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Recap: Group Trip to Guatemala

Written by
Francisco Gonzalez
December 29, 2022
Fearless Journeys members connected with entrepreneurs across Guatemala during our December 2022 group trip.

The Fearless Journeys community hosted its third official group trip to Guatemala from December 2-10, 2022. When these trips started in November 2021, we brought our group around the country for six nights. In April, we took a second group around the country for 7 nights. This time, the trip was extended to 8 nights. And when we concluded the trip, the entire group agreed that the trip would be even better at 9 nights!

As the leader of this community, I have to say that the verdict is clear: people simply do not want to leave Guatemala! Over 35 people have now traveled to Guatemala since I started living there in 2021. Almost all of them came for the first time. Everyone immediately falls in love. I now travel back a few times during the year to bring so many people together on these trips. I simply enjoy watching each person's reactions as they enjoy many of their first moments here. They are just amazed by everything and it makes the entire experience so worth it and really fulfilling.

It is no wonder. Between the incredible people, the landscapes and landmarks, the delicious food and culinary experiences, the history and culture, and the many adventurous things to do, Guatemala seems to have it all.

On day 3 of our most recent trip in December 2022, while we were enjoying lunch with the Reyes-Mendez family on their huge San Patricio coffee finca, one member of our group, Travis Horn, offered some reflections.

It was already apparent to him that Guatemala, and its people, are much different in reality than the “idea” an outsider like him might have previously had about it. This is why travel is so important.

Travis said, “Too many people have an unrealistic view of the world. They need to get out here.”’ Another traveler said that, "The Guatemalan people are very warm and welcoming. They are very hardworking and family oriented."

While there are many ways to travel, what makes Fearless Journeys so unique are the experiences we have with local people, including entrepreneurs from various pathways.

As the founder & CEO of Fearless Journeys, I continue to interview many entrepreneurs through my Agents of Innovation podcast. Earlier this year, I released 10 consecutive episodes that were part of a “Guatemala Series” of the Agents of Innovation podcast.

On this particular trip to Guatemala, our travelers had the opportunity to directly interact and share experiences with 7 of those guests, including:

  • Diego Jarquin, chef & owner of Restaurante Kabel in Guatemala City
  • Jake Denburg, chef & owner of Jakes Restaurant in Guatemala City
  • Beto Reyes, co-founder & owner of San Patricio coffee and Mayor of Palencia
  • Pierre Ouddane, founder & owner of Piedras Surf Shop in Guatemala City
  • Maria Sofia Castillo, co-founder & CEO of Core Code in Guatemala City
  • Alex Kronick, founder & owner of Caoba Farms in Antigua
  • Fernando Arias, founder & owner of Fernando’s Kaffee in Antigua

In addition, the group was able to get an inside view of the Universidad Francisco Marroquin, a free-market university in the heart of Guatemala City. UFM empowers students with an entrepreneurial mindset. Celebrating 51 years, the university is perhaps the most respected and admired educational institution in the country.

During our visit, we learned the history and impact that UFM is having in Guatemala, from one of its former presidents, Fernando Monterroso. We were welcomed by Carolina Uribe, director of the Kirzner Center for Entrepreneurship. And, we were given a private tour of the campus by Luis Figueroa, who also shared with us a history of money and monetary policy in Guatemala. He guided us through the Popol Vuh museum of Mayan and Spanish colonial artifacts, which is housed on the UFM campus.

The day at UFM concluded with a private lunch with one UFM alum, Maria Sofia Castillo, the co-founder and CEO of Core Code; as well as with three current UFM students who are at the university on a very selective academic scholarship.

One of our travelers here observed that "Guatemelans love their country and want to stay and help improve conditions for their people. This was reinforced by listening to the students from the university as well as the many owners and families we spoke with."

During our time in Guatemala City, we visited the Plaza de la Constitución, toured the Cathedral of Guatemala City, shopped at the Central Market, stopped at the El Portal Restaurant and Bar (made famous by a young and idealistic Che Guevara), and took in a performance of a Beatles cover band at Trova Jazz. We also shopped and dined at the newest and most modern area of the city, Ciudad Cayala.

Our culinary experiences in Guatemala City included a welcome night dinner at Restaurante Kabel with its head chef and owner Diego Jarquin; we also had a similar dining experience with Jake Denburg at his establishment, Jakes Restaurant in the La Estacion shopping complex in Zone 10.

A few of our travelers even took a couple hours of their Saturday to check out The Curanto Club cigar lounge and the Atte Coffeehouse in the city’s hip Zone 4.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was a one-hour drive outside of Guatemala City to the San Patricio El Limon coffee finca in Palencia, where the Fearless Journeys group was given a private tour through the coffee finca, which includes plenty of traveling around fun mountain roads. The patriarch of the family, Beto Reyes (who is also the mayor of Palencia), sat down with the group for a half hour discussion, while one of his sons and one of his daughters took us on a tour around the finca. The day concluded over lunch with the Reyes-Mendez family at their home, with Beto’s wife serving us a wonderful home-cooked meal, the national dish of Guatemala, the chicken soup.

The group also spent three nights at beautiful Lake Atitlan, with lodging at the iconic Hotel Atitlan, which offers spectacular views of the lake, the volcanoes that surround it, all from the hotel’s restaurant, luscious gardens, pool, and hot tub.

