Why I am Deleting My Blog!

I started blogging a little over two months ago, inspired by a deep love for Guatemala and a desire to see the country be recognized globally for all of its cultural and natural beauty and not just for the consistently negative press it receives. To be completely transparent, I also had ambitions to monetize the blog and saw it as a potential opportunity to visit Guatemala more frequently, a goal that I was on the brink of realizing when I began to have a change of heart.

I love Guatemala, and I always will. In fact, one of the things I always appreciated about the years I spent living there was because I was so much less connected to social media, to trends, to my phone, to Facebook, etc. I lived a simpler, more peaceful life.  I enjoyed mornings walks and cups of coffee on a daily basis. I greeted friends in the street and wished them “salud” over a a glass of wine, or a swig of Mezcal, on a nightly basis. My life was beautiful because I was present, I never ached with worry about meeting a deadline or achieving some arbitrary goal I had set for myself out of my natural (borderline unhealthy) inclination towards hyper productivity and success. I was just enjoying my life. I was living.

My move back to California in August 2012 was abrupt and devastating, I was scared to leave behind this beautiful life I had found in Guatemala and the people who made it that way. It didn’t take long, however, to find the same kind of wonderful community amongst the hustle and bustle of life in the states and I found myself extremely content with my little life here in Sacramento. I loved my job, I had my family and friends close by, I even fell in love. Day after day, I was passionately throwing my heart and soul into all that I did. I had made my own little Antigua and though it didn’t have majestic views of volcanoes towering from a distance, it was still pretty nice.

Fast forward almost three years later life, particularly the imminent onset of adulthood, had me simultaneously excited and terrified. I couldn’t wait to get married to Juanes, I loved having a “big girl” job and woke up happy to go to work everyday. Buying our house was true accomplishment (with the help of our folks) and it felt good to check something off the “grown up” list. Still, the pressure of being financially successful, finishing my masters, the foreign concept that I would likely give birth to human being in the next 4 – 7yrs weighed on me. To top it off, the lingering itch to travel and explore the world in my youth could be neither scratched nor silenced. So, I attempted to channel this stressful panic into the creation of something, and so was born La Gringa Chapina.

Soon all hours outside of work were consumed by the obsession to get ahead and create something that served as an outlet for personal expression and perhaps would bring in some extra money, with which my husband and I could travel. I was either researching, writing, proofreading, or promoting the blog and with more traffic and more comments, came more motivation. Sleep became a thing of the past and the thought of spending a Sunday afternoon doing nothing seemed like un unproductive waste of my time. Ironically, I allowed my life to become the very opposite of what I praised Guatemala so highly for teaching me; the ability to be present and enjoy every second of life, even when I am doing nothing.

I agonized over what to do for a few days, and it wasn’t until after pouring hours of work into a manifesto of a business plan that I decided to sign off for a few days and take a breath. I allowed my thoughts to bounce around in my head and weigh heavily on my heart trying not to make a decision until the dust had settled. There I sat on my couch watching a movie with my husband, eating Chinese delivery and drinking wine when I realized I was relaxed and content. I didn’t feel like working and I didn’t feel bad about my lack of motivation whatsoever. The film we watched chronicled the success and failures of two couples, one in their 20’s and the other approaching their mid 40’s. Amanda Seyfried’s whimsical character lived in a loft apartment with a live chicken and she made homemade ice cream. She even read a book, like a real book, not some digitized letters on a kindle, but actual words printed on tangible piece of paper.

I decided I wanted to read the newspaper instead of the Huffington post, and that I would rather spend my free time gardening, raising a puppy, cooking with my husband and visiting with friends and family. I decided I didn’t really care about obsessively saving up for a hypothetical backpacking trip around South America that we may, or may not, have actually taken in a year. I didn’t care about paying off my student loan immediately, because it would eventually happen. I decided that it would be better to lay down roots, even if it meant I would have to dig them up again in the 5 years, then to feel uprooted forever.

So, this may not be goodbye forever, or it may. I really don’t know. Regardless to say, I thought you all deserved an explanation for my sudden departure and I also wanted to express my gratitude to all of you who have read my articules, shared a post, left a comment and made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile.

I leave you with this advice; If you find something, someone, or somewhere that makes you feel energized and alive most days out of the year, then you have been given a gift that should be treasured. I am lucky to have found all of these things and I am committed to enjoying them as much as I can while I can. If you haven’t found that in your life, then perhaps you need a little Guatemala 😉

Saludos,

Chelsea

Traveling in Guatemala with Children Part One: La Antigua Guatemala

When one thinks of where to head for a fun filled family vacation, Guatemala isn’t often found anywhere on the list, but it should be. Culture, nature, outdoor adventure, beautiful weather and great prices are just a few of the many selling points that make Guatemala a great destination for your next family getaway. Keep reading for inside tips on where to stay and play on your next family vacation.

Traveling in Guatemala with Kids

Antigua is a must see stop on any tour in Guatemala, and I typically recommend setting it up as your “base” for those on an extended trip. If the cobblestone streets, colonial buildings, and stunning views of surrounding volcanoes aren’t enough for you, the friendly people, vibrant culture and top-knotch cuisine will surely win you over. Bonus, there are tons of kid friendly activities!

FAMILY FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES

All of the above photos are taken from the website of the mentioned business or organization, with exception of Pacay and the Artisan Craft Market (taken by me) If you are the photographer please let me know so I can give you your well deserve photo credit!

Choco Museo – Whether or not they have the best chocolate in the country is up for debate, nonetheless a day at Antigua’s Choco Museo promises to deliver fun with a side of history and a sprinkling of sugar. Kids will love learning all about the chocolate making process from bean to bar and will be even happier when they get to take their handmade goodies home with them!

Cerro de la Cruz – Take the family for a brisk hike up to Cerro de la Cruz where you can sit and appreciate the beauty of Antigua’s streets, parks, trees, rooftops, and cupulas as you overlook the city. Have fun identifying all the different city landmarks and peer out at the volcanoes and mountaintops in the distance with this bird’s eye view of the valley. Pack a picnic and make an afternoon out of it! Safety Tip: They have tourist police surrounding the area to keep tourist and local visitors safe, due to some incidences of theft in previous year, and recommend that people visit between the hours of 10:00 am – 3:00 pm. I have been up numerous times, even alone in the early morning, and always been and felt very safe. Still, I felt the tip deserved a mention 🙂

La Recolección Ruins  A protected national monument, La Recolección Ruins are located on the western edge of town and house the massive ruins of the former Order of the Recollects church and monastery. Foreign visitors can enter for Q40, roughly $5, and kids enter for free to this well-kept national park. While there isn’t an extensive wealth of historical background given, visitors can freely wander the site and marvel at these impressive ruins. Young kids particularly enjoy running around this site seeing as it’s the perfect place for a game of hide and seek or a make believe pirate battle.

Vivero y Café de la Escalonia – If you’re looking for some peace and tranquility on your vacation it’s definitely worth taking a stroll down 5th Avenue South to Vivero y Café la Escalonia. As you walk down 5th Avenue the cobblestone roads turn into a rustic dirt path, with lush coffee plantations growing on both sides as you near the cafe and nursery. The grounds are filled with exotic plants, flowers, trees, fruits and vegetables and friendly bugs fly and dance about. Young kids love to explore what feels like an enchanted forest, just a stones throw from the hustle and bustle of the city. Grab a cup of coffee or tea on their patio and enjoy the laid-back vibe at this hidden gem.

