Deaf tours in Guatemala are possible and they are a great way to get to know and learn about this beautiful country. This was our experience.
Our Deaf Tour Guide
We found Luis Rendon through his Instagram page. From there we started a conversation through WhatsApp and then email. We let him know the estimated dates that we would be in Guatemala and the areas we wanted to visit. Luis set up an itinerary for us and gave descriptions of each place we’d visit.
We liked that he focused on visiting Deaf and locally-owned businesses. He was also flexible with picking us up and dropping us off in different locations.
Deaf Tours In Guatemala
There are many reasons to visit Guatemala and we were so excited to finally travel there with Mark. We wanted him to love the country as much as we do. But for him to really understand everything we were looking at and visiting, we needed to focus on finding Deaf friendly tourism.
Thanks to Luis and his deaf tours in Guatemala, Mark was able to learn and understand through sign language. And although Guatemalan Sign Language and American Sign Language are different, there are similarities. Luis also knows a lot of American Sign Language.
Fun Fact: There are over 300 sign languages around the world. Even within one country, there can be regional variations.
We spent three days with Luis, visiting different towns and cultural attractions. Below is a breakdown of what we did each day…
Day 1 – Deaf Tour Around Lake Atitlan
Luis picked us up at 6:30 AM in the city of Antigua. The morning was beautiful. The sun was out and there were no clouds so he took us to two spots to take some photos before we left. Clouds often block views of nearby Volcán de Agua so we were happy to get photos with it in the background. We really appreciated Luis’ love of photography and that he took pictures of us together.
After our impromptu photo shoot, we started the drive to Panajachel. It was a windy road that took about 2.5 hours. If you get car sick, we recommend taking some Dramamine beforehand. We stopped once along the way to get pictures of Lake Atitlan from an overlook. It was a good place to see just how big the lake is.
Just before 10 AM, we arrived at our hotel, which Luis had arranged. We dropped off our luggage and had some time to freshen up.
Around 10:20 AM we get on a small boat and traveled south across the lake to the town of Santiago Atitlan. We were there until about noon. During that time, we visited an indigenous family, who dressed us in traditional Mayan clothes. We also quickly got to see a bit of a ceremony for the Mayan folk saint Maximo (no photos were allowed). Afterward, we visited Iglesia Parroquial Santiago Apóstol (Saint James the Apostle Church). Built in 1547, it’s the first Catholic church built by the Spanish at Lake Atitlan. On our way back to the boat, we walked along the town’s main street and did some shopping.
San Juan La Laguna
At 12:20 PM we arrived at the next town on the lake: San Juan La Laguna. This colorful town has become very popular thanks to social media. Although it was raining, we still walked around and took a lot of pictures.
Then we went to Alma de Colores, a labor and social inclusion program for local people with disabilities. They’ve worked with over 26 people, teaching them skills in crafts, sewing, baking, gardening, and catering and dining. We met and had a nice conversation with some of the Deaf employees and bought a handmade bracelet. We also crossed the street and had lunch at their restaurant, where they cook with organic ingredients. When we were looking into Deaf tours in Guatemala, this shop was exactly the kind of place we wanted to visit and support, so we were really happy it was part of our tour.
After lunch, we hiked up to Mirador Kiaq’Aiswaan, a pretty impressive lookout. It was 30 Quetzales (about $3.85) per person and took about 25 minutes to walk up. The climb is definitely worth it. The lookout itself is painted beautifully and you get pretty magnificent views of the lake.
Next, we visited Kemo’ Asociación. This women’s coop makes textiles and they offer free demonstrations. We learned all about the weaving process, from picking the cotton, to dying it with all-natural ingredients, to bundling it, to then using the loom. We even got the opportunity to try the loom! After the demonstration, we took a look around the shop. They had very impressive and unique items, all handmade and with the name of each woman who made them. Vicky bought a shawl and Mark bought a shirt.
We left San Juan La Laguna around 5 PM and took the boat back across the lake to Panajachel. Once back at our hotel, we rested for a bit and freshened up.
For the rest of the evening, we were free to do whatever we wanted. However, we chose to eat dinner with Luis. Because it was raining we went to a restaurant just around the corner from our hotel. It was called Los Pumpos. The food was great and our waiter was very nice. If you decide to go, remember to take cash as they don’t accept credit cards.
After dinner, we walked back to our hotel and called it a night.
Day 2 – Deaf Tour Of Chichicastenango
The next morning we woke up early to take pictures around Lake Atitlan. It was quiet and only a few fishermen were out.
