Backpacking Guatemala – 1 Guide to rule them all

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Backpacking Guatemala is a must-do experience when traveling through Central America. We were pleasantly surprised by the charm of its colourful cities and the kind nature of its inhabitants. In addition, this country is blessed with one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and other natural gems that will leave you speechless.

Tourism in Guatemala has become more important over the last decade and about 2 million travelers explore the country every year. Backpacking here isn’t that difficult. Not all the roads are in good shape but most destinations are accessible by bus or mini van.

In this Guatemala travel guide you find all the information we gathered while traveling through this sometimes underestimated country. From the best places to visit, things to do, info about budget, best time to visit and plenty more.

General information

Language: Spanish (+ >21 Maya languages are spoken in rural areas all over the country)

Area: 108 888 km²

Capital: Guatemala City

Currency: Quetzal

Population: 16,91 Million

Check out these 36 interesting facts about Guatemala you should know before you go for extra background information about the country.

Places to visit in Guatemala to put on your travel itinerary

The first thing you need to know when you plan your trip is where you want to go to. So let’s take a look at the top places to visit in Guatemala that you don’t want to miss out on.

Guatemala has a few interesting cities and towns to explore, some of which are more touristy than others and some might require a little more time to discover their true beauty.

The best cities and towns

  • Antigua
  • Quetzaltenango alias Xela
  • Flores
  • Towns around Lake Atitlan
  • Rio Dulce and Livingston

Antigua is the top backpackers hub in Guatemala. You’ll meet tour groups, backpackers, digital nomads who’ve been here for ages, and foreigners who found a job in a hostel and live in the beautiful colonial town full-time.

Many people stay longer than planned in Antigua because it’s such a gorgeous place with its cobblestone streets and views on the surrounding volcanoes. There is just something about this place that makes you feel right at home.

As a plus, Antigua is also a great hub for traveling around the area. You can take a bus or a shuttle to just about anywhere in Guatemala or the surrounding countries.

Good to know: Antigua is not too far from Guatemala City and if you arrive at the airport in the capital, you can be in Antigua in one hour. Learn more on how to get from Antigua to Guatemala safely.

Backpacking Guatemala - Antigua
Antigua - Santa Catalina Arc and street view

Quetzaltenango or Xela, the second backpacker hub in Guatemala, might take a little longer to grow on you. There are plenty of backpackers who skip this city on their way through the country and that’s a shame.

Xela is a great hub for mountaineering excursions and volcano hiking. For the more active and adventurous traveler it’s a place not to miss. The town square is a beautiful place and in the streets of Quetzaltenango, you can discover the true city life in Guatemala.

Check out more things to do in Xela. And find out what the best hostels are in Xela for a backpacker.

A noteworthy fact is that you can find a lot of great Spanish Schools to brush up your conversational skills as well.

Church of Quetzaltenango

Flores is situated on a small peninsula in the Peten Itza lake in the North of Guatemala. It’s situated close by most of the popular Mayan ruins and therefore they call it the gateway to the Mayan World.

Even though the city spreads much further than just the peninsula, we recommend staying at accommodation in the Flores peninsula since it’s just so cute and pretty.

Flores
Flores

Lake Atitlan is one of the most stunning places on earth and we loved the volcanic crater lake so much that we stayed a lot longer than initially planned.

After our original travel plans fell through due to heavy weather, we even rented an apartment on the shores of this magical lake.

We recommend everyone to visit Lake Atitlan and take your time to do so. The lake is surrounded by multiple towns and they all have a different appeal. You can travel between them by water taxi or by tuc tuc/taxi overland.

If you want to know which of the Atitlan towns is the best fit for your travel style, read our guide about the different towns of Lake Atitlan. Check our guide on accommodation around lake Atitlan to find your perfect place to stay.

Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan

Rio Dulce or Sweet River is a river that connects the mainland of Guatemala to the Caribbean Sea and the region is well worthy of a few days of your travel time.

A boat trip on the Rio Dulce is the only way to reach the ocean from the mainland. The boat trip takes you through some awesome jungle scenery and a canyon before you reach the small Garifuna town of Livingston.

