Destination Diary: Guatemala

Posted By Trav



As far as I was concerned, it was that place south of Mexico, and north of Brazil.

That was until I met Robb and Dave. They had spent almost 3 months in Guatemala on a previous trip and listening to their stories made me realize that I need to know more. A lot more.

Today I bring back Robb Hillman and David McMullin to share their experiences in Guatemala with all of us, so that we too can fall in love with this seemingly beautiful country. We talk about some of the best sites to see, including Tikal, active volcanoes, and caves best seen by candlelight.

We also chat about the “Chicken Bus” phenomena and the Killer Tomatoes, and how you never really know whats coming until you get there.

Guatemala sounds like a fabulous place, and it’s officially made it’s way to a top spot on my list of places to visit!

Have you ever been to Guatemala? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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In This Episode:

  • 2:40 What’s south of Mexico and north of Brazil?
  • 06:30 Safety concerns.
  • 08:55 Visiting Tikal.
  • 16:35 Learning Spanish.
  • 18:43 Climbing an Active Volcano.
  • 23:33 Chicken buses.
  • 33:40 Staying at a Finca.
  • 37:55 Going through a cave by candlelight.

and much more!

 Places Discussed in This Episode:

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  1. casey says:

    Excellent podcast.
    I’ve traveled to Guatemala twice. If you are looking for a slightly less budget option (ie.. you aren’t excited about chicken buses) it’s easy to fly into Guatemala City hang out in Antigua (which is beautiful, but probably most expensive city) and take tours from there. Tons of beautiful hotels with amazing courtyards (but you will be paying more like $50-100) than $25,Antigua is a small walkable city and easy to book tours from there.
    Chichicastenango (the big market) and Lake Atitlan can be done as day tours from Antigua.

    1. Trav says:

      @Casey- Yeah, I’m starting to trend away from the “completely budget” options…but chicken buses do sound like something I have to try at least once.

      Funny thing is…someone today mentioned chicken buses when they said they hated Central America. Had I not interviewed Robb and David, I would have had no idea what they were talking about!

    2. We loved Antigua, and there is definitely a range of options for accommodations. There are some pretty great (and not-so-great) hostels that are affordable (we really loved one called The Yellow House), but for a little more money you can get some nice upgrades. One of the church ruins has been converted into a fancy-schmancy hotel, The Casa Santo Domingo, and even there I want to say the rooms were something like $175 a night, which is a lot for a backpacker, but less than I paid for a hotel in Portland. We did eat lunch there once, and the $20 meal (each) was easily the best meal I had on that entire trip.

      Antigua is a hub and you’ll probably end up there more than once on your stay, so you’ll have the chance to try a few things. (Or just keep coming back to The Yellow House, I think we stayed there four different times.)

      If you are pressed for time Atitlan can be done as a day trip, but once you get there you are going to want to stay longer than that. Oh, and when you arrive in Panajachel (the main city on the lake) there is a small reserve with spider monkeys. If you get there at the right time of day you can buy bananas to throw into the enclosure for them, we really enjoyed that!

  2. Love Guatemala! I remember going to a cool little zoo in the middle of the country, with hand painted signs for all the animals. The sign over the Tapir’s enclosure read, “I’m Scotty the Tapir. I’m handsome, no true? But better step back ’cause I might pee on you!!”

    1. That is hilarious. I did not make it to a zoo in Guatemala, but I did just see a tapir at the zoo in Taipei, Taiwan, and he was, indeed, peeing on everything. There is though a big sign near the entrance for Tikal that warns you to watch out for the howler monkeys who will throw their poop at you if you get too close.

    2. Trav says:

      @Christian Nommesen- That’s a story you don’t forget (obviously). I HAVE to get to Guatemala!

  3. The astute listener might notice that not once but twice I confused “East” with “West”. No wonder I get lost so often. Livingston (and the Caribbean) is, of course, on the East Coast, while the beach communities I was talking about are on the West Coast. Oops!

  4. Amy says:

    Great podcast! I’ve been thinking about going to a language school in Guatemala – apparently, the capital of Spanish language instruction! Consequently, there are so many Spanish school! I’d love to know which school that Robb and Dave went to. Thanks!

    1. Trav says:

      @Amy- I’ll contact Dave and Robb and see if they can weigh in on this. Glad you liked it!

    2. Hi there Amy,

      There are a approximately a gazillion schools in Guatemala, so you will have plenty of choices. Our first stop was Xela, and we spent a day walking around looking at different schools. I think we interviewed about five different places, and just picked the one that was the best fit for us. All the schools wanted our business so were very nice to us, and in the end there were two that we really liked the style and grounds and price. We chose one over the other only because one had more other students at the time and we wanted to feel like a part of a community. Unfortunately I cannot for the life of me remember the name of that school, or I would totally recommend it. They did lots of after school activities for us too, taking us on little day tours that we could have arranged on our own but was just easier with them to handle the details (we still paid for the regular costs of transportation, etc.)

      In San Pedro on Lake Atitlan, we were at a school that had a name like the Cooperativo. The classes were taught in little huts scattered across a garden that overlooked the lake. It was the most gorgeous “classroom” I’ve ever been in.

      Another question to ask yourself is if you want a homestay. As a couple we found it easier to find our own accommodation, and the schools were helpful in pointing us to options within our budget. We talked to people who did the homestays, some loved it and others not so much. Just depends on you.

      Anyway, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Whichever city you land in, just plan on your first day walking around and doing some interviews. (Most programs start on Mondays, so if you can interview on the Friday before then you have the weekend to settle before you start classes.) If you end up not liking your school for whatever reason, you can always change the next week! Or if you get a recommendation online, chances are it will be fine too. A school that is terrible just isn’t going to last too long, the competition is just too stiff.

      City wise, we liked Atitlan and Antigua more than Xela. However Xela had some great activities around it. Also it had less to do in the city and was on the cold side anyway, which meant I spent more time studying. :-)

      But you are gonna learn more Spanish in a week than you did in a year of high school. It is awesome, you won’t regret it.

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