We also visited the villages of Panajachel, San Juan La Laguna, San Marcos La Laguna, and Santa Catarina Palopo. We spent one day aboard a private boat on the lake, which took us to several villages, while allowing us to take in the landscapes and an iconic sunset over the lake. In the village of San Juan, we visited Casa Flor Ixcaco, a co-op of 34 indigenous women entrepreneurs. We were treated to a weaving demonstration by one of the women, Delfina, and then had the opportunity to shop for great gifts woven by the women.

We hiked through the Atitlan Nature Reserve, the entrance of which was just a 7-minute walk from our hotel. We experienced waterfalls and suspension bridges, which we did by foot. One member of our group, Marc Urbainczyk, was extra fearless and did the zipline high above the nature reserve, with amazing views of Lake Atitlan.

The next day, we went to the nature reserve in the village of San Marcos, where two of our travelers, Marc and Travis, joined their “fearless” leader (me, Francisco) to jump off the “Trampolin,” which is situated about 36 feet high, into the refreshing waters of Lake Atitlan.

Our culinary experience that day also included an experience at La Casa Zapote, an artisanal cheese and meats restaurant, hidden in the woods of San Marcos. It takes about a 30-minute hike from the moment we are dropped off on the dock to the moment the doors open to a sliver of paradise at this private estate. Reservations and a good sense of adventure required!

We also had an amazing culinary experience at Casa Palopo, above the village of Santa Catarina Palopo. We arrived early before sunset, because it has one of the best views of Lake Atitlan you will see and December is one of the best times of  the year for an amazing Guatemalan sunset. The colors in the sky constantly change as the sun goes down over the lake and behind the volcanoes. This prompted one of the members of our group, Travis, to call Lake Atitlan “the most beautiful place on earth.” He added, “I am not prone to exaggeration, but this is incredible.”

Our final 2 nights of the trip were spent in Antigua, Guatemala. This city was first founded by the Spanish in the late 16th century. In 1773, after multiple earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and floods, the Spanish required a force evacuation to what is now Guatemala City. But in the late 19th and early 20th century, people began reinhabiting the “ruined” city of Antigua and restoring it to new glory. Today, it is considered the best city to visit in all of Latin America!

Our first stop was on the edge of the city, at Caoba Farms, where the owner and founder Alex Kronick spent over two hours with us over lunch and then gave us a tour of his farm, helping us learn how he started it. He also talked to us about what we should consider in how we treat food and the environment.

Over the next two days, the group was given plenty of free time to explore Antigua on their own with some strong recommendations provided. Some chose to visit the ruins of Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, the various local markets, Antigua Cigars, and coffee and chocolate shops like Fernando’s Kaffee – where the owner & founder, Fernando Arias, spent time talking with us over lunch and coffee.

On our final full day, we began with breakfast at El Convento boutique hotel (where half of the group stayed) and hiked up to Cerro de la Cruz, to get an amazing view of the city of Antigua and the Agua volcano.

We then spent the rest of the morning at Casa Popenoe, where we had a private tour of the home by its curator, Martin Fernandez Ordinez. Casa Popenoe was first owned and restored by American agronomist Wilson Popenoe, who settled in Guatemala after his long search for the best avocados on earth. This home set the standard for the way in which other homes in Antigua were restored (mostly by foreigners) with elaborate interior courtyards and gardens. To tour Casa Popenoe is to tour all of Antigua. We learn so much here.

Our two other culinary experiences in Antigua included dinners at Restaurante Welten (German-owned) and Como Como (Belgian-owned). Both were wonderful experiences in beautiful settings.

This was a fantastic week to be in Guatemala, as everything was so much extra colorful and magical with Christmas decor, lights, fireworks, music, and plenty of shopping to be had in Guatemala’s Chrstmas markets.

Our finale of the trip took place at a private home that is part of the El Carmen ruins. Thanks to a friend and member of Fearless Journeys, Lissa Hanckel, the group was fortunate to have this experience under the light of a full moon with candles and a bonfire lighting our way forward.

There are many ways to travel. There are many places to travel to. But there is nothing like having a privately guided tour of Guatemala, one in which so many personal and local connections are made.

One of our travelers said this trip had a "great itinerary, well paced, good balance of active and leisurely activities." Another traveler said "The personal attention to each person provided by Francisco along with the many people you meet along the way is pricless. It is amazing that the owners take a lot of time out of their busy day to sit and talk with the group and explain their meals, personal experiences."

After we ate at Jakes Restaurant in Guatemala City, Jake Denburg sent me a text message very early the next morning that read: “Good morning Francisco, great to see you, and thank you for the opportunity to host your group last night! I really enjoyed the diversity and spirit of this chapter of Fearless Journeyers. Well done, and a safe journey.”

I like the way he put that. “This chapter of Fearless Journeyers.” He experienced two previous chapters plus other friends who came to visit me while I was living in Guatemala. He knows there will be more because Fearless Journeys has only just begun to explore Guatemala.

Who’s next?

We are currently making plans to do a repeat of this itinerary with one additional night in Antigua, to make it 9 nights – so that we will have an even 3 nights in each of these places: Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan, and Antigua. We will be hosting another group trip here on November 10-19, 2023. Only 15 spaces are available so we can continue the intimacy of getting to know Guatemala and its people – and our fellow travelers. No one should journey alone. Be sure to join our free newsletter, linked below, so that you can journey with us!

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