The arch in Antigua
The arch in Antigua

 

Backpacking Guatemala: Top experiences

 

  1. Hiking between villages around Laguna de Atitlán
  2. Homestay with a Mayan family in San Jorge la Laguna
  3. Cafe culture in Antigua
  4. Hiking up Pacaya volcano

 

My Trip

 

I only had ten days to split between backpacking Guatemala and Honduras. I was also traveling with my mom, so while we were on a backpacking budget, we were able to share rooms and get better value for money.

 

Our itinerary:

 

2 nights Antigua --> 2 nights Copán Ruinas (Honduras) --> 1 night Antigua --> 2 nights Mayan homestay in San Jorge la Laguna --> 1 night San Pedro --> 1 night Guatemala City

 

What would I have done differently? I’m really sad I didn’t make it to Tikal, but 12 hours on a bus each way just didn’t seem worth it. I really should have gone to the highland market at Chichicastenango. I mainly skipped it because we’d been on a lot of buses and another one just seemed like too much.

 

Know before you go

 

Budget

 

Backpacking Guatemala is cheap. This isn’t Southeast Asia, but you should still be able to get by on $20/day at the low end of the spectrum. $30 a day would get you a fairly luxurious trip.

 

Relaxing in a hammock while backpacking Guatemala
You don’t have to spend big to get a balcony with a hammock in Antigua

 

Accommodation:

 

Guatemala’s biggest budget-saver is that accommodation is unbelievably cheap. We rarely paid more than $20 total for a room.

 

The Yellow House in Antigua is a backpacker’s paradise. And their free breakfast is one of the best I’ve gotten in a hostel. Their single rooms start at $16, and they have much cheaper dorms.

 

On the extreme low end of the spectrum, a private room with a bathroom inside, in a very clean and central guesthouse, cost us about $8 total in San Pedro.

 

Food:

 

I was really unimpressed with the food while backpacking Guatemala. I mostly ate “platos tipicos” (eggs, beans and rice, fried plantains, and maybe a couple of sad-looking veggies if you’re lucky), and they still cost upwards of $5 per meal. There was a really good Mexican place in Antigua that was super-cheap the first night we went, but later on we went again and they only gave us half as much food.

 

Around Lake Atitlán, there are a number of places where you can get grilled lakefish. That was the one meal that was really worth it.

 

Coffee is everywhere and very good, but expect to pay U.S. prices.

 

Activities:

 

We did the evening hike up Pacaya Volcano. It was my first time on a volcano, so pretty exciting for me, but we didn’t get to see any lava and the views weren’t great. And it’s a surprisingly tough hike, with the last portion being entirely over basalt that’s as fine as sand.

 

The summit of Pacaya shrouded in mist
The summit of Pacaya shrouded in mist

 

Transportation

 

Chicken buses go everywhere. We were warned against using them between Guatemala City and Antigua because of a high risk of banditry, but that seems to have changed since 2010.

 

The roads are very good — just make sure you get where you’re going before dark, if possible.

 

The roads around Lake Atitlán can be pretty hair-raising, with steep dropoffs and no guardrails. The chicken buses chug up and down the mountain pretty slowly, but I’m not sure I’d trust a taxi driver.

 

Volcanoes ringing Lake Atitlan
The views are great, but when you have to take a bus up that volcano later…

 

Safety

 

Backpacking Guatemala never seemed the least bit unsafe. There were a lot of young drunk backpackers, and I definitely wouldn’t want to be one of them, but my mom and I felt totally fine walking a few blocks at night to grab a beer.

 

Hiking between some of the villages at Lake Atitlán was fine, and we did some of that. But it was not recommended to walk to other villages. Locals know which trails are safe, but it’s definitely worth asking a few different people just to be sure.

 

For women alone

 

No problems whatsoever.

 

Ready to get started?

 

Check out the posts from Guatemala and Honduras.