Guatemala is a country that surprises in every way. It’s more beautiful than you thought it would be, it’s more diverse than you’d expect it to be and it’s way friendlier than you’d imagine it to be. It’s accessible, affordable and you find adventures in every corner. It’s a backpacker’s gem of Latin America, I’d dare to say! We’ve put together a few Guatemala backpacking tips to help you plan your next trip.
GUATEMALA BACKPACKING TIPS
WHY IS GUATEMALA GREAT FOR BACKPACKING?
I said Guatemala is a backpackers’ gem, right? Well, these are three top reasons why:
1. SO MUCH TO DO!
Sandwiched between Mexico in the north and El Salvador and Honduras in the south, Guatemala offers diversity in a relatively small area. You can relax by the lakes, swim in the ocean, explore lush jungles and rich culture, wander among charming towns or climb volcanoes – one just can’t get bored there.
2. WANNA MOVE IN 2 HOURS? NO PROBLEM!
Even though the roads are not supreme, there’s no shortage of public transport. Buses, shuttles, taxis, chicken buses – as a backpacker you’ll have no trouble finding your next ride.
3. BUDGET FRIENDLY!
No need to say more, right? Budget-friendly is the most important word when it comes to backpacking. 😀
Check out our video – best of Guatemala!
BEST TIME TO VISIT GUATEMALA
Guatemala has a pleasant and mild climate year-round.
It has two distinctive seasons – the dry season is somewhere between October and April when it’s also peak tourist season. While during the wet season there is more rain (er – kinda expected, right?), that’s not a deal-breaker since when it does rain, it’s usually just a couple of hours per day.
The accommodations are cheaper during the wet season and there are fewer crowds as well. However, in July and August, locals have holidays, so typical tourist spots like Antigua or lake Atitlan will be more crowded.
HOW TO GO TO GUATEMALA
BY AIR – From Europe, you can find plane tickets from $450 up while from the USA it’s possible to get plane tickets from $100 up! I mean, when I see such prices, it makes me wanna move to the US of A 😀 . We use Skyscanner to find good offers.
BY LAND – It’s easy to combine your trip to Guatemala with a visit to neighbouring countries. Or perhaps you’re on a ” real gringo trip” and you plan to tick off all neighbouring countries anyway. 😉 You can arrive in Guatemala by bus/shuttle from any next-door country.
Good to know: if you come by land from the Yucatan peninsula (Mexico), they’ll try to charge you a departure tax at the Mexico-Belize border. In our article Chetumal to Flores in one day I wrote how you can avoid this tax.
BY SEA – yep, another way to enter Guatemala! If you’re coming from Belize, it might be convenient for you to take a boat (usually to Livingstone).
TRANSPORT IN GUATEMALA
Guatemala has a fairly good tourist infrastructure so it is not difficult to move from one place to another. You have the following types of transport available:
BY BUS – comfortable buses are available between major cities, some of them even have a “luxury” option (eg Maya de Oro), which looks like business class in an airplane. Only three (reclining) seats in a row, between them a curtain, and a place to put your legs – bring it on baby! They are not expensive (less than $30 for an 8-hour ride), but make sure you take a warm sweater with you on the bus, cos they obviously imagine that passengers love to sleep in a refrigerator.
BY CAR – renting a car may not be the cheapest option, but it gives you the freedom to explore, obviously. Just keep in mind the roads are far from ideal in Guatemala, roadblocks are happening and locals are quite crazy drivers (which is particularly great when roads are narrow and curvy). If you opt for a rental car, we’d suggest you avoid driving at night at any cost. Take a look at rentalcars.com to find something for yourself.
BY SHUTTLE – the easiest and pretty affordable option in Guatemala is to take a shuttle between cities. Practically every hostel or travel agency in all major tourist places offer a shuttle service. Vehicles are old vans though, so do not expect, er – luxury. However, if you’re backpacking Guatemala, this affordable option is probably the best for you – for example, a 4-hour drive from Antigua to Lake Atitlan costs around $10 per person.
BY CHICKEN BUS – Ok, this one is for hardcore backpackers. Certainly by far the cheapest option (only a few $ for a couple of hours long ride), but it comes with a certain amount of risk. We’ve been warned not to use chicken buses in Guatemala City since robberies do happen, but out of the city,you’re supposed to be ok. Just please, don’t flash your newest iPhone around.
WHERE TO STAY IN GUATEMALA
In Guatemala there is an extremely wide range of tourist accommodations available – from hostels, guest houses and boutique hotels to prestigious villas and cottages by the lake. Particularly in Antigua you’ll have abundant choices of hostels – from the party ones with techno music all day long to boutique-style hostels with a lovely office area.
Pssst, remember – if you book anything through our links, we get a small commission and you’ll make Nano extreeemely happy since he’ll get a new toy or two! Don’t know who Nano is ?! Read more about us here.
FOOD IN GUATEMALA
Guatemalan food is similar to food in other Central American countries. You can find tacos, tortillas, flautas, burritos, pupusas (the list goes on forever): filled with different meat, beans and other fillings. This street food is incredibly cheap as well (less than 1$). As a vegetarian, you won’t have any problems since there are always veggie options with salads and avocado available.
