I saw one photo of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and quickly booked tickets for the month of November.
Can you blame me?
Guatemala With Kids
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Guatemala is one of those places that you can literally feel the magic from a photo alone. Honestly, I didn’t know much about Guatemala. I did very little research beforehand which is typical of my travel style.
I had our first two places booked. One in Antigua and one on San Pedro side of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and that is about it. I did have one bucket list item which was to hike an active volcano. I didn’t know what that entailed or how that was going to happen but I knew it was an absolute must.
We landed in Guatemala City on a chilled night in early November 2019.
I spotted a sim card store fairly quickly so getting a sim card seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately, after the seemingly kind woman at the store set my card up, I discovered that the cost would be over $100.
I was in shock considering I have never paid more than $20 or $30 for a month of service in any of the countries we have visited.
I was scammed. It happens.
Do not get a sim card at the airport in Guatemala. If you do, make sure to ask what the price is beforehand so you do not make the same mistake as me.
I tried giving the sim card back but she was not having it so I was stuck with a $100 sim card and data plan.
I quickly got over it when we hopped in an Uber and slowly made our way through the intense Guatemala City traffic. There was a sea of cars surrounding us but I was mesmerized by the city and thriving off the excitement of being in a new place.
I forgot how much I loved travel.
Travel is my love language.
What was supposed to be an hour Uber ride from Guatemala City to Antigua turned into a three-hour Uber ride. Luckily, the price of the Uber stayed the same. It only cost me $23 for that three-hour Uber ride. I can only imagine what that same ride would have cost me back in the US.
It was dark by time we arrived in the brightly colored city of Antigua, with its cobblestone streets ready to welcome you. Our driver stopped outside of the Yellow House Antigua Hostel where I had booked for three nights costing me only $119.
Antigua With Kids
I do not stay at hostels often with my girls mainly because they tend to be more expensive than getting an Airbnb due to the fact that we need a private room. Shared rooms in hostels are usually for adults only.
In this hostel, we got a private room on the bottom floor right outside the courtyard. Bathrooms and showers were shared and breakfast was included each day.
The hostel was super cute and comfortable. There definitely was no sleeping in for us due to our room having paper thin walls. We were woken up each day to breakfast being prepared right outside our room but didn’t mind because it meant we could get an early start to exploring.
We spent the first day walking up and down the cobblestone streets. We stumbled upon this beautiful plaza where my big girls and I could enjoy resting on a bench while Novie ran around and played.
We came back to the hostel later on our first full day in Antigua and signed up to hike an active volcano the very next day. I had no idea what I was getting us into but it sounded like something we absolutely had to experience.
The next morning we got up early, ate breakfast, and then headed around the corner from our hostel for supplies. We were told to bring flashlights and I figured I would grab sandwiches to bring on our hike.
What better place to grab sandwiches than Subway?
I was actually surprised to see places like Subway, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s in Antigua.
After Subway, we headed back to our hostel to wait for the van to pick us up for our hour-and-a-half commute to Pacaya volcano. It cost less than $40 for round-trip transportation to the volcano, plus a guide to help ensure you stay alive.
Panic set in as soon as I realized that my kids were the only kids in the van. Everyone else looked to be decently fit adults ready for an epic hike.
An hour and a half later, we arrived at the bottom of Pacaya and our hike started after a quick bathroom break.
Within 5 minutes I knew I had made a mistake. There was no way I could carry Novella up the side of this steep volcano for two hours.
I am always thankful Novie is still content in her Ergo carrier even though she is almost 4 years old, but my back is definitely paying for it every time I wear it.
Needless to say, I was the last one when we got to the first point along the four-hour hike.
There were men on horses behind me asking me frequently if I needed a ride. I had heard you can take a horse up for a small fortune from a friend of mine who had recently done it.
I was determined to make the hike without using a horse.
My two older girls were totally pumped up which shocked me. They have definitely hit their teen years and aren’t up for my crazy adventures as much anymore.
Y’all, I struggled so much up that volcano.
I still can’t put into words what we experienced hiking up Pacaya.
Two hours after the start of our hike, slipping over hardened lava rocks, taking turns carrying Novella, nearly getting blown over multiple times due to the extreme wind at the top, and wanting to quit, we made it to the top of Pacaya.
It was silent except for the periodic eruption of the volcano. This was the most spiritual experience of my life. It was absolutely life changing. Everything from the sense of accomplishment to the awe of being on what seemed like the top of the world.
I will never be able to put into words what the girls and I experienced that day but check out the YouTube video below for an idea.
I highly recommend hiking Pacaya with kids if you are ever in Guatemala. Our whole trip was worth this one experience.
