trash in the water, Lake Atitlan’s beauty is hindered. 

However, when I visited Lake Atitlan in 2019, everyone seemed eager to go in the water. No one suffered from any rashes or any illnesses. If you are afraid of the cleanliness of the water, I would suggest avoid swimming in the big villages such as San Pedro and Panajachel. Swim at the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve in San Marcos if possible, the water was spotless there!

For anyone looking for a proper swim session at the beach, visit the beach town Monterrico in Guatemala!

7. Visit Chichicastenango, the Biggest Outdoor Market in Central America

Anyone looking for the ultimate shopping experience in Guatemala cannot pass up a visit to Chichicastenango, the biggest outdoor market in Central America.

Hundreds, maybe even thousands of stores, including an indoor basketball court that has been transformed into an area with stalls and vendors, you can shop till your legs shake here.

I cannot count the number of the times I have gotten lost there, as the tight little streets lined with vendors and stalls on both sides look very similar. It is a complete maze here and might seem overwhelming at first.

The cool thing about Chichicastenango was that it was never intended to sell things to tourists. It was a market for locals from around the country where they can buy and sell their goods. However, nowadays it is starting to transform as more and more tourists are visiting this beautiful and traditional market.

With beautiful textiles and mysterious Mayan artifacts amongst other unique things, it is not surprising that Chichicastenango has become so popular. So come visit Chichicastenango before it becomes a tourist trap!

You can visit Chichicastenango with tourist transport from San Pedro, Panajachel, and even San Macros (though more difficult). If you are feeling adventurous, you can also take the chicken buses from San Pedro or Panajachel to Chichicastenango.

8. Stay at Free Cerveza, The Crazy Fun Hostel in Santa Cruz

Looking for a fun hostel in Lake Atitlan? You have to check out Free Cerveza in Santa Cruz.

I am quite positive you already know what the word “Cerveza” means in Spanish because that’s pretty much the first Spanish word you learn traveling in Latin America. If you haven’t learned the word yet, free Cerveza means free “beer”.

Every day right before dinner, Free Cerveza hostel offers unlimited (yes you heard that right) for one hour to everyone that has signed up with them for dinner.

One of the most social and fun hostels in Guatemala, come to Free Cerveza and get sloppy drunk on unlimited beer, wake up late with a hangout the next morning, and then jump into the lake with your new friends!

9. Participate in a Temazcal Ceremony

A Tezamazcal Ceremony is a traditional shamanic Mayan cleansing ritual.

Typically, you enter a tiny sweat lodge made of stone or other impermeable material to help trap the heat in. In the center of the hut is a dirt pit where severals extremely (I mean EXTREMELY) hot stones will be put.

As you sit there inside this little hut without any ventilation, you will feel the heat amass even before the ritual begins. After they have put enough hot stones inside, they shut the door, leaving you, the shaman, and other members of the group in complete darkness. But your mind won’t be focused on the darkness, but rather on the risk of suffocation in this trapped space.

Water will be poured on top of these hot stones, creating enough steam in the hut to feel like you are drowning. As you are trapped in this steamy and hell-like hot room, the shaman will chant as part of the ritual. Typically sage and copal are added to this healing process that lasts for rounds.

The Tezmazcal Ritual is known for its power to purify the body and mind, heal the sick, and offer a haven for birth-giving mothers. Sometimes the effects can be hallucinogenic due to the condition you are in.

You can find a Tezmazcal ceremony at Yoga Forest in San Marcos.

10. Visit San Pedro For Trendy Cafes and Amazing Nightlife!

Located on the Southwestern shore of Lake Atitlan, San Pedro is the most popular village in Lake Atitlan. A village with some of the best attractions in Lake Atitlan such as trendy Cafes, high-end accommodations, and great bars, San Pedro is place you must visit in Guatemala.

My favorite bar and restaurant is Bar Sublime. A place that serves amazing food with outdoor seating overlooking Lake Atitlan, you can end up spending hours with your friends. 

If you are looking for a proper pub, check out Alegre pub. Located next to the dock, it is easy to get there even if you are not staying in San Pedro. 

