Searching for your next great adventure? This Sweet July series taps top travel enthusiasts to share first-hand insight into their ventures across the country and world, so you know exactly what to expect and how to prepare once you book your ticket. Wishing you safe—and sweet—travels!
Today: Nneka M. Okona shares her top tips for vacationing in Guatemala City.
Looking for wonder, peace and to feel grounded in indigeneity integral to understanding Guatemalans and their history, spending my birthday in Guatemala three years ago was an easy decision. Usually when I’m planning a new trip—especially to a destination that is new to me—I look out at the world map and hone in on what region of the world speaks out to me.
Prior to traveling to Guatemala— Guate as it is often affectionately called by locals— I’d spent time in Belize and Mexico learning about the indigenous, those who call themselves the Maya people, and how their histories, stories and lives have significance beyond being minimized and exploited. Sure enough, I sought out this community during my Guatemala City experience.
This spoke to me as a Black woman who travels the world, seeking to find traces of those who look like me. And someone who, in recent years, has been besieged from the losses I’ve had to endure. Each trip I’ve taken during this period of life has undoubtedly served a higher purpose: It has helped me to see myself and the world beyond the brokenness I’d become accustomed to and guided me towards an anchor of beauty and stillness.
I believe Guate can be that for others, too. Here, you can reflect on the piercing history of this place with honesty: the (gendered) violence and the horrors. But you can also turn to hope: the resilience of the Guatemalan people determined to honor their cultural traditions without succumbing to oppression. And don’t forget to look to the coast, where Lake Atitlán, a volcanic crater lake, offers refuge, relaxation, reflection and so much beauty.
FOR A BUDGET:
Located in the thriving and vibrant Zona 4 of Guatemala City, L’Aperó is a Guatemalan spin on pizza with some true Central American flair. Choose this spot for a late afternoon lunch with a sweet treat caveat in store—across the street is Fado Bakery, specializing in a variety of freshly baked goods along with a full menu of coffee drinks. You’ll delight in whatever you pick, whether it’s one of their gooey cinnamon rolls stuffed with fruit (think strawberries and peaches) or mini pineapple cheesecakes.
FOR A SPLURGE:
Drawing from years of anthropological study and familial history, La Cocina de la Señora Pu is an immersive dining experience found in a cozy restaurant space within Guatemala City’s Zona 1. When you walk into the space, there’s a tabletop area where you can watch Señora Pu herself churn any of the 28 dishes they have to choose from, all of which honor the Maya roots abundant throughout the country of Guatemala. An important note: this restaurant only takes cash, so be sure to stop and get some Guatemalan pesos before heading here for dinner. Hours are also limited, so be sure to make a reservation in advance.
FOR A BUDGET:
Budget travelers will find a home away from home at Guatemala City’s Hostal Villa Toscana, created in the style of a traditional Guatemalan-style bed and breakfast. This hotel is close to the airport, making it a soft place to land after a long day of travel (there aren’t many direct flights to Guatemala). All rates at this bed and breakfast include breakfast and transfers to and from the airport, making this a supreme value.
SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN A BUDGET AND A SPLURGE:
Perched in the village of La Jaibalito, La Casa del Mundo is one of many stunning cliffside hotels sitting upon Lake Atitlán. Accommodations are clean, traditional and cozy with most rooms featuring unobstructed views of the water from bed. As far as food goes, yes, you can journey to any of the other villages to explore for a “daytrip” of sorts, but if not, the food at this hotel is both affordable and delicious. Of particular note is the nightly evening dinners they host in the dining room. Guests who opt into the nightly dinners pay a set price and can feast family style with the other guests at a long table.
FOR A SPLURGE:
Luxury hotels are few and far between within the city limits of Guatemala City. But in nearby Antigua, there are plentiful options for travelers to choose from if they want something a little beyond the regular. Hotel Casa Santo Domingo is a beloved convent-turned-126-room hotel property. Most guest rooms boast unparalleled views of nearby Lake Atitlan, and you’ll find a spa with a variety of services for unwinding.
FOR A BUDGET:
Experience the healing power of thermal pools by heading to San Pedro La Laguna. Referred to as Los Termales, for roughly $10 in San Pedro, one of the many lake towns at the base of Lake Atitlán, to start or end a day of relaxation. Los Termales are definitely rustic in appearance, but the lake views are unparalleled. Plus, you can bring your own wine or other drinks and snacks to enjoy while you soak in the soothing, warm waters.
FOR A SPLURGE:
Maybe you want to commemorate a special occasion—honeymoon, babymoon or wedding anniversary—or perhaps you just want luxe for a group of friends or a solo excursion to reconnect with oneself. Despite the occasion, if you want to spend a little extra, Casa Prana Lake Atitlán is here to provide a comfortable experience and more. Calling themselves a resort hotel, guests can stroll through any of the nine acres of gardens on the property or book a spa experience to tap into your zen. Some of the rooms even feature deep soaking tubs where you can unwind with views of the water beyond.
FOR ALL BUDGETS:
Sure, taking in the lulls of Lake Atitlán from a distance while you relax sounds ideal. But if you’re looking to do more active activities—or ones that get your adrenaline pumping—there are multiple things you can do within the area. For water lovers, start off your day with sunrise paddle boarding with SUP Atitlan. More adventurous water lovers can take to the sky by paragliding with Realworld Paragliding, sailing the skies and getting stunning aerial views of the lake. And for those wanting a taste of adventure that is rooted in nature, there’s the Reserva Natural Atitlan, located on the northeast side of the lake.
What To Pack
For traversing through the capital city, Antigua and any of the villages surrounding Lake Atitlán, bring comfortable shoes for walking, a bathing suit in case you plan to take a dip in the lake, and sunscreen—I recommend Frank Ocean’s mother’s mineral-tinted sunscreen for us melaninated folk—because the sun does not take a rest here, especially during the warmer months when it’s not rainy season (May to October typically).