Guatemala regions and resorts. Where to go
Guatemala is a tropical, very hot country with a long (May to November) rainy season. Nevertheless, it is a tourist destination for many Americans. Europeans don’t come here very often, and if you are blond and have blue eyes, you will be noticed by absolutely everyone on the street.
Nevertheless, some people choose Guatemala for their vacation. Usually it happens if you happened to be close by (in Mexico or Cuba) and decided that since you flew to the other side of the world, it would be worth visiting the neighboring countries. That was pretty much what happened to me. Mexico beckoned me initially, I visited a lot of Mexican resorts, living in the country about six months, and then went to see the neighboring countries.
Unfortunately, you can’t compare Mexico and Guatemala in both beach vacation and sightseeing. The Yucatan Peninsula alone, with its colonial town of Merida, stunning beaches in Playa and Cancun, fantastic cenotes and flamingos is more striking than all of Guatemala.
In the end, I left Guatemala quite disappointed. And the prices, which absolutely always did not match the service, and local culture, which has not been preserved in principle, and almost the entire population here is below the poverty line, as we understand it, and even the scenery, as you can count them on the fingers of one hand in the entire country.
Among the regions and resorts of Guatemala, it is worth highlighting only two main areas. Excursions are concentrated around the colonial capital of Antigua and Lake Atitlan in the mountainous part of the country. There is a lot to see here: beautiful houses, interesting streets, churches and ruins. Beach holidays are concentrated in the southern part of the country, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and includes more than 15 townships.
That said, Guatemala City, the capital city, is not included in the excursion, and it is simply dangerous to stay there. There is another eco-retreat at Lake Atitlan, where many American retirees gather, some of them even move here and live a very simple life.
All of these Guatemala vacation regions are marked on the map below. I advise you to set your eyes only on the excursion-colonial area in Antigua, as the neatest and most civilized.
Guatemala excursion vacations are concentrated in two areas. Here you can immerse yourself in the bright and colorful tourist world of Guatemalan culture. The first relates to Antigua, the second to the towns on Lake Atitlan. Below you will see that both of these areas are marked on the map. It is here that you have a chance to buy the best souvenirs, the most beautiful textiles, and see the most luxurious architectural delights.
Stunning Spanish colonial architecture awaits you in Antigua. This particular city used to be the capital of the whole country, but after a major earthquake it was moved to its current location.
Here you will find colorful houses of all colors, beautiful churches, interesting souvenirs, the opportunity to visit various excursions and at the same time a good contingent of American tourists. Antigua also has something you probably won’t find anywhere else but Latin America. The charm of a faded great empire in the middle of the tropical jungle with amazingly beautiful, but as if not real houses, because now they are used only by tourists. If in Spain in similar towns among the mountains people still live happily without tourists, here almost everything is based only on it.
Lake Atitlan is also located here, near Antigua. There are small towns and villages all around the lake, including the most popular, Panajachel, Santiago Atitlan, and San Marco La Laguna, a must-see. Here you will find authentic Guatemalan life and excellent hotels. You can swim in the lake and there is also the possibility of diving. Spectacular views, sunsets, fishing, interesting restaurants and romantic bars await you. In addition, there are truly modern hotels, which is rare in Guatemala in principle. Usually in this country, no matter how much money you pay, you invariably get old furniture and barely opening windows.
Unfortunately, as much as I liked Lake Atitlan, for me it was only good in contrast to the almost horrific residential areas in Guatemala City, the lack of infrastructure on the Pacific Coast, and the simply incredible heat. The same Como in Italy is perceived very differently. And Atitlan doesn’t win on any count. I thought there would be a more exciting, dramatic atmosphere here, thanks to the tropics, jungle and high volcanoes, but I was wrong.
There are essentially no beach vacations in Guatemala, in the European view. There are large almost black (dark gray) beaches with volcanic sand, a few resort villages with a population of 0.5-4 thousand people, big waves and surf spots, but no resort charm. Nevertheless, there are a lot of tourists here and they all come here from neighboring towns in just huge families. Groups of up to 15 people do not surprise anyone here.
On the Pacific Ocean, Guatemala has decent hotels in Puerto San Jose, Monterrico, El Hawaii, Iztapa, Sipacate, and El Gariton. I also liked the neighboring resort of Barra de Santiago in El Salvador. The most important resorts remain Puerto San Jose and Monterrico, marked on the map below, with the other townships to the west and east of them along the coast.
Be prepared for the fact that the beaches will not have sun beds, hotels with good quality will cost from 100 USD per night, which is a lot for their level of service and comfort, and the region itself will not please tourists with almost anything, except the presence of the sea. There are no interesting restaurants, nightclubs, stores, tourist streets and almost no infrastructure. There are only a couple of interesting active churches and a lot of souvenir shops with small handmade things.
