Guatemala Backpacking Guide

October 25, 2013

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The love for Guatemala seems nearly unanimous amongst backpackers in Central America. Ask anyone who’s followed the Central American ‘gringo trail’ which country was their favorite and, I’m not kidding, their answer will usually be Guatemala. While I had no expectations going in, it ended up being quite possibly my favorite country too.

While Mexico and Costa Rica are the more popular destinations in the region (both attracting more mainstream tourism), Guatemala can feel a bit more like an authentic adventure. It’s a vibrant, colourful land, with beautiful colonial architecture, ancient Mayan cities, spectacular rainforest scenery and stunning lakes. It can make for a great single-country trip, though also combines particularly well with Belize and southeast Mexico into one itinerary.

Why you should go

  1. Astounding natural beauty. Guatemala has it all: giant lakes, lava-oozing volcanos, dense jungles, fertile green valleys, and huge mountains all begging to be explored. As soon as I made it into Guatemala from neighboring Honduras the change was immediate and dramatic: this is a country where you will often want to stop to admire the view.
  2. Traditional ways of life. It’s common to see locals wear traditional clothes, and the colorful ‘Chicken Buses’ (converted and repainted US school buses) are like a national symbol. Some places can be pretty chaotic (markets especially) which adds to the charm.
  3. A place for outdoor adventurers. Whether it’s going on jungle treks in the north, hiking volcanoes in the south, or caving, swimming or tubing around the azure waterfalls of Semuc Champey, Guatemala is the perfect destination for the active traveller.
  4. Home to the most impressive Mayan archeological site. The epic ruins of Tikal are almost worth coming to Guatemala for alone. It’s a huge Mayan site in the middle of the jungle that, unlike more heavily exploited archeological sites elsewhere, manages to retain its mystique.
  5. Inexpensive. Guatemala is a very affordable and backpacker-friendly destination. Along with Nicaragua, it’s the cheapest you will find in the region.

Traditional clothing at a fiesta in San Miguel Chicaj


The map below shows some of the main destinations in Guatemala (though there are quite a few others, of course).

Many of Guetamala’s main destinations are crammed together just west of the capital. It’s actually impossible to easily fit them all on an overview map! The colonial town of Antigua is a huge tourist draw. Further west is Lake Atitlan, which has several towns around its edges that are visited by many backpackers (including the towns of Panajachel and San Pedro). Further west still is the city of Quetzaltenango, which is also known by the name of Xela. It is primarily a great base from which to go hiking or volcano climbing. The whole Guatemalan highlands area is filled with impressive volcanoes.

The Carribean side of Guatemala is much less visited and you’ll find fewer people heading into Livingston or El Estor, so consider these locations to be somewhat off the tourist trail. The town of Copan, just over the border into Honduras, it a popular waypoint heading east into the rest of Central America, and sees some day trippers from Guatemala as well. Note that the tiny Mayan ruins of Copan are not comparable to the sheer grandure of Tikal.

In the north you’ll mainly find the lake town of Flores and the nearby Mayan ruins of Tikal. Those on a regional trip usually come to Flores by bus from Mexico or Belize. (There are also speedboat connections from Belize into a port near Livingston.)

Don’t miss Semuc Champey in the middle of Guatemala. You can read more about this wonderful place further below!

Guatemala backpacking map

Tips for visiting Tikal

Tikal is easily the most breathtaking Mayan archeological site in Central America. While Chichen Itza in Mexico is more famous internationally (and more heavily marketed due to its close proximity to Mexico’s beach tourism capital of Cancun), the more remote Tikal seems much more deserving of ‘world wonder’ platitudes.

The site comprises of five main temples with many more ruins around it still enveloped by jungle. Having a good guide can make all the difference as you will be able to fully appreciate the history and significance of the place. If you do choose to explore independently make sure you don’t miss Temple IV. The view from the top of this tallest temple is fantastic. Film buffs will want to know this very view was also featured in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Go in the early morning. This really pays off as the site is best experienced without the masses. Daytrippers arrive by plane from Antigua starting around noon, so you have until then to explore the park in relative quiet. Some people try to get to the park for sunrise; tickets for this cost extra and have limited availability, though you should know that the jungles are usually very misty this early which means sunrise can be disappointing.

Decide if you want to sleep in the national park. Accommodation in the park is much more expensive, but you get a chance to wake up in the jungle to the sound of howler monkeys and tropical birds (I did this at the Palenque ruins in Mexico and loved it). If you are on a budget, the nearby town of Flores is wonderfully situated on an island in the middle of a lake about a 45-60 minute ride from the park. It’s home to cheap hostels, so many backpackers stay here and get an early shuttle bus to the park.

