Three Guatemalan Adventures
By Candyce H. Stapen
There are more Guatemalan adventures than exploring Tikal, renowned for its towering Maya pyramids in the middle of the rainforest. Lake Atitlan ranks among the world’s most scenic lakes, Chichicastenango, dubbed “Chichi” for short, offers endless opportunities to shop for native goods, and Antigua shines as one of Central America’s prettiest cities.
Another reason to visit: Guatemala still offers a moderately priced vacation. Some savvy tourists plan a trip to Guatemala in order to stretch their holiday shopping budget by taking advantage of the good buys on handmade native textiles and wood carvings.
Lake Atitlan, one of the largest lakes in Guatemala, spreads out against a backdrop of three 10,000-foot volcanoes - Toliman, Atitlan and San Pedro. Panajachel is a popular, lake gateway. We enjoyed our stay at Casa Palopó, a boutique hotel on the lake’s shore.From here it’s a relatively short boat ride across the misty blue water to Santiago Atitlan.
In this village, traditionally dressed women layer a 20-metre long tocojal, or head band, around their heads and wear lilac colored huipiles, delicately embroidered with birds and animals. You can buy these beautiful wares along with tablecloths, placemats and other handmade items from the vendors who line the streets near the dock. Bargaining is expected so do so even if you don’t like to.
With your bargaining skills sharpened, head to Chichicastenango, dubbed “Chichi” for short. For more than 100-years, every Thursday and Sunday, Chichi’s streets bloom with nearly 300 Maya vendors from all parts of the country.
Serious shoppers, including buyers for some big department stores, flock here to purchase hand-woven items such as floral wall hangings, embroidered tablecloths, area rugs, placemats, throw pillows, leather belts and carry-on bags, many of which you can see stateside for five to ten times the local price. But Chichi’s not for every shopper, only for those who get an adrenaline rush from bargaining and elbowing through crowds.
Antigua, the former colonial capital, is about a 45 minute drive from Guatemala City. One of Central America’s prettiest cities, Antigua has cobblestone streets, colonial churches, historic buildings, an inviting town square as well as the tomb of Central America’s first saint, Hermano Pedro de San Jose de Betancourt in the Iglesia de San Francisco.
At the Museo Casa del Tejido (the Textile Museum), you can discover the history behind the native items you purchased in Santiago Atitlan and Chichi. Look for the mannequins wearing the shawls, huipiles and other clothing that you purchased. Each native region has its own style and colors. The site typically has a weaver who patiently demonstrates how garments take shape on a backstrap loom.
Antigua Casa Santo Domingo, a converted convent, elegantly blends Spanish traditional furnishings with modern comforts. More expensive than some other properties, we enjoyed the hotel’s gardens, pools and good food.