We ended our time on top of the volcano by roasting marshmallows off the lava before making a two-hour hike back down. It was pitch black on the way down and slippery for part of it.
A nice young man helped me as I slid down the side of the volcano multiple times with Novella on my back.
Our flashlights were crap, barely lighting up the way, so I recommend getting good flashlights or just using your phone flashlight if all else fails.
We passed out at the hostel that night after that crazy adventure. After a much-needed good night’s rest, we got in an Uber for the three-hour road trip across Guatemala to Lake Atitilan where we would be spending the bulk of our time.
I was surprised by how easy it was to use Uber in Guatemala City and Antigua. It can be challenging to get an Uber driver to drive you three hours away, but ours had no issues with it. He had a nice spacious SUV and he even stopped along the way so we could have a bathroom break and get more snacks.
At one point Novella fell asleep which was good because I thought she was going to get car sick because of how windy the roads were.
Lake Atitlan With Kids
I was struck by the beauty of Lake Atitlan as soon as we arrived. Our driver told us to look ahead and we could see the most beautiful lake down below. It was massive.
The best way to get around the lake is by tuk tuk or the lancha.
Our driver got us as close as he could to our Airbnb but since the tiny roads are only made for walking and riding in tuk tuks, we had to walk the rest of the way.
Luckily, we tend to travel light with three backpacks and one small rolling suitcase. We walked down the tiny road towards our Airbnb. It was easy to find since I booked an Airbnb that was right across from the popular San Pedro Spanish School. There were signs for the Spanish school leading the way
Similar to Guanajuato City, Mexico, where we used to live, San Pedro had a ton of dog poop on the road.
It was a bummer because you want to get lost in its beauty but you have to keep your eyes on the ground so you don’t step on dog poop. We were dodging bombs every time we stepped outside.
Our host, a Guatemalan woman name Juana, greeted us at the gate along with three adorable pugs. The Airbnb was super cozy, well located near lots of restaurants, and super clean. If you are ever in San Pedro La Laguna, I highly recommend booking this Airbnb. I paid $313 for a nearly-three-week stay.
I do have to warn you that there were a lot of spiders which is actually typical of lake life. We were just grateful there were not any scorpions.
We spent the next couple of weeks relaxing, getting sick off and on, being bored, missing friends, being mesmerized by this unique place, and eating out two to three times a day.
We searched for a grocery store in San Pedro and found two but both were very small and super expensive. It almost seemed cheaper for us to eat out most of the time which is what we ended up doing. Fruit stands seemed non-existent at least in the areas we were walking around.
Every restaurant seemed to be owned by foreigners which I found odd. Where are the Guatemalan owners? Also, there were a ton of stray dogs. Luckily, none really bothered me but it was definitely unnerving at times.
Lake Atitlan is so different from any other place we have been to during our travels. It is almost stuck in an older time. I love how the Guatemalan women still wear their traditional wear untainted by our Western ways.
The beautiful women still carry baskets perfectly balanced on the top of their heads.
We took a two-day trip over to Panajachel to change things up a bit. We took a lancha, which is a water taxi, and it cost only about $12.99 one way for my family.
I was worried because we had our three big backpacks with us but they do have a spot for luggage on the boats.
We took the water taxi in the morning because we heard that the water can get really rough in the afternoon making the boat ride feel bone breaking. Luckily, our boat ride was smooth. We were transported across the beautiful yet heavily polluted lake town of Pana where we were dropped off in front of one of the scariest decks I have ever seen.
I swear it looked like it was ready to break any second but luckily we lived to say it did not.
My older girls looked at me crazy when I said we should walk to the hotel. Remember, we had our big Osprey backpacks on our backs and I had Novie on my front.
I swear one day my girls will thank me for all the craziness I have had us do. We made the walk to the hotel. It wasn’t that bad!
The hotel was cute and there was a parrot that greeted us with an “hola” when we walked up.
Our room was at the very top which meant lots of stairs but it was so worth it to have such a cute patio right outside our room.
Honestly, we did not find Pana all that great in comparison to San Pedro. This could be because everything after hiking the volcano felt kind of meh.
I had worries about the SMDT House back in Merida which I know played a role in me stressing during our trip to Guatemala.
This was also our first big trip since setting up home base in Merida, Mexico and I think my big girls are a little over travel. I think a week or two is the longest they are up for from now on so I will definitely keep that in mind for our next trip.
We were glad after the two days were over in Pana so we could head back to San Pedro where we spent the remainder of the time there getting lost, thrifting, and riding in tuk tuks.