La Ruta del Yalú – Located outside of Antigua in the city of Sumpango, Yalú is a coffee farm turned eco-tourism site that allows visitors to get a taste of agrarian life in Guatemala. It’s the perfect destination for families, offering a variety of fun outdoor activities with something for everyone. For the relaxed traveler you can enjoy an informative coffee tour and pick fresh blackberries as you get in touch with mother nature. Adventure lovers can have a go at mouintain biking, rock climbing and zip lining, and fans of our furry four-legged friends can spend time horseback riding or milking cows on the dairy tour. For those wanting to take the experience father, you can even book a room in their modest, but charming, wood cabins and enjoy an early morning sunrise on the farm.

Pacaya Volcano – With three volcanoes hovering over the colonial city of La Antigua Guatemala, sooner or later you are going to get the urge to climb one. Fortunately, there a variety of travel agencies in the area that are happy to take you up a number of Guatemala’s many volcanoes. The most popularly hiked volcano, and the one I would recommend for families, is the Pacaya Volcano, located about 45 minutes outside of Antigua. Most agencies will drive you to the base and give you a guided tour up the volcano, stopping along the way to provide information about the local area as well as the geology, flora and fauna and then take you back to Antigua for anywhere between $10 – $20 a person, depending on the company. I recommend going on the early morning tour to beat the heat.

Tip: Make sure your guide brings marshmallows up to the summit so you and the kids can roast them over lava!

Mercado de Artesanias – If you enjoy shopping and the art of bargaining then the Mercado de Artesanias definitely merits a visit. Located on the western side of town, opposite the city’s busiest street, it can be a bit tricky to find at first. Just ask any local or fellow traveler “¿dónde está el mercado de artesanias?”. Someone will surely point you in the right direction. Upon entering you can wander through the expansive market, browsing through stall after stall of beautiful Guatemalan crafts, many of them handmade. You will see textiles, bags, backpacks, beaded jewelry, wooded crafts, pottery, jade, silver, paintings, and much, much more.

While some of the vendors accept U.S. dollars and credit/debit cards, I recommend taking along some quetzales as well to make transactions easier. Don’t be afraid to bargain a little bit, it’s part of the experience, but I always remind people not to get too caught up on getting the lowest price. After all, even the initial starting prices is usually a pretty good deal for such beautiful items that are incredibly hard to find back home.

Frijol Feliz Cooking School – Guatemala is sure to win over your heart as a top travel destination for many reasons and the traditional cuisine is just one of them! Sadly, Guatemalan food can be hard to come by back home, so it’s important to learn the basics of Guatemalan cuisine while in the country.  Fortunately, you can take some time during your stay and learn how to make a few traditional plates to help fix your cravings throughout the years to come. Frijol Feliz Cooking School teaches small groups (approximately 5 people) how to make one main course, two side dishes, and a dessert based off of your personal menu selection. At the end of your course, you get to sit down and enjoy your meal!

De la Gente Tours – If you are looking to learn more about life and culture in Guatemala from the people who know and live it everyday take one of the many tours offered at the De la Gente. Participate and work alongside Guatemalan farmers, weavers, artisans, and more as you learn firsthand some of the finest Guatemalan skills and crafts. De la Gente promotes a unique type of tourism where you make real connections with locals while simultaneously supporting members of the community. Learn how to roast coffee, prepare pepian, make fashionable bags out of recycled huipiles, or create artisan crafts out of wood and iron.

FAMILY FRIENDLY HOTELS

LUXURY HOTELS: $130 – $220 USD PER NIGHT 

For those of you looking for the finest and most comfortable accommodations in Antigua, complete with all the U.S. amenities found in hotels back home (wifi, pool, spa, safe, 24/7 concierge, gym, etc.) I highly recommend the following establishments. Each with its own unique touch, you are sure to find the hotel that meets your family’s style.

Porta Hotel Antigua

A beautiful oasis hidden behind regal wooden doors, it’s hard to come by a hotel this nice with a pool of this size and quality, arguably the best pool in all of Antigua. To top it off, this elegant hotel is perfectly located just close enough to town that it’s easy to walk everywhere while still being nestled on a quiet, peaceful street.

Tip: If you aren’t in a position to spend on these luxurious accommodations you can drop in and pay $10 per person for a day pass to the pool.

Porta Hotel Antigua

This photo was take by David Reyes at Porta Hotel Antigua. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

Hotel Camino Real

Well situated in the center of Antigua, Hotel Camino Real offers families a level of comfort and sophistication unparalleled by many other hotels in the region. I particularly love how the room decor seamlessly fuses traditional Spanish colonial features with a sleeker, more minimalist feel.  More than anything, I am impressed at how the hotel manages to keep prices around $155 a night for a room with two queen beds, making it a great value for the family of four seeking comfort, luxury, and convenience.

Hotel Westin Camino Real

This photo is from Hotel Camino Real’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

Filadelfia Coffee Resorts and Tours 

Though located outside of town (about a 5 minute drive), Finca Filadelfia makes up for the distance with its pristine accommodations and menu of fun, on site, activities. Imagine waking up on a stunning coffee farm to enjoy a beautifully prepared traditional Guatemalan breakfast before taking a tour of the coffee plantation and learning all about one of Guatemala’s top commodities. You can then continue your adventure after lunch with zip-lining, horseback riding and a round of paintball. Finca Filadelfia has something for all the kids, and the kid in all of us.

Finca Filadelfia Resort

This photo is from Finca Filadelfia’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

MID-RANGE HOTEL: $80 – $120 USD PER NIGHT 

It can be trickier to find a truly family friendly,”mid range hotel” that is both well located and of great value in Antigua. This enchanting city tends to cater to either the well to do, luxury traveler or the young, budget backpacker. That being said, there are still a few choices for families looking for something with an upscale feel, but a lower price tag.

D’Leyenda Hotel

My recommendation, and a 2015 Tripadvisor Traveler’s Choice  Award winner, D’Leyenda Hotel, is a tiny boutique hotel located just steps from Parque Central. You literally couldn’t ask for a better location! Though there is no swimming pool, their roof top terrace does offer guests the opportunity to soak in a hot tub while appreciating the gorgeous, volcano scattered skyline. With breakfast included, free wifi and a concierge service, D’Leyenda is great option for families who are content in a smaller hotel during their stay.

D'Leyenda Hotel

This photo is from D’Leyendas website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

BUDGET HOTELS: $45 – $75 US PER NIGHT 

If you and your family are more focused on getting out and about to explore the town than relaxing by the pool, there are many options that will serve as a great place to rest your head at the end of a long day. Families can save big without compromising on charm and authenticity in Antigua. In fact, some of the smaller, budget friendly hotels have the friendliest staff! Odds are, you and your family will find yourself reflecting on your days in Antigua, and the people you met during your stay, for years to come.

Hotel Casa Antigua

While it might not have massive grounds complete with pools and a 5 star restaurant, it’s hard to beat the location of Hotel Casa Antigua. Just two blocks from Central Park and right in front of the smaller, but well loved, Parque y Tanque La Unión, all that Antigua has to offer is right at your fingertips. Hotel Casa Antigua practically oozes with charm and you can’t miss the well prepared breakfast served by their delightful staff on the garden patio. At $75 a night, this is a definite go to for the family that prefers charm and authenticity without breaking the bank.

Hotel Casa Antigua

This photo is from Hotel Casa Antigua’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

Hotel Las Camelias Inn

The two things that stand out the most about Las Camelias Inn are its adorable roof top patio and the outstanding breakfast served there. While the accommodations are basic, the rooms are kept clean and tidy and there is plenty of communal space on the ground floor, as well as on the terrace, for gathering with friends and family. They have rooms starting as low as $42 a night, and even have special family rooms (for up to 6 people) offered at just $75  a night.

