|Subject: Re: Guatemala tips|
Sorry to be so slow to respond to your question about Guatemala! I was there for about a month in April, but I didn't have much chance to tour around since I was with a medical mission.
Antiqua makes a great base of operations & it's a nice city for walking around. There are several tours which go out into the villages around the city. They're ok, but it might be more fun to hire a local guide for a private half-day to see them.
I would definitely recommend a trip to Lake Atitlan & surroundings. Panajachel, on the lake, is haven for expats & hippie types, but it's also a good jump-off for boat trips across the lake. Good restaurant is Sunset cafe, right on the lake, popular with locals & visitors alike. Don't be put off by the dusty road down there; it's perfectly safe. There's another great little open-air garden restaurant not far from the Porto del Lago Hotel, but the name escapes me at the moment. Drat. But it's not more than a five-minute walk as you leave the hotel & head into Panajachel.
Try the launch that goes over to Santiago, a nice village with good textiles & a blood-soaked past. The Peace Park on the edge of town is worth the visit. It's ok to walk the dusty road out there, or take one of the taxis which is little more than the bed of a small pickup truck with a framework to hang onto. It commemorates the deaths of many village men in '91 when the death squads were operating in the area; in this town, the villagers said "no" to threats & paid dearly. Also, ask at the boat debarkation area for the location of native saint Maximon. This 3-foot high carved statue moves yearly to a new house. He is really a combination of native spirit & Catholic saint. His attendants smoke cigars & those who come to give him their troubles share straight shots of a fiery local distilled spirit & drape his neck with scarves & neckties. In the room are several plaster Catholic saints, lots of candles, herbs hung from the ceiling & other shrine decorations. The villagers have a high tolerance for our curiosity about Maximon. There's a cement soccer & plaza area in the center of the village, not far from the church. On a side street not far from the plaza is a sports shop. If you want to do something the young men will appreciate, go to the shop, buy a soccer ball (it'll cost about $10 US, maybe 80Q), just toss it into the soccer game that's always in progress, & step back & watch the fun.
Look for woven & embroidered items from San Antonio, reputed to be the most beautiful in Guatemala. They are unique: the wrong side is as perfect as the right side! A little museum in Antigua, La Casa de Tejido Antigua, is a good place to see some of the different patterns of woven fabrics. It's past the market on First Calle Poniente at #51 & very fine work is for sale there.
Another place for information & samples of fabrics is at La Azotea Centro Cultural at Rincon Sacatepequez. The fee of 30Q also includes free transport from Antigua's central plaza. They also do coffee roasting & I liked the little nature walk out thru the coffee plants & nursery.
Market day in Solola, near the lake, is crowded but heaps of fun. I prefer the market on days other than Thursday. Do be very careful, however, as the market in Solola is sadly home to roving bands of pickpockets. Market days in Antigua are less native but still plenty fun.
On the road from Antigua to Solola & Panajachel, just outside of Los Encuentros, are several roadside shops specializing in wood carvings. They're well-priced & there's a big variety of choices.
On the road from Guatemala City to Antigua many people like to stop at Tecpan, where there's a nice restaurant, a couple of shops & clean bathrooms. I'm not sure I could tell you how to find it, but perhaps if you asked at Tecpan you could get directions to La Pedregal, a family-owned restaurant & garden nearby. Fantastic brunch & homegrown veggies & fruit.
Now I'm all charged up to go back!
Gail in Eugene