When our time came to an end in San Pedro, we went to the hippie town of San Marcos. It took us forever to find our Airbnb which was tough with all our luggage. The Airbnb was absolutely magical. The host was super kind and it looked like we were in an enchanted forest. If you use my discount code, you can get up to $30 off your next trip.
San Marcos was even more beautiful than San Pedro and had a super chill vibe. I loved all the fruit stands that were out which was very different than our experience in San Pedro. Unfortunately, we only had less than a day to explore this unique side of the lake because our plane back to Mexico was leaving the next day.
Getting an Uber from the lake is next to impossible but after joining one of the local Facebook groups, Panajachel Community Group, I found a woman named Martha Herrera De Rivera who has drivers she can connect you with. You just send her a PM.
This was a little scary but I saw the other comments of people who had used her services and just had to go with my gut feeling it would all work out.
Sure enough, the very next day, a driver arrived with a nice vehicle on time to take us on a four-hour drive across Guatemala to the airport. We arrived at the airport safely and on time and it only cost me $71 which isn’t bad for a four-hour trip with a private driver.
We did not have the smoothest travel day.
It was actually pretty funny. So after we got into the airport, we waited in a super long line, with a crazy active toddler who kept running out of the line, to get checked in for our flight.
When we got up to the counter, the attendant told me I needed to step out of line and check in online. At this point my phone was at less than two percent and I was frustrated.
I attempted to get us all checked in online but then realized that I was unable to check us in due to Novie’s birthday not being listed. For some reason her birth year would not come up no matter what I did.
I panicked because I thought I might have entered her birthday wrong when booking the tickets which would mean needing to buy her a new ticket.
I went back up to the counter and showed the attendant, and luckily she ended up checking us in so it was not my error after all.
We went upstairs to rest, charge our devices, eat, and use the restroom before boarding our flight.
I walked into the restroom and was immediately hit with the smell from hell.
I almost passed out. I noticed pants on the floor in one of the stalls and saw that they were covered in feces.
I immediately felt terrible because I could tell it was an elderly woman and I was just hoping she had a change of clothes.
I have a super weak stomach so I had to leave the restroom without using it. My stomach had been acting up since about the second week in Guatemala, off and on.
This is actually typical for us on our travels now. It is like our bodies need to get used to a new place.
Since the flight was only 45 minutes, I figured I would wait until we got to the bus stop in Cancun to go to the restroom. I didn’t want to blow up the plane restroom.
I should have just blown up the plane bathroom.
We got off the plane at Cancun airport and bought bus tickets to get us from the airport to the downtown bus station in Cancun where we then got bus tickets taking us five hours to Merida.
Tickets are much cheaper from the downtown station in Cancun than from the actual airport ADO bus location.
It took us forever to find where we needed to catch the bus at the airport. But eventually we found it, got on the 20-minute bus to downtown Cancun, and then got off the bus at the downtown bus location with only a few minutes to spare before our bus left from there to Merida.
At this point, I was about to explode, so I ran upstairs to the restroom and busted through the stall door, sat down, and then realized there was no toilet paper.
I stood back up and pulled my pants up, thankful I hadn’t released yet.
By this point I was freaking out inside.
I went back downstairs with the look of death on my face. My teens knew I was at my breaking point just by the way I looked.
We got on the bus.
I waited until we were settled and the driver started driving before heading to the restroom on the bus. I noticed it was super dark on the bus and none of the outlets were lit up like they normally would be.
The lights in the restroom didn’t work so I decided to check and see if the toilet would flush before I actually sat down to use it and to my horror it didn’t!
There was absolutely no way I could hold it for five hours. I was about to recreate the scene I saw earlier at the airport with the elderly woman.
This had to be some type of karma.
I came out of the restroom and I was sweating and trying to breathe as if I was trying to get through labor.
My oldest daughter tried to go talk to the driver but the language barrier had her coming back to her seat frustrated.
I wrote our Single Moms DO Travel Merida messenger group and told them the dire situation I was in.
I am pretty sure they were probably giggling at me.
At then, it was like my prayers were answered because the outlets lit up and I just knew the restroom would finally work!
I went in, tested out the flush again just to be on the safe side, and almost cried when I heard it flush.
I spent the next 10 minutes in the restroom.
When I returned back to my seat, a sense of gratitude for working toilets came over me.
I called friends and told them how thankful I was for working toilets. Yes, I really did do this.
Four and a half hours later, we arrived home and crawled into our beds, thankful for having a home base.
If you ever have the opportunity to go to Guatemala do it! You have to see the lake for yourself and you absolutely must hike an active volcano while you are there!