If you have extra time, I recommend you to check out Tzunun’ Ya’ museum. It is an interesting museum that highlights the Mayan culture and the geological formation of Lake Atitlan.

San Pedro is also very connected with other parts of Guatemala, making it very easy to visit other tourist attractions such as Chichicastenango and Antigua. 

11. Hike San Pedro Volcano

Lake Atitlan is surrounded by volcanoes, namely Volcano Atitlan, Volcano Toliman, and Volcano San Pedro. San Pedro is the lowest of and three its peak still sits at 3020 meters above sea level.

If you are looking to do some serious hiking in Lake Atitlan, I recommend Volcano San Pedro.  The view up top is uncomparably to anywhere else on Lake Atitlan (maybe except Indian Nose).

On a clear day, you can also see Volcano Acatenango and Fuego near Antigua.

The hike takes about 5 hours in total round-trip and it is totally doable independently as the trail is clear. However, San Pedro has a reputation for its bandits on the path, people who will try to rob and solicit you. As a result, I recommend going with a local tour guide.

12. Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) on Lake Atitlan!

Rent a paddleboard at one of the towns in Lake Atitlan and go stand-up paddleboarding! It is one of the best activities in Lake Atitlan to enjoy the spectacular views of the lake and admire at the majestic volcanoes that surround Lake Atitlan!

13. Try Guatemalan Coffee!

Disclaimer, I am not a coffee snob.

However, it isn’t obvious to separate good coffee and bad coffee. Guatemala has some of the best coffee in the world due to its high elevation and warm and humid climate. Guatemala’s coffee is known to be the perfect balance between full-bodied, sweet and strong, and with hints of acidity. 

The best place to try Guatemala Coffee in Lake Atitlan is Crossroads Cafe in Panajachel

14. Do a Homestay with a Local Guatemalan Family

Interested in taking a deep dive into Guatemala culture? There is no better way than doing a homestay with a local Guatemalan family. In a homestay in Lake Atitlan, you get to eat like a local, sleep like a local, and talk (if you can speak Spanish) like a local. 

I have done a homestay with a Spanish school in Xela and it was just an eye-widening experience. Their food was so different and meat was seldom served (which is something I am not used to). One night all we had for dinner was vegetables and tortilla with hell-inducing spicy salsa. I had to sneak out that night and buy some street food! 

15. Partake in a Cacao Ceremony

Cacao ceremonies are traditional Mayan and Aztecs rituals that are used for spiritual inner awakening. If done properly, the process releases negative emotions and promotes inner healing.

Cacao translates into “Food of the Gods” and is believed to have magical powers in its rawest form. The chemicals in raw cacao, notable theobromine and phenylethylamine, are responsible for the euphoric feeling during the ritual. 

In Lake Atitlan, there is a shaman named Keith. For anyone wanting to try a Cacao Ritual or want to find out more details about it, click here

16. Learn Spanish in Lake Atitlan

Guatemala is known as one of the best places in the world to learn Spanish. Its neutral accent, slow-talking speed, and minimal slangs make Guatemala Spanish one of the most versatile Spanish to learn.

If you are backpacking Latin America, make an effort to learn some Spanish in Guatemala!

The majority of the locals in Guatemala do not speak English, so you have to fully dive in the deep end. Many of the schools offer fully immersion programs, 1-on-1 classes, and a homestay to expedite your learning process. Finally, you can drop your Spanglish and get some proper Spanish!

Though there are many Spanish schools scattered throughout Lake Atitlan, San Pedro has the highest number of them. 

17. Go Village Hopping in Lake Atitlan!

There are a total of 11 towns and villages in Lake Atitlan. Chances are you might only see the notable ones such as Santa Cruz, San Marcos, San Pedro, and Panajachel. Explore what is off-the-beaten-path in Lake Atitlan with the boats and go village hopping! 

Where To Stay In Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is made up of many small villages and towns. My recommendations on where to stay in Lake Atitlan is based on the area as a whole, not just a specific village or town.  

