Guatemala ranks as one of my favourite places in the world. This little Central American
country is home to one of the world’s most incredible ancient ruins of Tikal, many active
volcanoes, lush jungles, beautiful lakes and calm vibes of Atitlan, awesome natural caves,
waterfalls and pools, lively market of Chichicastenango and many colourful Mayan villages.
All that plus incredibly warm and friendly Mayan people make Guatemala one of the most
varied and interesting countries to visit in Central America. You can easily fill a two-week (or
more) vacation without the need to visit other nearby countries. This travel guide helps you to
plan your trip and avoid unpleasant surprises while you are there.
Activities- where to go
a. Acatenango was the biggest and best surprise during my whole trip. It’s not the
most popular volcano to visit but it offers the best views for sure. The most
incredible sight is Fuego, a powerful neighbouring volcano that gets supremely
active after sunset. The hike to the base camp (3800m) is rather hard and can
take up to five hours, so try to start as early as possible. If you are an
experienced hiker it is possible to do the hike by yourself. If not, book the trip
in your hostel or local travel agency. A good thing about booking the daytrip is
that the agency will provide you with a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat, so
you don’t have to carry them with you. Food is also included in the price and if
you don’t have enough warm clothes you can lend them for 25Q. Note that it
can get very cold and temperatures might drop below freezing on top of the
mountain. During my trip I also managed to meet other travellers and talk
about their experiences with their agencies. Some of the agencies have very old
and worn-out equipment or provide very lousy food for the same price. Expect
to pay 250-400Q depending on your bargaining skill.
a. Check the weather forecast before booking your trip. It might be cloudy in the
morning, so there is no point of taking the sunrise tour around 5am Tikal is a
huge national park with many different paths to discover the incredible Mayan ruins. It is best is to take the bus that arrives to the park after 6am. This way
you can avoid the long queues when buying the ticket at the entrance and it is
still early enough to capture all the animals and birds living freely in the
jungle. If you are lucky you can see local Mayans doing their rituals in the
3. Lake Atitlan
a. It is an extremely popular destination in Guatemala, stunningly beautiful and
has activities for all kinds of taste. You can enjoy spectacular views and
possibly the best weather in the world. It is a popular place to practice yoga
and meditation, and also one of the best places to study Spanish. The lake is
surrounded by several towns each having a different vibe. It is wise to read up
on each one before deciding which fits your travel plans the best.
4. Semuc Champey
a. Semuc Champey is a natural water-park in the middle of nowhere. Despite of
the rural location, it’s an amazing place to break up the long drive between
Flores and Antigua. The closest town to stay the night is Lanquin where you
can also book your trip to the natural pools, waterfalls and caves. The national
park of Semuc Champey is a bumpy 30 minute pickup-truck ride into the
jungle. It’s also possible to pay only for the ride and discover the area by
yourself. All the routes have proper signs and it’s pretty impossible to get lost
in the jungle. If you seek adventures I strongly suggest to go with a local guide.
They truly know the best spots where it’s safe to jump off the cliffs, dive under
the pool cliffs and explore the hidden routes under the pools. The caves that are
right next to the natural pools are privately owned and can only be visited with
a guide. Nevertheless they are certainly worth going.
There are many great hostels that offer good value. The nightly price for a bed in most
dormitories that are nice, clean and have hot water is starting from 60Q. Decent budget hotels
will cost you around 200Q/per night for a double bed. There are also Airbnb options available
in larger cities. With shared accommodation prices start from around 75Q/per night. Entire
apartment should cost around 170Q/per night. Couchsurfing is also possible but there are very few hosts so be sure to send requests early enough. Camping is not recommended for safety
The most common and safest way for tourists to get around in Guatemala are shuttle buses.
You can book them from every hostel and travel agency. Shuttle bus from Aurora airport to
Antigua costs about 100Q. The cheapest way to travel is by „chicken buses“ (old school buses
from North America). 1-2 hour ride costs around 10Q and shorter journeys as little as 3Q.
Taxis are common in the larger cities and cost around 50Q for a 10 minute ride. It’s always
good to agree on the price before starting the ride. At times some taxi drivers try to add some
random taxes for a „big bag“ or „heavy traffic“. The traffic is always heavy and there is no
such thing as a tax for a big bag. Just ignore it and pay the amount that you agreed on before
the start. It’s also possible to rent a car that allows you to be more flexible. Note that most of
the roads are in a horrible condition and there are no reflectors or lights marking the roads at
night. Prices for a rental car begin from 1000Q per week. There are regular flights from
Guatemala City to Flores airport. This can save you a lot of time but expect to pay around
1200Q per person. Walking is not common, even in very small towns, so you might get a lot
of confused faces when refusing tuk-tuk.
In general Central America is a place where you just don’t want to be in the wrong place at
the wrong time. Take reasonable precautions. Be especially careful at night when it’s more
common for someone to run or drive by and snatch your bag. Robberies are most common
when you go hiking alone. However, if you must go alone ask the locals or your hostel, where
are the safest places to go.
1. Market food
a. A lot of locals go to market for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There you can find
traditional food which is delicious. A good thing about market food is that the
same people come to sell their food in the same place every day. So if the
locals trust them and eat there you can be sure it is clean and fresh. Expect to
pay 5-10Q for chicken and fries, most other dishes are around 10-20Q. In
bigger cities there are night markets where you can also find very interesting
and tasteful local food.
2. Chicken buses
a. Retired North American school buses are used as a local transportation in
Guatemala. They may not be the safest (broken breaks and aggressive drivers)
but definitely the cheapest way to get around in Guatemala. Don’t worry if you
don’t know exactly where to get off the bus. Tell your bus driver about your
destination and he is happy to let you know when it is your time to get off the
bus. At times tourists can be overcharged, so check out what the locals are
paying. Do not ask the price, just offer the same money to the person who
collects fares. Expect to pay 10Q per 1-2 hour ride.
a. Make sure you exchange enough cash in larger cities and always have enough
with you before going to smaller towns. ATM’s are rather rare and even in
tourist areas frequently out of order. Unlike other Central American countries,
they do not accept US dollars in Guatemala.
a. Bargaining is a part of Guatemalan culture, and they will definitely give you a
tourist price when you don’t bargain. There are places in the world where the
goal is to bilk tourists, Guatemala is not one of them. The prices are often a bit
higher than a typical local would pay, but not obscene.
5. Do not book your hostel from an app, if you want to save money
a. Usually the cheapest hostels cannot be found from booking apps. Just walk
around the city and ask for the prices. Average price in a booking app is about
60-85Q/per night but when walking around the city you can find many places
just as nice for 25Q. The most popular backpacker hostels are not listed in
apps, just approach other travellers and you will get to know about the coolest
places in town.
Traveller Grete Sarap