Rio Dulce itself can fail to impress you as it isn’t your average touristy town. Nevertheless, the surrounding Canyon and jungle will make up for that in double.

The best way to go here is to stay in one of the river lodges only reachable by boat. That way you add a jungle experience to your trip. A lot of these lodges organise tours in the surrounding wilderness and up the Rio Dulce so you can get the most out of your stay.

Don’t forget to read more about this interesting area in this Rio Dulce travel guide.

Rio Dulce view of birds on boat
Rio Dulce wildlife

Livingston, located where the Rio Dulce river meets the Caribbean Ocean, is a laid back town where rasta is king and reggae music greets you through the door of every pub and restaurant. Most of the local population are Garifuna, descendants of the former slaves who mixed with the local Caribbean people.

You can only reach Livingston by boat from Rio Dulce, which is located more inland, from Puerto Barrios in the South or from Punta Gorda In Belize. Spending the night in Livingston is possible, but you can also visit the Caribbean town in a day trip from the river finca’s or from Rio Dulce.

Livingston Guatemala
Livingston

The best and most interesting Mayan ruins

  • Tikal 
  • Uaxactun
  • Yaxha
  • Nakum and Naranjo
  • El Mirador

Tikal Ruins are the most visited ruins in Central America, partly because they are famous for their appearance in the Star Wars movie Episode IV, A new hope. And they truly fit in this extraterrestrial setting!

As a result, this site can be overrun by tourists what wipes out some of the magic. The only way to avoid the buses of visitors is to make sure you arrive before them. Around 9AM hordes of tourists flock the site already. So you better go in the very early morning. The ruins open at 6 AM.

Early birds can also arrive the day before and sleep at the Jungle Lodge Hotel in Tikal National Park. This way you don’t have to rush in the morning and you have the best chance at some tranquil exploring time.

Things to do in Guatemala - Tikal ruins
Tikal - Maya Ruins

Uaxactun Mayan ruins are located 20 kilometers from Tikal and they are the oldest ruins that have been found so far. These structures are among the first excavated in the area and it is one of the longest occupied Maya foundation in history.

A big plus is that Uaxactun isn’t frequently visited by tourists. Most travelers in Guatemala only visit Tikal and don’t go any further.

Yaxha ruins are our favourite Mayan ruins in Guatemala because they are less touristy than popular brother Tikal. For now, you can still visit them in peace and quiet.

These ruins are also set in the jungle and you can climb some of the structures so you can enjoy the view of the surrounding treetops and Lake Yaxha.

We recommend people who are backpacking Guatemala to try the Yaxha ruins on a sunset trip in order to get the most beautiful experience.

Read our full guide to Yaxha ruins

Spend the night at Lake Yaxha at Ecolodge El Sombrero

Sunset view over the lake in Yaxha Guatemala
Sunset view over the lake in Yaxha

Nakum and Naranjo are located a bit further down the road from Yaxha. When buying an entrance ticket to Yaxha, you also get access to Nakum and Naranjo ruins. We didn’t actually visit these Mayan ruins since it was very late by the time we finished our visit to Yaxha, but they look very promising and they have some of the most beautiful architecture in the area.

Nakum and Naranjo ruins are not frequently visited by tourists and you have a good chance of being there all by yourself. Learn more about these ruins in the Yaxha guide.

El Mirador is located very remote in the north of Guatemala. Currently, the only way to reach the ruins is by hiking through the Guatemalan jungle.

El Mirador used to be the capital of Mayan civilisation, but is now overgrown with vegetation. It takes multiple days to reach the site and this multiple day trek must be done with a guide.

These are true jungle ruins and they’re not visited by the tourist masses, since they’re so difficult to reach. Rumours say that there are plans to build a railway to the ruins, which  probably spoil the whole adventure of getting there. The remoteness is part of the uniqueness of this jungle gem and mass tourism wouldn’t do that any good.

For more information and even more Maya ruins read this article.

The best Guatemala Beaches to visit

  • Tilapa 
  • Champerico
  • El Paredon
  • Monterrico
  • Livingston

Guatemala has beaches on the Caribbean, as well as the Pacific side. Even though not all Guatemala beaches have picture perfect white sandy shores, they’re still very worthy of the time and detour. These are the most popular Guatemala beaches.

