When I told my friends and family that I was taking a solo Guatemala vacation, the common question was, “Guatemala, why Guatemala?” The second question was, “Is it safe- especially for a solo female?” Well, after showing them pictures of where I was going to spend my Guatemala vacation- Lake Atitlan and Antigua, along with explaining that the areas were extremely safe, it was clear why my next trip was a solo female Guatemala vacation.
Day 1: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala Vacation
After touching down in Guatemala City, my first stop on my Guatemala vacation was Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan is a drop-dead gorgeous volcanic lake set with the silhouette of three volcanoes in the background. On the lake’s perimeter sits several quaint villages and towns, making it a tourist attraction. Thus, it was pretty easy to secure transportation from the airport in Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan, which was a 4-hour drive.
Getting to Lake Atitlan
The trek to Lake Atitlan from the airport was pretty easy. It’s like leaving any other city heading to the Lake as it’s better known as. I used a taxi service recommended by another solo female traveler. There were two transportation options, private or shared. The shared option was $50, and it was open to all. Whereas the private option was $125.
My shuttle dropped me to Panajachel, the largest town along the lake leaving me to truly experience what it meant to live around Lake Atitlan. Once you arrive in Panajachel with intentions to stay in a village around the lake, you have to take a water taxi, public or private. The public water taxis cost about $3.25 while the private taxi prices varied, starting at $25. The public taxis stop running at 6:30 PM, if you arrive after that you’ll have to take a private taxi.
Luckily, I arrived in Panajachel just in the nick of time to grab the last boat from Panajachel. Guatemala doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time, so it was dark, and I was nervous. My bag was placed on the top of the boat with no straps as we rode to San Marcos. Although the boat ride was rough, as I would soon learn was a norm for the lake; everything went smoothly and my concerns were set to bay. A word of caution, when riding on the water taxis, hold on tight as some drivers speed and you feel every bump and wave on the lake.
Lush- Lake Atitlan Hotel
I arrived in San Marcos La Laguna twenty minutes after leaving Panajachel. The boat dropped me at the dock and I was left to walk to the hotel from the dock, which was about a 10 minute walk. During the walk, I was on high alert. The roads aren’t paved, there aren’t lights, and Lush is a pedestrian-only hotel. The only light came from my cell phone as I dragged my bag along the path to Lush. As it was dark, I had to trust Google Maps to lead me directly to the hotel.
My fears and my guard immediately dropped as I entered the grounds of Lush. Even in the dark, it was a sight for sore eyes, lush like its name and gorgeous. It literally felt as if I was about to get lost in a luscious paradise.
I stayed at Cascada Deluxe which is a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom utopia with a beautiful sitting area overlooking the volcanoes and a kitchen. All the rooms, including the kitchen, had perfect views of the lake and the volcano. Don’t expect ordinary hotel rooms when staying at Lush. The rooms were designed as if they were apartment rooms. Each guest had their own room with a bathroom attached. Inside the rooms, the walls were intricately put together with stone walls, which I would eventually learn are a norm of the entire country. Everything about Lush was unique. I loved every minute.
Food at Lush
Like everything else at Lush, the food did not disappoint. When I arrived, they were in the middle of what they coined, “family dinner.” The restaurant would cook a huge themed meal and then guests would be able to choose what they wanted. They were serving Morrocan food that night and it was everything. I settled on a chicken and couscous meal, which exceeded my expectations with the portion size and the flavor.
Breakfast was also included in the stay at Lush. It was delivered to the sitting area and consisted of fresh Guatemalan coffee and fruit, which was perfect as I took in the surrounding beauty.
Day 2: Guatemala Vacation Pool Day
What’s a mama-cation without a pool day? It’s an absolute must for every tropical country I visit, so this Guatemala vacation was no different.
Lush, like most properties in Lake Atitlan, didn’t have a pool. But Tzampoc Hotel was recommended. The price for the day pass is $25, and a reservation is required to reserve the day.
Tzampoc is in Santa Catarina Palopo, so I had to take a water taxi there and then a ten to fifteen minute tuk-tuk ride to the actual resort. Prices of the tuk-tuk vary but they start at $2.58 and can increase depending on the driver. Another option to get to Tzampoc is taking a private boat to Santa Catarina Palopo and then take a shorter tuk-tuk ride to the hotel. Note: if you have trouble getting up steep hills, some tuk-tuks will refuse to take you to the top of Tzampoc, which is on a steep hill overlooking the hill.
The walk isn’t for the faint of heart and with the hot Guatemalan sun beating down on you, it’s not the easiest. But it’s worth it when you see the infinity pool overlooking the beautiful lake! The beauty of the infinity pool, and the relaxation of the hot tub, makes a perfect combination for an enjoyable day at the pool. If you’re hungry, there’s a restaurant and bar with food and drinks.
San Marcos is a cute quaint town on the Lake. It’s known as the hipster paradise, as it’s home to many yogis, hippies, and spiritual philosophers.
There are no cars in San Marcos but everything is within walking distance. On my last night, I ventured out to eat outside Lush. I landed at Giardino II, a vegetarian restaurant, with an ambiance that makes you feel like family from the moment you step in. Plus, the food was absolutely delicious.
Because it was dark, I didn’t appreciate the town of San Marcos, so the next morning I returned for breakfast. I had a tasty breakfast at Circles Cafe & Bakery which, coincidentally, was a hostel and a clothing and art store. The vibe was quiet, with outside seating. I ordered coffee, juice, and waffle with eggs, which was served with peppers on top. It was an interesting combination, but still tasty.