Suggested hostels in Guatemala

There is a well-established backpacker circuit and so all major locations have plenty of affordable accommodation to choose from. Here are some hostels and guesthouses that I recommend..

El Hostal Antigua Super cozy, in a colonial house with leafy courtyard. Both dorms and B&B-style options.
Base Camp Antigua Hostel doubling as an agency for volcano hiking or mountainbiking tours. Good place to make friends.
Chaltunha Hostel Flores Hostal Los Amigos is actually my first recommendation in Flores, but it fills up fast and can’t be booked online. Chaltunha is the next best thing.
El Retiro Lanquin (Semuc Champey) Cute riverside hostel with private bungalows. Loved staying here. Try the wood-fired sauna hut, then cool off in the river.
El Muro Lanquin (Semuc Champey) Got a tip about this nice social hostel, one of the few in Lanquin to also offer dorms.
The Black Cat Quetzaltenango (Xela) Xela is at a colder higher altitude, but The Black Cat makes you feel at home with mulled wine in winter and a sunny patio in summer.
La Iguana Perdida Lake Atitlan (Santa Cruz) Highest-rated hostel along Lake Atitlan in the small hamlet of Santa Cruz. No road access, so take a boat from San Pedro or Panajachel.
Mr Mullet’s Hostel Lake Atitlan (San Pedro) Both dorms and private rooms in San Pedro’s most popular hostel.
Hospedaje El Viajero Lake Atitlan (Panajachel) Nice guesthouse on the main road in Panajachel, just a short walk from the lake.
browse guatemala hostels »

Places to visit in Guatemala

These are just some of the best places to visit and top things to do in Guatemala:

Stay on the island village of Flores

Flores is a tiny village on an island in a lake in the very north of Guatemala. Besides being a perfect base from which to visit the ruins of Tikal or for onwards travel to Mexico or Belize, it’s also a great place to stay in its own right. You can relax, canoe around the island, or visit the colourful markets in adjoining Santa Elena. I highly recommend staying in hostel Los Amigos, which is still one of my top favorite ever hostels for good atmosphere.

Ride a chicken bus

So-called chicken buses are former US school buses used in Guatemala for local transportation. They are often painted in bright colours, and on occasion you may even find that the driver has installed an elaborate sound system blasting non-stop raggaeton (one time my bus even had disco lights!). While slow and at times uncomfortable, you can get a real taste of Guatamalan culture by taking a chicken bus instead of a tourist shuttle van.

(Note: inner city chicken buses in Guatemala City are not known to be very safe and should probably be avoided. I’ve heard the same goes for chicken buses in remote mountain areas. Main routes outside of Guatemala City are reportedly fine, but always keep an eye on your belongings as chicken buses can get very crowded.)

photo credit: To Uncertainty And Beyond cc

See the gorgeous volcano lake of Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is a beautiful lake in the Western Highlands of Guatemala that is ringed by several volcanoes. You can hop by shuttle boat between the villages surrounding the lake, many of which are backpacker favourites.

The lakeside town of Panajachel is the most easily reached from Antigua and elsewhere, but it’s very touristy in high season (and offputtingly so for me personally). You will almost trip over all the souvenir stands here, but it does have the most direct view of the volcanoes.

San Pedro is the main backpacker hangout, and it’s a wonderful laidback place where you can relax, go hiking, party or (like so many) cheaply learn Spanish in one of the many schools. I loved this place, and many travellers end up staying here longer than anticipated. Nearby San Marcos is a small and charming alternative/hippie hamlet, also directly on the lake.

Lake Atitlan

Stroll the markets of Chichicastenango

Chichicastenango is famed for having the largest market in Central America. I unfortunately had to miss this during my stay in Guatemala, but many people told me it was one of their highlights. I want to point you to this amazing photo report posted on travel blog Lunaguava, which will surely inspire you to go.

Chichicastenango market — Photo credit: Lunaguava

Hike to the highest point of Central America

Xela (also known as Quetzaltenango) is a popular base for hiking. Many make the multi-day hike from Xela to San Pedro at Lake Atitlan, which takes you through glowing hills and green forests. Other popular hikes from Xela go up to the many nearby volcanos. If you have the stamina, be sure to hike up Tajamulco volcano (the highest point in Central America) and get there for a stunning view. I hiked up Tajamulco at night and then saw the sun rise over the clouds. It was one of the best things I did in Central America and still gives me goosebumps thinking about it.

Read This: Epic Sunrise at the Highest Point in Central America

Tajamulco is far from the only volcano in Guatemala though. Closer to the capital you’ll find Volcan de Fuego (the fire volcano) which you can see erupting at night from the nearby Volcán Acatenango or when you’ve climbed up Pacaya Volcano.

