Frumpy Mom: Why I went to Guatemala

I just got back from Guatemala, which – for those of you who don’t keep up – is a small Central American country with beautiful rainforests and many descendants of the ancient Mayan Empire.

Lots of people have frowned at me since I first revealed this plan and asked me, “Why are you going to Guatemala?” in the same tone of voice they’d use to ask me why I bought a Hyundai. (Just kidding. I didn’t really buy a Hyundai.)

I became familiar with that question when we went to Thailand a number of years ago.

See, most Americans find it almost impossible to fathom making the effort to visit any country that doesn’t…

A. Have at least 847 package tours departing for its shores every day, including ones taken by your neighbors who had a good time.

B. Promises the offer of fresh pasta or rich French sauces every night for dinner, accompanied by local wine or beer.

C. Has a simple local currency that’s easy to negotiate, like Euros that can be spent all over Europe without changing any bills, or British pounds that can be spent in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

D. Offers the chance to view (at least momentarily until you get back on the bus) 12 instantly recognizable landmarks that will look good in photos when you stand in front of them, like the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben or the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

E. Provides immediate bragging rights when you get home, i.e. “Yes, here are our photos of the trip that you’ll never be able to take, so look at them and envy us.”

Some of you have been on Mediterranean cruises – even Disney Mediterranean cruises – and earned multiple bragging rights to many of these countries, plus the Disney thing, too.

But as you know, I’m a weirdo. And a cheapskate. I’ve been to Europe and the U.K. It’s frickin’ expensive. And full of (gasp) other American tourists. If I wanted to see other Americans, I’d just stay home and water my lawn. My neighbors walk past me with their dogs.

I like to go to exotic places where there’s no McDonald’s on every corner, the American tourist quotient is low and the exchange rate is good. Meaning, it’s cheap for us to go there. If I can use my bad high school Spanish to order a beer, that’s even better.

These days, the No. 1 deciding factor in any trip I take is whether or not I can get a killer airfare. We tried to go to Guatemala two years ago with cheap airfare, but the flights got canceled. This time, we got a $193 roundtrip airfare, which is about a third of the usual price. So of course I had to go.

I’ll probably pass on Iran right now and Russia. Otherwise, though, I’m buying those seats.

That’s why we went to Greece last year – because we went for $600 in August, which is half the usual fare. The fact that it’s always been on my bucket list only added to the appeal. Plus, I could eat Greek food every day.

Is it cheap for Americans? Then I probably want to go there. The exchange rate for U.S. dollars versus Guatemalan quetzales is strongly in our favor, so your money goes a lot further. For me, that means I can stay in places that I could only long for at home.

For example, we stayed at a beautiful resort on stunning Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands for around $100 a night. It was carved out of a former coffee plantation and had a warm infinity pool, sweeping lawns, gorgeous landscaping, a small lakefront beach, free breakfast on the lawn and utter tranquillity, with the rainforest all around us. I would expect to pay many times that for the same type of place here.

While my companions tromped off to hike through the nature preserve next door, seeing waterfalls and butterflies, I pulled on my swimsuit and spent hours just soaking in the pool, watching the volcanoes that ring this picturesque lake.

When I got good and sunburned, I pulled out my book and read in the shade, drinking a local beer and feeling all the stress leaving my body.

In the colonial city of Antigua – considered by many the most beautiful in Central America – we stayed at Posada San Sebastian, a small antique-filled hotel with a fountain courtyard for $75 a night. I felt like a princess climbing into my gorgeous bed every night. My friends marched around the town on cobblestone streets, seeing the many colonial sights, while I chilled out in the sunny courtyard, enjoying the fantasy of being in the 18th century.

Yes, as you know if you’re a regular reader, I brought my walker and used it every day. I’d hired Pablo Chumil of Mayaland Adventure Travel to help me get around, and he made sure everywhere we went I could walk easily, or a van could get me there. No problems whatsoever. Not even when we went to the Sumpango Kite Festival, which is one of the most remarkable events I’ve ever attended. People visit from all over Central America. And it’s free.

Guatemala also has the only remaining living Mayan communities, which still speak one of the 28 Mayan languages and wear traditional clothing. As a fan of Mayan archeological sites, this was fascinating. We saw several.

We had a marvelous time with Pablo and his staff, and I recommend getting outside the package-tour-American box and try something new. If you do, let me know how it goes.

Related links

Frumpy Mom: Life here is hard. So I’m going to Guatemala
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