Day 3: A Visit to Hobbintenago
After my relaxing breakfast at Circles Cafe, my private shuttle picked me up, and on the way to Antigua, we stopped at Hobbintenago. The view along the drive was absolutely breathtaking. Make sure you stay awake so you don’t miss the jaw-dropping views on the ride to and from the Lake. If you’re riding privately, your driver will stop for a quick photo. Oh, btw did you know there are 37 volcanoes in Guatemala?
The drive was about a 2.5-hour drive and it cost the same price as it did the first time, $125. If you have more time, you can take public transportation to Antigua and then another to Hobbintenago or an Uber which would cost you about $16.
What’s a Guatemala vacation without a visit to Hobbintenago? Without proper research, it’s easy to think that it is just the mano gigante (gigantic hand). I thought it was just the mano gigante! Imagine my eyes when I got there and I realized there was so much to see and do for only $5.
After a fun day at Hobbitenango, I headed to my private room for the night. But not before eating at a typical Guatemala restaurant. Rincon Tipico is a highly recommended and delicious eatery in the heart of Antigua. My driver Carlos recommended a meal for me which was soup, meat, two sides, and dessert. If you’ve never tried food in Guatemala, make sure you do so. It was delicious, and I paid about $5.
After dinner, I arrived at Somos to stay in my private room for the night. Somos is a cute hostel in Antigua, with a bar, hot tub, and a full slate of tours including volcano hikes.
Day 4: Hike an Active Volcano- Pacaya Volcano
Did you really have a Guatemala vacation if you didn’t climb an active volcano? It depends!
Let me tell you when I’m on vacation I do not wake up early so the thought of getting up at 6 A.M. didn’t sit well with me but how often do you hike an active, erupting volcano? It was a bit of a crazy and possibly dangerous idea. Nothing I’m not used to. And the adrenaline in me could not miss the opportunity.
As mentioned, Somos books volcano hikes for some of the best prices in Antigua. The tour was $20 for a car ride, and entry. It was a shared tour but luckily for me, I had the van to myself.
Pacaya is considered to be the shortest volcano hike, perfect for any fitness level. But it’s still an active hike so there’s an option to take a horse to the top. My suggestion is if you hike, go slow, take breaks, pace yourself. Getting to the top took time, but it was an amazing experience. The lava was black as it had been burning for a few days, but it was hot enough to roast marshmallows. What a cool experience; roasting marshmallows on an active volcano. A memory that will indeed last for a lifetime!!
Before you book a volcano hike, make sure the volcano has had an eruption otherwise, it would be a pointless tour.
The Last Night: An Airstream Experience
All vacations must come to an end, even near-perfect Guatemala vacation! Isn’t that a sad thing? But as much as I love mamacation I miss my boys.
As always on the last night of a vacation, I try to make it a night to remember. Complete with all the me-time in the world. I booked a beautiful and luxurious airstream by Santo Cielo for Casa Santo Domingo for my last night. I’m a sucker for unique lodging and it did not disappoint.
Casa Santo Domingo was the perfect conclusion to an amazing trip. It was as if I had entered another city while in Antigua. The hotel is nestled on a hill in a secluded neighborhood about 10 mins outside of the city’s center. When you enter Casa Santo Domingo don’t think you’re going to find the airstream, no. First, you check-in at the hotel’s front desk, which is a ten minute car ride from Santo Cielo’s Airstreams. Please be aware that transportation from the front desk to the airstreams is not provide.
The airstreams are set on-top of a hill. When you arrive, you won’t have immediate access to the airstream. In a mysterious yet exciting way, the concierge then escorts you in a cherry red jeep to your private oasis. Each airstream has a hot tub, a bed overlooking the beautiful view, smart TV, in-room safe, daily housekeeping, and complimentary Wi-Fi. It was perfect for this mama!
Guatemala Vacation Mama Photoshoot
To remember this special Guatemala vacation, I booked a mamacation photo shoot. I had grand plans, but the weather had different plans. It rained, but we got it all.
Of course, the airstream had to be captured as I wanted a nature-type background.
Another thing to mention about Casa Santo is the versatility of the entire property. On the property, there are six museums and two art galleries with temporary exhibitions. I took photos at a museum, filled with unique structures. It was exciting to see and to be photographed among the structures. Afterward, we walked to the garden to complete the photoshoot, which was ironically the garden frequently used by the restaurant to pick fresh herbs.
The photoshoot was amazing and the pictures turned out beautiful. I recommend Fernanda if you’re considering a photoshoot.
My last night was the one evening I had nothing planned and did absolutely nothing. I put the hot tub to use, and it was perfect. Antigua gets chilly at 5 P.M. so a hot tub is a perfect addition to any night. After spending some quiet time in the hot tub, I popped a bottle of wine, ordered room service, and watched Netflix. It was my last night of quiet and sanity, so I took full advantage like a mama is supposed to.
Returning to the US
When flying to the United States, a COVID test is necessary. Whether or not you’re vaccinated. Carlos, my taxi driver, picked me up from the Airstream early in the morning, took me to the clinic so I could take my COVID test and get the results before my 1 P.M. flight.
Taking a COVID Test to Return to the US
Getting a COVID test in Guatemala can get expensive but luckily my transportation company set up my COVID test in advance for me. I got my test at Blue Medical, in Guatemala City. Blue Medical has a few other locations. The cost of the Antigen test was $40, and the results were available in an hour. The cost of the PCT test is $90 and the results are available in 6 hours. My test results came by email. It was also quick, which meant I was on time for my flight.
To take a Guatemala Vacation or Not?
Guatemala exceeded my expectations. It was such a peaceful and unique experience. So much so that I cannot decide which was my favorite city. Between the beauty of Lake Atitlan and the charm of Antigua, I was happy I chose it for my mamacation.
I most definitely would visit again, maybe with my kids in tow! Who knows?
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