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Tag Archives: solo female travel

Guatemala

27 Nov
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Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua

It had been a long time since I had gone on an adventure. When I decided to go back to school, I also made a decision to be frugal and work extra in order to save for nursing school. As summer approached, I noticed that even though I had cut my hours at work, my increased pet sitting volume meant I had saved a lot of money. So I googled “Best Places for Solo Travel,” and I picked the country with the cheapest/shortest flight from NYC: Guatemala.

I was so excited when I booked my trip, but I immediately became stressed once I began doing my research and noticed the state department had listed warnings for travelers to Guatemala. I read a story about a girl robbed at gunpoint, and most everyone I told about my trip told me I was insane and going to get kidnapped.

When my trip was over and I landed back in New York and made it back to my apartment, exhausted from a full day of flying, I collapsed in my bed, the experience of Guatemala still percolating through my synapses, I began to giggle. “I’m alive,” I said to myself, smiling.

SAFETY

To be honest, I was very careful in Guatemala. I think any person (especially a woman) solo-traveling the world at large has to take extra precautions. I never stayed out later than 10pm (I was usually exhausted by that time anyways), I avoided the more crime-ridden areas of the country and stuck to the extremely safe highlands, and I only carried the money I expected to spend per day with me. I was quick about taking pictures with my cell phone. I kept a copy of my passport with my luggage and one on my person, and I simply stayed aware. In the week I was there, I never felt unsafe.

What shocked me the most was how many other solo travelers (many female) I met in Guatemala as well. So many people in the US looked at me like I was insane, and I was happy to meet other people just as “crazed” as me. Everyone I met had nothing but good things to say about their experiences.

HIGHLIGHTS

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View from my room in Casa del Mundo in Lake Atitlan.

Lake Atitlan

My first two days in Guatemala I went on a hiking/kayaking trip with a company called Old Town Outfitters. I can’t recommend it enough. The tour was just me and one other girl who was solo-traveling from Colorado, Bridget. Our tour guide, Arnold was incredible. A local from Guatemala who made sure we had an incredible two days. He answered all our questions about Guatemala and went the extra mile for us at all times. Showing us places to jump off cliffs into water, helping us bargain in the market, explaining local politics. He was invaluable.

We had a guide drive us up into the mountains, then Bridget, Arnold, and I biked for a couple of hours down to Panajachel, a small lakeside town where he had a packed lunch and some Guatemalan beers. We then took a small water taxi to our incredible hotel, Casa del Mundo. Easily the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed at. That night we sat in a fire-heated hot tub and watched active volcanos across the lake erupt, their lava lighting the clouds in the distance. The next day, after breakfast, we kayaked across the lake and hiked back to the hotel.

It was my favorite part of my whole trip, and I wish I had booked the whole week with Old Town Outfitters as Bridget had. The two of us grabbed dinner in Antigua the night before she left, and her week with them was incredible. She booked her trip through a website called The Clymb. Based on her review of the trip, I’m considering my next international trip with them.

Antigua

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My time in Guatemala was based out of Antigua. Per suggestions I had read from other travelers, as soon as I landed in Guatemala City, I hired a car to take me to Antigua. It is the former capital of the country. A small, colorful village surrounded by active volcanos and full of beautiful abandoned churches, bustling markets and a decent population of ex-pats.

I stayed at an AirBNB, in a room I rented from an adorable Spanish couple, Ana Maria and Mario in a suburb of Antigua. Every morning, Ana Maria made me breakfast, and we chatted. I got big hugs when I came home and plenty of travel advice. They don’t speak any English, so we muddled through with my broken Spanish. I loved them both, and it was much better than staying in a hostel or a hotel.

I spent my days wandering the markets which are sprawling and full of everything imaginable, brought to town my Mayans that live in the neighboring villages. I took a chocolate making class at the Choco Museum, and I wandered the ruins of churches destroyed by earthquakes.

During the evenings, I hung out at two different ex-pat bars Snug and Cafe No Se. I was in Guatemala during the rainy season (I technically never saw a drop of rain though), so there were never a lot of tourists around. It was usually a handful of travelers in the bars that I would easily join in conversation. It felt nice to speak English and to get advice and swap stories with other travelers. One of the bartenders even invited me to her birthday party the following week and tried to convince me to just move to Guatemala and bartend with her. It was a tempting offer. Extremely tempting.

De La Gente coffee tour

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On one of my days, I took a tuk-tuk (a small golf-cartish taxi thing) up into the mountains of San Miguel Escobar to take a tour of one of the coffee plantations. A guy I met at Cafe No Se recommended it to me, and I wanted to get some Guatemalan coffee.

De La Gente is a collective of coffee farmers that also gives tours to increase their revenue. I had a British tour guide who translated as a farmer (Gregorio) gave me and a traveling couple a tour of the fields, explaining the process of cultivating coffee from beginning to end. We then went back to his house in the village where his daughter showed us the rest of the coffee process. We roasted and ground our own beans and all shared a cup. Again my broken Spanish came into play as I chatted with the Gregorio family.

As a coffee lover and former barista, it was eye-opening to see the process. I had lunch with the family and bought an extra couple of bags from them. I actually ordered some more from them this morning. Their coffee is pretty exceptional. With shipping to the US, it is only $16 a bag. I’ve been making coffee at home and saving a lot of money, instead of buying a $2 cup of drip every day. And I know I’m helping support Gregorio!

Earth Lodge

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Volcán Fuego erupting on my last morning in Antigua

My last night in Guatemala, I spent at a hippie dippie place in the mountains called Earth Lodge. I had spent the week hiking a lot, biking a lot, kayaking a little, and just in general being really active. I wanted the end of my trip to be relaxing.

For a modest price, I had my own private cabana with my own swinging hammock. I could hear birds and celebrations from nearby villages ringing through the mountains. I mostly read in my hammock and napped. Read. Nap. Read. Nap. Eat. Drink. Read. Nap. Honestly, that’s what I wish my entire life could be.

They had a nice central area with a bar with a decent happy hour. Earth Lodge is actually an avocado farm, and they grow most of their food there. Dinner every night is communal, and it was delicious. Fresh, healthy, vegetarian fare (I think there was a meat option though) and another chance to get to know some fellow travelers. I had to leave early the next day to get back to Guatemala City in time for my flight. Looking back, I wish I had planned two nights there. That way I could have done the morning yoga, the birdwatching class or a hike.

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Just a girl who traveled to a “dangerous” country during the “rainy” season.

I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to travel to Central America. I loved Guatemala, and I can’t wait to visit other countries in the region. Nicaragua, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama. Finally being able to use my Spanish was a blast, and I found the people in Guatemala to be more open and friendly than any other place I’ve traveled. If you’re questioning about whether or not you want to go to Guatemala, and you stumbled upon my humble blog with this bare bones post, may I suggest that you book the trip and go. Go! Nowhere in the world is completely safe. It’s really about how aware and careful you are. But I didn’t find Guatemala dangerous at all. Do your research. Take a deep breath and take the risk.

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