Clouds rolling down the lower ridges of Tajamulco at sunrise

See the colonial town of Antigua

Antigua is like the pretty ballerina of colonial towns, with charming and colourful lowrise buildings and direct views of two nearby volcanos. The view from beneath one of its archways is postcard-famous.

If I’m honest, I do have to say that Antigua gave me the biggest spike of initial excitement but also the biggest subsequent drop. At first I was gobsmacked by its prettiness—I mean, there’s volcanoes in the background from multiple vantage points throughout the city, and the houses are so colourful—but then you quickly start to wonder what else there is to do. Lonely Planet describes Antigua as ‘a Guatemalan town as if designed by IKEA’, referring to the way many restaurants and hotels have been trendily renovated for tourists. I was content spending just a day or two here and enjoy its postcard look, but prefered spending more time around lake Atitlan.

Get a slice of paradise at Semuc Champey

Giving a factual description of Semuc Champey—that it’s a cascading series of beautiful azure pools in the jungle—might sound cool but it doesn’t quite convey how wonderful it is. This is particularly true if you go on a full-day guided adventure around this area, which I thought was one of the most delightful things I did in Guatemala. They will show you some cool secret areas, the look-out point above, and will take you into nearby caves (which you’ll enter with nothing but a wax candle for light). If you are an adventurous sort of person you are going to have a fun-filled day. The nearby mountain town is pleasant as well, with a number of riverside hostels and bungalows that are worth staying at least a day or two.

Read This: Semuc Champey: why this jungle paradise was my surprise highlight of Guatemala.

But look elsewhere for beaches…

Unlike some of its neighbors Guatemala does not have any noteworthy beaches. That’s not hugely to its detriment, but just something to know. The pacific coast of Guatemala is hard to reach, has dark volcanic sand, and swimming here is perilous due to strong tides and undertow. The Carribean coastline in turn is fairly short and unremarkable. If you’re looking for quality beach time you should take a closer look at Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua or Costa Rica.

Guatemala safety issues

As you research a trip to Guatemala you will inevitably start to wonder if it’s safe for travel, as there are occasional bad reports coming from this country. The honest answer is that not all is 100% peachy in Guatemala and crime is a problem. On the other hand, it’s also mostly just fine for a traveller so long as you are sensible and exercise normal caution.

I experienced no problems whatsoever myself and neither did almost every other traveller I spoke with. I did hear two first-hand stories of theft and one of robbery (albeit a drunken and avoidable situation), so make of that what you will.

For a less subjective indicator: according to UN statistics, Guatemala sits somewhere between the extreme crime levels of Honduras and El Salvador and the relative high safety of Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Make sure you know the best practices for staying safe and keeping your belongings secure. It’s wise to take taxis at night, and if you intend to go walking or hiking it’s best to go with a guide who knows which areas to avoid. Antigua sees the most tourists and it’s actually here that opportunistic crime seems rife, so even though it’s a pretty-looking town you shouldn’t completely drop your guard here especially at night. Take care in Guatemala City; as with most Central American countries, the capital is big and has some sketchy neighborhoods.

Having said this, I also know from my own experience that it’s easy to get needlessly worked up about it. Some suggested reading: Travel Safety: How To Keep Things In Perspective as well as 6 Safety Tips For Central America. Be informed, don’t be naive, but don’t be paranoid either.

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Cost of travel in Guatemala

Guatemala can be very inexpensive, and for backpacking in Guatemala you should budget around $25-$30 a day.

Hostel dorm beds cost $6 to $12 depending on where you are. You can find cheap rooms with shared bathroom from $8 to $16.

Street stalls or meal-of-the-day type places sell you a full plate of food for $2-$4. For a more proper restaurant with a la carte ordering expect $4-$10 minimum (and upwards of course).

Shared shuttles between the major points in the south are never more than $10-$15. Chicken buses often cost as little as a dollar.

Related Links


  1. Jacquie Reply November 22, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    This is some great info planning a trip to Guate soon. I lived in Costa Rica years ago and since have been back to visit but I am really looking forward to this! I have never been. What do you know about the border town Tecum Uman? Is it safe near the border ?
    Thank you

    • Marek Reply November 27, 2018 at 2:58 pm

      Hi Jackie. It’s been a few years since I passed through Tecum Uman. I guess there could be some migrants related issues but I have no idea. Maybe check the official safety advisories.

  2. Adam Reply August 18, 2018 at 11:14 pm

    Thanks for the info! How do you get around the country – how do you find the busses? Or do you take private shuttles? Are there any resources on how to get around using the bus network?

