There are millions of places to choose from to get your ticket to Panajachel. We found one for US$20pp, then $15pp and finally the day before crossed into one that advertised $11pp. We booked 3 tickets with my 2-year-old son free, as long as he sat on our lap.
They picked us up from our house at 8am in a small minivan. Mia and Caius shared a seat, while Josh and I had our own. The bus was full, but not packed.
The drive was harrowing with all it’s twists and turns through the mountains of Guatemala. It might have been a deadly drive, but it also gave us the most breath-taking views and we enjoyed the scenic landscape.
We had to request a toilet stop for my 4-year-old daughter and other then that the driver powered through dropping us off at our hotel in Panajachel before 11am.
Where to stay
We had a friend of a friend organize us to stay at the Posada Don Rodrigo. It is at the end of the popular market street Calle Salender right on the lake. We paid US$105 per night for the first 2 nights and when we asked to stay a third night (a Friday, no less) we managed to bargain them down to $100 including breakfast.
The hotel is a beautiful place. The room was going to be a squish with one double bed and one single bed, but it was laid out beautifully. Wooden furniture, rich fabrics, beautiful wooden shutters.
Overlooking the lake, they had a restaurant, pool and waterslide much to the delight of my children who spent every day (except the day we were at the waterpark) sliding down its blue snaky curves.
The grounds were beautiful with employees working on the trees and flowers. The restaurant had a delicious breakfast, not cheap by Panajachel prices (other places had Q25 per person for breakfast), but very cheap by Western standards (Q50 per person, about AUD$6).
The first night was dreadful, on the neighboring property there was a church group having a very loud concert, which went on till 11:45pm, at least that’s when I drifted off to some silence. However the following two nights were beautifully still and silent.
Where to eat
We had some recommendations from friends and some places we choose on our own.
Chianti’s Asian kitchen was not bad, but not great either. We chose it because it had the cutest little set up with blankets and teddies lounging around.
Lazzerinos was recommended, but I could not rate their pasta or lasagna, which was pre-cooked and merely warmed up - a bit dry and tasteless. The pizza was actually quite good and the salad was huge and fresh.
The Chinese store closest to us was the best Chinese we’ve had in Central America, especially after the dreadful stuff we ate in Belize. Sweet and sour pork and chicken cashew were on the menu. Not as good as Asia, but satisfactory and much cheaper than Australia.
Giojidini Uruguay was another recommendation and became our favourite. I had shish kebabs with vegetables and potatoes and it was delicious. Josh’s chicken parmigana was delicious and the kids’ spag bol was a hit as well – 3 out of 3, hooray! Excellent prices as well.
There was plenty of street food that popped up in the evenings from tacos to hamburgers and a lot more. We stopped by for some lemon meringue pie at AUD$1 a slice and it was delicious.
The street our hotel was on was lined with markets, almost like a Bali meets Antigua. There are also many mini-marts and it seemed nearly every second store was a travel agent. I believe there are over 45 on that one strip.
Haggling is of course customary in the markets with set pricing in the mini-markets.
We never made it to the market, but we did see it a few times from the comfort confines of our tuktuk and have friends who love to shop there.
How to get back to Antigua
The day before or even on the day simply visit any travel agency and book one of the 3 departure shuttles that head back to Antigua. We booked the 4pm for US$12pp, with my 2-year-old free.
Our bus was different to the one we arrived on, much bigger and looked like we were the last collection as well. But there was lots of room with everyone having 2 seats to themselves.
During our ride I got plenty of writing done, as I always do when having no access to the distraction of wifi and Facebook.
Half way through our journey the bus stopped at a restaurant in Tecpan. It was a ranch-style restaurant, the bathroom offered a little kids toilet and basin and outside a wonderful playground with trampoline, slides, swings, fort and even a tractor.
After a play and toilet break we were back on the bus heading home, or rather back to Antigua for 5 more nights. We loved Panajachel and it’s beautiful lake and definitely would love to come back to stay longer next time.