10 reasons to visit Guatemala, a cultural gem in Central America. With helpful tips to help you get the most out of your trip. Plus lots of pretty pictures. So, what are you waiting for – read on for your daily dose of travel inspiration!
Why you should visit Guatemala
Home to many Mayan cultural sights like Tikal, Iximché and Yaxhá, Guatemala is known as the Mayan center of Central America. So, history buffs will love it here! If you’re a fan of beautiful scenery then, Guatemala has it in abundance – Lake Atitlan is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world (and is a great spot if you like to party!) and Semuc Champey, near the border with Honduras and its turquoise waterfalls are breathtaking!
10 best things to do in Guatemala
- Stroll the cobbled streets of historic and colorful Antigua
- Stay in unique accommodation
- Explore the spectacular Tikal
- Relax by day and party at night at Lake Atitlan
- Explore Rio Dulce and stay in a unique hotel in the middle of the river
- Because Guatemala is cheap!
- Get a taste of the Carribbean lifestyle on Livingston Island
- Visit the largest outdoor market in Central America – Chichicastenango
- Experience a chicken bus (if you know you know)
- Guatemala is one of the best countries to go backpacking
1. To visit one of our favourite cities in the world
Antigua, is like something from a movie. It’s a small city less than an hour outside Guatemala City with breathtaking views of volcanoes in almost every direction. The town itself is Spanish-colonial style with cobble-stoned streets. Both quirky and rustic with a little hint of danger, because those stunning volcanoes you can see from almost every direction are notoriously active.
We stayed in Antigua for a week but could have stayed for much longer. But Antigua also attracts a hell of a lot of tourists so try to avoid travelling there in peak periods like spring break or the months of July and August. After all, Antigua is one of the main reasons tourists come to Guatemala. Here’s a list of the best accommodation in Antigua (be sure to book in advance!)
This Antigua Guided Walking Tour is a great way to experience the see and visit some lesser-known sights.
2. To stay in one of the most unique hotels we’ve ever stayed at
In a teeny-tiny village close to Tikal, we stayed at one of the most unique and memorable hotels we’ve ever had the pleasure of staying at. Posada del Cerro is designed like a treehouse, overlooking Lake Peten Itza. It looked like it had been constructed by Mother Nature herself. We stayed in a suite, which was essentially a massive balcony with a bed and the best view of the lake. There was no door to the suite, and the bed was simply covered by a massive mosquito net to keep the bugs away.
It was a 15 minute walk to the village, so we ate at the hotels restaurant every night. When I say restaurant – it was essentially a local lady who came in and cooked you a meal from whatever local produce came in that day. It was to-die-for every time.
Book your stay at Posada del Cerro
3. To explore the spectacular Tikal
Our trip to Central America, involved viewing A LOT of Mayan ruins. There’s tons of them. But none as spectacular and awe-inspiring as Tikal. The ruins here date back to the 1st Century when it was a city that housed up to 50,000 people. There are almost 3,000 structures within Tikal but the best ones to visit are the Lost World (Mundo Perdido) Pyramid, the Temple of the Grand Jaguar and Temple IV i which stands tall at a whopping 70 meters. Try to visit Tikal at sunrise to avoid the crowds.
It’s as simple as this – if you’re in or near Guatemala MAKE SURE to put visiting Tikal at the top of your list.
There’s loads of great guided tours of Tikal, most depart from Antigua but one of the best and memorable tours you can book is this flight into Tikal with a guided tour of the ruins!
4. To feel ‘zen’ at Lake Atitlan
There’s a lot of hippies on Lake Atitlan, can I say that? Okay, Lake Atitlan attracts a lot of ‘individual’ individuals, particularly the lakeside towns of San Pedro and San Marcos. There’s a lot of harem pants and friendship bracelets within sight. We really enjoyed our time here, the food was magnificent – in particular The Blue Parrot and Idea Connection It’s also a fantastic place to learn Spanish, a lot of other backpackers we met were doing home-stays to brush up on their Spanish.
Please DON’T swim in the lake. Its pretty to look at, for sure, but admire it’s beauty from afar. Lake Atitlan alone is a great reason to visit Guatemala.
