Maupin Travel owners Trevor and Jordan Smith went in November to Guatemala to live for a month. Jordan shares some thoughts about what worked and what didn’t when staying for that long and traveling with children.
We decided to test the limits of family travel and homeschool, and took our six kids (ages eight months to ten years) to Guatemala for the month of November. We rented a house in the colonial town of Antigua, and made weekend excursions to Lake Atitlan, Tikal Maya ruins, and a toy factory in Honduras. When not traveling, we took Spanish classes, toured local farms, and visited every ice cream shop in town!
Our kids mastered the supermarket, learned when to call an Uber versus hail a tuk-tuk, and practiced sorting macadamia nuts and picking coffee berries. We can’t recommend Antigua more highly to anyone wanting a Latin American adventure — with or without kids!
We rented a house in Antigua, and couldn’t have been more pleased with the town. The cobblestone streets and exterior of every building downtown are historic and beautiful. Because of the threat of earthquakes, most buildings are one-story, and the walls are about four feet thick. Vibrant colors, and beautiful wood doors.
Each restaurant, house, and hotel is built around an open-air courtyard. As our 6-year-old said about our house, “There aren’t any doors to the outside.” And the views from everywhere are incredible! Three volcanoes are always in view, one of which sends up a plume of smoke every five minutes. We watched it from bed every morning with our earliest riser.
We loved living in a walkable downtown. Most mornings, one of us went with a child to pick up banana bread and coffee around the corner. Each afternoon, we walked the oldest three across town to Spanish class, and on the way home, they would buy a bag of fresh sliced fruit from a woman on our street corner, usually with salt or spices sprinkled on top. And at night when the kids were down, Trevor and I frequently popped out for a drink down the block. I think we went on more dates in that month than we did the whole year prior!
On a typical day, we did school and work at home in the morning. We traveled with a nanny, so we were able to leave the youngest three with her in the afternoon, while we took the older three to their Spanish lessons and did some work ourselves nearby. There are loads of great cafes and restaurants around town.
There are also a number of great farms outside of town, which are an easy Uber ride away. We toured a coffee Finca, macadamia nut farm, and organic farm/restaurant, and ran out of time to see several others. The most outdoorsy we got was a hike up Pacaya Volcano, but the tour provider we used (Old Town Outfitters) offers several more rigorous biking and backpacking trips outside of town.
We also toured some local schools via Ninos de Guatemala and saw two local businesses: a “chicken bus” factory and a coffin making woodshop.
Weekend Trip: Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America, surrounded by virtually untouched volcanic mountains. The area retains a robust Mayan culture and is dotted by small villages, each with their own personality and craft, such as weaving, ceramics, or leatherwork.
Because we are such a large group, we hired private transportation whenever we had a road trip or needed to get to the airport in Guatemala City. The two-hour drive from Antigua to Panajachel was in great condition, but full of hairpin turns. We discovered which of our family members gets motion sickness and found some Dramamine before our return trip!
Hotel Atitlan, just outside of Panajachel, was fabulous. We swam in the heated pool every day and befriended the parrot Matilda, who lived outside of our room and greeted us with a loud “Hola!” every morning. Both days, we took a “lancha” (water taxi) about 20 minutes across the lake to different towns. The first day the whole family took a walking tour of San Juan la Laguna with a wonderful local Maya guide. We chatted with an artist in her studio, participated in a demonstration of cotton cloth making at a women’s weaving cooperative, and visited a naturopathic garden.
The second day, we took a cooking class with the older three kids, which couldn’t have been more perfect. Anita runs a cooking school upstairs in her house and was a gracious and engaging host to our young crew. We met her at the docks and decided which traditional dishes we would learn to make before collecting our ingredients at the local market (where she appeared to know everyone and chat in passing in one of the local Maya dialects). We returned to her beautiful open-air kitchen terrace where we chopped, snacked, cooked, and drank hand-squeezed lemonade.
Weekend Trip: Tikal, Maya Ruins
One weekend, we took a one-hour flight north to Flores. Our hotel could be accessed by road (45 mins from the airport, half of which was a dirt road) or by boat, about 20 minutes. La Lancha, a Coppola Family Hideaway, was a real gem. We stayed in two adjoining casitas in a hillside jungle.
Each morning the kids would lie in hammocks on the porch writing in their journals and drinking hot chocolate. The small staff at the restaurant couldn’t be kinder; they learned our kids’ names and didn’t seem bothered when we let a very tired 4-year-old fall asleep on a nearby couch during dinner. You could access the waterfront by funicular (open-air gondola) or 130 stairs. We did some canoeing and waged some fierce paddleboard battles against one another.
We arranged our tour of the ruins through the resort, and our guide was incredible. I wish we could have spent all day with him. He was incredibly knowledgeable of the history and wildlife and tailored our time to the kids perfectly. At sunset, we sat on a platform above one of the palaces in silence as we watched birds flit across the canopy and listened to howler monkeys beneath.
Tegu: Wooden Toy Company in Tegucigalpa, Honduras