Tilapa Beach is located in the Southwest corner of the country and it’s a great stopover when traveling from Mexico into Guatemala. The fishing town of Tilapa is located on the Pacific side and it has dark sandy beaches. The place is popular among backpackers, but there’s not really a party crowd, which makes Tilapa beach perfect for people in search of some quiet beach time in Guatemala.

Champerico is a port city on the Pacific coast that is mostly overlooked by travelers. For Guatemalans however it is a popular getaway from the cities and the highlands. The stretches of dark sandy beaches in combination with strong waves makes it a good weekend getaway. It doesn’t really cater to tourists.

El Paredon is a lazy beach town with just one dirt road running through it. But it’s gaining in popularity as more and more travelers want to add a surfing experience to their trip. And that is what El Paredon is famous for: its waves!

In addition to surfing you can visit a turtle hatchery. Between September and December you can even help release the baby turtles into the ocean. Other popular activities in El Paredon are horseback riding and taking a lancha tour to the mangroves.

Surprisingly there is a party scene in this small town at the Pacific. Just follow the music.

Monterrico is the fourth small beach town on the Pacific side. Through the week it’s very quiet but in the weekends local tourists flock the beaches. It has a relaxed little beach town vibe and there is a language school.

So this is the place to combine studying with sunbathing. A visit to the Monterrico Nature Reserve is a must. In this wildlife reserve you can spot a lot of (endangered) species like caiman, iguanas, turtles,…

!! Be careful: The Pacific side of Guatemala has strong rip tides so be careful when you go swimming or surfing. You can always opt to stay in a beach hostel or hotel that has a swimming pool to cool off on the hot summer days.

Sunset at Monterrico
Sunset at Monterrico

Livingston is the only popular beach on the Caribbean side. Even though Guatemala has quite a few kilometers of shoreline on the Caribbean side, only the Livingston area and the Puerto Barrios area have actual beaches that you can easily reach and visit.

Other Natural Highlights of Guatemala

  • Semuc Champey
  • Lake Atitlan
  • Los Amates waterfalls
  • Laguna Lachua
  • Tajumulco Volcano
  • Pacaya Volcano
  • Acatenango Volcano

Large parts of Guatemala consist of jungle and it’s not too hard to find great natural scenery in Guatemala. Jungle hikes and volcano climbing are popular activities that a lot of travel agencies offer to travelers all over the country.  These are the top natural highlights of Guatemala

Semuc Champey’s natural pools offer a stunning sight from above and they’re a lot of fun to visit. These stunning turquoise pools lie on top of the wild river Cahabon, where the river itself dives underground for a few hundred meters.

Semuc Champey is a natural wonder that is skipped by most tour groups because it is difficult to reach. Even though it’s in the heart of Guatemala, it’s completely surrounded by jungle.

If you plan on visiting this natural highlight in Guatemala, read this guide to Semuc Champey.

Semuc Champey - Lanquin
Semuc Champey - Lanquin

Lake Atitlan is as we mentioned above, considered as one of the most stunning lakes in the world. This crater lake surrounded by volcanoes has indeed a mesmerising beauty. Therefore it is the number 1 tourist attraction of Guatemala.

This volcanic crater lake is surrounded by many villages where Maya culture is preserved. When staying around the lake, make sure to visit a couple different surrounding villages. Be sure to check this guide about the towns to see where you want to stay and where you want to visit.

A short version of the most important towns:

San Pedro La Laguna is a backpackers favourite, with a lot of hostels, cute bars and restaurants, and good Spanish schools. It is a perfect location to brush up your Spanish.

If you’re into Yoga, then the smaller San Marcos La Laguna is a good choice for you. This laid-back town has a bit of a hippie vibe and some of the best views over the lake.

The tiny San Juan La Laguna is ideal to do a weaving workshop. Support the community, learn the traditional weaving techniques of the Mayans and take home a self-made souvenir.

Santiago de Atitlan is famous for the adoration of Maximon Hire a local guide to show you around the highlights of the biggest town around the lake. He will teach you about local history and war. And you can visit Maximon yourself.

