Guatemala is one of my favorite countries and I have been 5 times. This itinerary is my recommendation for the best places to go as a backpacker in Guatemala.
Highs & Lows
Learning spanish in Antigua, Guatemala.
How fast the chicken buses drive around curves
Guatemala is a backpacker's paradise. It is one of my favorite countries in the world, and I have returned on 5 different occasions. This guide provides the top suggestions on where to go in Guatemala and can be done in two weeks. (You need to allow travel time between places, which is why I recommend at least 2 weeks)
Antigua is a must-visit, especially hiking acatenango.
Antigua is one of my favorite places because it's a picture-perfect town. It is a comfortable place to live, with a lot of expats and everyone knows English. The city is small, and you can walk around everywhere.
Antigua is touristy and more expensive than the rest of Guatemala, but it's worth a visit and has a great nightlife with ladies' nights almost every day of the week.
The Acatenango hike is well known and is one of the main attractions in Antigua, Guatemala.
Yes, the hike is hard. It's one of the hardest hikes I've done.
Yes, your body will be sore for a couple of days afterward, and you will walk like you have a stick in your butt.
Yes, it will be windy and cold at the top.
Yes, I will judge you if you visit Guatemala and choose not to do this hike!
This trek is well worth it since you see lava spurting out of the volcano at night, and watching lava is always cool! I felt accomplished once I made it to the top because the hike was challenging, but worth it.
Acatenago was a magical hike, but the guide and tour company made it even more special. Aprode is a fantastic tour company. I highly recommend them for your trek.
Reasons you should book with Aprode:
1) This is a local tour group with a social commitment to provide development in the local communities
2) Small tour groups from 5-8 people. Having a small group ensures safety.
3) The guides have a lot of experience. The day we hiked Acatenago, we had terrible weather. Usually, the plan is to camp overnight and wake up at 4 am to watch the summit's sunrise. Our guide was aware that the weather was bad and made an alternative plan to start hiking at 7. All the groups that stuck to the original plan not only woke up at 4 am, but when they returned to the campsite, they were wet and looked miserable since they saw nothing. I was very thankful for my guide's experience and glad we listened to him and waited.
4) The meals were hearty and better than expected Breakfast - eggs, refried beans, vegetable hash, pasta
lunch - pork chop, rice, and salad
Dinner - a big plate of pasta with meat sauce (carbs were needed after a day of hiking!)
5) The people who work for the company go above and beyond. Our driver/guide picked us up in Antigua and brought us to his home before the hike so we could eat his mother's delicious breakfast! He provided me with extra jackets (yes, that is plural. It's cold at the top) and a pair of hiking boots at no additional charge. After the hike, he went above and beyond. He dropped us off in Antigua, waited an hour for all of us to shower, and then dropped us off at a chicken bus stop 20 minutes away so we could head to Lake Atitlan. While we were getting ready, he bought us pizza, so we could eat it in the car before we got on the bus. He wouldn't accept money when we tried to pay. I am in shock by how giving he was.
Pacaya is a unique hike because you can roast marshmallows over lava. Pacaya is one of the volcanoes close to Antigua, Guatemala. It's much easier than hiking the other popular volcano in the area, Acatenango.
Pacaya was a memorable experience because:
1) There were no other tourists - there's only one company in Antigua, Wicho and Charlie's, that leaves at 3 am. It costs more money, but it is worth it. When we arrived at the top, we could clearly see the red lava contrast against the dark sky. Other tours leave at 8 am, after sunrise. I've hiked a lot of volcanoes and know that lava always looks cooler in the dark.
3) We roasted marshmallows over the magma! I was like a little kid, giggly with excitement.
4) The sunrise was magical
5) We were back in Antigua by 9 am and could enjoy a full day afterward.
If Antigua is the touristy Guatemala then Xela is the "real" Guatemala experience. If you want to immerse yourself more in the local culture, then Xela is great. Taking Spanish classes here is popular, and the cost of living is cheaper than in Antigua. Xela has a big city feel, and fewer people know English, so you are forced to practice more Spanish.
Fuentes Georgina is a thermal bath right outside Xela. After hiking one of the many volcanos in Xela, relaxing in a natural pool is just what I needed!
Fuentes Georgina was smaller than expected, but being on the mountaintop and watching the steam come from the water was beautiful. It cost $10 for entry, and I stayed for an hour and a half.
Visiting this place reminded me of another reason why I love Guatemala - the people are so lovely! While relaxing in the hot springs, Guatemalans would start conversations with me, and it was nice to share some laughs and stories. One guy came all the way from Guatemala City (4 hours) to visit these hot springs! I don't think these hot springs are worth a 4-hour drive, but if you are in Xela and looking for something to do, then hop on a chicken bus and make your way here!
Semuc Champey is in the middle of the jungle and is not an easy place to reach. However, the beautiful turquoise pools are worth the travel. I loved Semuc Champey because it wasn't super crowded and a beautiful, natural setting. When visiting Semuc Champey and the surrounding areas, be prepared to get disconnected and enjoy your surroundings.
Tikal is one of the most famous attractions in Guatemala. If you are interested in Mayan history and temples, then this is a must visit. You can hire a guide or walk around the park yourself. I recommend getting there on the earlier side to beat the rush of tourists.
Q & A
What would you have changed?
Spend more time in Guatemala
Por Que No in Antigua, Guatemala
Tips you would give a friend?
Take spanish classes in guatemala.
Chicken buses are an experience! If you are adventurous that I recommend taking a chicken bus. The drivers go super fast down windy roads, causing passengers to have to hold on for their lives. The chicken bus is very cheap which makes it an attractive option for a backpacker, but safety should be some concern.
Use Aprode to book Acatenango hike.