    • Marek Reply August 19, 2018 at 1:49 pm

      Usually it’s easy to figure out as there’s little travel agencies all over the place, or reception desks can give you good info. Schedules for local services are pretty fluid and not worth planning out too much, but you could find some rough info for longer distance buses one rome2rio.con

  3. Gerald Evans Reply May 5, 2018 at 11:45 am

    Hey Mark, thanks for an awesome article, Im looking at travelling through Central America for 4 weeks starting in Mexico (Yucatan) and traveling the ‘gringo trail’ through Belize and Guatemala with an itinerary based off your articles! Do you think I would have enough time to explore down through Nicaragua/Costa Rica and maybe even finishing as far as Medellin? if not how much extra time would you recommend for this? Thanks

    • Marek Reply May 7, 2018 at 9:29 am

      Hey Gerald. It’s always such a difficult question to answer as some travelers are content just to spend a couple of days in a country. But personally I think 4 weeks is perfect for traveling Mexico + Belize + Guatemala without rushing too much, but not enough for going the whole way. On my first time in Central America I took about 3 months going from Yucatan to Colombia (and I still rushed through Costa Rica and Panama). I think it’s usually better to keep the route more manageable but do more things in each country.

  4. Alice Reply April 19, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    Hi! great blog, thank you. I’ve been thinking of going to Mexico and also do central America for a while now and this post made me want to go even more . My biggest issue is though how I should go from place to place. Is the most common thing to rent a van or car and go, or is it easier to go with busses etc?

    Greatful for answere! Cheers

    • Marek Reply April 19, 2018 at 3:04 pm

      Hey Alice. I’ve traveled Central America with buses and also with a friend who purchased a car in Panama and later sold it in Mexico. I think it’s by far the easiest to get around using buses. You usually can’t take a rental car across borders.

  5. Amina Reply March 3, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    Hey quick question,
    My gf and I are planning on backpacking around Guatemala and we’re wondering how long did your trip take?!
    We’re planning it for three weeks and it’s quite similar to your route.


    • Marek Reply March 4, 2018 at 6:46 pm

      Hey Amina. I did 4 weeks (at least if I can remember correctly). 3 weeks is a good amount of time for Guatemala!

  6. Doris Reply January 17, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    I loved Flores. BUT Bus ticket scams are now very common. AVOID Everlasting Travel Agency and “Cesar” AT ALL COST! He is a LYING CHEATING FRAUD! ´If they know you are buying a ticket out of Flores and won’t come back, they will overcharge you wildly while telling totally sincere sounding stories how they feel sorry for travellers getting cheated by others.
    EVERLASTING TRAVEL AGENCY sold me a ticket to Chetumal/Mexico and on to Tulum at 400% the regular price. I knew it was expensive but wanted a guaranteed seat as it was the last bus of the evening to Tulum, Mexico and transfer time was short. I was given a (fake) voucher for the onward Chetumal-Tulum trip, to be changed into a bus ticket at their “partner agency” in Chetumal terminal. The partner agency did not exist. Needless to say, I had to buy a new ticket and also ended up missing the bus and getting stranded in Chetumal for the night.
    Fraud like this seems to be common in Flortes – they prey on travellers who they know will not come back and report them to the police. Best buy at your honesat hostel. I compared a lot of prices and the touts in the streets and agencies were ALWAYS a worse deal. Do not believe what they tell you about hostels taking higher prices.
    Trip times are easily double of what this crook Cesar tells you. He also lied about the route, saying this bus would go directly to Chetumal (via Belize) and NOT stop on the road. Instead, it got off to a really late start because the driver picked up extra passengers (Guatemalans as a side business, in all sorts of out of the way places, so people and suitcases were stacked in the aisle), then went all the way into Belize City to pick up more travellers, amid rush hour…Instead of 7 hours, the trip took 14,5 hours and people were starving. I could go on and on. Worst experienvce in Guatemala.
    But DO GO! It’s a wonderful travel destination! Just beware of the crooks in Flores, there are MANY of them!

  7. Dan Reply January 12, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Just passing by to say thanks! I was looking for a place to spend 10 days in Central America and this post made me go to Guatemala. It ended up being an amazing experience. Tikal, Semuc, Antigua and Atitlán, all worth the trip.

    The only thing I’d recommend in addition to the above is hiking Acatenango, near Antigua. I also found Antigua underwhelming (much more touristy than a decade ago I was told) and decided to do the 2 day Acatenango hike, spending a night at the base camp near the summit. The sunset/sunrise, as well as seeing nearby volcano Fuego spewing lava at night, were experiences of a lifetime.