Hotel Las Camelias

This photo is from Hotel Las Camelia’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

ESTIMATED PRICES ARE BASED OFF HOTELS’ STANDARD RATES AND DO INCLUDES TAXES.  MANY OF THESE HOTELS OFFER WONDERFUL DEALS WITH DEEP DISCOUNTS IF YOU DIG AROUND ON SITES SUCH AS  TRIP ADVISOR AND BOOKING.COM.

I hope this helps you to better plan your upcoming family vacation and make the most out of your time in Guatemala. Stay tuned for Traveling in Guatemala With Children Part Two: Lake Atitlán coming soon! And as always don’t forget that comments, questions, ideas, and suggestions are always welcome and encouraged! 

Who is La Gringa Chapina?

It’s been just about two months since I first starting blogging and so far the experience has been extremely rewarding. Having gone from just 1,841 views in May to 6,933 in June, I feel myself growing as a blogger and beginning to connect with my readers, all of which brings me great joy!

In an effort to continue improving and expanding La Gringa Chapina I have decided to participate in the 7 Day Feel Good Blogging Challenge created by Alex Beadon. For those of you unfamiliar with the lovely Alex Beadon, she is a young entrepreneur who creates a variety of motivational resources and online classes to help get people’s businesses off the ground and keep them motivated. She has been instrumental in my diving in head fist into this project, one which I have wanted to take on for many years. Therefore, over the next few days I will be stretching myself as blogger as I work to write individual posts to help achieve the daily challenges set out for me.

WHO IS MY TRIBE? 

AKA: Who IS LA GRINGA CHAPINA SPEAKING TO?

La Gringa Chapina highlights travel and life abroad in the Central American country of Guatemala in a positive and intriguing way. The primary target audience consists of travelers aged 16 – 44 looking to have a more authentic experience while in Guatemala where they can develop lasting relationships with locals and fellow travelers, while engaging in meaningful activities. My readers are interested in art, culture, history, language, philanthropy, adventure, nature, food, nightlight and traveling in a way that honors the host country and its people.Their travel style strikes a healthy balance between budget and mid-range travel with the infrequent sprinkling of luxury when celebrating special occasions, or when mom and dad are in town visiting. La Gringa Chapina also enjoys a healthy readership comprised of Guatemalans, and foreigners that call Guatemala home, who enjoy reading about their country and joining in on the discussion.

First Summer Traveling in Guatemala, When I Was Still a Newbie

First Summer Traveling in Guatemala, When I Was Still a Newbie

Me and Fellow Travelers

Me and Fellow Travelers

My tribe loves Guatemala, or is on the brink of falling in love with it, and views La Gringa Chapina as a place to celebrate this unique and captivating place.

WHY AM I WRITING TO THEM?

I was once a 19 year old girl with no prior experience traveling abroad alone when I got on a plane to Guatemala with zero expectations. I picked Guatemala so randomly (the kind of throw a dart at a map situation you see in the movies) only to later learn that Guatemala had really picked me.

I went into the situation pretty blind, only knowing that someone was going to pick me up from the airport and take me to the host family I was to live with. I look back at that day now, over five years later, and smile at the brave fool I was and how lucky I am to have had such a positive experience that flourished into a great love for Guatemala, a love and passion that has opened many doors for me. As I tell people about my years living in Guatemala I am often met with the same questions “Where is Guatemala exactly?, “Did you feel safe? Weren’t you worried?” or “Why would you ever go there?” etc. These questions use to hurt me when I would hear them but I’ve come to see it as a great opportunity to educate people and shed light on all the positive, beautiful, and magnificent things Guatemala and its people have to offer.

My goal is that through this blog I will encourage people to visit Guatemala and provide them with useful advice and insider knowledge to help them maximize their experience in Guatemala. I get so many messages from travelers considering a trip to Guatemala, or in the process of preparing but uncertain of what to expect, asking me question after question. My immediate reaction is joy and gratitude to be able to help another individual in their pursuit and to give Guatemala the good reputation that it deserves and is so often denied.

The beauty and simplicity of the outdoor markets.

The beauty and simplicity of the outdoor markets.

Working as a tour guide all over Guatemala

Working as a tour guide all over Guatemala

WHY SHOULD THEY LISTEN TO WHAT I HAVE TO SAY?

I am not an expert in all that is Guatemalan history, culture, art, geography, flora, flauna etc., and I will not claim to be. What I do consider myself an expert in is how, as a foreigner, to prepare for and enjoy your time in Guatemala while always honoring and respecting the country and the people living there.

During my two and a half short years living in Guatemala I managed to volunteer in a children’s hospital, work as a tour guide for a year, teach English at a language academy, bartend at one of the most popular bars in Antigua Guatemala, rescue three dogs and enjoy a short stunt as a pastry chef/coffee shop owner. In the years following my return to the U.S. I continue to take groups of people down to Guatemala multiple times  a year for cultural immersion trips.  I also usually fit in one personal trip a year to visit friends and family. On my last personal trip in April I even got married!

If planning a wedding in Guatemala while living California doesn’t qualify me to give advice for how to navigate life in Guatemala, I don’t know what does! Basically, Ii you have a question about Guatemala, chances are I have had the same question at some point in time and if not I probably know someone who can get me the answer you need in no time flat 🙂

Volunteering my first year in Guatemala

Volunteering my first year in Guatemala

Getting married in Guatemala 5 years later.

Getting married in Guatemala 5 years later.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING I WANT PEOPLE TO TAKE AWAY FROM VISITING LA GRINGA CHAPINA?

The most important thing for me is that people who have never been to Guatemala feel inspired to visit and experience it for themselves, and for those who have visited, or are from Guatemala, continue working to give Guatemala a good name and invest love and soul into the country.

Keep Smiling - Life is a Beautiful Adventure

Keep Smiling – Life is a Beautiful Adventure

Thanks for reading! As always comments, questions, ideas and suggestions are not only welcome, they are highly encouraged!

Saludos,

-C

What Not to Do When You Visit Guatemala

A few days ago a friend on Facebook (and also the owner of this fabulous bar in Antigua) shared the photo below. It garnered quite a bit of social media attention, to say the least. While the tourists seen in the photo were more than likely well intentioned visitors looking to satisfy their craving for something sugary and deep fried, members of the Antigua community couldn’t help but laugh to ease the pain of the tragic irony this photo embodies. Day after day people from all over the world pass through Guatemala without really awakening their senses to what Guatemala is and what it has to offer.

What Not To Do When Traveling in Guatemala

What Not To Do When Traveling in Guatemala

It’s not completely their fault and I am sure I have been guilty of the occasional faux pas or accidental culturally insensitive blunder. So, in an effort to help others avoid looking stupid and cheating themselves out a more authentic experience I bring you:

5 THINGS NOT TO DO ON YOUR TRIP TO GUATEMALA

1. Don’t expect that everyone will speak English

You are in Guatemala, as in the country once conquered and occupied by Spain.Therefore, the majority of Guatemalans speak Spanish and much of the population also speaks one of the many indigenous languages spoken throughout the country. Not everyone speaks English, and they shouldn’t have to since it is not the official language of their country.

Tip: Speaking loudly to people as if they were 5 years old will not help. The best option is to try and learn a little Spanish and hope that they have patience with you, not you with them!

On the flip side, there are many individuals in Guatemala, both locals and foreigners, who speak English at varying levels of fluency and are happy to help you out with whatever you may need. Most larger hotels and restaurants will have at least one person on staff that speaks relatively fluent English, however don’t expect it as a given or get upset when your language needs can’t be accommodated.

