When you hear about Guatemala you may think of vibrant textiles, large markets and ancient ruins. Guatemala is lush in biodiversity, rich in Mayan culture and booming with enticing culinary attractions. Whether you want to dive into Mayan traditions, dream of trekking through dream-like cloud forests or dining on authentic local food while enjoying breathtaking views, this remarkable Central American destination is calling. Read on for my personal Guatemala travel guide, which brings together my favorite experiences and useful tips drawn from living there for several months.
First, a Few Basic Tips…
Let’s start with a few bare essentials and helpful hints that allowed me to enjoy my travels in Guatemala. I hope it will help you experience it to the fullest, too!
The Weather, and What to Bring
Guatemala has two main seasons, wet and dry. While the dry season is from November to April, do note that central Guatemalan areas like Antigua and Lake Atitlan are much warmer and more temperate than Xela to the west or Livingston in the northeast.
This means that you should always carefully research the regions you plan to visit to ensure you’re properly prepared! No one likes getting stuck in the mud in flip-flops or expecting t-shirt weather, then finding conditions demand you wear a jacket and a hat.
© Anexis Morales
Remember, owing to its beautiful, lush greenery and extravagant biodiversity, a trek through Guatemala often comes with insects and occasionally harsh weather. Exploring the great views Guatemala has to offer, be mindful of insects and mosquitos! No one likes to wake up to buzzing in your ears, so make sure to bring along some natural bug repellent. Here is a great recipe for Home- made bug repellant.
Sunblock is also a must! During my first trip to Guatemala, I forgot to put sunblock on, fell asleep in a hammock and woke up being so sunburnt I couldn’t carry my pack for several days. Starting off a vacation like that is no fun. Learn from my mistake: be smart and protect your skin!
Don’t even consider leaving your camera behind: with so much color and beauty to capture here, it’s an essential companion. Between the ancient ruins of Tikal to the vibrant market in Chichicastenango to elegant colonial architecture in Antigua, you don’t want to miss a shot.
Read related: Our Top 8 Tips For Taking Beautiful Travel Photography
A word of caution, though: As a tourist you should always be conscious of your surroundings and watch out for your valuables.
Weaving class: A Gateway to Guatemalan Culture
© Anexis Morales
As you wander through the streets of a typical Guatemalan city, you may easily notice the vibrant clothes native residents wear. This traditional, typically hand-made clothing is a reflection of their regional location, ancestry, season, and economic status. Since weaving is a tradition that dates back to Mayan times, I could not pass up the chance to take a course and learn more about it.
Located in Xela, Trama Textiles called my name, especially after I learned that it’s a 100% worker-owned women’s association. The organization directly works with 17 weaving cooperatives representing 400 women from five different regions of Guatemala. I signed up for a 10-hour course, which is the length of time it takes to make a simple scarf.
To give you an idea of how long it takes to make something more elaborate: it can take from between three to six months to weave one shirt depending on its detail and embroidery! Completing my scarf, I was amazed I did it, and was deeply impressed by the talent of the local weavers in these communities. I wholly recommend that you give it a try yourself on your trip. Why not support the locals and take the time to learn about something different and colorful?
Trekking in Guatemala: Between Trees, Clouds & Towns
Day 2 of the Quetzaltrekkers hike: Trekkers of the Corn
Guatemala, also known as “The land of trees” has endless spectacular hikes and opportunities for trekking. If you’re travelling with some extra time on your hands, I’d look into the Quetzaltrekkers 3-day trek from Xela to Lake Atitlan. I’ll admit I was excited to get moving after a few days sitting and weaving!
Read related: The 10 Most Breathtaking National Parks in the World
I found myself tucked away in the cloud forests of Quetzaltenango, passing corn hills and vibrantly diverse villages– all giving me some real time to reflect. I was able to better understand how certain villages have been able to survive high in the mountains with no electricity, nor real roads, drawing sustenance only from what the earth provides. It was refreshing to take myself away from my daily disturbances and really live in the moment.
View From Cerra De La Cruz
Quetzaltrekkers not only offers an incredible and educational trek through some of the most beautiful places in Guatemala: they also aim to help the communities they trek through. One essential part of the trek is a Temazcal experience, a traditional Mayan sauna. What better way to unwind and relax your muscles! This is not a fancy resort-style Temazcal, but rather an authentic one that is traditional to the area and enjoyed by locals as well as tourists.