  8. Hana Zykova Reply October 20, 2017 at 8:06 am

    Hi, I am passionate scooter rider ad would wish to travel Guate by hiring a scooter motorcacle. Do you think I would face serious problems while getting around? Thank you for an answer and wish everyone a nice day.

    • Marek Reply October 20, 2017 at 11:01 am

      I don’t have any experience with exactly that, I’ve only driven around Guatemala by car on a road trip. The quality of the main roads is fine, though for safety we avoided driving at night. It was a great experience, most of the drives were very scenic!

      • Jaiden Reply November 17, 2017 at 5:52 am

        Wow unreal.. you made my decision 100 times easier! Thanks pal!

  9. Eric Reply July 22, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    I am traveling solo on my first backpacking trip to Guatamala on February 2nd. Don’t have an itinerary, but have been reading up on Guatamala for the past couple months before making a decision on Guatamala. I would like to backpack the volcanoes and visit the ruins. If anyone is planning a trip around that time and would like to hook up just mail me.
    [email protected]

  10. Saba Zarif Reply July 15, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    Hi Marek,

    Im in San Pedro de la laguna at the moment doing spanish and I will be heading to Antigua in a week to do the famous pool party and hike up the Aceatango Volcano. Ive been looking for cheap shuttle buses from Antigua to La Ceiba, and after from La Ceiba to Leon and have only found private companies that do it for a whopping $65 USD! Can you help me out, is there any other companies that do it for less?

    Kind Regards,


    • Marek Reply July 16, 2017 at 1:07 pm

      No those are pretty much just the prices for the tour buses. You might find a little cheaper by taking one direct via El Salvador to Nicaragua instead of Honduras. Alternatively you could try taking just local ‘chicken buses’ but this will take significantly longer – don’t have good info on how to go about doing that though…

  11. Brady and Shelly Reply May 17, 2017 at 3:35 am

    Hands down one of the best Guatemala guides I have found on the travel blogs! Really great! What you said about San Pedro, Lake Atitlan is absolutely true. We had to pull ourselves from that place and move on or we would have spent our entire trip there. Everyday, we would say to ourselves…. should we leave today… nah.. one more day. This happend for two weeks. 🙂 Anyway! Thanks for the guide!

    • Marek Reply May 17, 2017 at 11:57 am

      Haha – great to hear you also experienced the pull that San Pedro has on many travellers. 🙂

  12. Liam van der Aa Reply May 2, 2017 at 11:09 am

    Hi Marek,

    Great and helpful article! I want to travel to Central America in January for three weeks. This will be my first solo travel experience, so I’m still contemplating were to go, since I’ve seen none of those countries. Right now I’m hesitating between Nicaragua and Guatemala, but since Nicaragua is regarded safer than Guatemala, would you recommend me to visit Nicaragua, because this will be the first time on my own (I’m 19 btw)? It’s not that I’m afraid to go there, and I really want to see the ancient Mayan heritage, but I would like some advice.

    • Marek Reply May 2, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      Good question, Liam (and one that’s always hard to answer!). Nicaragua is easier to start with but Guatemala does have the Mayan heritage and more impressive landscapes. You might be jumping into the deep a little but if you can take care of yourself, maybe go for Guatemala.

      It does have some real safety issues though. People sometimes get robbed around Lake Atitlan when hiking without a guide, or get mugged in the streets of Antigua at night, etc. A guy I met in Guatemala had shots fired at him in Livingston (he got into a bar fight and then chased after a guy into an alley, but still). I’m just saying this to paint a realistic picture. It’s not a super dangerous country if you are reasonably aware and follow safety advise, but you can get unlucky. Only you can decide what you’re comfortable with! 🙂

  13. Bram Reply February 26, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    Hey Marek,

    I had been hesitating where to go on my first Central (or South) America trip, but your Guatemala page has really excited me to focus my efforts on going there.

    The plan I have now would be to go there for 3 weeks, fly in to Guatemala City from Amsterdam, go by Semuch Champey to Tikal/Florens, then probably take an express bus to Belize City to go to Caye Caulker for the beach and from there move back towards Guatemala city to go to Lake Atitlan/San Pedro and perhaps do the hike toward Tajamulco and/or from Xela towards San Pedro.

    Do you think that’s doable (and recommended..) as a 3 week trip for a first time solo backpacker?

    • Marek Reply February 27, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      Hoi Bram. Yeah that’s doable within 3 weeks, though I guess it’s a pity your route will probably involve covering some ground twice (back and forth from Belize). Maybe a more efficient route is possible. But yeah, it can certainly be done in 3 weeks.

      As for first time solo, the social aspects of solo travel are easy here as there’s loads of other travellers around. Crime can be an issue in both countries, so they’re not quite as carefree as other places that are more popular with solo first-timers (like Thailand etc). Not a huge issue, just be sure to have read the common travel advice for this region.