Panajachel is the place where most travelers arrive to visit Lake Atitlan. It has ATM’s, a supermarket and a big marketplace too.

Sunset at Lake Atitlan
Sunset at Lake Atitlan

Los Amates waterfalls are located in the Santa Rosa region. With falls stretching over more than 20 meters, and a drop of more than 35 meters high, they are pretty impressive. A visit to these falls is often organised by tour agencies as a half-day activity. A 3-hour hike to the falls gets combined with a rappelling adventure down the falls. The less brave can watch the rappelling daredevils while swimming in the pools below.

Laguna Lachua is an off the beaten path National Park located in the municipality Coban. This stunning lake is surrounded by rain forest so you can spot a lot of wildlife here.

Get back to basic with a camping trip to Laguna Lachua. Enjoy nature to the fullest. At the entrance, a park ranger explains the rules and off you go on a 4 km hike to the lake and camping site. Best time to visit is during the week as it can get busy in the weekends.

Lake Lachua
Lake Lachua

Tajumulco Volcano is the highest volcano of the country and it is situated in the West close to Mexico. This volcano is part of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountains and the highest peak of the country at 4220 meters.

2-Day treks up the volcano are organised by tour operators and you don’t have to be a mountain climber to do so. The local non-profit organisation Quetzaltrekkers is a good choice. They are experienced and all the money they make is spent on children who live on the streets of Guatemala to feed and school them.

Volcano Pacaya is one of the popular active volcanoes to hike. It is situated close to Antigua and you can arrange a hike to this 2550 meters high volcano at a tour agency anywhere in town. Roasting a marshmallow in the fumes of a volcano is a different experience for sure!

Acatenango Volcano is another popular volcano to hike. This 3976 meters high volcano is also situated close to Antigua. This 2-day hike is considered quite challenging. But there is a big chance that you see eruptions of the nearby Fuego Volcano.

Top 5 things to do in Guatemala

  1. Swim in the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey and feel like Indiana Jones in the nearby K’an Ba caves. You have to travel to Lanquin to reach the pools. Lanquin is not that easy to reach but the long and bumpy ride there is worth it. Stay in a jungle lodge and enjoy nature. Combine a visit to the pools with river tubing and lazy days in a hammock.
  2. Challenge yourself with a volcano hike. On our next trip I would love to climb the Tajumulco. Because it is the highest and it is considered a moderate/difficult climb. And it is a region I want to explore more. If you are staying in Antigua you can book a tour to Acatenango or Pacaya.
  3. Visit Chichicastenango market. This huge open-air handicraft market is easily reachable from Antigua, Xela or Lake Atitlan. Local craftsmen offer their works of art to you and you can negotiate the price. A peek in the assortiment: Backpacks, leather belts and jackets, jewelry, masks, instruments, clothes, colourful tapestry, paintings, duvet covers, tablecloths and plenty more.
  4. Take your time to discover colonial town Antigua. It is one of the best places to stay in as a traveler. There is just so much to do and see in and around Antigua that you can stay here for a very long time.
  5. Visit the different towns around Lake Atitlan. One of the most beautiful lakes in the world also has the best sunsets in the world. It is also the ideal setting to follow some Spanish lessons. We went to the Community Spanish school and had a great time. The people running the place are super friendly, the price is good and the lessons were adapted to our level and interests.

Best time to visit Guatemala

Good to know

  • Dry season runs from November until April
  • Wet season runs from May until October
Shaundd (original file was created by Burmesedays, French translation by Joelf) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Dry season is the best season to visit Guatemala.

The hottest temperatures are reached in the jungle situated in the Northern lowlands of Guatemala. This is the region where you find most of the Maya ruins like Tikal, Yaxha, Uaxactun,… Also the Caribbean region has temperatures around 30° Celsius. Temperatures at the Pacific Lowlands beach destinations easily pass the 30° Celsius in these months.

The Central and Western Highlands have a lot of days filled with sunshine. An average temperature around 24°Celsius makes destinations like Antigua, Guatemala city and Lake Atitlan ideal to explore this time of year. The higher in altitude you go, the chillier it gets in the evenings. Think about that when visiting Quetzaltenango.

Busiest times are the periods around Christmas and New Year and then again around Easter.