2. Don’t stay in Antigua the whole time

If you know me at all, you know I absolutely LOVE Antigua Guatemala and claim it as a must see for those visiting the country. That being said, I strongly urge travelers to spend part of trip in other parts of the country for a variety of reasons.

First of all, Antigua is bit of a fairytale version of Guatemala, which is why so many people love it. However, it is easy to get swept up in the magic without getting a more accurate idea of Guatemala and its people as you sit in bars eating posh europeans dishes and chatting in English with fellow foreigners.

Second and even more importantly, there are a bunch of other really fabulous spots that will blow your mind and delight your senses in other ways that it is well worth leaving Antigua to experience them. It might be hard to see everything in one trip, but I highly recommend trying to visit at least a few of the following destinations: Tecpán, Lake Atitlán, Xela, Chichicastenango, Semuc Champey, Cobán, Flores, Tikal, El Mirador, Río Dulce and Livingston, just to name a few. Getting out of Antigua will allow you to further explore all the diversity Guatemala has to offer in regards to culture, language, wildlife, cuisine, and more.

3. Don’t be afraid of Guatemalan food 

As you can see in the photo above, a group of young tourists gathered at Dunkin’ Donuts for an afternoon snack in Antigua Guatemala. This one really breaks my heart a little when I think of all the local businesses in Antigua that offer up food far more innovative and delicious than this U.S. owned chain. If you are going to Guatemala you must experience the local food as well as the international food served in the small locally owned businesses. Please, please do not spend your vacation eating at Wendy’s or Subway. If you are afraid of getting sick off the food, rest assure that the restaurants in Antigua survive off of sales to tourists, therefore they are implementing high standards of food safety to ensure you don’t get sick.

If you are just in town for a short trip, I would avoid the street food (albeit it delicious) as you don’t want to risk getting sick when you only have a few days to spare. However, please feel comfortable to explore the local cuisine in restaurants without fear! Your tummy might rumble a teeny bit as your adjust to the new bacterias naturally found (this can and will happen even at the U.S. chains in Guatemala) but it isn’t anything that will slow you down on your trip. In the event you have anything more severe take a few doses of cipro and you should be good as new in 24 hours.

4. Don’t criticize the way things are done in Guatemala

Upon spending a few days in Guatemala you will begin to notice that things are done differently than back home. Not necessarily better, not necessarily worse, but definitely different. Things that take 2 minutes to do back home can take 10 in Guatemala. You will probably see a lot of people riding in the back of pick up trucks and children being carried on their mothers’ backs all day long.

Your initial reaction might be “Ugh, this is taking forever” or “That doesn’t look very safe”. The reality is, you are in their country taking in their scenic views, delicious food and enjoying the vibrant culture. You might not agree with everything they do, but as a tourist it’s not your place to trash talk them while sipping coffee at Cafe Barista. It really rubs me, and most Guatemalans, the wrong way when foreigners spend their vacation judging and criticizing the way people live their lives, especially if you aren’t well educated on the culture and the history of the country.

Instead try to focus on the positive and on the beauty of what makes Guatemala different. Things might take longer to get done there but the people also tend to live a happier, more relaxed life without the same sense of urgency to get work done often experienced in other countries. I honestly find myself over all much more calm and at peace when in Guatemala, except when waiting in line at the bank and even then I take it in stride knowing it’s the trade off for all the other great benefits Guatemala offers.

5. Don’t wear a fanny pack – It screams “I’M NOT FROM HERE”. 

This is a personal choice, obviously, but I really believe that dressing head to toe in tourist gear is doing yourself a major disservice. It screams “Hi, I’m not from here and I don’t know what I am doing. Please feel free to take advantage of me”. I am not implying that everyone is just waiting to prey on clueless tourists, they are not, but like in any travel destination, there are people out there looking to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. If you are sporting tennis shoes, a fanny pack, a floppy hat and your backpack full of maps, sunscreen, water bottles and your camera you are more likely to get hassled. Additionally, it just seems to put up more of a wall between you and the people because it gives off the impression (whether or not your intend to) that you are there to tour and observe, not to connect and make lasting relationships.

EN FIN

Those are my two cents! You might not agree with everything on that list and that is 100% OK. As long as you are traveling in a way that feels right to you and isn’t disrespectful to others the best thing is to do what makes you happy. As always, please feel free to share your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions.

Cheers,

C

A Luxury Guide to La Antigua Guatemala’s Top Hotels & Restaurants

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Antigua Guatemala is one of many breathtaking colonial cities scattered throughout Latin America. There is something magical about the cobblestone streets, the brightly colored walls and the large wooden doors that serve as portals into the beautiful and the unknown. Surrounded by three majestic volcanos and rollings hills the city is full of life, culture, happiness and romance.

A Luxury Guide to La Antigua Guatemala's Restaurants and Hotels

During my years in Guatemala I experienced and lived life on all points of the spectrum, from the extremely rustic to the over the top lavish. For those in search of a relaxing luxury vacation destination, Guatemala is not typically high on their list of choices. You would be surprised, though, at the quality and variety of options that exist in the luxury travel category, and you definitely get a huge bang for your buck. So, be it a honeymoon, an anniversary, or just a vacation Guatemala is sure to meet your standards and also provide you with a cultual richness not found on any all-inclusive luxury resort.

Be prepared to be charmed by this country and its people.

GETTING THERE 

Antigua is conveniently located just 45 minutes outside of Guatemala City. However, traffic getting out of the city can be intense during rush hour, so be prepared for a slightly longer ride. For the luxury traveler your hotel will most likely provide you a high quality shuttle service to and from the airport (often at an extra charge). If not, I recommend booking a shuttle with Guinness Travel, as they offer safe, reliable and comfortable transportation in their private vans.

WHERE TO STAY

Antigua is home to some of the most stunning hotels I have ever seen. What I really love is that most of them don’t feel like hotels, rather like small colonial palaces with breathtaking grounds full of lush foliage. High end hotels can range anywhere from as low as $100 – $300 a night and are known for their top notch hospitality and service.

Outside of Panza Verde

Mesón Panza Verde: This photo is from Panza Verde’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

Room at Mesón Panza Verde

This photo is from Panza Verde’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

Grounds at Palacio de Doña Leonor

This photo is from Palacio Doña Leonor’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

Bar/Lobby at Palacio de Doña Leonor

This photo is from Palacio Doña Leonor’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

Suite at Casa Santo Domingo

This photo was taken by Ricky Lopez Bruni at Casa Santo Domingo.

View from Room at Casa Santo Domingo

This photo was taken by Ricky Lopez Bruni at Casa Santo Domingo.

RECOMMENDED LODGING

Mesón Panza Verde 

Hands down my absolute favorite hotel in the world (thus far), the Panza Verde is the definition of enchanting. Upon entering it becomes evident that a lot of thought, creativity and attention to detail were put into every nook and cranny of this small boutique hotel, where no two rooms are the same. The building is, architecturally speaking, a work of art and it is only made better by the stylish decor which puts a unique, high end spin on traditional Guatemalan designs. The hotel is also home to a top-knotch restaurant, an upscale bar with a vintage feel, a stunning terrace, and an art  galley that doubles as a yoga studio. Complimentary breakfast is included and served by friendly and polished staff. Even if you don’t stay here I recommend a dinner reservation Wednesday – Saturday when live music is guaranteed, it will not disappoint.