    • Dale Reply March 20, 2017 at 11:01 am

      Hey, just letting you know Caye Caulker is beautiful but doesn’t have beaches!

      • Marek Reply March 20, 2017 at 5:14 pm

        How do you define a beach? There’s a strip of sand… though admittedly narrow. 🙂

  14. Rachelle Reply January 22, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    I’m going to Guatemala with my husband and parents Feb 3-14th, 2017. I keep hearing great things about Semuc Champey – but I can’t find any easy way to get to or out of that area. Please share how to got to Semuc (transportation, amount of time & cost). Thanks!!

    • Marek Reply January 23, 2017 at 10:28 am

      I took a bus from Flores that took 6 hours, and found an onward bus to Guatemala City / Antigua from there. It may be difficult to book these things online though. If you can’t find anything on Semuc Champey, try “Lanquin” which is the name of the nearby town. Hope this helps!

    • Hayden Reply January 25, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      Hey Rachelle. If you are trying to get there from Flores, head to Los Amigos hostel. They run a small travel agency inside and can organise transport. You can do the same thing from the hostels in Antigua. Try Bigfoot Hostel in Antigua.

  15. Laurianne Reply October 30, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    Hello Marek,
    Thanks for your awesome blog, the advices have been really helpful so far 🙂 I’m planning a 2 months trip (January & February 2017) and I’d like to improve my spanish while getting in touch with the locals and the culture. Following your tips, I’d like to go to Flores & Tikal, Semec Champey, San Pedro and maybe head over Livingston to do volunteer in a library for kids! Do you think it’s realistic to do so in 2 months and do you think I left an important destination out?
    Thanks for your help!

    • Marek Reply October 31, 2016 at 12:45 pm

      Hey Laurianne. 2 months will definitely let you experience Guatemala to the fullest. I did quite like Xela as well – it’s nice especially if you like to go hiking. But I think you’ve mentioned the highlights.

  16. Tina Reply August 7, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    Hi! Im planning a trip to Mexico, 3 weeks. Was thinking Cozumel/Tulum-area. But Guatemala looks supernice too! Do you think its possible to visit Tikal and maybe Flores on that trip? Dont want to stress around. And how to get from Tulum to Tikal, is there a bus going that way?

    • Marek Reply August 13, 2016 at 11:40 am

      Sure, it would make for a great addition to your trip. You can get there via Belize: take the bus to Chetumal, then Belize City, then on to Flores. You could stay for a day or two at Caye Caulker to break up the travelling a bit (there’s a boat going straight from Chetumal to Caye Caulker). There’s also a bus from Flores to Palenque, from where you could circle back to the Yucatan.

  17. Jorge Mateus Reply June 14, 2016 at 2:09 am

    Hey guys! I have heard really good things for backpackers I. Guatemala. I will travel in tow weeks only for 10 day… I am on my budget and traveling solo. What route do you guys recommend me?? I will arrive to Guatemala City from Colombia.
    , any suggested route for 10 days??

  18. Iza Reply June 8, 2016 at 11:42 pm

    Hey Marek!
    I was just about to go for brazil, but your post kinda totally changed my mind. Just unsure about the time: I have 23rd july to 13 or 14th sept. Question n.1: is the weather ok in August ? (I’m just concerned about dengue) question n.2: 7weeks is apparently very long. What other country would you “pair” with guatemala? I’m looking for nature ,culture , friends, hikes and activities. A bit of beach life, and a bit of some not-wild party. Ps:i am 29, girl, on a budget.
    Many many thanks! 🙂

    • Marek Reply June 12, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      The first time I was in Guatemala was in August (or September, can’t remember exactly) and the weather was fine. It was also low season around Lake Atitlan which was quite pleasant. Apparently it was ‘rainy season’ but, for what it’s worth, I totally didn’t even notice this and only heard about this afterwards.

      Mexico is easy to pair with Guatemala, and has lots of culture and some nice beaches. You could also maybe combine it with Nicaragua or Costa Rica which are great for hiking and wildlife, and have some fun beach destinations as well. 🙂

  19. Maria Saech Reply May 11, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    Chicken buses are not a national symbol.

    • Marek Reply May 12, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      You’re right. That introduction actually needs to be totally rewritten.

  20. Peter Reply April 8, 2016 at 10:55 am

    Hi guys,

    I’ll be going to Guatemala next January and I was wondering, did you guys book your hostels on forehand? Or do you just write up some names/addresses and see where it takes you?

    And what is the best way to to this in Peru where I’ll be in July?