Perfect months for visiting are February and March. They fall in between the busy holiday periods. So less visitors and you can enjoy the good weather conditions as well.

Traveling to Guatemala in wet season

Temperatures are still warm but, as you could already guess, there is a lot more rain. This can have a lot of impact on your travel experience.

Heavy rainfall:

  • Can have a negative impact on the condition of the roads
  • Can provoke land/mud slides which can be very dangerous
  • Can make visits to certain landmarks undoable: Parks like Semuc Champey can be closed down.

Budget for travel in Guatemala

Travel in Guatemala is fairly easy on your wallet.  Of course it all depends on how you spend your money. You can make it more expensive by upgrading your lodging and by doing more organised tours etc.

Accommodation

Guatemala has become more expensive over the recent years due to growing tourism. Accommodation prices have gone up as well, but you can still find good deals. We love to stay in hostels and Guatemala has plenty of cozy, some even brand-new hostels that cater perfect to travelers.

Hostel prices have gone up too. You can still find very cheap hostels but mostly that goes hand in hand with less comfort and quality.

A hostel dorm bed sets you back 8 to 18€, depending on location, but we have encountered beds that were more expensive. A private room in a hostel will cost you around 25€ and up.

Transport

Transportation on local buses / chicken buses is very cheap around 2€ for a 3-hour ride, but tourist transportation in minibuses is a bit more expensive, over 15 € for a 3-hour ride.

We mostly used organised minivans to cover larger distances and chicken buses for small distances.

A shuttle ride from Antigua to Chichicastenango market costs around 15€

A 2,5-hours shuttle ride from Quetzaltenango to Antigua costs around 25€

Food and drinks

In a local eatery, you can get lunch for around 3 to 5€.

Mid-range to more expensive restaurants can set you back up to 25€ for a meal. One beer in a bar or pub will cost you around 1,5€ for a local beer and almost 3€ for an imported beer.

Best budget way to go here is to cook your own meals and buy your beer in a supermarket. If you want to go out for dinner, find out where the locals eat. You can get some of the best food in Guatemala in a stall on the streets for a couple of quetzals.

Activities

Many hostels organise guided (group) activities in the surrounding areas. But if you aren’t staying in a hostel you can find tour agencies all over the country. Especially cities and other popular locations such as Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Quetzaltenango, etc have tour operators spread all over the place.

For example:

Oxexpeditions 1,5 day hike to Acatenango volcano costs around 80€

Quetzaltrekkers 2 day hike to Tajumulco volcano costs around 65€

Quetzaltrekkers 3-day hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan costs around 90€

Transportation - Getting around in Guatemala

We briefly discussed pricing for transportation in Guatemala. Now let’s talk about transportation options and more. Getting around in Guatemala is fairly easy and there are a few options.

Check our more detailed transportation guide for Guatemala

In short:

Shuttles

Shuttles in Guatemala have only one purpose: driving around tourists. These minibuses are big business in Guatemala and they are an effective and safe method of transportation.

A lot of tourist use these services because they’re good. You can usually set up transportation in your hostel and have a minibus picking you up any day of the week to travel to anywhere in Guatemala.

Easy right? Right!

So for convenient and hassle-free travel: choose a shuttle, but be prepared to pay a little extra.

The only downside is that with these shuttle busses, you hardly meet any locals or get a feeling of local culture. You’ll mainly be surrounded by English speaking tourists.

Chicken Bus

Chicken buses are the most interesting method of transportation and you should use a chicken bus at least once when backpacking Guatemala.

These chicken buses are old USA school buses. They get repainted in beautiful and shiny colours before use and you can find them all over the country.

It is a lovely way to get around and you’re very likely to encounter strange scenarios and meet local people.

Chicken buses are best for shorter distances because they’re not always very comfortable, but you can use them for long distances as well, if you don’t mind being uncomfortable for a long time!

Chicken bus makeover

Pullman Guatemala

Pullman buses are the most commonly used long-distance buses in Guatemala.

Pullman buses transport travelers in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. They’re pretty comfortable and convenient and luckily, they’re not too expensive.

This option is, budget-wise, in between chicken buses and shuttles. They’re particularly good for traveling longer distances.

