Stepping off the ramp stairs of the airplane, my mind told me my expectation would be surpassed all the wildest ideas that have formed in my head about this country ; travel to Guatemala was on my list for many years . Right from the first minutes I spent in this country which is a world of Spanish Conquistadors who was led by Don Pedro De Alvarado. Guatemala-Antigua was opened in 1527, dotting the landscape is Spanish architecture. The Indian heritage is still present in the City. The expectations and reality on ground is not quite the same, it will leave you indifferent in the end.
While planning the trip, I scouted and searched online, opening numerous pages of travel reviews. I did this to the maximum and arrived at a single outcome; the city is hostile to tourists. Not every one that has been here have something positive to say about Guatemala. Right in the city centre where should be the safest, attacks happen. The tourist centres and the routes are the worst, gangs operate freely and openly. While in the village, you can lose a limb if the locals do not like your look. The level of hostility is at its highest, one you cannot see anywhere else. The country reeks of poverty with a high level of drug usage.
Expectations vs Reality and my 5 personal conclusions after seeing it all for myself
1) Quiet Colonial Paradise
It’s quite an amazing city that doesn’t have the luxury of skyscrapers and modern buildings. Even fast food restaurants appear in colonial architecture ( city ordinance for sure). I’ve never seen a McDonald or Burger King looking so archaic with the wooden and tiled architectural style. Taco Bell engraved in little crafted tiles .
For the first time, I saw this in Antigua. Interestingly, McDonalds is the best restaurants out here. Think of a colonial mansion with high ceilings, adorned with tables looking like fountain garden and the green columns. This is Antiguan McDonalds . Must visit .
2) You will find unbelievable accommodations at the lowest cost.
Ask any backpacker why love Central America, the response will be; the cheap nature of getting a nice accommodation. For as low as $5, you’ll find a comfortable place to lay your head.
As for me, my love for Latin America comes from being able to rent a real colonial villa for as lower than $100, a real one and not a replica. We did so, rented an incredible house with 3 terraces, a fountain a garden with 2 adorable turtles and the view of 3 ( !!!) volcanoes from the top terrace .
In addition to this, we got a housekeeping girl Maria who cleaned and cleaned every day ( we are not that messy and we were hardly home) and was super sweet .
3) You won’t be molested by street vendors !
Unlike what is obtainable in other Latina American and Central American countries, there are no street vendors that molest and cheat tourists. You can walk around , do your tourist thing without hearing : ” Brother , where are you from?” ” Come check out my store” There are plenty of locals in the center of Antigua , walking , hanging out and minding their own business .
Everything looking clean, safe and hospitable.
The locals are slightly reserved , especially if you are asking to take a photo of them or with them , they look really serious and almost unhappy , reminds me of USSR people who make this serious “passport photo face” any time there is a camera pointing at them .
Generally they are super relaxed , wearing traditional outfits , doing their thing . There is something very genuine about the fact that they are not spoiled with tourist attention and used to only pose for a photo if there is a dollar bill involved , like super photogenic locals in Peru .
This lady was doing her laundry in the basins , when we were taking photos there .
I always pay (or at least offer to pay) the locals to photograph them or to e photographed with them . I find local chlorite the absolute best thing about travel , and think that it’s totally ok to compensate the subject for it, especially in third word countries . Some people will ONLY do it for money , some people will come to you and ask for a photo with you ( quite often ) some will get offended , some will do it for free and for the sake of it .
I believe that each culture is made by it’s people . People like this beautiful lady , wearing traditional clothes to do her laundry downtown on a Tuesday afternoon is want to bring from every trip of mine !
4) Plenty of attractions around
Most of the must-do Guatemala tour are easily accessible from Antigua . Whether you want to do the phenomenal hikes , exploring and volcano adventures – if you travel to Guatemala , Antigua is the place to be based at .
You will find plenty of tour companies and hostels where you can book your tour once you get there , probably more than online , and probably cheaper .
Fortunately or unfortunately , I am not “on the road” full time and have to carve out the time to take off and travel , each destination take very precise planning and organization , every day and every hour and the only way to have everything go as planned is to book it in advance , online .
Beware : I booked all of our adventures online with one of the companies , I had to cancel and get my deposit back after they couldn’t answer some simple equipment safety questions we had . Looking at other companies’ equipment which was in a poor poor shape , and simply unsafe , we were wondering , if they allow this with mountain biking tours , how seriously do they take hiking up the volcanos and sleeping in the middle of the jungle in one of the most dangerous countries of Central America . I researched some reviews which were talking about “overstuffed groups” as well .
The owner of the Colonial villa we rented was also the owner of the tour company, an American living in Guatemala. He run a professional company, he takes quality and security seriously. They were slightly , maybe $10-20 higher prices than the rest , but I was secure with the safety they provide and other important details .
As a result , we had the best quality small tours . The bike tour and the Acatenango trip was private . The guides we the best people , who had a blast on each trip just like we did . And we still keep in touch with them .
Don’t be a low baller when it comes to tours , if you travel to Guatemala, especially if it involves potentially dangerous activities . Truly, you can find tours for as low as $20 but isn’t it good to pay just a little more and get the best of service , guaranteed safety and the equipment that won’t get you to a local emergency room ?
4 ) Safe and easy .
Getting to the city centre and all around is also cheap , safe and easy; either through an Uber or Tuk Tuk. It’s better you go with Uber, Tuk Tuk will get you shaken and you’ll end up inhaling gases. I was sick from inhaling gas vapors during my first trip.
Tuk tsk costs around $1 – $1.50 for a ride . Uber – $5 tops .
In Antigua you are pretty safe as long as you mind the most basic rules of safety , however , there were some brutal cases of tourists’ executions – yes , executions …and there are routes that you are only allowed to take with police escorting you – read about it here .
I hope this blog inspired you to travel to Guatemala .