Palacio de Doña Leonor 

Another fabulous hotel option, the Palacio Doña Leonor is a restored Spanish colonial mansion constructed between 1541 – 1543. A historical landmark, it was built as the primary residence of Doña Leonor, the daughter of the Spanish conqueror, Don Pedro de Alvarado, and the Tlaxcalan Indian Princess, Doña Luisa, said to be the first woman of mixed race born in Guatemala. A half a block east from Antigua’s Central Park you couldn’t ask for a better location with all that Antigua has to offer at your fingertips. Each of the 13 rooms is named for an important family member of those who originally inhabited the building, with the largest and lavish suite, the Don Pedro de Alvarado, priced at just $300 a night, a fraction of what something similar would cost in the U.S. The hotel also houses a delicious, upscale restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and the concierge are happy to assist you in arranging any tours or addressing any of your travel needs.

Hotel Casa Santo Domingo

Guatemalan charm meets U.S. standards at one of the largest hotels in Antigua, famous for its breathtaking ruins and eclectic art museums. Hotel Casa Santo Domingo is one of the top wedding destinations for locals and foreigners alike, making this a great choice for larger groups and people seeking quick and reliable service for any occasion. Originally a convent, this 128 room hotel tells a unique story, seamlessly blending Guatemalan history and art with modern accommodations such as LCD televisions with cable and high speed internet.  The hotel is also home to six different themed museums; Colonial, Archeology, Pre-Colombian Art and Modern Glass, Contemporary Art, Silver and Pharmacy, making Casa Santo Domingo more than just a relaxing place to lay your head at the end of long day exploring Antigua.

WHAT TO EAT

Now that you have a place to call home during your stay in La Antigua, it’s time to get to the most important part of the trip, the food! La Antigua Guatemala offers visitors a wide array of options, packing in a surprising amount of culinary diversity into the 9 by 9 block town. Great eats can be found on every corner and at every price point. Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite upscale spots in town but there are plenty of other fabulous options at the low and mid range budget listed in my “Budget Friendly Guide to La Antigua Guatemala”. 

Dinner at Hector's Bistro

This photo is from Hector’ Bistro’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

Bites at Sobremesa

This photo is from Sobremesa’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

Lunch at Metiz

This photo was taken by Tripadvisor user Majoahhh at Metiz.

Flourless chocolate cake at Epicure

This photo is from Epicure’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

Vegetarian Hamburger at Culinaria

This photo was taken by Ricky Lopez Bruni at Pushkar restaurant.

Shrimp at Bistro Cinq

This photo is from Bistrot Cinq’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

Views from El Tenedor del Cerro

This photo is from El Tenedor’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

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Traditional Guatemalan Food at La Calle de la Fonda Real

Recommended Restaurants

Metíz Delicatessen y Bistro – At this adorable little bistro their handcrafted sandwiches use the finest local and imported ingredients to go or to eat inside their hip little eatery, just a half a block up from the park. My personal favorite is their carpaccio, and it’s such a steal value wise! They also offer up heavenly hand made macaroons that are worth the indulging.

Sobremesa – Innovative is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of Sobremesa. Owner, Alex Ferrar, impressively triples as a writer, painter and chef. Creativity seems to radiate from him and into all that he does. After a delicious meal you can admire his artwork hung throughout the restaurant while savoring one of his creatively crafted exotic ice creams.

La Fonda de la Calle Real – While Antigua has plenty of small eateries offering up delicious, authentic Guatemalan food on the cheap, I still highly recommend an elegant meal at La Fonda de la Calle Real, at least once. Perfectly located on the famous Calle del Arco, La Fonda is right in the heart of it all. Enjoy upscale takes on traditional Guatemalan dishes on their beautiful patio before hitting the town.

Epicure Restaurant – From the street Epicure appears to be just a small market and deli, luckily it turns out to be just one fabulous part of this chic eatery. There is a gorgeous garden behind with a full service restaurant. On the pricier side, Epicure serves delicious meals using local and organic ingredients and is a great spot for a romantic dinner. Additionally, if you are one to eat at home I recommend picking up one of their roasted chickens for dinner or to use for sandwiches.

Bistrot Cinq – If you’re in search of classic French cuisine made with fresh, organic products locally sourced from Guatemalan ranchers, farmers and fishermen Bistrot Cinq is your spot. In addition to traditional French menu items you will also find a variety of fusion dishes to delight the more adventurous palate. I would start with a pound of their fresh mussels, which can be ordered one of five ways, accompanied with fries. In addition to being one of the town’s top restaurants, Bistrot Cinq is known for its Absinthe bar, the only one in town!

Hector’s Bistro – This tiny bistro, often packed and with quite a wait to get a table, has enjoyed years of holding down one of the top 5 spots on Tripadvisor of all Antigua restaurants. Located steps from the famed Iglesia La Merced, it is known by travelers and locals alike as one of the best places in town. Start with their caprese salad, bursting with fresh tomato flavor and finish with their world class creme brûlée, anything you eat in between is guaranteed to delight as well!

Culinaria – Located on 6th Avenue North, Culinaria is one of my favorite garden settings for a relaxing lunch in a simple, posh environment. Self identified as a casual gourmet bistro with an international menu, Culinaria is connected to Antigua’s best Indian restaurant, Pushkar, allowing customers to order from either or both menus, making for a diverse spread. I particularly enjoy the sopa chapina as well as the tomato and spinach quesadilla. They also have a small attached deli and dessert display that is too hard to pass up.

El Tenedor del Cerro –If you’re looking to escape Antigua and take in some breathtaking views El Tenedor del Cerro is located just outside the city’s entrance. An extension of the hotel Casa Santo Domingo, you can easily schedule a shuttle through the hotel or take a taxi up the hill to this stunning restaurant in an elegant ambiance that mixes art, nature and food to delight all the senses. While it’s beautiful at anytime of day, I find it particularly romantic at night as it gives you a unique view of Antigua and the surrounding villages illuminated in the night.

Izakaya – The last restaurant featured on this list is actually a place I  haven’t been to just yet. However, close friend and known chef in Antigua, Andrea España Mármol, just got done talking my ear off about it. She gives this Japanese restaurant  5 stars for food, ambiance, and service, a challenging feat in Antigua where competition is fierce. Andrea is not alone in her praising of Izakaya as I got to talking with other friends currently in Antigua and found myself skimming through glowing review after glowing review on the trusty old Tripadvisor. You bet on my next upcoming trip to Guatemala Izakaya will be my first on my “must try list”.

I hope this guide gives you some inspiration to book yourself a relaxing and satisfying trip to this beautiful Central American country. La Antigua Guatemala is just one of many alluring destinations in Guatemala, so be on the look out for future chronicles of what’s hip down south.

As always, comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. So, PLEASE comment below!

-c 

 

Traveling to Guatemala – All Your Questions Answered!

All Your Questions Answered!

As promised, I bring you my third VLOG “Travel in Guatemala -All Your Questions Answered” where yours truly responds to all of the excellent questions asked by readers. As La Gringa Chapina, I am committed to highlighting all that is beautiful, positive and wonderful in Guatemala while always remaining completely transparent and honest.

If you have any additional questions PLEASE don’t hesitate to post them in the comments box below or contact me at info@lagringachapina.com. Enjoy your time in Guatemala!

Abrazos,

Chelsea – La Gringa Chapina – info@lagringachapina.com

Ask Me Anything about your Upcoming Trip to Guatemala!

Heading to Guatemala soon (or in need of some convincing to take the plunge) and not sure where to start? I am here to answer any and all questions, to the best of my ability, about travel in Guatemala. I recently posted an article “A Budget Friendly Beginner’s Guide to Antigua Guatemala for the Young Traveler” and immediately received a ton of messages and emails from   soon to be travelers in Guatemala.

