Saturday, April 16, 2011

Travel Recommendations for Guatemala and Belize

This is the first pure recommendation/review blog we’ve posted. We know it will not be a particularly enjoyable read for family and friends, but we hope it can be of help to fellow travelers and PCV’s who might be thinking about a trip to Guatemala or Belize. We’ve reviewed accommodations, restaurants and tour companies, plus added some other tips at the end. See our two previous blogs for a more detailed narrative of our activities and leave us a comment with any questions!

At the time, exchange rate was Q7.5 and BZ$2 to the US$.

Places we visited are circled in purple.

Maps courtesy of and


Name: Black Cat Hostel (Black Cat Inn is different)

Location: Antigua, Guatemala

Phone/Website/Email: (502) 78321229,,

Price: Q. 160 for a double with shared bathroom, Q.60 for a dorm bed, huge breakfast included

Review: This is a can’t-be-beat deal in pricey Antigua. The hostel is just two block s from the central park and nightlife spots and four blocks from the bus terminal. It has a hip and funky feel with a small bar/restaurant that serves delicious and affordable food (Q.40 for huge plate of nachos). Breakfast starts at 8 am and you can opt for anything from an omelet or breakfast sandwich, to bacon and eggs or a bagel. If you are leaving earlier, they will make you a good sandwich on homemade bread in lieu of breakfast, just ask the night before. It won’t be that quiet at night, and the bathrooms were a little grungy (but still with hot water), but all in all a solid place to stay.

Name: Black Cat Hostel

Location: Xela, Guatemala

Phone/Website/Email: (502) 77612091,,

Price: Q160 for a double with shared bathroom, Q.60 for a dorm bed, huge breakfast included

Review: Yes, this is the same chain as in Antigua and again for the same reasons above it’s an awesome place. The hostel is two blocks from the Parque Central which is the only really nice spot to be in town. It’s within 5 blocks of a bunch of restaurants, a grocery store, a movie theatre, a salsa club and the bus stop for busitos that go to the main bus terminal. The atmosphere was much quieter here than in Antigua, the room was bigger, the bathrooms cleaner and there was a pleasant open balcony that circled the second floor. Same breakfast/sandwich option and more pleasant staff to boot. They can also arrange a number of adventure tours which we did not use. Highly recommended.

Name: Hospedaje Doña Goya 1 and 2

Location: Flores, Guatemala

Phone/Website/Email: 502 7926-3538, no website,

Price: Q.100 for a double (two double beds actually) with fan, Q.140 for lake-view with fan, Q.200 for lake-view with air-con, all have private bath

Review: Another stellar value. Make sure you ask for a room in Doña Goya 2, same owner different building. It’s just a block down the street from Doña Goya 1 and was much nicer. Doña Goya 2 has three floors plus a thatch-roof covered balcony with hammocks and chairs that overlook the lake where you can have a beer and relax, so there is no reason to pay for a lake-view room. Air-con is almost a must in this humid region of the country, but we made do with a fan. Hot water was nice, but we didn’t need it. The non-air-con rooms have two sliding glass doors for entry closed with tiny padlocks, a little suspect, but we had no problems. It’s in a fine part of town; the island is so small that nowhere is really out of the way.

Name: Hi-Et Guesthouse

Location: San Ignacio, Belize

Phone/Website/Email: 501-824-2828, no website, no email

Price: BZ$40 for a double, one bed with private bath, BZ$50 for a double, two beds with private bath

Review: This place was a lovely set of two big houses right in the center of town for a great price. The cute little old man and his wife who own the place charmed us right into staying there. The room was freshly cleaned and had good ventilation plus a ceiling fan so it cooled off pretty well. Hot water was available but seemed to run out frequently. The house had balconies on either side for relaxing plus a fridge and plates/silverware available and a small book collection. They may have had laundry facilities available, but we didn’t use them. San Ignacio is small and this hotel was on the main road so nothing was more than a 5 minute walk away. The only problem was the cockroach in the bathroom that scurried away before we could kill it.

