To celebrate my husbands significant birthday, we decided to return to Guatemala, following basically the same itinerary we had done 13 years ago when we first visited. We had always wanted to return and were very glad to finally be doing so.
I had been researching hotels on Trip Advisor with some idea where we thought we wanted to stay. At one point while I was in the site, a link appeared for ENJOY GUATEMALA, a division of Absolute Travel Services, LLC. Having worked in retail travel for over 20 years in my previous life, booking trips for others, I thought why not see what a travel agent could do for us. I emailed our itinerary and dates and they promptly came back with prices and details on the included services. They booked what we had requested. Payment was made via a secure link, in US dollars so there were no foreign exchange rates charged on the credit card. Vouchers for all services were sent as an email attachment which I printed out to carry and present to each hotel and service provider.
We opted for private car transportation with English speaking drivers and a private boat at Lake Atitlan with an English speaking guide. All of the drivers arrived promptly at designated pick-up times, were very courteous and spoke some English. All the vehicles were newer, clean and comfortable. We also chose standard hotel rooms. In a couple cases we wondered if an upgraded room category might have been a better choice. There was never any problem or question when we handed over the vouchers for transport, hotels or boat ride. So I don’t repeat myself, all hotel staff were helpful and courteous which is how we found all of the Guatemalan people to be.
Our first stop was Antigua for 2 nights at the CASA SANTO DOMINGO. This truly deluxe hotel was to be the birthday splurge and it did not disappoint. What a beautiful place! Our room on a second floor had a small balcony where we could enjoy views of the Agua volcano and the lush courtyard gardens. The room was comfortable and cozy with nice amenities and fast Wi-fi. The hotel restaurant and bar were great, serving very good food and drinks. The museums within the hotel are very interesting and admission is free for hotel guests.
On to Lake Atitlan for 2 nights at the POSADA DE DON RODRIGO PANAJACHEL, located right at the lakeside. We chose a ground floor room. It had no view and the window faced a walkway between the buildings. We didn’t feel comfortable keeping the window, curtains or shutters open with people passing by. Keeping it closed up made the room seem like a cave and it added to the overall discomfort – minimal lighting and a couple of hard chairs. No ventilation other than a small fan in the shower area. It was not a room we wanted to spend much time in. I don’t know if a second floor room would have been better with a window not facing a walkway; did not go upstairs. Wi-fi reception was good and the hotel restaurant/bar was fine, serving good breakfasts with lots of fresh fruit and good, cold cervezas in the evening. A small museum, with artifacts salvaged from the lake, is interesting and admission is free to hotel guests. Hotel is in a great location, walkable to everything in town.
The day spent on the lake, visiting two towns, was very pleasant indeed with our private boat and guide.
From the lake we went to Chichicastenango for Thursday market day. On our previous trip, Chichi had been a day trip enroute from Atitlan back to Antigua. We had used the bar area of the HOTEL SANTO TOMAS, as a rest stop from the hectic market which is just steps away. I had taken a walk around the hotel which is in a very old, beautiful courtyard building and decided if we ever returned, I’d want to stay a night in this hotel. The hotel is like a museum, with many antiques in the courtyard walkways and gorgeous gardens, many potted plants and birds on perches. There is a nice looking swimming pool.
The hotel room was very basic and not at all comfortable. One hard chair, a small table against the wall, a small night stand, a couple of bent wire clothes hangers and minimal lighting was it. The bathroom was in need of updating. Note, there is no hot water except for in the mornings. That is okay unless one wants to have a hot shower before going out in the evening. We waited until after 6:00am for the hot water and my husband finally went down to the reception desk to ask when it would be turned on. They fired up the boiler and in a short time the water was hot with good water pressure for the shower. Thankfully there were plenty of blankets on the bed since it was very rainy and rather cold when we were there. There is no television in the rooms, for those who consider this important. Wi-fi did not work in the room, only in or just outside the reception desk area.
The hotel restaurant serves a very substantial buffet lunch on market days – Thursdays and Sundays. It was very tasty with some of the best, fresh guacamole, salsa and tortillas I’ve ever had and delicious flan for dessert. Breakfast was very good with lots of fresh fruit included with the entree.
One thing to keep in mind about the banks in Chichicastenango – we were not able to exchange cash dollars for quetzales at two of the banks close to the hotel. Never had this kind of experience anywhere before. An English-speaking guide, who had latched on to us by the hotel, wound up taking us to an appliance/furniture store, Electrika, I think it was called. There, Banco Azteca, changed dollars for us at a really terrible exchange rate. Best to have quetzales in hand before heading into town and the market though the vendors will accept dollars too (but who knows for what exchange rate).
Leaving Chichi, we returned for a final 2 nights in Antigua. This time we were booked at the POSADA DE DON RODRIGO, right in the heart of town, close to the central park. We were hoping this property would be better than the one in Lake Atitlan, and it is – much better. Our room, small, but comfortable, was located just down the way from the reception area. Consequently, everyone coming in to their rooms or the restaurant had to pass by our room so it was a bit noisy. Perhaps an upgraded room would be in a quieter area of the hotel. Aside from this, we liked this hotel very much, again so beautiful with its central courtyard, flowering plants and garden areas. An upstairs patio area above the restaurant is great for viewing the Agua volcano and surrounding area. They do not provide drinking water in plastic bottles in the room, but a large, glass bottle that can be refilled from water canisters located in the courtyard walkways. Huge attention given to recycling.
One thing that really impressed me about the Posada de Don Ridrigo, small but significant, was the big pot of coffee available in the reception area at 3:30 in the morning when we had to check-out and leave for an early morning flight. I had been wondering how long we’d have to wait for that important coffee to start the day and they took care of it!
We found the Guatemalan people to be just as lovely as they were 13 years ago. They are very industrious and customer service oriented – everywhere we went. I really like that they are into recycling trash everywhere. And, in Antigua, there is an active effort to help homeless dogs and cats with spaying & neutering programs offered by shelters and food and water offered to them by some of the businesses in town.
I hope we can again visit Guatemala and not wait so long to return. We would definitely use the services of ENJOY GUATEMALA who made our trip so worry free.