On the way back to our hotel to meet Luis, we grabbed some coffee to go from a small cafe. Then at 8 AM, we left for Chichicastenango. It is also referred to as “Chichi” by locals. Again, the road is windy so keep that in mind if you get car sick easily. After an hour, we arrived in town.
After parking the car, we went to have breakfast. A “typical” breakfast in Guatemala consists of eggs, refried beans, plantains, tortillas, and a small slice of local cheese. And, of course, coffee.
Iglesia De Santo Tomás
Our first stop after breakfast was the Iglesia de Santo Tomás. This church was built in the mid-1500s on top of an existing Mayan temple. In fact, the steps in front of the church represent each month of the Mayan calendar. Today, you will see locals practicing both Mayan and Catholic traditions there.
From the church, we stepped out to the market. The Chichicastenango Market is one of the most famous and well-known markets in Guatemala. It’s also one of the largest markets in Latin America. The market happens twice a week on Thursdays and Sundays. It is colorful, loud, and crowded. Luis guided us through the market and pointed out the different sections. The market has everything from vegetables to textiles.
It’s a great place to do some shopping. Some of the vendors can get a little pushy, but if you don’t want what they’re selling just keep walking. If you’d like to buy some souvenirs, have cash and be ready to haggle.
Next, we visited the Chichicastenango Cemetery. It is known for its colorful mausoleums. Luis explained that the colors are meant to celebrate the lives of the departed. As we walked the grounds, there were some Mayan ceremonies taking place, where fires were burning and offerings were being made. Out of respect, we kept walking and took no photos or videos.
Moreria Santo Tomas Fabrica De Mascaras
Our next stop was really special. Again, when we were looking for Deaf tours in Guatemala, this is what we had in mind. Moreria Santo Tomas is a shop where they make traditional masks and dance costumes – all by hand! And what makes this shop especially unique is that the owner, Miguel Ángel Ignacio Ventura, is Deaf.
Four generations have been making masks and costumes at this shop, some starting as young as five years old! We got to meet many of Miguel’s family members and ask them about what it’s like working at the shop. We were also able to try on some masks and costumes. The costumes were so detailed and elaborate. And heavy! LOL
Lunch At Museo De Máscaras Ceremoniales
Our last stop for the day was the Museo De Máscaras Ceremoniales. We didn’t go into the museum but instead had lunch at their cafe. There is a vibrant courtyard with colorful umbrellas strung up that are perfect for Instagram photos. However, the reason we were there was to try cusha, an alcoholic drink made of fermented corn. It’s got some kick to it! It’s a type of Guatemalan moonshine. Vicky was only able to have a few sips. Mark, however, had a few shots.
After lunch, we headed back to where Luis had parked his car. Instead of walking, we traveled by tuk tuk. We were very happy we didn’t have to walk back to the center of town because that would’ve been a long climb uphill. It was very thoughtful of Luis to plan ahead that way.
Back To Panajachel
We left Chichicastenango around 2:30 PM and headed back to Panajachel. There was more traffic on the way back, so the ride took about 1.5 hours. After resting a bit we went back into town on our own. We walked along the main street which is full of vendors and shops.
Day 3 – Deaf Tour Of Iximche Ruins
On our third and final day, we left at 7 AM. After a little over an hour, we stopped for breakfast at Restautante La Cabaña De Don Robert. By looking at it, you’d think you were in the German Alps! It’s really cute inside as well and they have a lot of food options.
Next, we headed to Ruinas Iximché. It was only about a 20-minute drive from the restaurant and we arrived just after 10 AM. Admission is 50 Quetzales ($6.50) per person. The ruins were declared a Guatemalan National Monument in the 1960s.
First, we visited the museum. It’s small and all of the signs are in Spanish, but it’s still cool to see the model of the city and some of the artifacts they’ve found. Then we walked the grounds. The whole area was very nicely cared for. What we found interesting is that there are still parts of the ruins that have not been excavated. However, because these ruins aren’t as popular or well-known as some other ruins like Tikal, they don’t have the funding they need to keep digging.
We spent about an hour walking among the ceremonial areas, temples, and ballcourts. This was once an important capital city of the Mayan kingdom and we loved being able to walk amongst so much history.
After exploring the ruins, we started making our way to Guatemala City where Luis dropped us off and we said our goodbyes.
Final Thoughts On Deaf Tours In Guatemala
Guatemala is not as developed as some other countries in terms of Deaf friendly travel experiences. However, Luis has done a great job making it possible to enjoy Guatemala through sign language. He provides tours for Deaf people from all over the world and hopes to increase opportunities for other Deaf Guatemalans to work in the tourism industry. We encourage you to consider his Deaf tours in Guatemala for a more intimate experience.
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