Shaped like a dome, the entrance is low to the ground making you crawl in on your knees. You often sit in the sauna with another person, taking in the intense heat and sweating. After you feel you’ve released all the toxins from your body, you mix together hot and cold water found in two tubs on the ground. You can then pour the mixture over you at the temperature you prefer.
You exit the Temazcal the same way you entered, on your knees. This practice stems from the belief that the dome represents the mother’s womb: when you enter you are seeking nourishment and cleansing. When you exit it is believed your mind, body and soul are prepared and ready for the universe!
A Magnificent Sunrise Over Lake Atitlan
Sunrise over Lago Atitlan, Guatemala
Waking up feeling rejuvenated, I was ready to catch the sunrise over Lake Atitlan. What a magical sight: to welcome the day as sweet yellow rays danced on the lake peeking between three volcanoes.
What to do next in the area? I recommend the following: Once descending into San Pedro, one of the villages in Lake Atitlan, take the time to explore local art and galleries, wander through organic coffee farms and perhaps some vibrant local nightlife.
From Lake Atitlan to Antigua
Traditional Flower arrangements for Easter, Antigua
Taking the so-called “Chicken bus” from Lake Atitlan to Antigua is accessible. The Chicken bus runs directly from Panajachel to Antigua for about 35Q or $5 USD. While this choice is the cheapest, it’s not for everyone. it takes several more hours than a private option such as a taxi. Also, buses run at very specific and limited times, typically early in the morning. Many travelers have also reported the Chicken bus to be a bit less reliable than they would have expected. Still, if you’re looking for a colorful and locally authentic way to get around, this is certainly an experience to have at least once!
If you miss the direct bus then you will have to take 3 separate buses. To make life easier don’t miss the direct bus, or book a shuttle bus. If you are seeking a more direct and less crowded ride many travel agencies provide shuttle transportation from Lake Atitlan to Antigua. A shuttle will pick you up directly at your location and drop you at your destination in Antigua or if preferred the main square. This option currently costs about 75Q or $12USD.
For more practical information on getting around Guatemala by bus, as well as other useful options, see this page at Lonely Planet.
My Recommendations for Eating Out in Antigua
Antigua is a bustling city tucked away in the central highlands looking out to several volcanoes. Not only does this city offer an example of well-preserved Spanish Baroque architecture, overlooking the most active volcano in Central America. It is also becoming a popular place for foodies to explore and expand their taste buds. Living in Antigua for several months, I found myself walking familiar paths leading me to my favorite restaurants.
Near the city center is my favorite place, Luna de Miel. if you are craving something sweet or savory this place has what you’re looking for! The options available are overwhelming and at night the line for to-go crepes can reach the end of the block on a weekend. I’d recommend going in the evening and sitting on the terrace upstairs. Their cozy, open air terrace is not only welcoming but the perfect place to rest after exploring the city. The portions are large, easily shared between two or three people.
Crepe topped with ice cream from Luna De Miel
Caoba Farm was my favorite place to go on Thursday evenings to grab a bite to eat and listen to live music. Tucked away on the outskirts of the city, it’s become an essential spot in the local culinary scene. This local farm uses all of their locally grown produce to create an extravagant and original menu. They have options for all, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diners! This is something that’s a bit difficult to find in Central America.
Read related: The 11 Best Food Markets in the World
Not only can you find peace in a quiet corner, enjoying a slice of pizza from their brick oven: you can also sign up for one of their yoga classes. If you are looking to educate yourself a bit more about the agriculture in the area, sign up for a workshop on the topic– or even volunteering on a weekend if you want to really roll up your sleeves and get to work. Volunteers help maintain their lush farm, assist in the farmers market and everything in-between.
Caoba Farm is roughly a 20-minute walk from the city center, or you can take a free shuttle leaving from the city center underneath the yellow arch. Either way, this farm is a must see!
About the Author
Ashlie McGrath is a travel writer and photographer for The Loftus Guides. When she’s not creating new features for us, she’s teaching English as a second language throughout Europe. Ashlie often writes about experiences as a solo traveler and hopes to give more insight about other cultures. She has visited over 20 countries and has lived in five. Ashlie loves to be secluded in nature as well embraced by different cosmopolitan areas. She enjoys writing poetry, drinking red wine, listening to live music and laughing.
