Ahh Guatemala, my heart is so full just thinking about this place that we went from knowing nothing about to truly loving. We thought we would be in Guatemala for a few weeks but after only a couple of days in the country we knew it was special. So we stayed a month and a half! Our experience was enhanced by living with our wonderful host family for three weeks but even just backpacking around the country was amazing. There are seriously volcanos everywhere and they are stunning! Not to mention the beautiful beaches and jaw-dropping Lake Atitlán. This natural beauty combined with the lovely people creates the perfect travel destination.
We loved Antigua and found ourselves coming back 5 times in between trips to other parts of the country. From the cobblestone streets to the crazy good live music it is a city with unparalleled charm. We quickly had a few favorite restaurants and were even “regulars”! Both of our parents visited in Antigua and we had SO much fun showing them one of our favorite towns.
Lake Atitlan is SO GORGEOUS. The volcanos surrounding the blue lake took our breath away every day. We spent almost one month at the lake and spent the majority of our time in San Pedro. This is where we lived with our host family Enli, Freddy, and Caleb. They are so special to us and we had so much fun with them! We also brushed up our Spanish while taking 3 weeks of classes at Lake Atitlán Spanish School.
One weekend we took a lengthy day trip to this crazy market. It is the largest in Central America!
The hike up Acatenango was intense! It was the hardest hike we’ve ever done and the conditions were constantly changing and often harsh. But like most things that require effort it was SO worth it. Not only do we now know our bodies are capable of doing such things, but we also know what it looks like to watch a volcano erupt while camping under a bed of stars.
While the lake is super popular with tourists, the West Coast is often overlooked. Monterrico doesn’t have much to do but that is its appeal! We spent our day tanning on the black sand beach and going for a sunset swim in the warm Pacific. It was seriously one of the most beautiful sunsets we’ve ever seen. After Monterrico we headed to Paredon, and the journey was interesting to say the least. Read more about that here.
Parendon is a magical place where life’s biggest concern is whether to watch the sunset in the sand or in the hammock. Its literally the middle of nowhere, right when we started to think cows were our only companions a few thatched palapas and hostels come into view. We loved our hostel and beach bungalow. We didn’t have to get out of bed to check the surf report… I practically had to drag Grant out of Paredon.
Mason, Grant’s brother, came with us to Semuc Champey and it was incredible. Our trip started with an eventful 12 hour bus ride (Mason’s bag fell off the roof) but it was absolutely worth it. We spent our days tubing down pristine rivers, swimming in crystal pools, making hostel friends, and climbing through candlelit caves.
Transportation in Guatemala
We went all around Guatemala! After flying in from Colombia we only traveled by road. Here is the low down on public transportation in Guatemala.
This is the main way for tourists to book transportation throughout the country. There are several tour shops that offer shuttles. It doesn’t really matter who you go with, they all book the same shuttles. Guatemala is notorious for cramming these things full! We lucked out on a few and had them almost to ourselves but that is rare.
The chicken buses are Guatemala’s classic way to get around. They are old school American made school buses painted crazy colors and often chromed out. They are usually very crowded and have few tourists. It is a cheap way to travel around although they usually make a lot of stops and you have to switch buses often.
Your first thought may be of Thailand, but there are surprisingly a lot of tuk tuks in Guatemala and Central America. They are usually less than $1 per person and are an easy way to scoot around town.
A microbus is basically a collectivo or shared van. They are super cheap. We used them to get from Monterrico to Paredon.
In Antigua we saw a few of these. They are usually pretty expensive. A tuk tuk is a better option.
Yep, Guatemala has uber! (Well at least Antigua does.) We only used it a couple of times since we only have cell service over wifi. They are super cheap!
To get around Lake Atitlán small boats, or lanchas, are the primary mode of transportation. They are cash only and vary depending on destination and driver. Sit near the back for the least bumpy ride!
Safety in Guatemala
We had no problems regarding safety in Guatemala and felt safe the entire time we were there. However, we did not visit Guatemala City and that is where crime is prevelant. On the chicken bus we felt safe even as we listened to audiobooks so it was obvious we had phones. We heard a first hand account of someone experiencing pretty intense crime in San Marcos. It is very normal for men to carry machetes for their jobs and it’s amazing how used you get to seeing them everywhere. Parts of the country are very impoverished and there is a huge wealth divide with tourists which naturally leads to opportunistic crime. Stay smart and cautious and you’ll likely be fine.
Weather in Guatemala
We had perfect weather for our entire trip! We visited in January and February. It was warm, sunny, and overall very pleasant. At the lake there was one week where there was a lot of wind, and we had rain one afternoon but it was so beautiful we appreciated it. Guatemala has two distinct seasons, wet and dry, I highly recommend visiting in the dry season.
The People in Guatemala
They are THE BEST! Seriously I can’t say enough good things about them. They are so small and kind and consistently follow their Mayan traditions. The women still dress in beautiful traditional clothes and carry their babies in cloth swaddles. It is very common for the Guatemalans to be bilingual and most people speak Spanish and a Mayan language, such as Tz’utujil. Everyone we met was so sincere and genuine.
Guatemala is such an amazing place in general and so special to us. I know we will be back soon.