I sent this info to a friend who was traveling to Guatemala. Thought I’d post in case it was useful to anyone out there. Feel free to add your two cents (especially Isabel if you’re reading this :) ).
If you’re staying in Gautemala City at all, try to find a hostel/hotel in Zona Viva/Zona 15 (same thing). It’s a nicer area and close to clubs/restaurants. Its as much of a “party area” as there is in Guatemala (as far as I know).
Do NOT stay in Zona 1–it’s the equivalent of staying in downtown LA, dirty and loud and way too much traffic
If you are in the for a day or so, check out the Palacio Nacional, la Catedral (they’re both in the same block), and check out the Mercado Central (about a block away from Palacio and Catedral). The mercado is the place to go if you guys need to buy souvenirs, probably the cheapest place to go and haggling is necessary, they overprice their stuff expecting to haggle down to about half probably. If you go here, you have to be careful. There’s a lot of people walking around in very close proximity to you, so just keep your eyes on your stuff and don’t wear jewelry, etc. Regardless of this, it’s worth going if you need to do some serious souvenir shopping. Each floor has certain “products”: the bottom floor is all food/restaurants, there’s another floor with clay stuff and stuff for weddings/parties/etc. The top floor is where I usually get most of my shopping done.
In Antigua: 1) Visit Hotel Santo Domingo, maybe go there for brunch if you get a chance; 2) visit Iglesia de la Merced; 3) iglesia del Santo Hermano Pedro has some cool shopping and some amazing ruins (there are convents in ruins all over Antigua); 4) to eat: Fonda de la Calle Real is good (next to and across from Pollo Campero); 5) for bars, Reily’s is the fun irish pub, across from it there’s a club called Kasbah–I went there once and they had dance/trance music, which was boring after the first ten minutes, so ask what kind of music they have before paying to get in.
While you’re in Antigua, ask around to see how to get to San Felipe–it’s maybe a five minute drive from Anitgua. There is an amazing restaurant called “El Prado”, right next to the church. If you are facing the church, El Prado is on the right side of the church. This little town also has some souvenir shopping across from the church.
In Panajachel, Reserva Natural Atitlan is where we did our Canopy Tour; http://www.atitlanreserva.com or call 011/502/7762-2565
Volcan de Pacaya is the one that I hiked. There is also a volcano in Antigua that tour guides might try to convince you to do, and here’s what I’ve heard from people that have done it: way too long and way too exhausting. It’s about a five hour hike I think, so if you want to do it make sure you give yourselves time (leave really early). Volcan de Pacaya is closer to Guatemala city (maybe 45 minutes) and the hike is only about an hour. Take flashlights so you guys can start your hike in the evening, check out the lava at night, and climb down at night. You won’t be the only ones there, so it’s not bad hiking down in the dark.
For Semuc Champey, make sure you guys have a good car or go with a tour company, the roads get pretty bad and the hills/curves are pretty steep. But this was Jeff’s favorite trip, and I think it’s def worth it. I’ll attach a pic of the view from the lookout. Regardless of how tired you are, do the hike to the top, it is worth the view. Take water shoes to walk in the pools, there are rocks and it’s pretty slippery. While you’re there, check out the caves in Lanquin. They are amazing and huge bat caves. You don’t really need a guide, but it would be cool for them to point out the interesting rock formations. I don’t think he’ll be there while you’re there, but ask for Moises (he’s about ten years old, but the cutest and best guide ever). Guides are paid strictly off of tip, so whatever you guys want to give him.
Tipping at restaurants: you don’t need to do the 15-20% we do here; we usually left Q20.00 or so if we thought they did really good, and this is A LOT down there. People down there don’t usually expect tips, so don’t be surprised by slow/crappy service :)
For car rental: make sure one of you will have the balls to drive. It’s pretty crazy, no lanes, and people do whatever they want, you have to make sure you have an aggressive driver. If your on the rural roads, people pass cars all the time, so look out for it and be careful when doing it. The company we rented our car from is Tikal Rent a Car, 2332-4721. It’s the only place where we haven’t gotten ripped off (all the major companies like Hertz, etc., will rip you off, they don’t really abide by corporate policy like they do over here…).
For fast food, Pollo Campero is like our McDonald’s: it’s all over the place. Make sure you guys go there at least once (get the traditional chicken…nothing fancy).
Comida “tipica”: Guatemalans eat a lot of beans, rice, tortillas…don’t be afraid to get the tipico plates, they’re pretty good. We also eat a lot of meat, lomito is probably your best bet. Alot of our traditional dishes are soups, good ones are Pepian and Jocon. They’re both BASICALLY chicken soup with different spices, etc., yummy!
Paiz and Hyper Paiz are our big grocery store chains down there (funny enough owned by Wal-Mart). If you don’t find a bank, I think they exchange dollars here.
Our national beer is Gallo, so you’ll have to drink that at least once :) Brahma/Brahva is the same thing, they just changed the name to sell it down there–it’s pretty much the only competitor to Gallo–and I prefer Gallo :) Michelada’s are like bloody-beers, and pretty big down there. Try it if you like Bloody Mary’s (I personally REALLY like them…and get them with Gallo).
If you need a way to get around in Guatemala City, I have a couple family friends who do taxi work on the side (they are trustworthy, don’t worry!). If you want, give me the dates you will be there and I will try to get their phone numbers so you can have them on you while you’re down there.
If you go to Peten, stop by Puerto Barrios and Castillo San Felipe