When the kids had some days off of school for Fiestas Patrias (Panamanian Independence Day) and the U.S. Thanksgiving, we saw it as an opportunity for a VACAY! We haven’t taken a family trip internationally since January 2020, right before the pandemic (except to go back to the U.S. to visit family). Living in the heart of Latin America, there are so many opportunities for exploration. However, we finally settled on Guatemala because so many of our friends had sung it’s praises. We were not disappointed!
Due to the rich Mayan heritage of Guatemala, we saw it as a wonderful learning opportunity for the whole family. The week before we left, we spent every dinner watching videos and discussing different aspects of Mayan history and culture. The boys were most fascinated by the Mayan ball game and also folktales like the Hero Twins. Luckily, Netflix also recently released a cartoon called Maya Three based on Mayan folklore that they watched while in transit to Guatemala. I think frontloading their knowledge really helped them be more engaged during the trip.
Panama City to Guatemala City is an easy 1.5 hour flight. From there a driver transported us to Lake Atitlan. That drive was about three hours. The first third of which was sitting in traffic trying to exit the city, and the rest was super twisty. Note to self: always pack Dramamine, the all-natural stuff doesn’t cut it. When we arrived in Panajachel, the largest town on the Lake, our driver took us to the dock and a boat captain took us on a 10 minute boat ride to our Air Bnb which was in Jacinto. Through the entire trip, riding on the boats was the boys’ favorite activity.
The air bnb was amazing. It was a spacious villa built into the mountain on it’s own private cove. It had spectacular views of the volcanoes and hiking trails straight up the mountain. We spent half our time on the lake just enjoying the property. They had kayaks and paddle boards available. We would alternate between the chilly lake and the steamy sauna. We also took advantage and hired their chef to cook us authentic Mayan and Guatemalan cuisine for two of the nights. They also had a pizza oven. We bought their “pizza packs” and Brian cooked us up some wood fire pizza. We loved relaxing in this home, it was the perfect getaway.
From our homebase, we explored the different towns around the lake. Each town has it’s own customs and feel. The first day, we hired a tour in which we visited San Marcos, San Juan, and Santiago. During the tour, we got to see and participate in a Mayan weaving demonstration, visit colorful art galleries, learn about their coffee and chocolate production, and observe a Mayan fire ceremony.
I think the boys especially enjoyed learning about the Mayan zodiac. Turns out they have the same sign represented by the spider.
I am the armadillo.
BC is a turtle. Apparently we must both have hard shells, but soft on the inside.
We also had the opportunity to take a cooking class at Amigos de Santa Cruz, an NGO in the town of Santa Cruz that has partnered with the Mayan people to preserve it’s traditions. We all loved participating in the preparation, learning about the flavors, and of course eating the dinner afterward.
We only had two full days in Lake Atitlan, and it was not enough. There was so much more that we wanted to do, plus we just fell in love with the magic of our surroundings. It will definetly be on our list to return to. After the lake, we travelled about two hours to Antigua. Antigua is a colonial city known for it’s cobblestone streets and Spanish architecture. We stayed at a super cute and kid-friendly townhouse airbnb that gave us a central homebase for exploring all of the restaurants and boutiques.
While we enjoyed walking around the town square, sipping fancy chocolate drinks in cafes, and browsing the shops, we always have the most fun with the kids when we get outside the city. Our first night, we headed to Cerveceria Catorce which was about 15 minutes by uber from our air bnb. It’s a large brewery and restaurant located in a spacious warehouse with a huge outdoor space including an awesome homemade playground. There’s nothing like actually getting to enjoy your food and drinks because your kids are totally occupying themselves on the jungle gym nearby. However, the highlight was the amazing view of the active volcano and actually seeing it spew lava into the night sky.
The next day, we spent most of the day at a hotel/restaurant called Santo Domingo del Cerro. We enjoyed breakfast in their rooftop restaurant and walking through their art installations, but the best part was ziplining through their property. This was PJC’s first time ziplining. Even though he was nervous at first, by the third zipline, he asked to go without the instructor.
Our other favorite activity in Antigua was visiting Finca La Azotea. This is a working coffee finca that has also reinvented itself as a cultural gathering spot including restaurants, museums, horseback riding, biking, and a brewery. BC and the boys were able to take a horse ride around the trails of the finca. We also took a chocolate making class in which we learned about the Mayan traditions of chocolate making.
We could have easily stayed in Guatemala longer. We especially loved Lake Atitlan, but there is also so much to Guatemala that we haven’t explored. We hope we get the opportunity to return soon. It was also a special trip, but I think we have finally hit the golden ages for traveling with kids. They are old enough to be a little more independent and try fun activities, but not yet snarly teenagers. Because the pandemic made us take a travel break, it was evident how much they have grown and how much more enjoyable it is to take these family trips. We hope the world can get healthier and continue to open up because there are so many adventures we want to take!