Tuc Tuc

Tuc tucs are mostly used for transportation within a town or city. They’re basically scooters with a roof and with a little more seating space. You might be surprised at how much luggage actually fits inside these vehicles.

Our tuc tuc driver once fitted 4 people, with large backpacks and daypacks inside his tuc tuc. We weren’t very comfortable and it was an advantage that we were all good friends, but it worked!

Holidays and festivals in Guatemala

Guatemala is a religious country and they love their festivities.

So there are quite a few festivals to be attended and if you spend enough time in the country, you’re very likely to run into a few festivals in different locations.

There are just too many to sum up so we collected the most important and memorable festivities and holidays in Guatemala.

Semana Santa or Holy Week

Semana Santa or Holy week is one of the largest festivities in Guatemala. The festival is held around Easter, usually in March or April and the party goes on for an entire week.

Especially in Antigua and Guatemala City, people dress up and stroll the streets in parades. They carry around decorated floats with statues of Jesus and Mother Mary depicted on them. You also see Guatemalans dressed up as Romans, who were responsible for the crucification of Jesus.

Many roads are ornamented with colourful designs laid out on the street boulders by hand.  In these designs, Mayan and Christian symbols are used together in harmony.

If you have to pick a place to celebrate Semana Santa, go for Antigua to experience the biggest Semana Santa event in Guatemala.

Things to do in Guatemala - Semana Santa in Antigua
Handmade Easter carpets to celebrate Semana Santa

Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead

This holy event to honour the dead is not only held in Guatemala, but also in Mexico and all other Latin American countries.

Day of the Dead is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November.

It is an optimistic day, a day of celebration. A day to commemorate loved ones that passed away and to honour their lives. Some people celebrate with a visit to the cemetery like we do in Europe. Others gather with their family on the cemetery and have a party with all family members, the living and the dead.

Sumpango and Santiago Sacatepéquez are famous for its kite festival in honour of the dead. Kites can reach over 10 meters in size! To built these giant kites takes a couple of months and a lot of work is put into the design and the construction of the kites. People compete with their kites for best design and longest time up in the air. Many food stalls are spread all the way up the street to the cemetery. And of course vendors try to tempt you to a buy small and colourful kite.

Sumpango is easily reachable, it’s not far from Antigua. Leave early in the morning as thousands of people attend the festival every year.

Mayan New Year

The Maya created 3 calendars. 1 is the long calendar, 1 solar calendar counting 365 days and 1 sacred or lunar calendar counting 260 days. The Maya New Year is based on both the 365 days calendar and the 260 days calendar. Read more about this fascinating calendar system in this article.

This ancient event has a lot of rituals and ancient rules that are followed by the indigenous people of Guatemala. The celebrations take place at some of the Mayan sites in Guatemala and in some rural villages.

Dia de la Independencia or Independence day

On September 15th Guatemala, as well as Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and El Salvador celebrate their independence from Spain.

All over the country people celebrate this day of freedom. Many festivities take places with music, dancing, fireworks and parades down the streets.

Guatemala tourist visa

Guatemala is a part of the CA4 territory. The four countries of CA4 are Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

This means:

  • You get one tourist visa upon entry of the first of these four countries.
  • You can stay during the entire length of your visum in all four countries.
  • You won’t get extra days when you cross borders between these countries
  • You do get your passport stamped when crossing the border between these 4 countries

 

Residents of many countries in the world are allowed visa free entrance into Guatemala.

This means:

  • You only need your passport to enter
  • You don’t have to get a visa before traveling to these countries.

How do you get your tourist visa?

You will get your 90 day tourist visa upon arrival. A border control officer might ask you a few questions about your travel plans in Guatemala. Then he or she will stamp your passport with the number of days you’re allowed to stay in the CA4 area.

How to extend your stay?

There are only 2 ways to extend your stay.

  • Travel outside of the CA4 area for a few days
  • Extend your visa in an embassy in one of the capitals of CA4.

 

Read more about how to cross the border between Mexico and Guatemala

Is Guatemala safe?

Guatemala is mostly a safe country to visit, even in rural areas.

Use your common sense.