So, I decided to collect ANY and ALL questions from ANYONE about Guatemala! Want to know where to get the best coffee in Antigua? Not sure what kind of shoes to bring? Trying to figure out how to get from Río Dulce to Tikal? Ask me in the comment section below or shoot me an email at info@lagringachapina.com

I will be posting the Q + A video this weekend answering everyone’s questions! I look forward to hearing from all of you.

Saludos,

Chelsea – La Gringa Chapina

A Budget Friendly Beginner’s Guide to Antigua Guatemala for the Young Traveler

It’s been over five years since I first stepped foot on the cobblestone roads of La Antigua Guatemala, more commonly referred to as simply Antigua, and there are still times I am walking down 5th Avenue and have to stop and pinch myself. There is magic in this city, and it’s hard to miss it. Ironically enough, during my very first visit to Antigua I was unable to fully grasp what the city was all about, I went home knowing I had missed out on something. Luckily, upon returning from that initial 10 day trip I felt the intense urge to go back and try again and I couldn’t be more happy to have done so. It changed my life.

So, in an effort to spare future travelers a 10 day trip to Antigua without “getting it” I bring to you:

QUINOA

The suPer BASICS

Bit o’ History: Antigua is a small city nestled in a valley between volcanoes in the central highlands. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it once served as the capital for the entire Central American region.  The beautiful cobblestone streets house Spanish Baroque architecture and impressive views of the surrounding mountains and volcanoes. The city has an estimated population of 35,000 and is a major hub in the Guatemalan tourism industry.

Language: The primarily language spoken is Spanish, along with a variety of other languages spoken by the indigenous Maya population , such as Kaqchikel. English is also widely spoken as there is a strong community of foreigners who call Antigua their permanent home and throngs of travelers and tourist passing through on a regular basis. It’s not uncommon to be in a bar and hear English, Spanish, French, German, etc. all at the same time.

Currency: The local currency is the Guatemala Quetzal which is roughly Q8 to the dollar, of course the exchange rate is constantly fluctuating but if you’re lazy with math you can get by alright with small purchases if you think 8Q to the dollar, or Q100 being between $12.50 – $13.00

Weather: The climate is pretty ideal with temperatures typically between 60 – 80 degrees and an average daily relative humidity of 75%. I talk more extensively about weather and what to pack in The Ultimate Packing Guide for the Smart and Stylish Traveler.

GETTING THERE 

Antigua is conveniently located just 45 minutes outside of Guatemala City, although traffic getting out of the city can be intense during rush hour, so be prepared for a slightly longer ride. Upon arriving at the airport I would take one of the shuttles offered inside the airport, if you don’t already have transportation organized through your lodging, school etc. Another option is to grab a taxi outside of the airport, but this will likely cost you more if you are traveling by yourself as you will be charged Q300 – 400 where as the shuttle charges $10 per person.  I don’t recommend taking the local bus from Guatemala City to Antigua, especially with baggage.

WHERE TO STAY

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This photo is from Hotel Mesón del Valle’s website. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

Antigua is full of hostels, budget hotels and home stays leaving the budget conscious travel with an abundance of options, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Hostels tend to be a great value and provide you with an instant group of new best friends, but you won’t have as much privacy. If studying or working are you goals, the hostel party life might get distracting. Budget hotels are going to cost you more but they you offer privacy and more luxurious accommodations.

Lastly, home stays are a fabulous way to have a more authentic experience and are typically easy on the budget. However, for people planning on an extended stay, living in another family’s home can get tiresome if you are trying to make your own life in a new town.

Recommended Lodging

Tropicana Hostel & Bar is fairly new to Antigua and is co-owned by four individuals, one being a hot Irish guy I met early in my travels in Guatemala. He was a fellow traveler, turned hostel owner who along with his friends has created a truly epic spot. The only hostel with a pool in Antigua, Tropicana offers great prices, a fun environment, live music, and a full restaurant. Shared rooms start at $7 a night and they have semi private and private accommodations available as well.

Antigua’s Voyager Support is a great option for a homestay. It is run by a super lovely pair from El Salvador who have called Antigua home for years. Joaquin and Patsy will ensure you stay happy, healthy, comfortable and well fed, seriously they get 5 stars for their food alone. They can also help to arrange all your travel needs from Spanish schools, volunteer organizations, weekend excursions and more.

Hotel Mesón del Valle is perfectly located on 5th Avenue South, just a few blocks from Parque Central. If you are willing to spend between $50 – $70 a night you can enjoy peace and quiet in this small boutique hotel.

WHAT TO EAT

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Lunch at Rincón Típico #nomnom

If you go the homestay route you are likely going to be eating pretty delicious traditional Guatemalan food on a regular basis. Be ready for lots of rice, beans, plantains, fresh fruit, tamales/chuchitos, stews, chicken, pork, beef and tortillas, among other things. Not only does Antigua offer wonderful authentic dishes it also boasts a wide variety of international cuisine options. If you are just passing through Guatemala for a week or so I would recommend steering clear of street food (it’s not worth the risk of getting sick on such a short trip), however, if you are planning to stick around for awhile the flavors and the prices found on the street carts are well worth strengthening your stomach.

MY TOP CULINARY PICKS On A BUDGET

El Rincón Típico – The best place in town for typical Guatemalan food. Filling and affordable, it’s where many of the locals eat. Some favorites are pork adobada, pollo asado, pepián and hilachas.

Rainbow Café – They have a super fun menu at great prices from delicious rice and beans dishes to grilled cheese with tomato soup. Additionally they screen films, have really cool guest speakers, live music and open mic nights! *Good for vegetarians*

Cactus Grill – It may  seem counterintuitive to seek out Mexican food while in Guatemala but this place is too delicious to pass up. Not to mention, it’s located across the street from one of town’s best little (literally the size of a driveway) bars!

Sobremesa Exotic Ice Creams – If you are looking for something sweet and unique head to Sobremesa’s adorable little ice cream shop on 4th avenue, a half a block up from the park. The owner, Alex, is as talented as he is quirky and since he is a painter/chef/author he is sure to delight at least one of your senses! If you are looking for a full blown meal for a special occasion I highly recommend his restaurant, Sobremesa, just around the corner from the ice cream shop.

Metíz Delicatessen y Bistro – It might not be the best bargain in town, but the quality here is pretty outrageous for the price. Their handcrafted sandwiches use the finest local and imported ingredients to go or to eat inside their hip little eatery, just a half a block up from the park. My personal favorite is their carpaccio.

Toko Baru  – One word: DELICIOUS I love everything I’ve ever tried at Toko Baru and the prices are fabulous, their shawarmas being high on my list of must have eats whenever I am in town. It doesn’t hurt they are just a few doors down to my all time favorite watering hole, Café No Sé. *Good for vegetarians*

Pitaya Juice Bar  – If you are looking for something fresh and rejuvenating look no further than Pitaya Juice Bar. They offer a large variety of juices, smoothies, wraps, salads and more. I love all the cool add-ons you can mix into your smoothie, especially bee pollen! *Good for vegetarians*

Chermol – Tucked away in an enchanting courtyard off the street, this new addition to Antigua has a unique menu that highlights Latin American flavors. I haven’t had a chance to eat at the restaurant just yet, but I have had the privilege of eating many meals cooked by the man behind it all, Paco. I know this place will not disappoint.

Y Tu Piña También – From the same people who bring you the one and only Café No Sé comes  Y tu Piña Tambíen, the best place in town to nurse a hangover (or order a little hair of the dog) with pancakes, huevos rancheros, a breakfast pizza or more. If I am town you can probably find me there in the afternoons typing away (they have good wifi) and eating one of their ever indulgent brownies.

