Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, and Volcan Fuego

Okay, all of us have probably seen one of those videos with someone standing right next to an exploding volcano. Chances are, it was probably Volcan Fuego in Guatemala. That experience is what put Guatemala on my radar and I finally got the chance to go. The main attractions of Guatemala are the volcanoes, Lake Atitlán, Tikal with its pyramids, and Semuc Champey. I only had 10 days so I decided to focus on hiking Volcan Acatenango and going to Lake Atitlán. I planned to base myself out of Antigua, Guatemala in order to do the volcano hike and decided to head to Lake Atitlán after. Antigua is about 45 minutes to an hour drive from Guatemala City and the gateway city to Lake Atitlán, Panajachel, is about a 2 hour drive from Antigua.

When flying to Guatemala, you’ll fly into Guatemala City at La Aurora International Airport. Guatemala City has a reputation for being very dangerous. However, my experience was great. I flew from Philadelphia to Fort Lauderdale to Guatemala City and landed at 1246am. Since I got in so late, I decided to book a room at the Holiday Inn only 3 miles from the airport. I wanted to get some sleep before waking up and heading to Antigua and I think that’s the best choice if you’re arriving late. Uber in Guatemala is safe, cheap, and reliable. It gives you a 4 digit pin that you have to confirm with your driver when you get in the car. I ordered an Uber to Antigua around noon and I believe it was around $70 USD. Okay, I’ll skip to the good stuff.

Volcan de Fuego Hike

This is probably the reason why you’re even looking at going to Guatemala. This volcano has gone viral on social media and for good reason. It’s incredible.

You’ll want to head to Antigua, Guatemala. All the guide/tour companies start here. There are so many companies to choose from. I went with Tropicana. It was $82 for breakfast at check-in, 4 liters of water, a sack lunch with a burrito, brownies, and an apple, noodles at the end of the hike, a dinner of more noodles, s’mores, and a breakfast of porridge and XXXXX. We all met at Tropicana Hostel in Antigua at 730 am, checked in, stored gear that I didn’t want to take on the hike in their locker for free, and went upstairs for free breakfast. After breakfast they allowed us to rent whatever we wanted. Cold weather gear, shoes, backpacks… etc.

After about an hour and a half we loaded up our hiking packs in vans and took a 1 hr 15 minute ride to the actual starting point of the hike. You will need cash on the hike. We unloaded, were able to rent hiking poles, and more importantly, had the opportunity to hire a porter. For about $25 USD a porter will carry 12kg of gear to the top of the hike for you (one way). Also, you’ll get an overview brief of the hike from the lead guide before departing. (The below video shows the start point of the hike)

We started the hike around 1030. After about 15 minutes of hiking you’ll come to a restaurant. You’ll stop here for about 20 minutes to get burritos, crepes, smoothies, or whatever snacks you want. The bathroom here and at the start point is 5 quetzals. (Below is a video of the restaurant)

You’ll hike for about 4-5 hours depending on the speed of your group. The hike was insanely dusty. You’ll want to bring a bandanna with you and sunglasses to cover your eyes. You’ll stop multiple times along the way and eat your sack lunch around 12pm. After about 3/4 of the way up, you’ll see Fuego erupting.

Base camp is at the top of Volcan Acatenango. We arrived around 3pm. We all unloaded, claimed our spot in the sleeping cabins, and the guides asked for 1 liter of water from each of us and our cup of noodles so they could cook for us. The sleeping cabins consisted of 2 levels of sleeping platforms. Sleeping bags were positioned right next to each other along both of the levels. I’m not sure how often the sleeping bags are cleaned but you’re already very dirty and barely sleep if you opt to wake up early for the sunrise hike.

Antigua is such a vibrant, chill city. And the FOOD. There are SO many good restaurants, bakeries, and cafes. Okay, here are some of the things I enjoyed in Antigua.

The picture above is of course the famous Santa Catalina Arch. I’d recommend going here for sunrise to skip the crowds.

Iglesia de La Merced. You can pay around 20 quetzals a person to tour the interior of this church. The architecture is beautiful and you can even walk around the rooftop.

Hector’s Bistro. This place is AMAZING. I’m not exaggerating when I say I think I ate here a dozen times while I was Antigua. The food is phenomenal, the prices are such a good deal, the staff is friendly, the aesthetic of the decor is so nice, and you don’t have to worry about getting food poisoning. Some of my favs were the steak and papas fritas with sautéed vegetables, Hector’s burger, and the Margherita pizza.

Guataleria. This place has so many unique and delicious homemade candies. The rooftop is also gorgeous. Ask for the guava candy.

Sky cafe. A great rooftop to sip on a drink and enjoy the views. I got a banana smoothie and it was surprisingly better than any of the fruit smoothies I had during my Southeast Asia trip.

Cerro de la Cruz. Walking around the streets of Antigua, you’ll be able to see a cross standing up on a hill. It’s a nice little hike and I did it the day before my Acatenango hike to try to acclimatize. It’s rather short so I’m not sure if it helped but it definitely didn’t hurt and I didn’t get altitude sickness after on the hike to Fuego.

Lake Atitlan

The entrance town to Lake Atitlan is called Panajachel. It’s about a 2 hour drive from Antigua. There are buses that run regularly or you can get a private driver. I went with Uber. Keep in mind that it is much harder to get an Uber coming back to Antigua from Panajachel. The main dock of Panajachel is the jumping off point to the rest of the towns on Lake Atitlan. You’ll either need to take the public lancha aka water taxi or find a private lancha to take you to whichever town you’d like to get to. The public lancha will stop at every main town between your starting point and destination so a private lancha can save you a lot of time.

Hotel La Casa Del Mundo

My friend, Jordan, told me I HAD to visit this place and I’m so glad he did. The grounds are immaculate, the architecture is gorgeous, and the vibes are Lake Como summer vacation. The best place I stayed at on my entire Guatemala trip. I was very lucky and was able to book the last available room for less than $100 (a lot of the rooms are priced from $300-$400). The food is decent and the breakfast was particularly exceptional. You can buy a day pass but in order to really appreciate the laid back atmosphere you should book one night here. It’s technically located in the small town of Jaibalito between Santa Cruz and San Marcos.

San Marcos