  • Don’t flash your belongings
  • You’re more vulnerable when you’re drunk
  • Be careful if you’re alone in the streets at night
  • Inform yourself about the locations you want to visit

Incidents of robbery can occur on places like deserted hiking trails. Not all the areas of Guatemala City are safe to discover as a tourist. To be sure about a specific hiking trail or location check with the hostel or hotel you are staying at. Locals on the streets are usually happy to inform you as well.

You can always join a group of other travelers or do a guided excursion if you are worried about your safety. I must say that we, as 2 women traveling together, never had a bad experience during all our travels in Guatemala.

Of course, you can always become the victim of a travel scam as this can happen anywhere in the world, so keep your eyes open for obvious traps.

Read about the time a doctor tried to scam us by trying to convince we had scabies.

Guatemala for LGBT travelers

Guatemala is a very religious country and there isn’t a car, bus or tuc tuc in Guatemala that doesn’t have religious amulets inside of it to protect them against God knows what 🙂

I have no issues with religious people, but I always question how LGBT-friendly they are.

We always keep a low profile when traveling and thus far never encountered any issues.

Learn more about LGBT travel in Guatemala:

 

LGBT tip in Antigua: Visit El Atico de Fridas during weekends. For a great LGBT party,  good food and a drink, this is the place to go to!

Spanish Language for Backpacking Guatemala

Spanish is one of the most beautiful languages in the world and it’s easy to learn a few basic words and sentences.

I totally recommend learning a little before you start your travels. Then you can still take extra lessons in Spanish in one of the Spanish Schools Guatemala is famous for.

Learn Spanish in Guatemala

Guatemala is the perfect place to spend some extra time to study Spanish. We did two Spanish courses already and we haven’t been disappointed!

Spanish courses in Guatemala are a lot cheaper than anywhere in the world and it allows you to spend some more time in the places you love best.

When you’re studying Spanish with a local school, you can either choose to stay in a hostel meanwhile, but most Spanish schools offer the possibility to stay with a local family, which is a great experience. This way you can immediately practise what you learned at school with your guest family.

You can find some of the best Spanish Schools in

  • Antigua
  • San Pedro la Laguna at Lake Atitlan
  • Quetzaltenango.

 

We didn’t try the last option, but we met a lot of travelers studying there and they were very happy with the quality and the pricing of the lessons.

Should you travel to Guatemala?

This Guatemala travel guide gives you a pretty good idea what to expect when traveling to this cute Central American country.

You should go backpacking Guatemala because:

  • It has beautiful nature such as crater lakes, natural pools, waterfalls, volcanoes, jungle and beaches
  • You learn more about Maya culture and can visit multiple Maya ruins such as Tikal, Yaxha and El Mirador
  • Most highlights are accessible by local transportation
  • It is fairly easy on your wallet but it’s getting more expensive as we speak so don’t wait to long
  • Learn the beautiful Spanish language in some of the best and most affordable Spanish languages schools of the world
  • And many more reasons

Happy travels and maybe we’ll see you there!

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Backpacking Guatema
Backpacking Guatema

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El Mirador sounds amazing. I love the idea of trekking through the jungle with a guide to check out an ancient city that can only be reached by foot. While it might not be as escaveted as Tikal, it sounds like a real immersive experience.

Indeed! That’s exactly what I think is so magical about Mirador. You could be there all by yourself… because you have to work for it 🙂

Guatemala is a lot more diverse than I was expecting! That volcano on that lake is splendid and I love all the colors of the country. Beautiful photos!

thewordhermit

I have wanted to visit Antigua and do some trekking around the volcanoes for a long time, but you’ve provided insights into places I wouldn’t have thought to visit. Thanks for such an in-depth review of the different areas in Guatemala.

I’m hoping to visit Guatemala this next year, so I just pinned your post to save for later. That first photo is stunning btw. I’m glad you said that the Tikal ruins aren’t over-run with tourists, pretty sure I will have to go there because I HATE tourist traps more than anything. May even have to come back and get your guide 🙂

Tikal isn’t a tourist trap, but it can get very crowded during the day! Make sure to visit early if you want some alone time with the ruins 😉

So much great information! I’ve heard good and back things about traveling in Guatemala and have it on our future travel list for sure. We’ve been playing around with the idea of going somewhere to learn Spanish, good to know their courses haven’t disappointed you guys.

The Spanish courses were very good! We took classes in Antigua and in San Pedro la Laguna. Both were good, but we definitely recommend the Spanish School in San Pedro. It’s called Community Spanish School. They’re probably one of the best at Lake Atitlan! And yes! Guatemala is definitely worthy of your time. We loved every bit of bit and have been back multiple times!

The landscapes, the lakes, the pyramids and the history… Guatamala really does have everything! This is a great roundup on the incredible diversity of a gorgeous country. Lake Atitlan really does sound like one of the most stunning places on earth!

The first couple of photos had me captivated, and then I was reading avidly. This is somewhere I’ve never been, and there is so much to take in about the natural beauty, the historic sites, the people and the impact of fellow travelers. I loved your description of the various means of transport, and particularly the tuktuk driver who managed that advanced tetris to get all of you and your luggage in his vehicle. The Mayan sites sound spectacular, and a lake that merits a special stay must be a special place indeed. i’ll have to start brushing up on… Read more »

If you haven’t been yet, you might need to consider 🙂 The real travel experience begins when you need to play Tetris to get into a tuktuk 😀

Your photos really drew me in. Guatemala is a country we have put on our list, but it has pretty far down on the priority … your post has certainly moved it up quite a bit. Love your tips and advice on various transports — and was chuckling that school busses are now the preferred form of long distance bus travel. Not sure school children would agree. 😉 Like many places that are popular, like the Tikal Ruins, there is a reason they are the most visited ruins in Central America. That said, love your advice to get there early… Read more »

I would love to go to Guatemala and this is a good point of reference even for people who are not backpacking but want to go on a budget. You have some great tips I like the one that Antigua is used as a starting point for volcano hiking that is high on the list and noted for my trip. I am also in love with the Semuc Champey just wow that are beautiful. Good guide you have put together there.

What a great, comprehensive guide. I’d love to see natural pools of Samuc Champey. Is it difficult to reach because it takes a lot of time or because of the condition of roads or because you have to hike some of the jungle to get there?

You don’t need to hike through the jungle to reach Semuc Champey. It’s mainly the condition of the roads. From most destinations in Guatemala, getting to Semuc Champey is a day trip. So travelers who are limited in time, often don’t want to lose 2 days of pure transportation. But I’d say it’s worth it 🙂

Nic Hilditch-Short

Guatemala seems like a perfect country for backpacking, with such beautiful and diverse landscapes and wonderful people and culture too. We really can’t wait to backpack around this region in a year or so.

I must admit that Guatemala was not really on my horizon, but you have certainly whetted my appetite! I guess your advice would also be to go sooner rather than later as tourism seems to have really taken off in the last few years. I love the idea of reaching out of the way ruins on a jungle trek. I really hope they do not build a railway. So much already seems accessible that it would be a shame to spoil this experience for future generations. Similarly the chicken bus and collectivos would be a must for me! When I… Read more »

Guatemala is on our radar. I would love to visit the Tikal Ruins and Semuc Champey. Those chicken buses are like the Philippine jeepneys, all brightly painted and decorated.

Inge – what a fabulously detailed post on Guatemala. I travelled there a few years ago, studied Spanish in Antigua and visited Tikal BUT there was so much I never had the chance to visit such as the coasts and Semuc Champey. Thanks for the reminder that I want to go back to Guatemala and explore some more! And those chicken buses…my fav.!

Astrid Vinje

We have friends that invited us out to travel with them in Guatemala, and we’re still on the fence. But this post is tempting us to travel there! I love how colorful the towns look, and our kids would definitely love visiting the Mayan ruins. Did you have any issues being women travelers in Guatemala?

We have those cheesy chicken buses in Panama, too. 😉 Guatamala looks so awesome. It is on my bucket list for sure. Thanks for a great overall guide to the country. I want to see the beaches and the ruins on my travels and take pretty pictures.

I don’t know much about Guatemala and this guide includes a lot of useful information. I haven’t been and would love to go. The ruins would be the highlights for me, and I’d love to spend some time in Livingston.

Inge and Lobke

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