5. To feel like Crocodile Dundee on the Rio Dulce
We stayed on the Rio Dulce, like right on the river, the only way in and out was by speedboat. The river itself is apparently infested with Crocodiles and the owner told us numerous stories of him waking up to a Crocodile sunbathing on the deck. The owner Gary is a true blue Australian and has brought a very distinctive Australian vibe to the hostel, he’s even named it Hotel Kangaroo. You can’t get much more Australian than that. He and his Mexican wife run a great show here and they are full of ideas of what to do and what not to do in Guatemala. It’s a do-not-miss, that’s for sure.
Book your stay at Hotel Kangaroo.
6. It’s cheap as chips!
Cheaper than chips in fact. Guatemala is well-known in the backpacker community for being an extremely reasonable destination. Budget travellers flock here in droves, generally during the Summer months of May to July. A hotel room can cost as little as $20 a night, especially in Lake Atitlan and Flores, it can be slightly more costly in Antigua, however, especially during any school or public holidays. A meal here averages $5. A bus journey varies from $1 to $15 depending on whether you’re willing to take a chicken bus or a luxury tour coach.
Cheap & cheerful – one of the better reasons to visit Guatemala!
7. Indulge in a slice of the Carribean on Livingston island
An hour or so boat ride from Rio Dulce, is the Carribean island of Livingston. Truthfully, it’s still part of Guatemala, but an island off the mainland, and it couldn’t be more different to the distinctly Mayan culture of the rest of the country. Stepping of the boat is like stepping onto Jamaican soil. The locals are of African descent and speak creole. Seafood is served in abundance here. It’s definitely worth the boat journey to see this unique side to Guatemala.
There aren’t many accommodation options on Livingston Island, so be sure to book in advance!
8. Experience ‘true’ Guatemala at the Chichicastenango markets
Colour, colour, everywhere. ‘Chichi’ as it’s affectionately known by locals is for me what I imagined Guatemala to be before I even set foot in the country. Smells of fresh flowers, meats and fresh fruit waft through the air. It’s jam-packed with locals carrying textiles on their heads and tourists touting cameras. It’s exciting and stressful at the same time, as anyone who’s been to a market in Central America will attest to.
You can find yourself a great bargain too, we enjoyed bartering with the friendly locals who own the stalls. For most of them, this is a major source of their income, so be nice. We’re told they drive up from the neighboring villages the night before and sleep in their stalls, before getting up at dawn to prepare.
There are many guided tours from Antigua to Chichicastenango daily!
9. Live on the edge on a chicken bus
When I say ‘live on the edge’ I literally mean it, because you might be spending the entire journey on the edge of your seat. We have lots of funny stories from riding chicken buses in Guatemala, on one trip there was a bag full of alive squawking chickens at the back of the bus that kept attempting to fly at the window. The buses themselves are essentially old American school buses but the bus drivers customize their buses so they look like something from Pimp my Ride and the Latin music is always blaring. All this together with the very-chatty locals you definitely won’t be getting any sleep on one, that’s for sure.
10. To find your backpacking groove
The familiar backpacking stomping ground of Guatemala is the perfect destination to start your descent or ascent (however you want to look at it) into backpacking. Guatemala is westernized enough to still feel comfortable, there’s lots of transport options, lots of hotels and hostels in all the major towns and lots of other backpackers for you to socialize with. But go off the beaten track and you will find a side to Guatemala so unique and mesmerizing that you may not want to veer back onto the well-traveled backpacker trail again. Again, this is another one of the great reasons to visit Guatemala!
I feel that two weeks is the ideal amount of time to spend in Guatemala, this two week itinerary for Guatemala includes all the must-see places.
What is so special about Guatemala?
Guatemala is the Mayan center of Central America and one of the best places in the world to see historic sites, Tikal is amazing and should be added to everyone’s bucket list. Not only that, but, Guatemala is home to the largest outdoor market in Central America (Chichicastenango) and is one of the only places in the world you can camp on an active volcano. It’s a cheap destination and you can find excellent accommodation for as little as $20 a night. It’s no wonder Guatemala is so popular with backpackers and budget travelers.
Tell me – what did you think of our 10 reasons to visit Guatemala?
I’ve also written lots more blog posts on my travels through Central America including 10 reasons to visit El Salvador, the ultimate El Salvador itinerary and what to do in Belize! I would be so appreciative if you could check them out!