Moon Guatemala (Moon Handbooks) - Al Argueta (2015)
Escape to La Antigua
Guatemala’s close proximity to U.S. shores and easy access by air (just 2.5 hours from Houston or Miami; 5 hours from New York) makes it a great candidate for an international weekend getaway.
Plan this day to be a Friday or Saturday. There are nonstop flights from New York/Newark on Saturdays (and now also Friday nights, in season). Most other gateway cities have multiple flights daily.
Arrive in Guatemala City around noon. Grab a shuttle van or taxi to La Antigua and check into your hotel. Take the afternoon to explore the cobblestone streets and a museum or two, do some shopping, and get a bite to eat in one of the excellent restaurants. Grab drinks or dinner from Café Sky or Lava Terrace Bar and watch the sun set behind the volcanoes.
a skillful weaver in La Antigua
Grab an early breakfast and then hike up to the Cerro de la Cruz for a wonderful view of the city with Agua Volcano in the background. Alternatively (between December and February), head out early to go whale-watching on the Pacific Coast (one hour away). Have lunch and an afternoon round of golf at La Reunión Antigua Golf Resort and spend the night there. From your suite, enjoy views of Agua and Pacaya Volcanoes over your private plunge pool.
Transfer to Guatemala City and its international airport. Depending on the time of departure, you may be able to visit one or several of the museums near the airport: the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología and the Museo Popol Vuh and Museo Ixchel (next door to each other). Allow some extra time at the airport for some duty-free shopping before you fly out.
Wonders of the Maya
In Guatemala, not only can you take in the ancient Mayan wonders from long before the arrival of the Spanish, you can also visit the Postclassic highland ceremonial sites that greeted the conquistadors upon their arrival in 1524.
Most of the Mayan ceremonial sites that were at their cultural zenith during these time periods can be found in the country’s northern Petén region. Among the largest and most sophisticated cities from the Preclassic period is El Mirador, which flourished between 200 BC and AD 150. No self-respecting archaeology buff would come to Guatemala without visiting the ruins of Tikal at the center of a 575-square-kilometer (222-square-mile) national park protecting the historical site and surrounding rainforest ecosystem. Farther north is the interesting astronomical observatory at Uaxactún. West of Tikal are the sites of Nakum and Yaxhá, the latter of Survivor TV fame. Nakum is remote and little explored, though it harbors some fine Mayan temples. Yaxhá is now the second-most visited of Petén’s Mayan sites. It’s large and impressive, with the added beauty of a lagoon backdrop.
travelers atop La Danta temple in El Mirador
Real history buffs might want to check out the ceremonial sites found and subjugated by the Spanish at the time of the conquest, thus completing the picture of Guatemala’s pre-Columbian archaeological heritage. When the Spanish arrived in Guatemala, they first secured an alliance with the Kaqchikel, who had their capital in Iximché in Guatemala’s Western Highlands. The Spanish would eventually establish their first capital on the same site. You can visit the restored ruins of Iximché, very conveniently situated just a few kilometers from the Pan-American Highway about an hour from Guatemala City. Near the city of Huehuetenango, the inhabitants of the Mam ceremonial site of Zaculeu were done in by starvation after Pedro de Alvarado’s brother laid siege to the city for two months.
Surf and Turf
Guatemala offers some of the best sailfishing in the world. Back on land, Guatemala City has at least four good golf courses—with another star player just one hour outside the city. Numerous sailfishing outfitters and accommodations can host your stay; virtually all of them have agreements with golf courses, allowing you to combine the two activities for a “surf and turf” vacation.
SAILFISHING AND WHALE-WATCHING
Your base for sailfishing will likely be Iztapa, about 90 minutes from Guatemala City. Sailfish Bay Lodge is among the best outfitters, with a lodge right on the beach. Another good option is Casa Vieja Lodge, near Puerto San José. You can fish from one to five days (or more) and then tack on an extra day or two for golf.
Guatemala is also a stopping point along the migration path of humpback whales, so you can take a morning for whale-watching in season (December-February). Other species you might spy include pilot whales, whale sharks, sea turtles, and bottlenose dolphins. Scheduled tours leave weekend mornings from Antigua Guatemala or Iztapa, beginning and ending in the Puerto Quetzal marina.
Set on a former coffee plantation just 20 kilometers from Antigua, La Reunión Antigua Golf Resort is the only place in the world where you can enjoy a round of golf with a view of four volcanoes, two of which are active. Practice your swing at the driving range in the shadow of smoke-belching Fuego Volcano; its 18-hole, Pete Dye-designed Fuego Maya golf course takes its inspiration from the 19-month Mayan solar calendar. The adjacent 26-suite hotel offers fabulous accommodations and delectable culinary creations. You may never want to leave.
the greens at La Reunión’s Fuego Maya golf course
It’s only an hour from La Reunión to Guatemala City, or 45 minutes to the Pacific Coast. You can easily combine a stay in Antigua or Guatemala City with some golf time; Guatemala’s near-perfect climate makes golf possible almost any time of year. In the vicinity of Guatemala City, the best place to tee off is San Isidro Golf Club. The surrounding hillsides offer wonderful views of the city.