In June 2021, I booked a tour in Central America with a Canadian company I love and that I’ve told you about before, G Adventures.
The plan? Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica… in 17 days. Ambitious? Yes Amazing? YES!
I convinced a friend to come with me and we found (extremely) inexpensive airfare that suited us, with Copa Airlines (a member of Star Alliance).
We are both holders of the HSBC World Elite® Mastercard® card, and had earned enough points to cover the cost of the airfare ($279) and part of the tour booked with G Adventures. We were ready.
The situation being what it is, the tour was unfortunately cancelled. So we changed our plan – instead of five countries, we would do three in three weeks.
New planning: Guatemala – Panama (!) – Costa Rica.
We were able to keep our flights as they were, adding an internal flight from Guatemala to Panama.
This is the story of my first week of travel, which covers our stay in Guatemala.
On the way to Guatemala
Since I live in Quebec City, I used my Aeroplan points to fly between YQB and YUL. My flight left YUL the next day at 9am for Guatemala.
I booked a room at the YUL Terminal Marriott, which I paid for with my $200 American Express travel credit from the Platinum card ). I also took advantage of the $50 off promotion with any purchase of $200 or more. In the end, my room cost me $50 (instead of $300).
The flight with Copa went well. I had a stopover in Panama (a bit counterproductive, since Panama is quite a bit lower on the map than Guatemala), during which I could access the Copa Club VIP lounge (thank you, Platinum Card® from American Express, which provides access to Priority Pass lounges!).
My friend is an avid Selina fan, so we decided to stay there every night of our trip.
Selinas are a hybrid form of hostel and co-working space that appeal to nomadic workers (perfect during COVID!).
You can book a bed in a dormitory or a private room, as well as a place in a dedicated workspace (coworking) that offers a fast Internet connection and quietness to work. We planned to work mornings during the week and visit afternoons and weekends, depending on our workload.
My friend and I are both lucky enough to be able to work from anywhere, at our leisure. So the Selinas offer exactly what we’re looking for: a pleasant atmosphere, designed to appeal to nomad workers.
We had planned three days in Antigua, then another three days in Lake Atitlan (Panajachel). The Selinas offer an affordable shuttle service to make it easy to get around.
We booked the shuttle from Guatemala City airport (La Aurora) to Antigua through Selina. The road is very winding, and although the distance is quite short, the journey can take from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Ours lasted 80 minutes.
Antigua Guatemala, better known as Antigua, is the former capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala. It is known for its colonial architecture in the Baroque and Spanish Renaissance styles and for the ruins caused by the two earthquakes of 1773.
The city, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, is now both a tourist center and a place where many foreigners, especially from North America, learn Spanish.
Our schedule looked like this: work from 7 to 11 a.m., then visit the (uneven) cobblestone streets of the city and enjoy the pool (with slide!)
On the last day, we booked our spot to visit the Pacaya volcano, which is still active. Access to the volcano costs 50 quetzals (about $8). The volcano is about 90 minutes away from Antigua.
The ascent of the Pacaya volcano was very arduous: 80 minutes of intense ascent (at least for us!), but I guarantee you that the view was entirely worth it.
It is also possible to ride a horse, if you are not fit enough. [Personally, I refuse to encourage this kind of practice, as the animals are rarely well fed and work very hard to climb the volcano].
We even made the climb with a few dogs, who were hoping to snatch a few pieces of our snacks!
Our favourite in Antigua: the restaurant La Bruja. We went back three times to try their burgers, bowls and concoctions (smoothies and fresh squeezed juice blends). A real treat (vegetarian with vegan options) every time!
The next day, well rested after a good night’s sleep, we left for Lake Atitlan, in Panajachel.
Panajachel (Lake Atitlan)
Panajachel is a fairly small village, and very touristy. The villages around the lake are all quite touristy as well. Several activities are accessible from there: zipline, paragliding, boat tours, visit of a nature reserve…
We opted for a boat trip to visit one of the small villages on the other side of the lake, San Juan. The Selina in this destination is also very nice, but more nightlife oriented than in Antigua.
I think three days was a bit too much for our taste for this destination. Antigua offered many more options for delicious restaurants and pleasant walks. Panajachel, besides the magnificent panorama offered by Lake Atitlan, left us hungry for a more authentic experience.
Our favourite thing about Panajachel: the view of the lake at sunset, with thunderstorms thundering from all sides without ever reaching the lake. That was impressive!
Recommended activities on Viator
At the time of writing, I am at La Aurora airport, waiting for our flight to Panama with Copa Airlines. We are in the Casa del Ron VIP lounge, which offers a table-side meal and two alcoholic drinks per person. Thank you, Priority Pass!
The rest of our adventure will take place in Panama, before ending in Costa Rica in about ten days.