Puerto San Jose
This resort is the most popular among the Guatemalans, so I strongly advise you not to use it for vacation. Despite the decent size of the village, here you will find literally thousands of people on the beach, spread out so close together that they are not even lying on the beach, just sitting.
At the hottest time of the year, there are so many Guatemalans here that it is impossible to be a mere tourist. Hundreds of people turn around at you, some are getting ready to steal from you, and others are just whispering in displeasure. Unfortunately, in Guatemala the issue of racism is very acute, especially in relation to brightly dressed girls.
Iztapa is another resort village where you will find both villas and mini-hotels to choose from. One of its main disadvantages is that there is a large river that flows into the ocean here and brings a not-so-pleasant swampy feeling. Also, as far as I can tell from a single visit to Iztapa, the waves here are very big, which is why there are surfers and a surf school. The waves are so big (dark brown in color) that it is scary even to approach the shore, their height reaches 3-4 meters.
The cost of a villa here, as elsewhere, starts at about 100 USD per day. I would not recommend Iztapu, unless, like me, you’re just passing through.
Sipacate itself is not on the ocean, but about 1 km from the center is a resort area right on the big beach. You can rent cheap apartments in hotels and mini-villas, like a hostel or a 1* hotel. Room rates for two people start at 20-30 USD. This is ideal for those who want to learn to surf or practice.
There is its own surf school El Paredon and it is here that you will meet the biggest waves, according to the locals.
Gariton is primarily known for a huge complex of villas called Los Cabos Monterrico, which are popular with locals. The villas are owned by different owners and are all rented separately, but they have a decent area, there is a huge pool and a raging garden with palm trees. True, not everything is so unambiguous. Villas here turn out to be villas, and townhouses, but they have a Jacuzzi on the terrace, and the view of the stunning lagoon pool. I would advise you to stay in this particular complex, because it just amazes with its scale and infrastructure. This place is probably the best I have ever seen on the coast of Guatemala. The cost of the villa – from 200 USD per day, it usually sleeps 6-10 people, depending on the decor inside.
The other places in El Gariton of interest to tourists are right on the coast. There are villas for rent here, including first line and small bungalows.
This is the most popular among foreigners resort on the Pacific Ocean in Guatemala. This rainbow, positive little town will delight you with its friendliness and street vendors from whom you can buy everything from sliced fruit and freshly squeezed juices to Hawaiian shirts. Thus, you’ll find much more civilized infrastructure for tourists in Monterrico than in any other Pacific town in Guatemala. There are various excursions, sports games, and hotels with a variety of entertainment. There are also the best restaurants, including seafood. In addition, Monterrico has more comfortable and spacious beaches than the other resorts.
And the hotels themselves look better and cleaner here. I would recommend this resort to everyone. The cost of villas for 10 guests, first line to the ocean with a pool – from 200 USD, for four – from 100 USD, the luxury – from 400 USD. The choice of villas is very large, I advise you to choose. Do not be afraid to negotiate. Bear in mind, though, that Pacific villas often don’t have internet and TV! For WI-FI you have to go to the most expensive place, the hotel restaurant and be sure to pay for communications (ordering food and drinks).
Located right next to the Monterrico-Hawaii Preserve, which you can take a boat ride on the river, the resort is simply stunning with tropical greenery. There are both hotels and villas for rent here, as well as other Pacific Ocean resorts in the area. The best part is that the cost of a house for four on the first line from the sea starts, perhaps, from about 100 USD per day. And for 200 USD a day you can rent a real villa in the modern style with a pool and luxurious interior.
But not everyone will like this corner. First, there is almost no infrastructure, only mini-markets and canteens, and secondly, there are simply no attractions. But in El-Hawaii you will find a truly wild, almost island atmosphere of a tropical resort, the quiet music in the bars and low prices.
Barra de Santiago in El Salvador
Driving a little further along the beach line (on the CA2 highway), you can reach this amazing resort in El Salvador in just a couple of hours. Barra is a very expensive resort and it is rightfully considered my favorite in the region. As soon as I walked along the large, clean, sparsely populated beach and saw the chic villas standing right on the first line, literally 30 meters from the water’s edge, I fell in love with the place.
Interestingly, the strip with the villas is located between the full-flowing river and the ocean, which gives this place a very tropical feel of an enclosed paradise. The cost of renting a villa here is very high, but it’s worth it. Unlike other resorts in Guatemala, you can even meet Europeans here. The cost of the villa – about 300 USD a day, but it usually accommodates up to 10-20 people. All the houses here are beautiful, well maintained, many have spacious terraces and pillars, almost all have a pool. This is not a bungalow in El Hawaii, not the old villas from the 60’s in Monterrico, which only benefit from its location, and a really nice house.
