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Looking for a genuine Mayan cultural experience - Advice?

Boston...
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Looking for a genuine Mayan cultural experience - Advice?

Hello,

Tomorrow night I'm heading to Guatemala with my boyfriend and plan to spend most of our time in Antigua and on / around Lake Atitlan. Sadly, we won't be able to make it to any of the most notable sites for Mayan Ruins but I am really hoping to have a less-touristic cultural experience while we're there. Are there any really great private tours, villages we should spend a day / night in, or other experiences that aren't too many hours away from Lake Atitlan or Antigua? Thanks in advanced for the advice!

Central America
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1. Re: Looking for a genuine Mayan cultural experience - Advice?

Fortunately in Guate, you are never very far from authentic experiences. While tourism is a significant industry, you don't see much in Guate which is fabricated just for tourists...the beauty and reality of Guatemala are sufficient. Guatemalans are typically open and friendly so getting to know them is easy (indigenous in some areas may be a bit more guarded). The majority of the population, especially in the W highlands are Mayan, so lots of opportunites to see and experience Mayan culture.

In some popular places like Panajachel (Pana-hell) and Chichicastenango you will get hassled by street vendors a lot, but even that is not common in most of Guate. Chichicastenango, despite the hordes of tourists who show up for the market and the feeding frenzy that results, can be an amazing experience if you avoid popular tourist times. Go early or late on an off day and its a totally different experience. We stayed in Chichi once for several days, made some local friends, became familiar to the hawkers so they mostly left us alone...and had an amazing time. Chichi is rich in Mayan culture and history, but is best experienced without hundreds of other tourists there.

Around Lake Atitlan the smaller less popular villages are mostly Mayan population and very authentic (the names escape me at the moment, but hopefully others will post them). Santiago Atitlan is larger, but mostly Mayan population, and much less touristy than Panajachel. For a taste of something iniquely Guatemalan, visit the shrine of Maximon, this dark saint is a strange hybrid of traditions. You will find smaller Maximon shrines in some other villages too.

The local mercados are the hub of activity for any village/town in Guate. Not the mercados that sell souvenirs to tourists, but the market where the locals buy their produce amd staple goods. Seek those out and visit them, ideally on their busiests days, for an immersion experience in local culture. Ask questions and buy stuff (even if you don't need it...give it to someone who does)...its a great way to interact with the locals. Chichi for example has a huge produce mercado where tourists never go...we were the only anglos there even on busy tourist days.

Boston...
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2. Re: Looking for a genuine Mayan cultural experience - Advice?

Thank you for this incredibly thorough response! I will take your advice and go to the markets in Chichi on off days. I'm really looking forward to the trip - thank you again for the generous response.

Bethesda, MD
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3. Re: Looking for a genuine Mayan cultural experience - Advice?

On my visit to the lake this summer, I visited the market in Solola. It's a (mostly) produce market, strictly for locals. From the dock in Panajachel, I took two chicken buses to get there. On returning, I walked as far as the mirador - this is a far longer walk than I realized, and I regretted doing it because I was sore for days afterward - and then I took a pickup back to Pana from there. Except for the mirador, I didn't see another foreigner the whole time.

Solola market: tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g1087643-d…

The bus from Pana to Solola was 3Q, and another 1Q for the bus from the park in Solola to the market. The pickup was 3Q from the mirador; I waved it down as it was going by; you shouldn't expect that they would stop there. You could also negotiate with a taxi for a price to Pana.

Central America
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4. Re: Looking for a genuine Mayan cultural experience - Advice?

De Nada.

Enjoy Guate, it is an amazing country.

Be sure and post how it goes for you.

Boston...
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5. Re: Looking for a genuine Mayan cultural experience - Advice?

Very good idea - thank you for your input! I think we'll head there and hike over from Santa Cruz like some of the posts suggest. Really appreciate all the advice :)

Houston, Texas
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6. Re: Looking for a genuine Mayan cultural experience - Advice?

I second that Solola is a good place. I stayed with a local family I met through couchsurfing and it was awesome. They lived high up in a mountain and ate very simple meals. The views of Lake Atitlan from there had no comparison.

7. Re: Looking for a genuine Mayan cultural experience - Advice?

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