Name: Seaspray Hotel

Location: Placencia, Belize

Phone/Website/Email: 501-523-3148,,

Price: BZ$58 for a double with private bath, farthest from the beach

Review: You’re not going to find rooms much cheaper than this. Even though we had the room “farthest from the beach” it was still only a five second walk to get there. They had some nice lounge chairs in a palm-shaded spot on the beach, perfect for relaxing and swimming. Hot water was nice, but again we didn’t use it much since it was so hot. The room had a fan and fridge which was great for keeping our water and snacks cool. It was in a good spot, but Placencia is not that big. The front desk staff seemed a little ornery. It’s a great budget choice right on the beach, although we found a cockroach here too. Must be something about Belize…

Things to Do/Tour Companies

Name: Adrenalina Tours

Location: Xela and Antigua

Tours: They can do anything.

Review: We booked a shuttle with them from Antigua to Guatemala City and then through them an onward ticket on Linea Dorada to Flores. We figured the shuttle would be more reliable than a chicken bus because we really needed to catch the bus to Flores which leaves only 3 times daily. It was US$10 for the shuttle and US$25 for the bus (bus price is normal, they just call and reserve you a spot). I think the problem was we booked this trip in Xela and it was all taking place elsewhere. When we stopped in Antigua at the store to confirm our ride the night before, the guy at the office said very unreassuringly that he had no idea what would happen until the stores exchanged info at 6 pm that night at closing time. This didn’t leave us with much confidence. We convinced him to call the Xela store and then he said, again very unreassuringly, that everything would be fine. Our shuttle was late picking us up at the hostel and had somehow heard that there was only one of us. The driver rather rudely insisted it was our fault for telling them the wrong hostel and the wrong quantity, until we shut him up by showing him our original receipts which clearly said our hostel name and 2 people. Luckily there was still room in the bus and we weren’t delayed, so we arrived in Guate and caught our bus with no problems. I wouldn’t recommend this tour company because they did not seem very reliable/organized and were also rude on several occasions. There are plenty of other companies to choose from.

Name: Mayawalk

Location: San Ignacio, Belize

Tours: Ruins, cave tours, hiking etc

Review: We read a lot of reviews of this company saying that the owner would wander the streets accosting people and ushering them toward his shop. While he did badger us on the street as well, once we got to the shop and started chatting, he was actually a pretty decent guy. His tour company seemed like the only people who were really interested in our business. They explained a lot about the tours, gave upfront pricing with tax included and were able to change the time of their cave tubing tour for us to avoid the rush of cruise ship passengers. The van was air conditioned and they played a Planet Earth movie during the ride. The guide was laid back and knew a lot about wildlife and vegetation. The lunch was pretty skimpy, chicken curry with two tiny chunks of chicken, rice, beans and watermelon, but it was too hot to eat much anyway. The tubing was relaxing and the caves pretty awesome. We were the only group we saw that had to wear life jackets and helmets. This was probably a good, safe idea but sort of uncomfortable. Overall, it was an awesome trip and we ended up getting a Peace Corps discount of $8 each (the tour was $78 originally) because the owner is a fan (he was taught by PC teachers as a kid), so fellow PCV’s make sure you mention it. Prices are competitive with other tour companies in town.

Name: Chichicastenango Market Tour

Location: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Tours: Chichi Market, Mayan Spiritual Sites near town

Review: Chichi has a famous Thursday and Sunday market where Mayan people from all over the area come to sell their artisan products, food, produce, flowers and more. We had heard it was worth it to get a guide at the local INGUAT tourism office, so that’s what we did. The INGUAT office is hard to find so you’ll just have to ask around once you’re in the market, it’s somewhere in the center. We didn’t have to arrange anything in advance, just showed up and the woman at the office called a guide who arrived in 5 minutes or less. He spoke in Spanish. We didn’t ask for the tour in English at the office so someone else might have been available. He didn’t really show us the market (which didn’t need much showing), but instead took us to the municipality, church and shrine Pascual Abaj on the hill outside of town to teach us more about Mayan spiritual practices, all of which was awesome. He also took us to an off-the-beaten-track mask shop where we bought a real wooden mask used in Mayan ceremonies. It was better than what we would have gotten in the market, and we bartered down the price, but it was still expensive and it was obvious the guide had a deal with the store owner to bring people by. The only shocker was at the end of the trip. The lady at the office had suggested Q.30-50 for a few hour tour. The guide at the end then asked for Q.250-300. We gave him Q.150 and he seemed a little upset. We weren’t really sure who was right. The tour was great, just negotiate the price beforehand.