WHERE TO DRINK & GO OUT

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Street view of the notorious Café No Sé This photo is from Café No Sé’s Facebook page. If you are the photographer please contact me so I can give you your well deserved photo credit!

I was 19 when I first arrived in Guatemala and lived there right up until I turned 22. Therefore, I learned how to order drinks and handle them in the bars of Antigua instead of a dorm. It was definitely a trial and error kind of learning experience, but I am so glad that my early drinking days consisted of red wines, smoky mezcals and the occasional Q4 rum and pineapple juice instead of chugging PBR from a red cup. Bonus, I sorta, kinda, learned how to salsa dance.

Essentially, there is something for everyone to do every night of the week in Antigua so there is no excuse to ever be bored in this town.

Top SPOTS FOR gOING OUT iN ANTIGUA

Lava Terrace Bar & Burgers –  A rooftop bar basically overlooking Parque Central.  Good music!

The Snug  – Fun, laid back little hole in the wall bar. Great for day drinking.

Café No Sé – There aren’t quite words. Just go. It’s got a dark, dirty, old feeling that’s both ominous and enchanting. If that’s not enough, there is live music 24/7, drinks served by attractive bartenders and the best Mezcal around. Just go!

Monoloco – Known for having the best ladies’ night in town (Tuesdays), on any other night of the week  Monoloco is the place in town to watch a game, grab some Tex-Mex and connect with other foreigners from all around the world.

Sunset Terrace – If you are looking for a fun, rooftop environment, somewhat reminiscent of the bars back home, head to Sunset. Tip: They card at the door, something that almost no other bar in town does, so make sure you have your ID.

La Sala -If you are looking for good drink deals, live music, and a place to dance , particularly salsa, look no further than La Sala. Thursday is ladies night!

Reilly’s Antigua Personally, I am not into large super crowded bars so full of sweaty people that you basically all stick together. That being said, I have had my fair share of fun at Reilly’s. Dancing on the bar is allowed, and often encouraged and this spot is popular with both foreigners and locals.

WHERE TO StUDY

Most people who stay in Antigua for more than a few days feel the need to buckle down and learn some Spanish, something I highly recommend to enhance your experience. In fact, affordable, quality Spanish immersion programs are a major draw for tourism in La Antigua Guatemala, meaning there is a large variety of options of where to study. These two places are my personal favorites.

Christian Spanish Academy – This school is widely considered the best in town, and while it’s cheap in US$s, coming in at slightly less than $10 a hour, (depending on which package you choose) it’s not the cheapest place to study in town. The results, however, justify the means. If you aren’t particularly Christian, don’t be turned off by the name. Though it was originally created to cater to the language learning needs of missionaries (and still does), they have developed numerous other programs where one can study in a secular environment.

Máximo Nivel  When you work at a place for as long as I did at Máximo you begin to see things differently, as the allure and the magic fades away. That being said, when I first went to Guatemala I was a student at Máximo Nivel and I absolutely loved my time there and feel that I got a lot for my money in terms of learning Spanish and later receiving my TEFL/TESOL Certificate to teach English. My teachers were always well qualified and friendly, the grounds are beautiful, and it’s a great place to meet fellow travelers. It’s common for people who stick around Máximo long enough to get offered a job, which can be a great way to start out if you want to call Antigua your home for an extended period of time. The schedules, however, are pretty intense and the pay isn’t huge, and that is something important to know going into it.

WHERE TO vOLUNTEER

Many people come to Guatemala to volunteer out of a desire to give back to a less fortunate community and to achieve some feeling of fulfillment and reward. Read more about my thoughts and advice for volunteering abroad in my post “5 Things to Consider Before Volunteering Abroad”.  The key to making sure your volunteer experience is a positive one that helps both the local community and fills you with a sense of accomplishment and pride for your work is volunteering at the right place.

SUGGESTED VOLUNTEER PLACEMENT SITES
 Los Patojos –  WINGS Safe Passage/Camino SeguroNiños de GuatemalaAnimal Aware 

WHERE TO WORK

If you are staying around for any length of time I highly recommend getting a job. Not only will this help you financial situation, it’s a great way to make a good group of friends who are also planning on being around for awhile. Places that are likely to hire foreigners are bars, hostels, schools, and travel companies. In my time in Antigua I worked as tour guide, an English teacher, a bartender and managed a coffeeshop. Just ask around at any of the places mentioned in this post and you will be find something.

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Bartending at Monoloco

HOw TO Get ARound

Getting around Antigua can seem a little daunting at first as you get lost in a sea of cobblestone streets and red and yellow walls, but it’s much easier than is seems. Parque Central is smack dab in the middle of town, which is perfect since it’s not only the physical center of town but also the social center. The city is laid out into avenues “avenidas” that run north and south of the park and streets “calles” that run east and west. If you get confused remember the large volcano towers over the city from the south. The park is centered between 4th and 5th Avenue and 4th and 5th Street. Anything above the park is north, and to the right is east. So if you are looking for 6th Avenue South it would be to the left of the park and down.

antigua_guatemala_map

I recommend picking up a free copy of the magazine Qué Pasa, available all over town, as they have a fabulous map (more user friendly than the one above) and are also a great source of knowledge of the latest in greatest in town.

Antigua is extremely walkable but if you are carrying heavy stuff, in a hurry, or just getting tired I recommend grabbing a tuc-tuc. These Bangkok inspired taxis are a quick way to get around and a ride should NOT cost more than Q10 – Q15. Hold on to your lunch, as it’s bit of a bumpy ride.

If it’s after 9:30 pm and you are in need of a ride then a taxi is your best bet. I don’t recommend walking alone at night, or even in small groups unless you are on well lit streets and know where you’re going. Most bars can help you get a cab otherwise if you make your way to Central Park they are all lined up in front of the cathedral. A ride should cost anywhere from Q30 – Q50 depending on what part of town you’re headed to and mood of your cab driver.

EN FIN

La Antigua Guatemala, while perhaps not the most realistic representation of the country as a whole, is a beautiful spot to call home base during your travels throughout Guatemala. I hope these tips will help you on your upcoming adventure! Keep your eyes peeled for future posts on other fabulous destinations in Guatemala!

As always, comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. So, PLEASE comment below!

-c 

 

Beating the Travel Bug Blues: How to Cope When You’re Stuck at Home

travel bug blues

Hola a todos!

Today marks an exciting day as I am releasing my first vlog (video blog). I think this just might be my new addiction! Not only does it save some time as opposed to writing, I also feel that it is easier to get my personality across to my readers, and more importantly the message I am trying to convey. I was inspired by the lovely and successful Alex Beadon, a professional blogger who produces dozens of inspirational videos and is sure to get you feeling able to take on the world.

Today’s topic?

How to beat those dreaded travel bug blues. That feeling you get a few days after returning home and realizing you’re not leaving the country anytime soon.

Check out my vlog and let me know your thoughts in the comment box below.  Let us know how YOU cope with that sinking feeling when you close the chapter on an adventure abroad.

You tube link

 

Travel in Guatemala: The Ultimate Packing Guide for the Smart and Stylish Traveler

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Packing can be such a daunting task, especially when you are heading into the unknown and even more so if you’re like me and value both comfort and style. While preparing for my latest trip to Guatemala with a bunch of my lovely (and slightly less traveled) besties, I was faced with the challenge of convincing them to leave the high heels at home and opt for something more casual.  So, I decided to make a guide for future fashion forward travelers who don’t know where to start!

