This page is my overview of backpacking Guatemala, covering the country, some tips, general things to know, transport and accommodation options, general costs and my experience of the country.
Backpacking Guatemala is without a doubt an incredible experience. Not only is it seeped in Mayan history and tradition but it’s color and vibrancy will just captivate you. Guatemala is a true backpacker experience from the rain forests and Mayan temples in the north or the Volcanoes in the south. (Which many are very active still)
However that’s not all this vibrant country has to offer, Guatemala is basically a playground for the adventurous with two thirds of the country covered in mountains there are so many hidden gems that will make you feel like Indiana Jones. Backpack through Guatemala and you will discover mountains, jungles, Mayan temples and ruins, caves, sinkholes, caverns, underground rivers, amazing waterfalls, active volcanoes and amazing people who still live in traditional ways. But, if you’re not looking for adventure and just want to relax through your time, don’t worry Guatemala is quite slow paced and there are some amazing lakes you can relax on.
A few tips:
- If visiting Tical go early morning to avoid hoards of tourists.
- Shop around for tours, be confident to haggle between tour companies. However you will find different tour companies are run through the same operator.
- The food at the night market in Flores is amazing.
- A straight trip from Flores to Antigua is a mammoth journey, break it up and stop over in Semuc champey.
- The coffee in Guatemala is the best coffee I’ve drank.
- Ride a chicken bus.
- It’s well worth doing a volcano climb, there’s a chance you will get to see one erupt.
Some things to be wary of:
- If traveling into Guatemala on land from Belize be very vigilant and check they have stamped you in properly. (I along with 25 other people got scammed and didn’t realize until I left the country.)
- You will be hounded by tour operators when arriving into Flores, they will charge you more for trips to Tical and lake trips than on the actual Island.
- Keep personal belongings safe, especially on local transport Guatemala is generally safe but there is some crime.
- While Guatemala is generally a safe country be very careful in Guatemala city, it’s not the friendliest of places.
Basic things to know:
Official language spoken: Spanish
Is English Spoken: Very basic
Currency: Guatemalan quetzal
Backpacking Guatemala is: Cheap
To check live exchange rate click here XE.com
No visa needed for British tourists for stay of up to 90 days. GOV.UK for more information
However make sure you get an entry and exit stamp in your passport at the border.
Check if your nationality needs a visa for Guatemala here
Things to know when budgeting for Guatemala:
Generally Guatemala is a good country to travel on a tight budget, however how much you’ll need depends on how adventurous you are. If you are planning on seeing every Mayan temple, doing all adventure sports you can and climb volcanoes you’re going spend a lot.
Activities and tours will eat into your budget as some can be quite expensive, especially ones that are popular with holiday tourists like Tical. Saying that there are others you can find for a fraction of the price. Guatemala is full of hidden gems, ones that you’ll here from word of mouth from other backpackers as you make your way through the country.
Transport and Accommodation are quite fair in price, your biggest transport expense will be traveling from Flores down to Coban or all the way to Antigua; or vice-versa. Accommodation prices are quite fair in comparison to countries like Mexico.
Food and drinks are inexpensive if you eat locally and not in western style restaurants. Eating street food, daily set menu’s in local cafes or buying food to cook from markets to cook yourself are good ways to save money.
Buying alcohol in shops and pre-drinking will also be a big help as buying alcohol in bars is quite expensive in relative to Guatemalan prices.
As you can see I haven’t stated any specific pricing, I don’t like to state prices as they can change and information becomes irrelevant. However if you are looking to compare live prices here is a couple of good sites for live comparisons to help you: numbeo and expatisan. If you want an idea of a budget for Guatemala this site might help you: Budget your trip
Transport is no problem when backpacking Guatemala, however the journeys are long and because of the mountainous terrain getting from one place to another can be quite arduous. Your best bet for long journeys is to jump on an over night bus to save on a nights rent and not to miss out on days. Due to it’s terrain Guatemala is a country I recommend you chose comfort over price. With Guatemala being quite cheap even more luxurious buses will not be that much of a stretch to the budget.
Chicken Buses – Old American School buses converted into local public buses. (Don’t be surprised to see livestock on these)
Collectivos – Mini-vans that wait until the are filled up and run certain routes.
Tuk-Tuks – run locally in towns and cities.
Taxi boats – Will get you out to across lakes and Island inlets.
Private bus companies – 2nd class, 1st class and VIP (not much difference in price but comfort difference can be felt) Litegua is a popular choice.
Private shuttles – Safe and fairly inexpensive (If you don’t want to travel on a bus)
Planes – Domestic flights are available but much more expensive.
Popular tour Companies:
Built in tours can be expensive, I prefer to travel independently and pick local tour operators in when I need to. Saves you lots of money that way.
There’s a wide range of budget accommodation in Guatemala from the bare basics to larger and sociable hostels. However it’s a good idea to look around at different choices because sometimes the pictures they show on booking sites are not what they look like in real. (I found that out at a bug infested hostel in Flores.)
- Hostels – Range from grotty basic rooms to larger more sociable and clean ones.
- Guesthouses or hospedajes – smaller than hostels run by families.
- Budget hotels – Great to have some privacy and some much needed air-con.
- Air BnB – Available in Guatemala.
- Couchsurfing – Stay with locals.
- Camping – There are safe spots dotted around Guatemala to camp.
My overview of backpacking Guatemala:
I had such a amazing time traveling through Mexico and Guatemala just kept that thrill ride going. It was an amazing experience. Even though I’ve matured as a backpacker through the years but seeing a volcano erupt with my own eyes turned me into a happy kid.
Some of my highlights:
Flores (Island on a lake)
Some of my dislikes:
Being scammed at the border crossing.
Some of the hospedajes I initially booked.
The arduous back breaking journey from Flores to Semuc champey to Antigua.
Not being able to spend more time there.
My route backpacking Guatemala:
My route started from the Belize border, taking me over to Flores, from there heading south to Antigua, which I used as a base until I was ready to leave for Nicaragua.