Name: Tikal Mayan Ruins

Location: Tikal, Guatemala

Tours: N/A

Review: We didn’t actually get a tour at Tikal, but still have some suggestions. The park is expensive to enter for foreigners (Q.150), but it’s worth the price. You’ll have to buy a map from the guy next to the ticket office (Q.10 basic, Q.20 with animal guide) since there is just one map at the entrance to the site and from then on, signs just have the names of ruins without arrows or maps, not much wayfinding. The map was a little disappointing, it didn’t have info on all the ruins, gave only brief descriptions of the ones it did list, and was not really to scale so don’t take it too seriously. We heard guides were about $60 for any sized group, which is why we didn’t get one. If we could do it over again, we would probably get one since there is almost no signage or info once you get into the site to explain things to you about the ruins or Mayan history. We did well enough reading up on Tikal before and after our visit, but a guide would have been nice.

We recommend arriving early. We took the 5 am bus out of Flores (first bus) and were the first ones to enter the site that day. To actually catch the sunrise, you need to stay closer to Tikal, like in El Remate (30 mins away) or on site (camping or a hotel). The later you go the hotter it gets and the more overrun with people and tour groups. It’s nice to have it to yourself for awhile. You could spend a whole day or two exploring all the ruins, but will likely be exhausted after half a day. For it being such a huge tourist site, the visitor amenities were poor. The electricity was out when we visited, but somehow a restaurant still managed to serve up fancy food, although the drinks were as warm as we were and there was no ice. Buy drinks instead from the vendors at the art and food stalls near the parking lot or museum, they are cheaper and kept in icy coolers, much more refreshing. Cheaper food is available from some small comedors across the street from the visitor’s center. The museum at the visitors center is cheap enough (Q.10) that it’s worth a visit but don’t expect to be wowed. There are some interesting but faded images of the renovations that took place in the last half century and several dozen mostly illegible stellae. Bring your own toilet paper, snacks and plenty of water, especially if you arrive early, the bathroom and snack kiosks were either not open or in the case of the bathrooms, not stocked with t.p.

Name: Placencia Dive Shop

Location: Placencia, Belize

Tours: Snorkel on the barrier reef

Review: We took an all day (9-3) snorkeling tour to Laughing Bird Caye for US$63. I have mixed feelings about this dive shop. We picked it because the owner guy, Shawn, seemed pretty cool and friendly. As it turned out, he wasn’t exactly unreliable, but we were behind schedule all day and things were poorly organized, but maybe that’s just the laid-back Belizean beach bum way of living. The owner told us to arrive at 8:30 to leave at 9. We left at 10:15. No one else who worked for him in the shop seemed capable of doing anything while he was gone. He promised there would be a canopy on the boat, there was no canopy – this didn’t seem to bother anyone else, but the heat and sun were quite strong and for those us who burn easily, it was a horrible trip there and back. Once we made it to the caye, things were fine. The snorkeling guide we brought along was much better, showing us different sea creatures and pointing out cool objects as we swam. The lunch was pretty good, BBQ chicken, watermelon, and cheesy potatoes. We made a stop on the way back in so the owner could do some spearfishing. This was boring for most of us, but well-liked by the guys who participated. I think it was an okay tour. The owner is laid back and will do whatever you want, just ask. I prefer a little more organization, but it just depends on what you like.


(I won’t list everywhere we ate, just the best).

Name: El Paisaje

Location: Xela, Guatemala

Review: This is a Mediterranean tapas place located in the arcade just off the Parque Central. It had nice indoor and outdoor seating with heat lamps. We expected it to be expensive, as tapas usually is, but it was the opposite. The plates were cheap and huge. We ordered the Turkish meat kebabs (Q27) and hummus (Q35) and got four huge meat patties and a good sized bowl of hummus with a bunch of crostini, more than enough to eat for two people. Great value and tasty food.