ClOTHES

The first thing to keep in mind when packing your outfits for Guatemala is the weather. In general the country, known as the Land of the Eternal Spring, has a very pleasant climate. However, it can get pretty humid at certain times of the year, especially in the Petén region. The country also enjoys a rainy season from May – October. During the rainy season showers are typically scattered throughout the afternoons and dry up quickly as the temperature remains high. There are, however, always a few weeks of more constant rainfall.  If you go from October – March things can get a little chillier (keep in mind  I am from California and the definition of “chilly” is rather subjective) and down right cold in the highlands.

Tip 1: Rompers

Rompers are a girls best friend for meandering around Antigua! Cute and comfy they are very breathable and easy to move around in. I particularly love my loose fitting black romper from Urban Outfitters, complete with pockets! I can also dress it up for the evening by putting tights underneath and donning a thick heeled bootie!

Tip 2: Jeans

For me, jeans are a no-no during the day throughout most of the year in Guatemala. Even when it’s not a super hot day the humidity makes wearing jeans (especially skinny jeans) a bit unpleasant. The good news is that things cool down in the evenings enough for jeans and since most of the towns that travelers pass through have a laid back vibe, jeans are a great option for going out.

Tip 3: Light Rain CoaT

Even if you aren’t planning on being there during the typical rainy season, I highly recommend packing a light rain coat. Almost every time I have gone to Tikal National Park, which is at least 10, I have been caught in a small rainstorm. I was always thankful to have my rain coat handy and I was glad it was light and breathable as it’s generally hot when raining.

Tip 4: General Clothing Tips

While most of the places on the average traveler’s destination list are widely westernized, it is always a good idea to not dress too provocatively out of respect for cultural values, and for personal safety. During my years in Guatemala I would wear shorts and thicker strapped tank tops with flat shoes and feel entirely comfortable and appropriate during the day. I did, however, have to mention to a friend that wearing skin tight short shorts with a crop top was probably not the best idea on our evening out in Antigua.

In general the best thing you can do is pack a few of each of the items listed below and dress in layers as the temperature can vary throughout the day:

  • Short sleeved shirts/blouses or tank tops (preferably not a spaghetti strap if the shirt is form fitted.)
  • Rompers/sundresses (I really prefer rompers to dresses, especially on a windy day) Example
  • Maxi dress (great, especially at the beach)
  • Shorts (I typically avoid a skirt unless they are long and flowy)
  • Jeans – one pair should be enough
  • Leggings or pants (again, I usually wear these items in the evenings or on less humid days)
  • Long sleeved shirts/blouses
  • Light jacket Example
  • Light rain coat Example
  • Active wear pants and tops for outdoor excursions
  • A bulkier sweater or coat if  you are planning on spending time in the highlands during the winter months
  • Swim suit. My favorite
  • Socks and under garments for each day
  • 1 more formal outfit if you planning on going out in Guatemala City, including heels.

SHOES

The streets of Antigua are paved with cobblestones and the majority of the smaller towns that one would visit don’t boast evenly paved sidewalks, making foot wear an important topic.

TIP 5:

High heels are a definite NO anywhere but Guatemala City. You can maybe get away with a chunky, low heeled boot at night in Antigua, but that’s about it. I also don’t recommend flip flops in Antigua since it’s easy to stub your toe on the cobblestones (especially after a few glasses of wine). My go to shoe in Antigua is either a sturdy sandal or a casual flat boot.

In general you will need the following footwear:

  • Sturdy, supportive sandal, preferably something close toed or partially closed. Example.
  • Flip flops (for the beach only)
  • Flat boot (I often wear a knee high boot which comes in handy if there is rain)
  • Rain boots (if none of the other shoes you are bringing are water friendly and you plan on going in rainy season)
  • Closed toed flat with a strong sole. Example
  • Tennis shoes (or hiking boots, I usually just take my running shoes) for hikes/activities
  • Water shoe – I know they can be dorky but sometimes they come in so handy! These ones are actually kind of cute!
  • Bootie with a low chunky heel, like this, if you must wear a heel. Note: Antigua and Guatemala City are pretty much the only place it would even make sense to wear a heel, without being way overdressed.

ACCESSORIES

The perfect way to pull an outfit together and give it that polished look is with the right accessory, a theory that holds true all around the world! The following accessories are must takes:

  • A cute hat to protect you from the sun Example
  • Sunglasses
  • Larger tote bag for weekend excursion Example
  • Small across the chest purse for daily use
  • Scarf
  • Watch
  • Headband Example
  • Beach towel
  • Camera!
Tip 6:

Typically, when traveling abroad you will hear not to wear too much fancy jewelry or do anything that makes you look like a walking target. Personally, I struggle with this one sometimes in Guatemala, because to me it doesn’t feel like a foreign country, it feels like home. Usually, I wear my wedding and engagement ring (I will take them off when doing things like hiking volcanoes and riding in boats, and I will turn the stone towards the inside of my palm when walking alone in certain parts of town). Apart from my rings I don’t wear much jewelry, and if so it’s usually a costume jewelry necklace or something not super valuable. I also don’t flaunt fancy purses around town and try to keep a small bag with just my essentials when galavanting around!

COSMETICS & PERSONAL ITEMS

TIP 7:

I tend to wear barely any makeup or do much to my hair when I am in Guatemala due to the climate, unless I am going out in the city. If you wear too much foundation in the humidity you will feel it sweating off and seeping into your pores. Plus, the moisture in the air gives you a nice, dewey complexion. I am lucky that my hair is naturally pretty straight so I just let it air dry, or throw a little heat on it and voila! For those of you with hair prone to frizz I definitely recommend taking an anti-frizz spray or some kind of humidity controlling product. The sun is strong so don’t forget to wear sunscreen EVERY day, especially on your face, ears, back and chest!

Cosmetics and toiletries can be hard to come by in many parts of Guatemala, especially if you are a die hard loyalist to your favorite brands. If there is something you can’t live without bring it from home! Don’t forget to pack the following!

  • Your go to cosmetics: foundation, eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, blush, and lipstick
  • Chapstick/Lip Balm
  • Deodorant
  • Razor (shaving cream is cheap and easy to come by at any pharmacy)
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Sunscreen
  • Bugspray (I NEVER use bug spray, but a lot of people complain of mosquitoes on the coast)
  • Small bottles of shampoo and conditioner (only high end hotels will provide these)
  • Face wash
  • Moisturizer
  • Feminine hygiene products

ESSENTIALS FOR HEALTH AND SAFETY

Whenever traveling abroad it’s always good to remember to pack the following items to ensure you stay happy, healthy and safe on your travels!

  • A small fist aid kit with band-aids, ointment, and  Advil/Tylenol.
  • CIPRO Prescription – I am not into taking medicine, but if your tummy is taking its time to adjust to the new flavors of Guatemala, CIPRO can help to settle it. Tell your doctor you are going to Guatemala and ask for a prescription. Only use this if you are having moderate to severe traveler’s diarrhea. If you just have a mildly upset tummy I would opt to just tough it out or take Pepto. Better yet, get a nice herbal té de manzanilla!
  • A copy of your passport, credit card, and any other important documents. I typically keep my passport tucked away in my suitcase or locked in a safe and keep a paper copy on me.
  • An easy to carry Spanish – English dictionary and phrasebook if your Spanish is rusty.
  • A mini flash light (It comes in handy especially for late night reading)

I hope you enjoyed this packing list and found it helpful! I am all about being comfortable and practical, but that doesn’t mean I must sacrifice fashion. Comment below with suggestions or your own experiences about staying stylish abroad.

– c