If ancient history and stunning prehistoric artwork interest you, the Lascaux Cave is something you must see during your lifetime. Part of a complex of caves located near the village of Montignac in the Dordogne region of southwestern France, the cave is famous for its elaborate, Upper Paleolithic paintings. The cave is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination that puts you up close and personal with an exact replica of the original cave.
There’s a lot going on at this mesmerizing location, so let’s break it down.
We’ll start with some of the history, before giving you some need-to-know information, and finally some more details about what you can expect from this experience.
Some Brief History
The Lascaux Cave was first discovered by 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat in 1940, and it was eventually opened to the public in 1948. However, it was closed in 1963 after the influx of visitors began to damage the delicate surface of the paleolithic paintings it housed. An exact replica of the cave called Lascaux II was opened in 1983. The successor to that replica is Lascaux IV, which is the updated replica cave that you can visit today. With its attached museum and down to the millimetre-level accuracy, Lascaux IV is nearly identical to the real thing.
When you visit Lascaux Cave, you can expect a roughly two-and-a-half-hour long experience from start to finish. That includes the tour of the replica cave, the self-guided tour, galleries, and art exhibits that add to the experience. The tour through the cave itself takes about an hour, and the rest of the experience is self-guided with the aid of a digital tablet.
You can buy tickets online in advance of your visit here. Tickets are available up to 90 days in advance, right up until the day before your intended visit. Please note that you cannot purchase online tickets the day of your visit, but if you can get them day-of at the ticket centre in person. Tickets are non-exchangeable and non-refundable, so be sure you’re confident when you book.
Tickets are currently 17 EUR each for adults, and 11 EUR for children, and you have the option to choose between English, Dutch, and French tours (Please note that while these prices were accurate at the time of publication, they may change at anytime).
Lascaux IV is open every day from 9am-7pm.
What You’ll See
The Lascaux experience is broken up into four main spaces: the Belvédère, the Shelter, the Cave itself, and the Studio.
Belvédère and Shelter
The visit starts when you receive a tablet and take an elevator up to the top of the roof of the museum. From there, you can look out over the Vézère Valley and use the augmented reality interactive map on your tablet to see information about the view in real time. It’s a great way to learn about the many surrounding archaeological sites.
At the shelter (also on the roof), you can stand in front of a screen and watch the evolution of the Lascaux area shift and change. It feels like you’re looking into the past through a window. It’s incredible to see how different the landscape looked back in the time of the cave painters. It sets up the “time travel” feeling you get when you move onto your next destination: the Lascaux Cave.
You’ll have an appointed entry time to visit the cave with a group of other visitors and a trained guide. Walking into the replica, it feels exactly like you’re going into a real cave. Cool and damp, the re-creation is incredible, and it’s very easy to suspend your disbelief. Of course, it helps that the recreation is built into the same hill as the original, and that you really do go underground for your visit. It’s as real as it can get these many years later!
The main attraction are the paintings. The first one you see is a curiously named painting called “The Unicorn,” even though the animal has two horns. Then you’ll proceed into the famous “Hall of the Bulls” where enormous paintings of bulls seem to leap and run right off the walls. From there, you go deeper, into a series of smaller caves with multicolor paintings of horses, cows, bulls, and symbols in shades of black, brown, red, and yellow. The presence of all these colours is part of why Lascaux is so justifiably famous. Polychromatic caves are very rare, and when you walk through the tour, you’ll feel awed and inspired by the achievements of the people who made the paintings at a time where there was no written language.
The Lascaux Studio
After you leave the hallowed halls of the cave, you can wander at leisure through the Lascaux Studio space, where eight cave walls have been reproduced for you to explore. These include the cave’s most famous works: “Two Crossed Bison”, “The Great Black Cow”, “The Panel of the Imprint”, “The Apse”, “The Shaft Scene”, “The Axial Gallery”, “The Upside-Down Horse” and “The Hall of the Bulls”.
These reproductions include enhanced reality information available on your tablet, giving you more information on the techniques and history of the specific scenes.