Name: Utz Hua

Location: Xela, Guatemala

Review: Up two blocks from the Parque Central, this place serves traditional Mayan food, also at great prices. I had the bean soup (~Q30) and Nolan the longanizo (sausage) and tortillas (~Q30), both delicious. It all came with a free huge basket of tamalitos (plain tamales) that we couldn’t finish. They were great in the soup. The place also had some cute and cosy décor and good service.

Name: Frida’s

Location: Antigua, Guatemala

Review: In the hip bar district near the archway, Frida’s serves tasty Mexican food in a cool atmosphere. Mole enchiladas were great and you get free chips and salsa. Seems expensive, but so is everything in Antigua.

Name: Bagel Barn

Location: Antigua, Guatemala

Review: For those of us who have been without bagels for awhile, this place is worth a visit. They have a variety of flavors of bagels and cream cheese and a good sandwich menu. A combo with smoothie and a piece of cake will run about Q.50. Come in the morning before your bus to get bagels to go for Q.6 each and a cup of cream cheese Q.10.

Name: Mr Greedy’s

Location: San Ignacio, Belize

Review: Not in our guide book, but one of the only places that was consistently open and consistently good. Great, hearty breakfast sandwiches (~BZ$9) are ideal before an adventure tour. Dinner is solid with burgers, pasta and the like, plus full bar. Don’t miss the Italian fry doughnuts, a pile of sweet doughy triangles covered in cinnamon sugar for just BZ$3.

Name: Rumfish y Vino

Location: Placencia, Belize

Review: Pricey but delicious Mediterranean and ocean inspired dishes with a fun bar. Try the olive tapenade (BZ$13), Lebanese flatbread pizza (BZ$24) with grilled shrimp or the daily specials. The only downside is no beach view and very little breeze. Come early to get a seat, it fills up fast.

Other Tips

Buses: Basically anywhere in either country you can hire private shuttle buses to take you where you need to go. They will be faster but much more expensive than your normal bus service. If you’re okay with a chicken bus (big yellow school bus), take it to save money, chat with locals and get a real cultural experience. Just watch your belongings and you’ll be fine. Most people on the street are happy to help you find the bus you’re looking for if you get off to change.

Money: You can always change money at the borders from moneychangers who will bombard you. You won’t get the very best rate, but it’s worth it to change a little to make it to your next destination.

Water ferries: To get to Placencia you can go via land (ask bus drivers for help) or via water taxi from Independence where the James Bus stops (from Belize City via Belmopan and Dangriega). The water taxi is BZ$20 per person for a 15 minute ride through the mangroves, but leaves very infrequently so if you’re coming from far away, make sure you’re on an early bus. We saw ones leave at 12:00 noon and the next was at 4 pm. You can also take a ferry, or actually a small boat, from Placencia to Puerto Cortes, Honduras or vice versa. The two hour ride is pleasant enough. The boat leaves from Puerto Cortes Mondays and leaves Placencia on Fridays. The boat seemed to fill up, so buy a ticket in advance at the Placencia Tourism office. BZ$110 one way, plus you pay a BZ$7.50 environmental fee on board when leaving Belize.

Honduran PCVs: You can use your Banco Atlantida card for withdrawals at ATMs (L.30 charge plus the ATM bank charge), up to four withdrawals per month, or you can use it as a credit card for any type of purchases. Cards are mostly accepted only at nicer restaurants and nicer hotels. Always ask tour companies for a PC discount, especially in countries like Guatemala and Belize that have active PC programs. Twice daily shuttle buses run from Copan Ruinas to Antigua (6 hours) at 6 am and 12 noon from ViaVia Café. Try to book it in advance (can’t do it by phone) by getting to Copan a day early to reserve a spot since the buses fill up. $20 one way.


  1. Belize is admirable and has lots to see and do, but travelers accept apparent that you can aswell cover Guatemala for alone a few dollars.

    travel recommendations