Exploring Guatemala

A tour of the active Pacaya volcano is one of the highlights of a vacation in Guatemala.

Last year, I only managed a glimpse of Guatemala from neighboring Belize. Then, I wondered about all the gems the destination probably offered. In October, I finally was there to attend the Central America Travel Market 2010. It’s an increasingly popular Central American destination, I was told. As I ventured out, I discovered that was for good reason.


The best trip I took in Guatemala by far was the tour of Pacaya volcano. It’s an active volcano that has erupted quite a few times since 1965, most recently this past May. But don’t let that scare your clients off as the tour is usually safe. Flanked by gorgeous green mountains, the roughly 8,000-foot-high volcano constantly spewing out smoke makes for an incredible sight.

It’s about a 90-minute drive south of Guatemala City and an hour east of the city of Antigua. A tour costs about $7 a person, plus another $20 for a horse, which I highly recommend since our guides looked quite fatigued on the way up. There are tons of tour operators in Antigua who will charge from $10-$15 for a trip to the volcano.


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The horseback ride is about 25 minutes up and 20 minutes down. When you reach the top, at the point where the horse can go no farther, you dismount and trek through fossilized lava where you’ll still find spots emitting smoke. There are also a few holes in the volcano that you can climb into and take pictures. The holes that are too hot serve a different purpose: vendors at the bottom of the volcano sell twigs and bags of marshmallows, which serve as a celebratory treat for a job well done.

Agents should note, however, that May through early October is Guatemala’s rainy season, when the visibility of the volcano is severely limited.

If your clients aren’t the hiking type, recommend one of many great coffee tours at the Filadelfia Estate in Antigua, about an hour’s drive from Guatemala City. The tour traces the journey of the coffee from the plantation to the cup. The property also offers bird-watching, trail walks, mule rides and more.

Antigua should be your clients’ base as most great attractions in the country, with the exception of the famous Tikal archaeological site (about an hour-long flight from Antigua), are around an hour’s drive away. Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. The site, a part of Tikal National Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

However, if your clients are in Guatemala City, recommend starting off with a brief tour of the Plaza de la Constitucion to get a taste of history. This area, in fact, was the site of many important protests and revolts. From here, suggest a trip to the small villages of San Pedro and San Juan, where they could buy local fruits, mingle with locals and take some excellent pictures.

For some of the best shopping, suggest Chichicastenango, which is about three hours from Guatemala City. The entire region is stocked with markets, beautiful churches and cemeteries.

Our Hotel in Guatemala City

Our first stay in Guatemala was at the charming Hotel Princess Guatemala, a 104-room boutique hotel in a vibrant district, 15 minutes from the international airport. There are 81 deluxe rooms, 20 executive rooms and three junior suites.

We stayed in a standard room, #515. Sure, there are better rooms at the property, but this room is all you really need. It has all the essentials: a queen-sized bed; a 40-inch TV that plays 99 channels, most of which are available in English; 24-hour room service that also lets you sample the hotel’s great food.



Latin America’s Hot Spots

While Guatemala is just starting to show its potential as a destination, other countries in the region are riding the waves of their already high popularity.

Anything “eco” and green is hot, so countries like Brazil and Panama continue to be a big draw. Resorts and tour operators continue to add properties and itineraries for travelers heading south—SuperClubs has added two of its Breezes resorts in the region, one in the party town of Buzios, Brazil, the other on Panama’s Pacific coast in the Santa Clara region. Iberostar, which already has properties in Manaus and Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, also owns the Grand Amazon hotel-ship, a luxury cruise ship that takes passengers through the Amazon along the Rio Negro.

Also for nature lovers and explorers, agents can suggest a stay at the 200-room Gamboa Rainforest Resort, which is found within Soberanía National Park. Preservation of nature and the history of the Panama Canal come together here at this unique and increasingly popular resort.

Amenities include a complimentary shuttle service from the airport, a fitness center, a sauna, and a meetings and banquets facility. The Garden Court Restaurant serves local and international cuisine and Clancy’s Bar is an English pub-style hangout. The hotel is perfect for Americans looking to stay connected. It’s close to the airport, has great Internet service and there are tons of shops and restaurants in the area.

Contact Alejandro Jose Pineda (011-502-2423-0841, [email protected]), general manager, for details.

Staying in Antigua

Now, the best hotel is the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, in the heart of Antigua. It’s a massive property with a large pool, a conference hall and plenty of other facilities. But the boutique hotels of this town are what truly capture the destination’s charm.

Just a few blocks from the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo is Posada de Don Rodrigo, where I stayed. Three former colonial homes were put together to form a hotel with around 40 rooms. Its location in the middle of the central square of Antigua adds to the appeal. The area has lots of bars and restaurants, but if you don’t want to leave the hotel, you can make do with some good local cuisine served at the hotel. Room service is cheap with meals usually costing $15-$30.

I stayed in Room #102. Like all rooms at this hotel, it is on the ground level, and the noise of passing vehicles may be the only inconvenience your clients may have to put up with.

Agents should call the reservations department at 011-552-7832-9858.