Guatemala is a fantastic destination for adventurous and outdoor-oriented travelers. During your journey, you will discover the ancient Mayan culture, charming colonial cities, and beathtakingly beautiful nature.
Due to Guatemala's geographical location, it is a great starting point for your Central American backpacking adventure. Guatemala is neighboured by Mexico in the northwest, the Pacific Ocean in the southwest, Belize and the Caribbean Sea in the northeast and, finally, Honduras and El Salvador in the southeast. It's easy to travel around from country to country, therefore, but Guatemala is certainly an adventure in itself!
As a biodiversity hotspot, Guatemala has an incredible natural ecosystem. This country is a nature lover's paradise, as there is an abundance of mountainous landscapes, beautiful beaches and coastlines, tropical forests, cool highlands to explore. Guatemala also has an astounding 37 volcanoes, including the highest one in all of Centrral America. Volcano Tajumulco peaks at a whopping 4,220 meters!
Mystical ruins of the ancient Maya civilization are a must-see during your expedition. Thankfully, Guatemala offers countless sites troughout the country. Travel deep into the jungle to reach Tikal, the ancient center of this powerful and mysterious civilization. As one of the largest Mayan ruin excavation sites, Tikal is among the most impressive ancient wonders of the world. Climb to the top of the pyramids to see an unparalleld view of the jungle and the entire site. You will be blown away when you see the pyramids peaking through the treetops. It is also likely that you will see an abundance of wildlife wandering through the ruins, as Tikal is a home to over 300 bird species and other animals.
There are many small, charming villages throughout Guatemala. After you finish exploring Tikal, head to the nearby Mayan town of Flores. Chichicastenango, another Mayan town, has one of the best market places in all of Central America. This is a fascinating cultural experience and it’s guaranteed that you’ll find some magnificent handicrafts to take back home with you. If you want to experience the lively and fun Afro-Caribbean Garifuna culture instead, hop on a boat to the coastal town of Livingston. The atmosphere in Livingston is very different from that of Flores, since the residents are not Mayan, but Afro-Caribbean descendents.
You can also take a cheap and effective Spanish lesson in the old capital of Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Antigua is a colorful colonial city with many fun bars and nice restaurants. Language schools draw lots of young travelers and the homestay accommodation system works well. If you want to experience a memorable cultural experience, it is best to go to Antigua during the Semana Santa festival in April. Be sure to book a hostel in advance, otherwise you might end up sleeping on the cobblestone streets. You’ll be amazed by the mystical scents, beautiful singing, and abundant artistic crafts made of fresh flowers and colored powders. However, beware of the clever pickpockets, as this is their paradise.
We also recommend that you book a minibus from Antigua to a small village called Panajachel. During this journey, you will drive along a high mountain road with breathtaking views. Panajachel is located on the shore of Lake Atitlán, which is surrounded by three stunning volcanoes. From here, you’ll find small boats that can take you to different tiny villages on the lake.
Guatemala is a wonderland for those who enjoy the outdoors. You can do trekking or canoeing deep in the jungle, check out the sun-kissed Caribbean beaches, or party in Antigua. The good news is that Guatemala is fairly cheap for budget traveler and backpackers.
Wth its nearby caves and waterfalls, Semuc Champey is said to be one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala. This natural wonder offers mountain stream water pools where you can swim and relax. The easiest and safest way to get to know this magnificent place, located in the town of Lanquin, is to book an organized trip.
Want to stretch your mind and body? Head to the laid back village of San Marcos located by the shores of Lago Atitlán. There, you’ll meet a peace-loving, healthy-living, and slowpaced lifestyle, but very few tourists. There is very good vegetarian food in San MArcos, as well as cozy hostels, yoga classes, and all kinds of health courses. Enjoy the fresh eucalyptus sauna, some afternoon yoga, a good massage, or some live music. This is the place to reconnect your mind, body, and soul.
Comfortable and inexpensive hostels are everywhere, so you won't have trouble finding a place to sleep. If you have to stay over night in Guatemala City, then we recommend that you book a place beforehand for your own safety and comfort.
You can fly to Mexico City or Guatemala City, which is the transportation hub of the country. There is plenty of well-functioning bus firms operating between the main destinations, but if you want to travel on a shoestring budget, grab a chicken bus. These busses can be useful for shorter distances and you’ll definitely have a more local experience.
The country has been quite stable past ten years, but the crime rates are high. The overall atmosphere is surprisingly relaxed and people will help you out. However, take particular caution in Guatemala City. The capital has a dangerous reputation, so you should generally avoid traveling at night. Also, be aware of the hurricane season while planning your trip.
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