5 Things to know Traveling in Guatemala

I was beautifully surprised by Guatemala.  It was not on my list of places to go but a series of amazing recommendations added it to my itinerary and I am so happy I went.  I discovered that there is a river of bus riding back packers that flows through the country to all the stops you want to see.  The transfers are arranged by the hostels, and are easy and safe, however not a luxury experience.   It is truly backpacker world, but totally worth it.  As a woman traveling alone I felt very safe along the whole adventure.  It is also very easy to connect with others following the same path and sync up your transfers to travel together for a few stops.

Things to Know:

  1.  Spanish – Guatemala is a Spanish speaking country, however the stops on the backpacker trail are well defined and English is quite widely spoken in the hostels and restaurants catering to them.
  2. Hostels – Your hostel is not just your home, it is your tour and transfer desk as well.  I priced around, most of them are offering exactly the same or within $2usd pricing for all tours and transfers.  Use your hostel desk as they will usually pick you up from your front door.  They also have relationships with the tour companies and trust them to treat their guests well.
  3. Getting Around – Take the bus.  There are buses and group transfers to all major cities and sites along the backpacker trail.  They are safe and easy to arrange at your hostel.  They do pack you in tight in to small seats or onto benches.  Be ready to meet your neighbor.  Uber does exist in Antigua and Guatemala city, otherwise not really.
  4. Currency – The Local Currency is Quetzal  right now it is about 7.5 Q to $1 USD.  An average meal at a restaurant costs 50Q  which is roughly $6.50 usd.  Making it less expensive that neighboring Belize but a little more than South American countries.
  5. Stops on the Trail – I traveled into Guatemala from Belize entering in the North East of the country.
    • My first stop was the Island of Flores.  Very cute town and the launch point for visiting the Mayan Ruins at Tikal.  You can book the guided tour for 85Q and 150Q park entry fee.  Unless you want the sunrise or sunset tour which is an extra 100Q and totally worth it! You get to hear the jungle awaken or go to sleep, see nocturnal wildlife, and watch a beautiful sunrise or set from the top of an ancient monument. All told the experience costs around $45USD and is totally worth it.
    • The next stop is the town of  Lanquin and Sumec Champey national park.  There are hostels near the park that will shuttle you from Lanquin for free if you stay 2 nights. Or you can stay in Lanquin and book a transfer up to the park for 15Q.  The park has a 50Q entry fee and is beautiful.  There is a rather steep hike up to a look out point to take amazing pictures of the major attraction, the natural pools in the river.  The pools are full of cool water for swimming and the little nibbling fish that you see in fish pedicure tanks.  If you sit still they will be all over your toes.  Do bring your waking shoes for the hike, and if you have them water-shoes for the pools, the tree roots are a little sharp and the rocks are slippery!
    • Antigua is the Spanish Colonial capital of Guatemala and a UNESCO heritage site.  It has a nice mix of museums, restaurants, and nightlife.  Excellent digital nomad town.  Met several other expats, nice mix of English and Spanish spoken in town.  Climbing the active volcanoes is the biggest excursion from Antigua and totally worth it.  I climbed Pacaya the “easier” climb.  It is shorter 6 hour tour, compared to the overnight camping at altitude on Acatenango, but the loose rocks and shifting sand make it a challenge.  However, seeing the active lava flow is amazing!
    • Lake Atitlan is a great getaway spot from Antigua.  I spent a weekend at the lake like most Americans do at home, drinking, listening to music and staring out at the water.  You can catch a water taxi from little town to little town to check out the vibe in different spots around the lake. Very laid back and beautiful place to visit.
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    • And of course Guatemala is a coffee producing country so you must stop at one of the many local coffee shops for an amazing cup!
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