Just one country south of Mexico lies a great land of opportunity named Guatemala. It’s a beautiful country with volcanoes, lakes, beaches, and great Mayan ruins. Raul and I lived there for a couple months a couple of years ago and we had a really positive experience, so we go back for a week every year these days.
So flights to Guatemala come into Guatemala City, Guatemala – La Aurora (GUA). You might be tempted to go and hang out for a day or two in “Guate” as the locals call it. Do not do it. Guate is a total shithole, dirty and dangerous. In Guate, every bank, pharmacy, convenience store, beer truck, etc, has a private Guatemalan “security guard” out front standing there with a shotgun. Not just a shotgun, but he’ll have extra shells on his belt, just in case 7 shots aren’t enough and he needs to reload. That’s Guate in a nutshell for you. Everybody hates it there unless they’re inside their gated communities with 10 foot walls topped with razor wire. And it’s kind of boring- the first time we went to Guatemala we were in Guate for 4 days and couldn’t find any nightlife during the week at all. It was dark, dirty, and scary.
Lesson number 1: Never go to Guatemala City, it’s a shithole.
Lucky for you, and for Guatemala, there is a great place a 45 minute ride from the airport, Antigua Guatemala, a great little colonial town that is one of my favorite places. Imagine Central America with sushi restaurants and brunch buffets. There’s the Volcano de Agua towering over the skyline and lots of fun to be had there seven days a week. Antigua deserves its own article which will be coming soon.
Guatemala also has beaches on the Pacific side, most notably Monterrico, but the beaches in other Central American countries are better, especially in Costa Rica and El Salvador. Monterrico has black sand and is very difficult for swimming and surfing to say the least. Beach vacationers are better off chosing a different Central American country.
There is a large lake west of Guatemala named Atitlán which is worth a visit. There you will find a beautiful lake surrounded by volcanoes, coffee plantations, and very nice locals. However the locals tend to be indigenous people and very traditional so in our experience getting with the local girls is not desirable, unless you want an entire village coming after you with torches and pitchforks. The three most significant towns on the lake are Panajachel, the main tourist stopping off point, San Marcos, the super hippie place where people go to yoga meditation retreats, and San Pedro la Laguna which is the party town of the lake.
San Pedro is a fun place for a weekend. We lived there for a while and thought it was not the right place for an extended stay, but it is beautiful, and very fun on the weekends. If you meet someone you really get along with in Antigua, invite her to San Pedro for a weekend. Just don’t stay too long as the actual resident population is comprised of: indigenous people who are very nice but not people to socialize with, old expat hippie dropouts, and total loser young people with no ambition or real passion for anything. Also there are lots of drugs and super cheap booze there so everybody there is pretty much completely fucked up and unintelligble by about 4 PM every day. Also the mayor has been very anti gringo lately so it would be good to ask ahead about the current climate for tourism. There are no chicks there worth picking up there except the backpacker tourists and they tend to come for a day or two and then leave.
A couple other dos and don’ts in Guatemala:
Do not swim in the lake, no matter how pretty it looks, it’s super polluted and you will get sick.
In San Pedro, do eat at Ventana Blue, our favorite restaurant in Guatemala, as well its lakeside sister restaurant La Puerta, the world’s best place for lunch when the weather is good.
Do not try to drive to the lake, especially the backside- the roads are bad and there are bandits in the remote parts of the road. Instead, take a shuttle from Antigua or the airport. To get around the lake there are boat shuttles that are very quick, efficient and cheap.
Do not book hotels ahead of time. You can walk up and get $5-10 rooms with private baths very easy, but if you book online you’ll spend much more.
Don’t go to Panajachel, it’s too touristy and the people trying to sell you shit you don’t want on the street will never leave you alone.
Do take a trip to Tikal, a very well preserved Mayan ruin. It’s pretty out of the way, though, at least a 7 or 8 hour ride from Antigua.
Do climb the Volcano Pacaya- it’s an active volcano and for a few buck there are package day trips from Antigua that get you there, up and down in about 6 or 8 hours. Do the night one and you can actually see the lava glow. Bring a marshmallo and cook it on a stick. This is not America, so you can get as close to real running molten lava as you like.
Start partying earlier. The national last call in Guatemala is very early- 1 A.M. All bars, clubs, you name it, close at 1. This is very hard to get around., although some bars will stay open after as “private parties” you’ll need to be inside by 12:30; at that point most places stop letting people in.
The early last call has has led to the typically Guatemalan tradition- The Sketchy Guatemalan Afterparty. What happens is as everyone is milling outside the bar at last call wondering why the night had to end just as they were starting to have a good time, some sketchy Guatemalan dudes try to get everybody to go over to their place for an “afterparty”. What they really want to do is have questionably consensual sex with some super young super drunk white tourist girls. We do not recommend these parties.
You can have your own, but do not say the word “afterparty”, at least not withing earshot of these Guatemalan wolves, or else they will follow you and your invited guests to your place and not leave, thus totally fucking up your game, or worse. They have no shame about this. To avoid this, go up to your girl and say, “We want to have an afterparty, but be quiet about it, and bring your girlfriends, but don’t tell any other people.” This is common practice in Guatemala and the local girls will understand, as they know their countrymen well.
Guatemala has a countrywide indoor smoking ban so don’t smoke indoors there. Raul and I were in Panajachel at a bar once and the cops came in and wrote large tickets to everyone (white) who was smoking in there. We had a bunch of weed with us but Raul just hid it behind a painting on the wall till the cops left and we were fine.
The regular Guatemalan girls (not the indigenous people but the mestizas) are quite nice and friendly. Read Raul’s article for insight on the Central American girl, and head on down!