1. What do you consider the five best places to stay on a budget?
Guatemala City has a great new hostel, Xamanek Student Inn. Just outside Antigua, there’s Earthlodge with wonderful volcano views and dorm beds for $4. Several places serving as eco jungle camps are among my favorite budget spots, including El Retiro near the Lanquin caves, with its youthful, fun atmosphere; Finca Tatin and El Hotelito Perdido near Rio Dulce.
2. Where is your favorite place to take a day trip?
Antigua makes a great day trip from Guatemala City if you’re pressed for time. It’s only 45 minutes from the capital but a world away with cobblestone streets, colonial architecture and a volcanic backdrop. It also has a fine assortment of restaurants and shops.
3. What are some of your favorite Guatemalan foods?
My two favorite Guatemalan foods are chuchitos, chicken and tomato paste cooked into cornmeal and wrapped in a corn husk and tostadas, thin fried corn tortillas topped with tomato sauce or refried beans, grated cheese, parsley and onions.
4. What do you consider the top three shopping destinations?
The Sunday and Thursday market in Chichicastenango is a must-see for first-time visitors. You’ll see a variety of tourist trinkets for sale in addition to the daily necessities of Mayan families. The church of Santo Tomas makes a fabulous backdrop to the streetside action with Mayan priests burning incense on its steps, and devout followers burning candles and offerings inside. Panajachel has an excellent assortment of products such as clothing made for export, and Antigua has some very nice, upscale shops along with the usual trinkets for sale seemingly everywhere.
5. What do you consider the best festival of the year in Guatemala?
I absolutely love the Giant Kite Festival, on November 1. It’s colorful, beautiful and fun.
6. What is your favorite museum and why?
I am a big fan of the Miraflores Museum because it provides the context for the original settlement of present-day Guatemala City. It’s housed in a modern building, and the temple mounds of Kaminaljuyu are found right outside amidst modern-day architecture.
7. What do you consider the top five places for photo opportunities?
I’d have to say the Giant Kite festivals held each year in Sumpango or Sacatepequez. Other good locations include the village of Nebaj and surrounding countryside, Tikal National Park, Lake Atitlan, and any of the country’s volcanic summits.
8. Where would you take a week-long road trip?
It would be fun to drive a four-wheel drive vehicle between some of the Mayan ruins of the Peten department accessible by road. Start in Flores, and travel to Yaxha, Tikal, Uaxactun and Rio Azul. It might be interesting to retrace the steps of the Camel Trophy, which is a car race using Land Rovers over challenging terrain held between 1980 and 2000. This event was held in this area a few years ago.
9. What are your top three historic sites?
La Antigua Guatemala as a whole is a gem. Tikal is stunning. The temple pyramids at El Mirador are impressive for their sheer size, though access is extremely difficult, involving a two-day trek from the nearest village along swampy terrain.