  21. Jonathan Reply March 10, 2016 at 3:55 am

    Hey Marek,
    If you only had 10 days, what would be your route in Guatemala? Thanks for the great writeup!

    • Marek Reply March 10, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      Hmmm, probably 4 days to explore Tikal and Semuc Champey in the north, a day or two in Antigua, then spend the rest around Lake Atitlan (e.g. San Pedro) where you can relax take hikes around the volcanoes.

  22. Campbell Reply February 1, 2016 at 9:36 pm

    Hi Marek, I really liked your post. My girlfriend and I traveled in Guatemala in April 2015, we spent $13.13 each per day all inclusive and our average budget each was as follows:
    Total: GTQ 1619/$210 in 16 days
    Accommodation: GTQ 59/$7.60 per day
    Transport: GTQ 24/$3.12 per day
    Food: GTQ 27.50/$3.58 per day
    We are still in Latin America, now in Chile, Guatemala was our cheapest country in Central America and second in Latin America (Venezuela topped the list). I agree our favorite place in Guatemala was Semuc Champey, this was my favorite site in Central America (excluding dive sites). We did one hike up Mount Tajamulco, at 4220m this volcano is the highest point in Central America, cost GTQ 300/$39 for 2 days. You can see what we did, where we stayed and what we payed on our blog Stingy Nomads at
    Can I ask you what plugin you used for the follow me on facebook/twitter pop up on your blog
    Much appreciated
    Safe Travels

    • Marek Reply February 1, 2016 at 11:50 pm

      Hi Campbell, great info! I use getsitecontrol for overlay widgets which I’m very happy with. (Most services like this cost $50/month or something crazy.) For something free but more basic, AddThis is nice too.

  23. Jasmine Reply January 14, 2016 at 7:30 am

    Thank you so much for offering your wisdom! I was wondering if you could also offer a suggestion.

    I’m headed to Guatemala on my very first solo backpacking journey 🙂 I don’t have much of a game plan besides hitting a few destinations I’ve had my eye on (Tikal, Semuc Champey, Lake Atitlan) before I make my way down to Costa Rica for Envision Festival.

    As a female in her mid twenties, where do you suggest I head first? I’d love to meet up fellow travelers to sync up and adventure together! Any words of advice as to where’s best to try for that?

    Thanks again!

    Much love,

    • Marek Reply January 14, 2016 at 11:19 am

      It’s easy to meet people everywhere especially if you stay in hostels. If you want to base yourself somewhere for a bit initially to make some friends I’d recommend Flores in the north (as lots of people coming in from Mexico or Belize here)… have a look at Los Amigos hostel especially (even if you’re not staying there it’s worth visiting their bar in the evening). San Pedro next to Lake Atitlan is also a great place to buddy up, as people tend to stick around here for a while. Guatemala is generally great for solo travel. Have fun! 🙂

  24. Daniel Alejandro Reply December 23, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    I’m going to Guatemala in the end of January. I will stay there for a month (hope it’s time enough?). I will definitely use this guide! I’m travelling on a budget and can only afford being away for a month because of studies back in Denmark. But it all sounds very affordable, which is good! I’m travelling by my self in another country for the first time, which is both exciting and a bit scary. I cannot wait to see the country and what it has to offer. Thank you for the guide!

    • Marek Reply December 24, 2015 at 11:01 am

      1 month is a perfect amount of time to see all of the highlights of Guatemala at a relaxed pace. I’m sure you’ll have an awesome adventure. 🙂 Good luck, Daniel!

    • Jasmine Reply January 14, 2016 at 7:35 am

      Hey Daniel!

      I just saw that you’ll be traveling solo in Guatemala? I will be too! It’ll be my first time in the area and backpacking as well. Where are you headed first? I’m trying to find out where’s best to meet others partaking on these adventures!

      Feel free to reach out if you’d like to meet up and explore 🙂


      • Richie Reply January 17, 2016 at 9:47 am

        Hey Jasmine,

        I’ll be backpacking solo down that way as well around the same time! I’m thinking I’ll fly to Cancun from CA and work my down to Guatemala from there. I hadn’t heard of Envision festival but after checking it out online it seems like it’s something I can’t miss.

        Anyway, let me know what your plan is and if you’d like to sync up!

        All the best,

        • Jasmine Reply January 20, 2016 at 2:01 am

          Awesome! If you’re in to that kind of stuff, then you’ll have an INCREDIBLE time at Envision! I’m all for forming a band of gypsies on the way down there, so the more the merrier! haha

          When do you plan on reaching Guatemala? I’d love to meet up if timing works out!

          I’ll be meeting with some other solo travelers in Costa Rica, right before the festival. Other than that, my plans are pretty loose. I’ve got a few different hostels in mind, and some key sights/experiences to hit, but other than that I’m pretty open minded.

