Must See, Eat, Do Recommendations for Guatemala


Guatemala is truly an enchanting country (when we keep politics & economy out)

Historic Sites

  1. Las Capuchinas

  2. Iglesia de la Merced

  3. iglesia (ruins) west of Parque Central at 7a Av. near 5a Calle Poniente. The local mercado central is a couple of blocks farther west, next to the bus station.

4.  Antigua (in spite of its more recent to commercialism)

  • It was once the Spanish capital of all Central America, and it is loaded with history and culture.  You just have to ignore the recent growth of commercialism and enjoy selectively.

5. Casa Kojom, a short distance out of town but with free van from in front of INGUAT (Natl. Tourism Bureau, southeast corner of main plaze).

  • Admission is 25 Quetzales (about $3, at rate of about 7.65 to a dollar).
  • It is a museum of Maya and pre-Maya music instruments, coffee cultivation and processing, and native fabrics of multiple villages.  Well worth a couple of hours!


If you like hiking, you could enjoy the volcano trek south of the city, and even the much-less-demanding hill-of-the-cross north of town, from which you get a great panoramic view.


Beyond Antigua

1) To Lago Atitlan can either be back out to the PanAm Hwy, then to Solola and to Panajachel, or cross-country from Antigua to Panajachel.

  • Atitlan is reputed to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, nestled among dormant volcanic peaks.
  • It is also a hopeless tourist attraction, but if you look hard enough and go beyond the gateway town of Panajachel, you will be amply rewarded.

If you stay overnight, check the Hotel Playa Linda, a two-story place facing the lake, owned by an ex-patriot retired American military guy named Arthur Kennedy, who is married to a local.

  • Arthur has a little restaurant, a separate building closer to the lake, run by a short Mayan guy named Nicolas, a treasure of local information.
  • Give Arthur and Nicolas regards from the journalist who visits repeatedly

2) Beyond Panajachel by primitive road (I understand it has more recently been improved) or by boat, go to San Antonio Palopo, clockwise around the lake about a quarter of the way.

3) Have a drink or meal at the Terrazas del Lago, a small motel with food service, carved into the steep and rocky hillside.

  • It was developed by a Polish ex-patriot named Feliks Stopowski, who has since sold out and left.
  • Not sure who owns it now, or what changes might have been made.
  • Sundown on the lake, from Terrazas del Lago, is something to die for!

Lago Atitlan is surrounded by villages (named for the Apostles), but beyond Panajachel they are not very accessible by car.

  • You can take a mail boat, or hire a launch, to take you to most of them.  Especially consider taking a roundtrip on the mail boat to Santiago, less than an hour each way.

4) Do not get this close without visiting Chichicastenango, not too far from Atitlan.

  • Sadly, it is also invaded by many tourists but still retains the historic qualities that make it such an attraction. Be there on Sunday market day if you can.
  • Indians come from miles around, walking overnight with A-frames on their backs loaded with hand-made things, to spend the day visiting and bargaining.
  • Get there the day before market if possible, and get up early to see the morning invasion of vendors.  That is well worth the effort.

5) My favorite hangout in Chichi is the Mayan Inn, which in spite of attractions to tourism has a lot of historic quality and native authenticity.

  • At least drop in to say hello to the resident parrots, and have a drink or snack; fruits are out of this world.
  • Chichi has a fascinating church on the plaza, ostensibly Catholic (morning masses) but also used by Indians for Sunday afternoon worship which includes smudge pots, flowers, and sacrificing of chickens.


(about $65 USD) Posado de don Rodrigo, in the second block north of Parque Central on 5a Avenida.



  • Guatemala has its crime, just like any other society, and caution is always in order.  Everywhere.  Including where you live, no doubt.
  • Here are some of my guidelines for safe travel, in Guatemala but also almost anywhere in third-world countries, even in the good old US of A.

There are unsafe parts of every country and city in the world, and you are smart to know and respect that.

1) Do not wear exterior fanny packs; that is an invitation, says Here is my money.

2) Carry one, only one, credit card, Mastercard or Visa.  They are both accepted in major establishments in Guatemala, now even by some vendors in the markets.

3) Carry your card in a safe place, separate from purse, billfold, money.

4) Split up your cash in three or four places, one in a billfold that could be surrendered if necessary, the rest in well-concealed places.

5) Make several photocopies of your passport title page and carry them in separate places, one in billfold, one in luggage or backpack, etc., and keep passport in a well-concealed place.

6) After you leave the airport, you will not need your passport except crossing into a neighboring country; if you are asked for it in a hotel, restaurant, etc. show the photocopy.

7) Avoid looking like a tourist.

8) The Guatemalan infrastructure is rather sad and law enforcement is limited and often corrupt.

  • Do not take fancy new backpack or luggage; opt for what looks old and cheap.
  • Dress down, way down, other than going to dinner in a nice place in the city.