Other exhibits of note are the virtual reality version of the cave, which you can view at your own pace on the tablet, the art exhibit where you can create your own virtual cave paintings, a historical exhibit on the history of the cave and why it was closed to the public, and an area with real objects that were found during the archaeological dig.
The Big Picture
Aside from the cave being just plain cool, visiting the Lascaux Cave puts you at the heart of two exciting developments in the history of art. First and foremost, the cave gives you access to some of the world’s earliest and most incredible cave paintings. The discovery of the Lascaux Cave brought Stone Age culture to the modern world, giving us rare access to a time that has few surviving records.
With its high-tech re-creation and careful archaeological preservation, you can experience this wonder without worrying about damaging the original. Lascaux’s reproduction took years to make, and it represents an exciting development in the world of historical preservation.
With a reputation for art, wine, cheese, and all the finer things in life, is anyone really surprised that Paris isn’t the cheapest place to travel? If you’ve been planning a trip to the country of love, fret no more! The Paris Pass, a sightseeing package, aims to save you money on tickets to major attractions and public transport by bundling them onto one card. It can be a real time saver, but is it something you need to have? Let’s get into the details.
Here’s what the pass includes:
- Access to 60+ attractions
- Fast track access to select locations
- One day of hop-on hop-off Paris Big Bus access
- Paris Visite Pass with unlimited metro access
How it works:
The pass can be purchased online. It is then either shipped to your house or you can pick it up when you arrive in Paris. You can choose between 2, 3, 4, and 6 day passes. The pass becomes active the first time you scan it. The Paris Pass serves as your ticket when you get to selected attractions, locations, etc. You just scan it and head in!
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The Paris Pass covers just about every major tourist attraction in the city. The Louvre, the Arc De Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Museé d’Orsay, Versailles, Montparnasse Tower, the Centre Pompidou, the Opera Garnier, and more are all included. The only major attraction that isn’t covered by the pass is the Eiffel Tower.
Here’s a link to the full lineup.
The Paris Pass includes unlimited public transport access for the duration of your pass. That includes unlimited RER trains, metro access, buses, trams, and SNCF Overground Trains. It also includes a Seine boat cruise!
Pricing is determined based on the duration of your stay and the age of the traveller. There are adult, teen, and child passes that all have different pricing.
Here’s the breakdown of cost. All prices are in Euros, and the prices go in order of adult, teen, and child passes.
2 day: €131, €81, and €44
3 day: €160, €96, €49
4 day: €189, €106, €56
6 day: €244, €126, €69
SHOULD YOU GET ONE?
- If you’re a heavy sightsee-er, the Paris Pass is a fantastic option. You get entrance to many attractions at reduced rates, and the list of included locations is very comprehensive.
- It’s far cheaper than buying the tickets individually. On some passes, you get savings of more than a hundred Euros, which in most cases covers the cost of the ticket.
- With the built-in train pass and the accelerated entrance lines, it’s one of the most convenient ways you can get around. You buy it once, and then you don’t have to think about it again. Straightforward and easy to use.
- If you’re not sure about the attractions element, you can buy a museum-only pass separately, if you prefer. Note that the Museum Pass doesn’t come with included metro access.
- The Paris Pass has a “purse value” maximum that you can’t go over during the course of your ticket. Basically, this means that you can’t exceed the total value of the attractions on your card. For example, the six day pass includes 350 euros worth of attraction entrances, so if you exceed that total value using your card by entering multiple places more than once, your card will expire.
- Your pass will automatically expire once your time frame runs out. There’s no grace period, and the clock starts when you first swipe it at an event.
- The unlimited transport system only includes metro zones 1, 2, and 3. Frankly, that shouldn’t be an issue unless you have your heart set on some of the outermost suburbs.
- Finally, note that the 3-day Paris Pass only includes a 2-day Paris Museum Pass. So if you get the three day pass, plan your museum trips on two consecutive days in a row.
So, should you get it?
The bottom line is that if your trip is heavy on attractions, the Paris Pass makes a lot of sense. It’s convenient and includes metro access, so it saves you time and will probably save you money. That said, it might be worth sitting down with your itinerary and actually doing the math on the cost of your intended attractions and a metro card. You may find it’s actually just as cheap to buy your own tickets directly, depending on what you plan to see.