Holidays with children
Guatemala as a country is not suitable for holidays with children. It has absolutely no level of infrastructure, order and comfort that young mothers and children themselves need. However, if the trip is imminent, I advise you to rent a suite in a boutique hotel in Antigua and not to think about a trip to Tikal (it is very long and exhausting), the Pacific Ocean (there are still waves and not a very nice water color) or even Guatemala City (very criminal and dirty city).
I draw your attention to the fact that absolutely all of Guatemala is divided by different criminal groups that “hold territory” and power in the area. There are no exceptions, because even the most colorful and touristy town of Antigua, Panajachel and other popular tourist spots, alas, are in the way of drugs and weapons smuggling.
So, when visiting Guatemala, I advise you to narrow your horizons to the following places: Antigua, Panajachel and other towns on Lake Atitlan, as well as several towns on the Pacific Ocean – Puerto San Jose, Monterrico and a couple of neighboring ones. You should only go to Tikal as part of a tour group. You can pick up a tour at a tour desk in Antigua, Panajachel, Guatemala City. You can just ask your receptionist to order it. On your own, go to Tikal, I do not advise, it is on this road and goes all the drug traffic from Guatemala to the Yucatan.
In addition, it’s worth knowing that there is no service on the beaches of the Pacific. The sand here is everywhere black, a lot of garbage left by locals, sometimes it is simply impossible to step because of the abundance of bottles from mineral water or bags from chips. The condition of housing also leaves much to be desired. Almost all hotels and villas are old, with outdated furniture.
Scientists have discovered dozens of previously unknown Mayan cities in the jungles of Guatemala Not less than 60 thousand structures of the Maya civilization, hidden in the jungle, scientists have discovered in the north of Guatemala.
- only accommodation
Guatemala City Photos
Many factors influence the choice of where to spend your long-awaited vacation, and not the least of them is the location of the tourist haven. In order to get tours in Guatemala, which is almost at the other end of the earth, you need a good reason. And there are a lot of them.
For starters, it is the face of the country, which is its colorful nature. Here is a very developed eco-tourism, because there is nothing more entertaining than to explore the wonders of natural origin, which may be the volcanoes, lakes, flora and fauna. Ecological tourism in Guatemala, its diversity, and everyone will discover the right thing to do. It is possible to travel the difficult path to end up climbing one of the 33 volcanoes, Fuego, Agua or any other. Take a tour of the magnificent mountain lakes – Isabal, Ayarsa or take a look at the pinnacle of natural creation – Lake Atitlan. Tours to Guatemala can also be spent in mountain hiking, especially since the Sierra Madre mountain range crossing the country literally begs for it. Tropical forests, jungles, exotic plants and animals will accompany you throughout your stay in the realm of nature.
Another reason to visit Guatemala is its fantastic historical and cultural heritage. The country is still home to descendants of the ancient Mayans, and at one time, the territory was the center of an Indian civilization. Those times are long gone, but traces of former greatness abound.
The real vacation in Guatemala begins at the foot of the ancient temples, palaces, stone sculptures, caves. In first place in terms of attendance is a huge reserve “Four Jaguars”, which includes four major urban ruins: El Mirador, Huashaktun, Piedras Negras and, the archaeological gem – the remains of the city of Tikal. Here you can admire the majestic temples, slabs with preserved inscriptions in the Mayan language, and pyramids. The Temples of the Sun and the Moon, the Pyramid of the “Great Jaguar”, the Pyramid of the “Two Headed Serpent”, the Acropolis, the Temple of Masks – guided tours in Guatemala will allow you to see all these treasures with your own eyes. You can watch unique World Heritage sites rise out of the ground in real archaeological excavations, which take place in most parts of the country, and many of them are graciously allowed to tourists.
Guatemalan resorts, especially the cities, are also full of later monuments, most of them colonial and baroque. Guatemala City, Antigua, and Chichicastenango all contain traces of European, and especially Spanish, culture. Walk their streets and see the enchanting Mermaid Fountain, the National Palace, the Palace of Captains, La Merced Church and St. Thomas Cathedral. Guatemala’s sights await attentive viewers everywhere.
Particularly fastidious guests will enjoy an exotic vacation in Guatemala, spent in the study of local customs, traditions and folklore. If you manage to please an Indian shaman, you will be allowed to witness one of the rituals to placate the Indian gods.
Go back thousands of years ago and go to the Indian market, where the natural exchange is still alive today. Do not forget about the traditional tours to Guatemala – beach and entertainment. These are diving, biking, mountain climbing, boating, rafting, museum and exhibition tours, fishing, golf, yachting, cafes, restaurants, discos, and sunbathing on the shores of the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
It’s impossible not to say a few words about the local festivals. Along with Catholic dates in the country are widely celebrated Indian celebrations, such as Day of the Sky or the Kite Festival. The mild climate, provoking hot weather, graciously allows the tourist season to continue all year round, so tours to Guatemala can be purchased regardless of the time of year and the weather outside the window.