We recently returned from two weeks vacation split equally between Belize and Guatemala. After spending the first week in a jungle lodge an hour or so outside of St. Ignacio, we hired a driver to take us from St. Ignacio across the border and on to Flores airport. The border crossing was easy, you need 20Q to get into Guatemala, we were through the immigration process and across the border in under 10 mins.
We took the TAG flight from Flores to GC, one thing to consider, we were told by the driver we should be at the airport 2 hours before the flight, this is unneccessary, there is absolutely nothing to do at the airport and almost all other passengers turned up with an hour or less before take off. Try to get a private driver to pick you up at the TAG terminal in GC, again there is nothing there, they bring your luggage to the front door of the office, there were no taxis available and everyone had private transport waiting for them.
We had rented a private house just outside of San Marcos on Lake Atitlan. The owner had recommended a driver which we used and he sorted us out with a boat across from Pana. The drive was safe on good roads, some beautiful countryside which you really don't want to miss. We found the house on VRBO.com, there were numerous properties on the website for all regions in Guatemala, many have reviews on the site or can also be found on tripadvisor.
The lake is a beautiful place, waking up each morning looking out over the lake with the volancoes in the background was amazing. We spent a day with a tour guide visiting some of the local villages. San Juan was the best town in our opinion, very relaxed, clean, friendly, full of local artists. Pedro, the tour guide, was incredibly knowledgeable and knew many of the locals who would spend time telling us about their lives and the local area. We also visited Santiago, Santa Cruz, San Pedro and Pana (as well as San Marcos in our own time). When in San Juan, you cannot fail to see the art galleries but it is also worth a call into the woman's institute place where they make a whole range of items from tableclothes, to bags, baskets etc from local materials by hand, all of excellent quality.
In addition to the village tour we did a lake kayaking tour, bit more energentic this one but we found it interesting to be able to get a view of the houses and villages from the lake. We also did the short hike from Santa Cruz to San Marcos (a guide is really needed here) and it was amazing to see a group of local women carrying a massive amount of firewood on their heads up and down some crazy trails and at speeds we found hard to match. The locals really are hard working down there, made us think we need to stop complaining about our desk jobs.
We visited the Chichicastenango market with the same tour company as a private tour, again Pedro was able to take us around and explain all the different areas, while letting us know when it was appropriate to take photographs. We also walked up to the mask museum where the owner gave an interesting account of the history surrounding the masks and their meaning to the Mayan community. He also advised us that a Mayan ceremony was taking place at the top of the hill behind the museum, which we walked up and watched.
As San Marcos was our local village we spent a number of evenings at the various restaurants there, my wife went for a massage at the holistic centre and said it was fantastic. The town was a little "hippy" for me but all the restaurants served excellent food, portions are massive so you won't starve! My only real complaint about the town was the number of stray dogs, they were everywhere, never really bothered us if we ignored them but they just seemed to be everywhere.
We spent the last couple of nights in Antigua, stayed at the Hotel Cirilo which is fantastic, highly recommend it. It is about a 10min walk from the town centre but we did this both day and night and had no issues what so ever. On our last day the central american presidents were in town but the security let us walk freely down the road where they were getting out of the cars, and everyone was very friendly.
Overall we were extremely pleased we decided to visit Guatemala, the locals could not have been more friendly, there is an interesting culture and history which they were more than happy to share with us. I would highly recommend anyone to visit but just caution that you should be respectful of the locals and their day to day lives.
Many question the safey of going to Guatemala but we didn't see anything that would cause concern. I am sure if you go looking for trouble you will find it easily but that is the same in most countries. We just enjoyed ourselves while being sensible, we never carried more cash than we were willing to lose if something did happen, we went out most nights but would call it quits by about 11, we had a couple of drinks but didn't go crazy and in most cases got Tuk Tuks if it was dark.
If anyone is interested, the guide we used was called Pedro, he owns the company and his brothers are the other tour guides. Here is a link to the company website http://www.tours-atitlan.com/. Our Spanish isn't great but they all had excellent English, Pedro knows everything about the local villages as well as knowing many of the locals. His company spreads the work around the local villages so all benefit, for example he takes different tour groups to different art galleries each day so that all get some business and on one occassion he hired a boat from Santiago to shuttle us between villages and then took a public boat home to ensure the Santiago boat owner got the business.
Hopefully this has been helpful, great place, great culture, great rum!!