  • Leave powder, paint, and perfumes at home.
  • In no case should you travel the area wearing a Rolex, Tommys or Nikes; no designer brand names.
  • If you carry a camera or laptop, keep it in a grungy bag.
  • In other words, avoid advertising what you have.  The destitute poor are easily tempted to rid rich folks of their money and other valuables.

9) Avoid discussions of politics, local policies, human rights issues, etc.

  • Totally avoid anything that might sound critical of the local government or local policies.   The locals do not take kindly to being advised that our way is superior to their way.  They like tourist money, so they generally respect foreigners, but the easiest way to find an exception is to give the impression of looking down on the locals.



1) Do not drink the local water.

  • For liquids, stick to dependably bottled water (best is Coca Cola bottler), beer, or major brand soft drinks.
  • Get those in original containers, not poured into a less-than-clean glass.
  • Do not let someone stick a straw in your newly opened bottle; the plastic straws are commonly re-used.  And no ice unless you know it was frozen from bottled water.
  • Do not wash your face under a shower; too many orifices where bugs can get into your system.
  • Use a damp washcloth.
  • Toothbrush never goes under spigot; to break the habit, I put a washcloth over the spigot while brushing.
  • Brushing with bottled water may seem awkward, but get used to it.  (I even brushed my teeth with beer on one occasion).

2) No fruits or vegetables unless they have been peeled or cooked under conditions you have reason to trust.  That means no lettuce at all, no lettuce or tomato on burgers, no green salads.  (Exception in a major tourist hotel in the city or in an up-scale restaurant.)

  • Fruit juices are excellent, if you get them where you have reason to believe they were prepared in sanitary conditions.

3) Wash hands often, very often, every opportunity, especially before eating.

  • If impossible to wash before a meal, do not touch food, or with hand-held food (such as bread), hold it at one place only, eat off the other side, leave the part you handled.  And discipline yourself to keep hands away from face.

4) Take a generous supply of Pepto-Bismol tablets (they coat!) and chew a couple before eating anything at all questionable, or at the first sign of a rolling tummy.


These are the following things they should say to get the best customer service, as anyone knowing any of their customs will sure make the Guatemalan citizens happy and more attentive to their needs:


  • Good Morning = Buenos Dias.
  • Good Day/ Afternoon = Buenas Tardes
  • Good Night = Buenas noches.
  • When asking about Lunch, we call Lunch “Almuerzo” …typically the largest meal of the day. (the equivalent of our dinner)
  • Excuse me (when passing by a person) = Con permiso
  • Thank You = Muchas Gracias
  • Where is (blank) = Donde esta ( Antigua etc.)
  • Our currency is called Quetzales

If they want to learn some slang and want to express how great something is …like a location… “aaaaa la…que belleza”  hehehhe 🙂 stress the aaaaa la. You can identify central americans because we use this expression a lot.



1. They must try a Typical Tamal

(tamale very different from Mexican tamale – wrapped in a green banana leaf) ….with a pan frances (french bread)

2. Caldo de res (It’s a soup made from Beef broth – has a variety of veggies and chunks of Beef – very traditional as well)

3. Rellenitos (my favorite sweet dessert – friend plantain with bean or custard filling)

4. Atol de Elote (a sweet corn drink – it’s thick and delicious – I’m sure they will enjoy it)

5. Bunuelos (another dessert – different from Mexican version – these look like donut holes in a cinnamon-like water)

6. Tostadas with Beans or Salsa or Guacamole.

7. Pollo Campero is a must!!! It’s our equivalent of KFC…except it’s wayyyyyyyyy better. We are famous for it.

8. visit the city, right near the Main Cathedral and Plaza..there they can get some really great coffee…and take packaged coffee beans of their choice…they have a lot to select from.

9.  And tell them not to shy away from the “typical Guatemalan candy“. The best place is found in Antigua…all of it is really great..and made from real fruit…and natural flavors.

10. On 4a Calle Oriente, in second block from Parque Central on route out toward GuatCity, between 3a and 2a Avenidas, near the number 16, is a small courtyard restaurant called Dona Luisas, with a bakery adjacent.

  • It is a great place to eat and meet (lots of backpackers gather here, also students in language classes), especially breakfasts (yogurt & fresh fruit is great!).

11. For a splurge meal, excellent food and fabulous ambience, try to get to Panza Verde (serving begins at 1 for noon meal, & evening meals are later, at least 7, in Latin America).  It is on 5a Avenida Sur, about four blocks south of the Plaza, on the left.

12. And when you get hungry near the plaza, go to that hotel I mentioned, the don Rodrigo, go all the way through the courtyard to the restaurant on the left.

  • Choose an open-air table, not the enclosed dining room, and you have not only excellent food but spectacular view.


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