Best Hostel in Lake Atitlan- Sababa Resort

Located in the popular town of San Pedro, Sababa Resort is quite a unique accommodation. Boosting private rooms as well as dormitory rooms, the hotel (or hostel) has something for travelers on any budget. For an affordable price, guests can enjoy their gorgeous pool with a view of the stunning lake. The establishment is a proper resort but with affordable dormitory rooms!

Click here for more details!

Best Cheap Hotel in Lake Atitlan- Lush Atitlan

Located on San Marcos La Laguna, Lush Atitlan is one of the best affordable hotels in Lake Atitlan. This hotel is one of my favorite hidden gems in Lake Atitlan. For a low price, you get the best views of Lake Atitlan as well as a hotel that is surrounded by a lush environment. It’s the proper way to relax on the lake!

Click here for more details!

Best Luxury Hotel in Lake Atitlan- Atitlan Sunset Lodge

Located in the quiet Santa Cruz La Laguna, staying in Atitlan Sunset Lodge is synonymous with staying in a tranquil heaven. The views from the Atitlan Sunset Lodge are breath-taking at the very least. Every room in the hotel has paradisiacal views of Lake Atitlan, even some of the bathrooms! The property also offers kayaks and SUP so you will never be bored!

Click here for more details!

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This is the end of our guide on Lake Atitlan! Which one is your favorite activity in Lake Atitlan? Let us know in the comments!

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Jorge’s Rope Swing, A Must-Go-To Place in Flores Guatemala

Jorge’s Rope Swing, A Must-Go-To Place in Flores Guatemala

Did you just arrive in Flores Guatemala? You don’t have a plan yet besides visiting the amazing Tikal Ruins? Don’t worry, I have a great suggestion that you can do right now, today. Jorge’s Rope Swing. Rope Swing? YOU CRAZY?!! I can’t do a rope swing, I am 60 years-old with arthritis.

Don’t scratch this off your list yet, this place not only has rope swings and a platform to jump off into the water, but it also has a very relaxed area with hammocks, places where you can sunbathe, and benches where you can lounge in or even play board games with your friends. 

Jorge’s Rope Swing is definitely one of the best things to do in Flores Guatemala. 

How to Get to Jorge’s Rope Swing From Flores

Jorge’s Rope Swing is easily accessible from the main island of Flores. You can either tell your accommodation that you want to go to Jorge’s rope swing or take one of the boats that around the island, you cannot miss those, they are everywhere. We informed our hostel that we wanted to go to Jorge’s rope swing and the son of the family came in his own little boat and picked us up.

The whole round trip was 25Q. On top of the transport, there is a 10Q entrance fee. The boat ride is pretty tranquil and only about 20 minutes. The average person should not get seasick from this. 

Food at Jorge’s Rope Swing

There are a variety of options for food in Jorge’s rope swing. Keep in mind that you are pretty far away from the main island and some options might not be available at the time. When we were there, they offered mostly vegetarian options such as rice or pasta with veggies, nachos with guacamole, and more.

They also had water, soda, and beer for sale. For those interested in meat, they did offer BBQ for 50Q per person. However, you have to have more than 4 people that are willing to order to get it because they have to send someone to the main island of Flores to buy meat and come back. 

Cautions with the Rope Swing

Rope swings might sound like a very intuitive thing, but trust me, a lot of people get hurt from it. I have a messed up finger from it that needs surgery to get better. Here are some tips to make sure you don’t hurt yourself.

1. Don’t run into the rope and try to grab onto it. You are not Tarzan, that’s the stuff you only see in movies. Stand on the edge and hold the rope tight to your body and jump off the cliff.

2. Rope burn is a serious business. Be careful where your forearm is in relation to the rope. When you let go, throw the rope away from you to avoid the knots hitting your crotch.

3. Don’t forget to let go! If you forget to let go, then you are in big trouble. You run into the risk of falling onto the rock and that would seriously injure you really really bad. 

For those interested in doing tours in Flores Guatemala? Here’s our suggestions:

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Have you been to Jorge’s Rope Swing? What did you think of it?? This was definitely one of our favorite gems in Flores, Guatemala. Let us know in the comments!!!

Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links. That means if you book or make a purchase through the links, we will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! The money will help run this site! Thank you 🙂

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