It is possible to eat pretty cheaply at local markets as well (set lunch menu for $2-3). But it’s true that most of the food is fried, and one can’t eat this forever.
In tourist places, you can easily find international food – everything from Italian to Middle Eastern restaurants (falafel is popular in Antigua😉). However, these menus tend to be more pricey, so expect to spend around $10 or more per person. If you do eat meat, you should definitely go for a steak with potatoes – they are really delicious and incredibly cheap ($6-8)!
Guatemala is famous for its chocolate, so make sure you try some or even join a chocolate-making class and design your own flavor!
Planning to travel to other countries in Central America as well? Then you may also like:
INTERNET IN GUATEMALA
In Guatemala, you’ll have no problem checking out that YouTube video, calling your worried mother, or putting a new story on Instagram (btw, are you low-key stalking us on Instagram already??).
Free WiFi is available in practically all accommodations, cafés and restaurants. But if you want to call a local travel agency to talk about an upcoming tour or browse through Facebook (yep, we’re on Facebook too!) during long bus drives, buy their prepaid options. The 30-day package with a SIM (includes conversations, messages and 2GB internet) costs about $12. Make sure to take your passport with you when purchasing a SIM card.
TRAVEL COSTS IN GUATEMALA
Guatemala is a very affordable country and as such is perfect for backpackers. You can easily get by on $30 per day or less, but it’s true that if you won’t want to live solely on street food or sleep in dorms, you’ll have to stretch your budget a little.
Double Room: $25-30
Chicken Bus: $1-3
Coach bus (Flores-Guatemala): $35
Street food: $1-2
A meal in a restaurant: from $8 up
⇨ You’ll find more info about how much certain things cost and information about ATMs in our article Guatemala travel budget breakdown.
THINGS TO DO IN GUATEMALA
From dense jungles, active volcanos and magical lake to charming colonial towns, colorful craft markets and superb chocolate and coffee. There are tons of things to do in Guatemala, really!
OUR TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN GUATEMALA ARE:
Hike an active volcano
Your Guatemala backpacking trip shouldn’t go without hiking at least one of the volcanoes! Seeing a volcano erupting is probably one of the most magnificent views you’ll encounter in your life.
Wander around Antigua
The cute cobblestone streets of Antigua, lined with low colorful buildings are the most beautiful just after the sunrise when the city is waking up. There’s plenty of cafes around if you’ll be feeling too sleepy. 😉
Kayak lake Atitlan
Don’t be deceived by the calm looking surface of the lake – try kayaking in the afternoon and you’ll have to paddle like crazy since the waves are bigger they seem. A real workout!
Explore Tikal ruins
Ok, time to channel that inner Indiana Jones (or Lara Croft?)! A maze of dense tropical forest with hidden ancient ruins; high pyramids with hundreds of steps to the top – it really looks just like a movie.
Sip craft beer while admiring the erupting volcano
That’s what I call a beer with a view.
⇨ For more ideas on what to do in Guatemala check out our day-by-day 2-week Guatemala itinerary!
WANT TO GO MORE OFF THE BEATEN PATH OR SPEND MORE TIME IN GUATEMALA?
In this case, you can visit some of these places:
Quetzaltenango – another backpacker’s town great for learning Spanish, wandering around and getting to know the locals. Backpackers say it’s also cheaper than Antigua, yay!
Rio Dulce – in eastern Guatemala, this place is popular for water activities and hiking
Monterrico – if you’re into beaches, this will be the place for you. Monterrico lies close to Antigua and Guatemala City, so it’s easy to add it to your itinerary if you have an extra day or two.
El Mirador trek – feeling adventurous? We were told about this trek just before we left Guatemala and if we’d know about it before, we’d surely add it to our list! Well, we’ll just go next time when we’re in Guatemala when we’ll also climb Acatenango volcano instead of Pacaya (…and now I’m off to the gym😁 ). El Mirador is a 7-day jungle trek where you’ll pass different archaeological sites and even though those ruins aren’t as spectacular as Tikal pyramids, hiking in the jungle while “discovering” ancient ruins is an adventure itself!
HEALTH & SAFETY IN GUATEMALA
Is Guatemala safe? Well, depends on who you ask. In the media, it is considered a country with an extremely high crime rate. They report thefts, robberies, kidnappings (and, er – worse). While it’s true that some parts of the capital are better to be avoided, Guatemala is still a safe country for tourists. We never felt uncomfortable – in Antigua for instance, we had to walk 15 min to reach our house and felt safe doing so even at night (I am talking 9 pm here, not “2 am and possibly drunk” – in this case, opt for a taxi!).
What surprised us in Guatemala is that medicines are quite expensive (in comparison to the person’s average salary), so bring your medicines with you (Not sure which ones to bring? Check out our travel medical kit article). Public hospitals are not the best (this is to be expected), but private hospitals are modern. Although, modern also means expensive. So when going to Guatemala (ok, when going anywhere) definitely do not forget about your travel insurance!
Do you have any Guatemala backpacking tips you’d like to share with us? Are you interested in anything else about Guatemala? Like, anything?? Let us know!