After I arrived at Guatemala City International Airport (GUA) around 7:15pm (20 minutes late), our captain began landing procedures only to pull up at the last minute. That was a bit alarming to be honest (cant say I’ve ever seen that). He then came on the overhead speaker to state that another plane hadn’t moved quickly enough out of the way so we would “try again” to land in about 10 minutes. Uh, ok.
Anyway on the 2nd try we did land at GUA without any issues. It was raining and dark by that point but our approach was quick and we deplaned quickly as well. I found the customs process to be extremely fast and painless. Maybe 5 – 10 minutes ( I did not check a bag). As soon as I exited customs, I was at the front of the airport where my driver from Antigua Rentals & Services was waiting with my name on a sign. I was really surprised with how small an airport GUA is. The upside to that was a quick process to exit the airport (which I’ll take)!
My driver was Alejandro, who is actually the same person I corresponded with to arrange my reservation for my tour. He told me that he usually isnt in the field but was in this case due to unforeseen circumstances. I was impressed by his on time reliability and the cleanliness of the van. I ended up paying around $330 US for roundtrip service from GUA to Antigua, then from Antigua to Lake Atitlan, then from Lake Atitlan to GUA for the flight home. The pricing seemed to match what I’d seen elsewhere for a private vehicle and in reality it was a good deal for all that private driving around the country and having someone to call upon for advice and assistance when needed. While I generally do not endorse paying for private cars due to the expense but Guatemala does not seem to have enough of a transportation system to support random arrivals and cross country travel on a whim. Arranging shuttle buses that accommodated my tight 3 day itinerary in the country was impossible. There is no train or subway system I could find so that left me with the only choice of either taking taxi’s or arranging a car. I decided the expense of knowing someone will be ready and waiting to help me complete my itinerary was more important than saving minimal costs in this case. Also I refuse to rent a car when I’m in other countries. I hate driving even in my own country. It’s just additional anxiety and distractions I don’t need.
After sifting through EPIC traffic in Guatemala CIty (seriously it is beyond even L.A. traffic) we finally made it to Antigua after about a 2 hour journey or so. I imagine if there was a train system that journey would’ve been half the time. Traffic delays were a major issue, even at 8pm on a Friday night. It also seems to me that traffic flow was poorly regulated and basic traffic rules only optional. Quite an experience!
When I reached my hotel (the Camino Real Antigua), I was happy to say that the hotel immediately impressed me. Click here to read more about my experience with this hotel in my full review.
After checking into the hotel and getting my bags situated I did a quick walk through the night streets of Antigua but did not get too far as it was already quite late. I have to say that one thing I have generally avoided in my travels is arriving at my destination late at night. Especially if it’s a first time visit. I find that it is challenging to feel comfortable exploring at night right out of the gate. Also, the exhaustion of a long journey can curb my enthusiasm. When I went to Japan (just prior to this trip to Guatemala) I also arrived late but that was a lengthy trip and a major time difference. I already knew in advance I’d be turning in early the first night to start fresh very early on day 2. In this case, I only had two full days so it was a bummer to get in so late. Having said that, flight options were not exactly plentiful on short notice. So I sucked it up!
I woke up early on Saturday morning and immediately got to my normal routine of walking. I enjoyed strolling through the colonial streets. I stopped off for a quick traditional breakfast at the Cafe Santa Clara (eggs, beans, and some type of local sausage I hadn’t tried before). After that I walked (more like wandered) through the central square and perused the many stands in their small market there. I also realized then that my camera battery had died and I did not have my charger (left back home in Vegas). Face palm moment! After doing some quick google searching on my phone, I got the impression that finding a Nikon battery charger was next to impossible in a town like Antigua and after visiting two electronics stores on the square, I realized this might be true. So I emailed Alejandro (my driver from the night before) and asked if he had any suggestions and it turned out he did! Foto Solis was just a block away and had the exact product I needed. I made sure to stop by Alejandro’s office (which was just down the road from the square) to thank him for his help. Hard to travel without a working camera! Live and learn.
Alejandro suggested I walk up to the Hill of the Cross and I was amazed at the number of steps up there! Yet once I caught my breath I made it up to the top and encountered a lot of tourists from various countries and enjoyed taking amazing photos! I’d highly recommend it for the best shots. We all have to get our Instagram game going!
I was originally planning to leave at 4pm that day but Alejandro convinced me that it would not be safe to attempt to drive to Lake Atitlan after dark as the journey would take more than 3 hours. It turns out he was right on with that suggestion. I left at 1pm! A short but fun little day exploring Antigua.
I wish I had more time in Antigua but I can certainly recommend it for a visit. It is a 500-year old Spanish colonial town with very old buildings that possess great charm and warm, welcoming people. A great introduction (albeit brief) to Guatemala.
17 June 2017