Pura vida

Branching out: five days spent in Guatemala

More stories from Alanna Huggett

Pura Vida
May 15, 2019

After landing in Guatemala City, Guatemala, our first stop was Panajachel. We stayed in this wonderful city for two days. Located on Guatemala’s famous Lake Atitlán, we explored the colorful market, ate some great meals (Mexican food sitting by the lake at sunset one night and wood-fire pizza accompanied by a local band the next) and enjoyed the Guatemalan culture.

The twisting turns down old cobblestone roads into the city of Panajachel were impressive. To reach the city, we took a private shuttle/bus with a newly made friend (thanks to my friend Molly) and her mom.

My favorite thing we did while in Panajachel was kayaking the lake at 6:30 a.m. We got up early and paddled along the lake shoreline, viewing the sleepy docks with giant colorful tourist boats and smaller public boats.

While kayaking we felt small, surrounded by giant mountains, blocking our view of the landscape beyond.

The steepness of the mountains crowding around the huge lake, all blanked in mist, that the sun slowly burned off made for breathtaking views and awesome pictures.

We spent the rest of our week in Antigua, about two hours (by private shuttle) from Panajachel.

In Antigua we were culturally immersed in the Catholic celebrations and processions of Semana Santa. It was impressively crowded, packed with tourists coming to see “the best Semana Santa in all of Latin America,” my professor, Professor Carlos, said.

When the procession was occurring, it was as if everything in the city stopped at once. Everyone would crowd into the streets to watch the purple or black ceremonially dressed participants carrying massive floats on their backs, slowly swaying back and forth under the weight.

To find a procession all we had to do was look for the crowd and listen for the music. They were definitely worth seeing (we woke up at 3:30 in the morning once!).

The busy streets of Antigua were decorated with alfombras, beautiful carpet-like artworks created by natural materials such as dyed wood chips and sand, pine needles and flower petals. The colors were vibrant and the detail work was exquisite.

Around the many public squares we found street vendors preparing fresh tortillas, grilling meat, and slicing fresh fruit. We made a point to eat street food for dinner one night and the tortillas I had were heavenly.

It’s hard to compare Guatemala and Costa Rica. They are both wonderful places to visit. Both are countries with friendly people willing to help tourists.

Guatemala, from my brief experience, is a more rural country and possesses a rich culture with beautiful local artwork and textiles. While visiting this country, one can learn about the Mayan culture.

In Guatemala, a person can also explore new ways to travel by trying out a Tuk-Tuk (pronounced took-took, think clown car-taxi, super fun!) or taking the chicken bus (recycled brightly colored school bus).

Costa Rica has beautiful beaches and a great Pura Vida lifestyle. The country from my experience is more urban than Guatemala. Plus, the gallo pinto (rice and beans) is absolutely delicious.

The hiking opportunities here and natural beauty (waterfalls, flowers, blue mariposas (butterflies) and tropical birds) are amazing. There are also great opportunities for snorkeling and surfing.

Huggett can be reached at [email protected].