We recently returned from a short, week-long trip to the beautiful Guatemala (or Guate, as the locals like to call it!). This was our first international trip with our daughter, who was 14 months at the time of traveling. I am excited to share about both our experience visiting Antigua and Lake Atitlán, as well as a few tips for traveling with a young toddler!
Upon telling family and friends about our trip, one of the first questions we got asked was, “Why Guatemala?” For us, this decision came down to three main things. We wanted:
- A destination we had not yet been
- To travel somewhere warm
- A realistic flight scenario traveling with a 14-month-old
Guatemala checked all boxes! It also came highly recommended by family and friends who had already been AND is known to be a kid-friendly destination.
From our home in Madison, Wisconsin, we took one short flight to Chicago and then had a direct flight from Chicago to Guatemala. This flight was 4.5 hours.
When traveling internationally, you must fly into Guatemala City. Upon arrival, we arranged private transportation with our Airbnb to pick us up from the airport and take us directly to our first destination in Antigua. It is recommended to fly into Guatemala City during the day and for families traveling with young kids, my research showed that leaving the city as soon as possible was probably the safest and easiest option.
Our first stop was the charming and historic city of Antigua! Depending on traffic, it is a 1-2 hour drive from the airport. Given we had just one week in country, we only visited two cities as to have realistic expectations of what our daughter could handle.
We spent 3 total days in Antigua and it certainly was plenty of time! We walked the city and visited LOTS of coffee shops and restaurants. If you didn’t already know, Guatemala is quite famous for its coffee! We loved our slow days enjoying what food and drink the city had to offer. Some favorites included:
- Los Tres Tiempos — we had a wonderful breakfast here and the service was incredible
- Fernando’s Kaffee — our favorite coffee of the whole trip
- Luna de Miel — famous for crêpes
- Cactus Taco Shop — delicious Mexican
- Ta’Cool Taco Shop — more delicious Mexican, especially the gorditas!
- Chermol — top notch atmosphere; there is a brewery, restaurant, shops, fire pit, and gardens all in one! Amazing hangout for adults and kids alike!
- Antigua Brewing — favorite beer stop of the trip
One afternoon we walked the Cerro de la Cruz which takes you to a gorgeous viewpoint of the city. It is a fairly easy and short trek for the view! I was able to do it in sandals and a dress, and Caleb carried our daughter in the baby carrier.
On our final day in Antigua, we took a half day tour to hike Pacaya Volcano. Guatemala is filled with volcanoes and there are a few just outside Antigua. I believe Pacaya is the smallest volcano and it is also an active volcano! We left our Airbnb at 2:00 PM and returned to the city around 8:30 PM. Again, Caleb carried our daughter in the baby carrier for the entirety of the trek (~4 hours) and she did great! We are SO glad we did this little excursion as the scenery was extremely unique and breathtaking. We were even able to roast marshmallows at the top, where the rocks emit heat from the lava flowing below!
Lastly, we LOVED our Airbnb in Antigua so I’m going to link it here. It was beautiful and such a fabuous location — so close to EVERYTHING! The “yard” and small pool were great entertainment for our daughter and for us while she napped!
Our second stop came highly recommended by my brother-in-law and it did not disappoint! Lake Atitlán is a large freshwater lake surrounded by three volcanoes, about three hours from Antigua. For this drive, we also used private transportation which was again arranged by our Airbnb host. Most travelers drive to the main village of Panajachel and then take a boat to their respective village, however our host encouraged us to take the road directly to her home considering all of our luggage. I will make note that once you are in the lake region, the roads are VERY curvy so if you struggle with motion sickness, it may be a good idea to have some medicine on hand!
In Lake Atitlán, we chose a “fully stocked” Airbnb because we wanted a place we could simply hang out at with our family and be totally content. Jean’s home was absolutely INCREDIBLE (the reviews speak for themselves!), so I’m going to link this one as well. It is right on the water so you can walk to the beach/dock and easily get a boat that will take you to any of the other villages! There was also a pool that we ALL loved and the home, with stunning rooftop terrace(!), is perfect for families with kids. Last but certainly not least, the property is like one gigantic garden which certainly made my heart sing : )
There are several villages around the lake that you can stay in or visit; our Airbnb was in San Marcos La Laguna. I’m SO glad we stayed here because we loved the vibe of San Marcos. It is super chill with lots of lovely restaurants and cafes. Our favorites were Circles Cafe & Bakery (you MUST get the chocolate croissant!) and NECTAR ArtCafe.
Truthfully, we didn’t “do” that much in Lake Atitlán; our days were filled with swimming, reading, kayaking, taking in the sights, and relaxation. We stayed here for three days as well, and one of the days we did take a boat to the village of San Juan. This village is known for its textiles and weaving, especially for the pieces created in the women’s cooperatives. Here we walked around the village, explored, and again, had more coffee and eats!
Traveling in Guatemala with a Young Toddler
As I shared in the beginning of this post, this was our first international trip with our daughter so please be aware, I am no expert! However, I would say that overall, we had a very successful trip and I am always happy to share what worked for us — and what didn’t!
Our flight to Guatemala was a resounding success as our daughter slept for most of it. Takeoff was at a good time for her usual nap and my husband strapped her in the baby carrier so she could sleep securely and he could have free hands! Our flight home, on the other hand, did not line up as ideally with her nap and, needless to say, it was an extremely challenging flight. She didn’t sleep at all and was very, very fussy for the entirety of the 4.5 hours.
Each time, we boarded the flight last as to keep our seat time to a minimum. We did not buy an extra seat for our daughter so she was on one of our laps. We packed lots of books and toys, new activities, LOTS of snacks, and had a few kid shows downloaded on the iPad as a last resort. Google will give you lots of ideas for plane-friendly activities to keep them occupied! Remember that you can bring an extra diaper bag for free as a parent traveling with a young child. We also brought an umbrella stroller that we would check at each gate; this was really helpful to have while moving about the airport.
TRAVEL IN GUATEMALA
Car seats are hard to come by in Guate so we brought an older one with us. This worked well overall with private transportation being our main mode of travel between cities. On our final trip to the airport for our flight home, we asked our driver if he wanted to keep the car seat and he was very excited to be able to use it for his grandson!
In both Antigua and Lake Atitlán, using a stroller isn’t really a possibility due to the bumpy roads. We baby wore our daughter everywhere we went.
Every child and family lifestyle is different, of course! Our daughter is generally used to a pretty routine schedule and as a result, we tried to plan any long car rides or travel in conjunction with her naps. We also made it a priority to ensure she was able to nap every day and get to bed on or around her usual bedtime. Sure, our trip was much different than when we’ve traveled without her but in our experience, it was much more enjoyable this way as she was always in a really good mood : ) It made experiencing new things with her really fun! Choosing spacious and well-located Airbnb’s allowed us to relax and savor our time in Guatemala, even when it was time for her to sleep! We made sure to book places where she could have our own room (and hence — so could we!) and we brought her sound machine, portable crib, and sleepsack to create a sense of normalcy for her.
Overall, we had a wonderful time visiting Guate! If you choose to visit the country, I would highly recommend brushing up on your Spanish as hardly any locals know or speak English. It is a very warm and welcoming country with beautiful scenery and delicious food! At the end of the day, it wasn’t our favorite trip we’ve ever taken but maybe that’s because we weren’t able to explore the country to its “full” potential due to our little sidekick ; ) Either way, we are so grateful for the opportunity to travel and explore this big, beautiful world we live in. Until next time!