Sunday, October 8, 2023

Planning a trip to Guatemala with volcano hikes, forest ziplines, and plenty more

Guatemala is not a place that many people in the U.S. consider as a tourist destination. But I’m excited about my family’s upcoming trip there. Why Guatemala? More like, why not Guatemala?

As I start my research on the Central American country, some of the most basic things to know include:

  • It’s the home of the Mayan civilization, and this culture is still very much alive today
  • The country’s name translates to “land of the trees” or “land of plentiful forests”
  • Guatemala is the birthplace of chocolate, and other inventions there include the McDonald’s Happy Meal, instant coffee, and the CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA online security codes
  • It gained independence from the Spanish empire 202 years ago and, since then, has gone through “two revolutions, several dictatorships, a US-backed intervention, a long civil war, many military coups, and 22 earthquakes”
  • Brave New World Author Aldous Huxley proclaimed Lake Atitlan the most beautiful lake in the world
  • Besides Mexico, Guatemala has the largest population of all the Central American countries, at about 16 million and growing pretty rapidly.
Ok, now that we have the basics down, what is it we want to do while we visit Guatemala? Here is what I’ve learned so far, with great help from The New York Times’ article 36 Hours in Antigua, Guatemala. As you can see on the map, Antigua (population 41,000, is a Unesco World Heritage site with striking 17th- and 18th-century ruins right in the center of town) is about an hour’s drive from Guatemala City, as long as traffic is not bad. This site highly recommends pre-booking a $20 ride with GuateGo.
  • Let’s start the day at the Refuge Coffee Bar, or we can get a fuller breakfast at El Portón
  • Later we can have lunch at “ Saberíco, an organic Guatemalan restaurant in a blooming garden with painted wood tables, ivy-accented stone walls and chirping blue parakeets”
  • We can hit Antigua Canopy Tours, where we can zipline back and forth over the forest atop the hills of Antigua. “Start in the treetops, then graduate to the towering heights of the canyon, hurtling hundreds of feet through the air, and enjoying the speed and spectacular views ($50 for one tour, $75 for both)”
  • Then we should tour the Finca Filadelfia coffee plantation ($18)
  • When we want to go shopping, we can head to Nim Po’t, “a sprawling emporium of artisanal Guatemalan products”
  • For happy hour, we can head to “the rooftop at Café Sky, which offers a great vantage point in this low-rise town”
  • Lake Amatitlán
    But what I might be looking the most forward to is the hike that will be strenuous but still doable for the whole family. The Times notes that “the 
    volcanoes that surround Antigua give the town much of its character … the Pacaya volcano has a 8,373-foot peak. The orange glow of lava rewards the long hike, as do the marshmallows that the guides bring out of their packs to roast in the geothermal heat. The views of Lake Amatitlán below are wonderful, even shrouded in fog. The more challenging climb, however, is the twin-peaked Acatenango volcano, which at over 13,000 feet goes through four distinct ecosystems, and overlooks a simmering sister volcano called Fuego, which spews lava on a regular basis. The trip to Pacaya takes seven hours, all told, and the Acatenango excursion takes 12. Many travel agencies in Antigua can arrange guided treks up the volcanoes, starting around 100 quetzales”
  • Possible choices of hotels to look into in Antigua include Hotel Casa Santo Domingo and El Convento Boutique Hotel.

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