          Feel free to send me an email! [email protected]

        • Jasmine Reply January 31, 2016 at 11:52 pm

          Hey Richie!

          Where are you on your travels now? I’m flying in tomorrow and I’d love to see where you’re adventures have brought you!

          Hope to talk soon! 🙂

          • Marjoris June 9, 2016 at 2:19 pm

            Hi Jasmine! Just came across your post and thought I’d ask a few questions!
            I’m heading to Guatemala in 2 weeks alone. Did you enjoy your trip? Did you have any trouble in specific cities!
            Thank you!

  25. Clayton Reply December 4, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    Hello Marek!

    Your rough guides here helped me when planning my route through Central America. I have 6 months to travel so I have a bit more time than most people visiting but I just wanted to agree with you about Guatemala. It is a beautiful place where one can find themselves staying longer than expected. I encourage any traveler reading this to check out Finca Ixobel in Poptún, Guatemala. It is a great place to get off the Gringo Trail and still experience all Guatemala has to offer. It also has great volunteer opportunities for long term travelers! Next time you come through Guatemala stop by Finca Ixobel!

  26. Maxwell Reply October 22, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    I have traveled in Guatemala for many years on a very thin budget. The info you provide here is right on. It is an amazing place for adventure travel and backpackers of every stripe. I am presently on my greatest adventure in the country. It is my first trip back in 7 years.
    Working on a project in Cultural Anthropology in Antigua in 2008 I had an accident on a motorcycle I had toured down on. It resulted in a Spinal cord injury that put me in a wheelchair. Nonetheless the draw and truly magical quality of the country, especially the more rural areas has brought me back. Of course it is not easy traveling independently in my condition. There is little to no particular attention given to handicap accessible accommodations but i have found my way and so far surprisingly easier than i had expect when i set out driving from the states.
    I am presently staying in a place that has always had a particular draw for me, as it has had for hundreds, even thousands, over the past 30 years. I have been more than pleasantly surprised to find the facility fully accessible (with a bit of innovation and minor adjustments, such as a small wooden ramp added to the restroom.) I have found everything I need here and will find it very hard to leave when the time comes.
    I was surprised that you had no mention of the Finca Ixobel ( ) in your description of destination and accommodations in Peten, Guatemala. Located only 3 klm south of Poptun, (klm 376), on the highway to Tikal,it is not only a beautiful and peaceful place to have a wholesome rest, the in house restaurant offers an extensive and very affordable menu featuring fresh baked breads, produce and even fresh eggs, all from the finca. In addition they offer cave tours, mountain hikes, and horse back tours as well as serving as an excellent base for tours to near by attractions. One can stay for as little as $5 a night camping, or $6 a night for very clean and comfortable hostel style dorms. Of course there are other prvate rooms, cabins, and even treehouses for a bit more.
    I really don’t mean to sound like an add for them but it is a place beyond special in the heart of Peten. It is a backpacker’s paradise and shouldn’t be miss. Unfortunately in the past years, sense the completion of the highway from Rio Dulce to Flores it has been missed by travelers on their way to destinations such as Semuc Champey and Tikal. Now they are struggling to survive. The new generation of travelers to these parts really need to know about the place.
    I just wanted to give a shot out and let others know, Finca Ixobel is worthy as a destination for backpackers and all travelers visiting Peten, Guatemala. It should not be missed. Thanks. Hope to see you soon.

  27. Cecilia Rios Reply September 12, 2015 at 2:45 am

    I’m actually from Guatemala, and I would definitely love to go backpacking with someone else. If you would like to come to Guatemala let me know, and we’ll plan the best backpacking trip in Guatemala. Even if you live here it’s a whole other world when you travel this way, you get to meet so different places and people.

    My email is [email protected]

  28. Chelsea Reply June 10, 2015 at 1:54 am

    Thanks for a great write up on many of the top travel destinations in Guatemala. It’s great to see people promoting travel in such a beautiful country that is often overlooked or misunderstood due to a long and complex history of corruption and violence, predominantly during the time of the civil war. I went to Guatemala in March of 2010 for what I thought would be a quick trip and I ended up staying for over two years. I now write passionately about the country at my blog, La Gringa Chapina It would great if an experienced and established blogger such as yourself would check it out! I would love any feedback you could provide. I am hoping through this blog to add the positive promotion of the country and encourages others to have an authentic experience while abroad!


    Chelsea – La Gringa Chapina –

  29. Alex Kass Reply October 23, 2014 at 12:38 am

    Thanks for the writeup. I”m putting Semuc Champey and Tikal on my must-dos.

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