A mix of super specific volunteer needs (mushroom marketing specialist), and new work from home freedom allowed C and I to visit Guatemala for three weeks in May. Three weeks is ALOT of time to spend in one place on holiday which gave us time to find great food, visit several different towns and participate in all of Guatemala’s best activities for locals and tourists. We spent the bulk of our time in Lake Atilan but also visited Antigua, Tikal, Flores and Guatemala City. I will share a separate post on the other cities we visited but Lake Atilan became our little region so after eating out ALOT, hopping on pick up trucks and becoming experts at Lancha navigation here are top picks not to miss when visiting Lake Atilan.
First of all, do not miss Lake Atilan when planning your Guatemalan vacation. It is the perfect mix of holiday fun, amazing restaurants, dense with culture, outdoor adventures and your time there is completely mixed with the local residents and customs. You can get a lot for your money all over in Guatemala but here we really found the best quality food and hotels for very low costs.
- Where to Stay: at Dos Mundos Hotel off of Calle Santander in Panajechel. There is the option to stay at the various towns and eco resorts along the lake but with early darkness and choppy waters during the rainy season you usually wanted to be in the town you were sleeping in by 4/5 PM. Panajechel had the most nightlife and biggest diversity in restaurants making it the best place for a home base. Dos Mundos was slightly removed from the busy street making it surprisingly quiet and very safe. The pool, bar and breakfast were all amazing and the hospitality was unbeatable. The rooms were decent and clean with OK beds and nice bathrooms. The location and accommodations made up for the regular rooms. Free wifi and breakfast included for a very reasonable rate of about $20 a night.
- Where to eat at Lake Atilan:
- El Artesano Wine & Cheese Restaurant is a small place located a lancha away in San Juan la Laguna. They recommend reservations and are only open for lunch so definitely call ahead. We heard about this place the night before our last day in Pana so we rushed over to try it. Absolutely amazing. The chef uses all European techniques but Guatemalan ingredients for completely indulgent, memorable dishes at amazing prices totally no more than $20 a person. The garden atmosphere completely takes advantage of the stunning landscape while also transporting you to a small french cafe. Beautiful place!
- Deli Jasmin and Deli Fuego are both beautiful locations for lunch and dinner. Deli Jasmin closes for dinner but is worth the visit for lunch because the dining garden is absolutely magical. Both restaurants have the same menu. They bake all of their bread fresh and feature local ingredients all over the menu. Everything we had from quesadillas, salads, tortilla soup and hamburgers were all fresh and delicious here. C was a big fan of their brownie.
- Tuscani humorous to us at first but very welcome to us near the end, Guatmelans really love Italian cuisine, especially pizza. Tuscani is a tiny Italian restaurant on Calle Santander serving a variety of well prepared, tasty Italian treats with mixes of Guatemalan flavor. We visited Tuscani night after night during our trip to try the daily specials and because it was just such a consistent good meal among a variety of tourist trap options.
- Abbasi Another surprise on our trip was the quality Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food available, especially so many restaurants featuring fresh hummus. Abbasi’s long service time was definitely worth the wait for the flavorful chicken curry, shwarma and unbeatable hummus. The restaurant had a low key atmosphere and the food brought us back two nights in a row.
- Honorable mentions in Panajachel go to Gringos Tacos near the supermarket and the Panderia for after mass donuts right outside of the Church.
- Moving away from Lake Atilan we were pretty unimpressed with the food choices in Guatemala City and Flores but we did discover a great BBQ place a five minute tuc-tuc ride away from Flores – Totoy’s . Totoy’s featured some of the best BBQ we have ever tried. Heaping portions of steak and ribs paired with traditional Guatemalan sides. The chef/owner smokes his meat above the grill throughout the day and makes all of his sauces from scratch. The atmosphere is fun with a great view of Flores Island and can’t miss southern BBW just a little further South.
- While in Flores stay at the Isla de Flores Hotel. We stayed in Flores for two nights while visiting Tikal. The hotel allowed us early (right after our 7 AM flight) check in and allowed us to hang at the roof top pool until our late evening flight so that is always appreciated. The rooms were very high quality for the price. Super comfortable King Bed, the coldest Air Conditioning (so nice in the 105+ heat), super fast wifi and a decent restaurant. At this point we were at the end of a three week Guatemala holiday so we spent a bit more time in the hotel than in other locations so it was nice that Isla de Flores was such a comfy location. The best part of the hotel was the rooftop pool which luckily we had to ourselves all day both days. It felt like the most luxurious private roof top pool. I imagine alot of people just visit for the day and spend the day at Tikal so this private pool experience may not be so rare. If there were tons of people at the pool that could possibly be annoying since it is so small but just for us it was unforgettable. You can order food and drinks up to the pool making it even better. Wear sunblock!
Regardless the hotel was beautiful, clean, a bit luxurious and super affordable. Worth the slightly extra cost than some of the other hotels in the area. We didn’t have too much interaction with the staff but they were helpful enough. Romantic, beautiful weekend!
Unfortunately we only spent a few hours in Antigua so were not able to sample any of the restaurants in town which were all very tempting. Definitely spending longer in Antigua, mainly to eat, next time we visit!