This blog typically is directed at all things Costa Rica however I had the unique opportunity to spend a week in Guatemala (a neighboring central american country to the north of Costa Rica). This is part one of a series of posts that will cover my week long trip.
A lot of people assume all countries in this part of the world are all alike: poor, underdeveloped, politically unstable, hurricane prone etc. Having lived in Costa Rica awhile now I would like to share some differences I noticed between the two countries. (note: In Guatemala I spent half my time as a tourist and the other half as part of a mission team working in rural impoverished communities).
1. Guatemala has cheap tours (compared to Costa Rica). I wanted to cry. I spent two nights in Antigua, Guatemala, a UNESCO heritage site and probably the most touristy city in Guatemala yet I felt like everything was a steal in comparison to Costa Rica. They had many tours that were outrageously cheap. Volcano hikes, boat trips, bungee jumping, and just plain old market shopping where you could find prices half of what they would be in Costa Rica. I looked dumbfounded at the price sheet and not in a million years could I offer tours that cheap. We went to hike a volcano and had round trip transfer (1hr each way), park entrance, and tour guide all for about $15 a person. A tour like that runs about $30 in Costa Rica not including transportation.
2. Costa Rica I think has better bang for its buck than Guatemala. Sure you pay a little more but you get friendly, outgoing, English speaking drivers/guides. I’m not saying that Guatemalans are mean or unfriendly but they are more timid in nature. You as the tourist have to initiate conversations with them and once they feel comfortable with you they will start to open up and tell you all about their country. You should also know a little bit of Spanish as the English is not as good as it is in Costa Rica. Our guide gave a huge sigh of relief when she found out everyone in our volcano hike group spoke some Spanish. I don’t think the tour would have been as engaging if they would have had to speak English. I also wasn’t that impressed with some of the nicer restaurants I went to in Antigua.
I complain a lot sometimes about restaurant food in Costa Rica being expensive however I have a theory. Despite being expensive the portion sizes are enormous. I think restaurants raise their prices and then justify it by serving more food which I think is fair so really my gripe is not with the price but rather with how they are encouraging an obesity epidemic. I didn’t feel the same in Antigua.
One nice restaurant that I went to and ordered a cheeseburger that was about the size of a typical kid’s meal burger and I got some french fries that were good but I only got about half that I would get at any Costa Rican restaurant. On top of that the rum and coke I got tasted quite watered down and was served in a glass slightly larger than a shot glass. For full disclosure purposes I should note that we received a 10% discount to eat at this restaurant because it was owned by the hotel we were staying at. So technically we were “recommended” this restaurant, however it may have been a desperation tactic to get people just to eat at their restaurant.
The best overall meal price-for-quality had to have been a pizza that I got at a fast food joint in Antigua. It was pretty decent pizza that I got for about half of what I would normally pay in Costa Rica. Actually, I got a medium supreme pizza and 2 pepsis for the same price as my kid’s burger and half fries from the previous restaurant.
These were some observations from the tourist part of my trip and are not meant to be generalizations about the country as a whole, just my little piece of Antigua and the surrounding area. Stay tuned for upcoming posts comparing the culture, economy, weather, sanitation/health, infrastructure etc of Guatemala and Costa Rica!
Now some pic comparisons: