On a trip through central America, Guatemala should certainly be included in the itinerary. It may not be as popular as its big brother Mexico but it has all the assets to sweep you of your feet. It might even be one of our most memorable countries visited ever. Here is why…
1. Natural beauty
Talking about natural beauty, Guatemala has it all. It is blessed with some of the world’s coolest lakes with its most famous one being Lago Atitlan. You can go birdwatching in mystical cloud forests and look for the Quetzal, the symbol of Guatemala. There is an abundance of national parks like Tikal NP and you can not afford to miss out on visiting the stunning lake formations of Semuc Champey. For the more adventurous travelers, there are a lot of opportunities to hike volcano’s, jump of a waterfall at the hot springs of Lago Izabal or to go zip lining. Even the beach bums can enjoy a relaxing swim as Guatemala has a coast on the Caribbean side as well as on the Pacific side!
2. Most gems are just a short bus ride away
Guatemala is not that big a country and even though some of the roads are in bad shape, you can still easily access most interesting destinations. Guatemala offers a few different travel options. The first one is the chicken bus (see number 9). Most travelers use collectivos, the second option, which are a little more expensive but still pretty cheap. You can also take a cab if you can splurge.
3. Colonial hub cities
Most popular are Flores, Antigua, Xela and the Lake Atitlan Region. Flores is a cool peninsula in the Peten region which is known for their Mayan heritage. It is a good hub to visit Ruins like Tikal, Yaxha and El Mirador. Antigua is the backpacker capital of Guatemala. Easy to use as a hub to visit Lake Atitlan, the market of Chichicastenango and to do some volcano hikes. We returned to Antigua multiple times. Couldn’t get enough of the atmosphere, bars, restaurants and colonial cobblestoned streets. To be honest, we heard many others used the nearby Xela as a hub instead of Antigua. It is on the list for our next visit.
4. Spanish schools
Both Antigua and Xela have a wide spectrum of Spanish schools. The big advantage is that courses are cheaper than anywhere else. Assuming that your Spanish course will take a few days, weeks or months, it’s not difficult to find a cheap place to sleep either. Some of the schools offer homestays or work with hostels so you can get a better price.
5. Maya culture
You can breathe Maya culture on every street corner. You can breathe it even cleaner deep in the Mayan jungle. Dozens of ancient Mayan ruins are hidden in the vast Guatemalan jungle. Some are more frequently visited than others. Tikal is visited by thousands of star wars fans per week. But we are more into the less known sites like Yaxha. Guatemala is not visited as often by tourists as their neighbor Mexico and still has a lot of untouched indigenous Mayan villages to explore.
6. Handicrafts, cloth, and souvenirs
The best-known place is the Chichicastenango market with its plenitude of colorful fabrics, wooden masks, musical instruments, belts, clothes, jewelry and much more lovable things you are going to want to take home with you. Don’t worry if Chichicastenango isn’t on your itinerary because you can find souvenirs all over the country.
7. Chicken bus experience
No one can deny it: these chicken buses are cute. You might select a seat, just to be accompanied by a lovely old lady who puts her five chickens in a cardboard box right above your head. Or she might carry the chicken by the paws and put it on her lap while showing you her toothless smile. It could be a pig instead of a chicken too. All this has a good chance of happening on your bus ride. Chicken buses are perfect for shorter rides because they are quite uncomfortable for taller people. Still, you have to experience a ride in this dismissed school buses from the States to find out how charming you think it is.
8. Guatemala is cheap
Guatemala is a cheap destination. You can easily find comfortable accommodation and a good cuisine at a very reasonable price. Transportation is also cheaper than in most other countries.
9. Surfs up!
To put the cherry on the pie, Guatemala has beach access to both Caribbean as the Pacific Ocean. On the Caribbean side, there is mostly Livingston so most beach bums dwell on the Pacific side around El Paredon. The beach here has dark sand and arguably some of the best surfing conditions in Guatemala.
10. The People
Guatemalans are overall very kind and lovable people. Most of them are eager to start a conversation and find out all about you. If you make an effort to try and speak Spanish you will easily connect with them. We met some really nice people there and we are going back to meet some more!