My trip to Guatemala, discovering a southern part of the country on my way between Mexico and Nicaragua.
North AmericaGuatemala19 days / April 2022
Highs & Lows
The beauty of nature, its volcanoes, its history.
Much colder than its neighboring countries (higher altitude), and unfortunately the insecurity and thefts (in the buses)
I left on a whim for Guatemala, here I am on the bus from Oaxaca city (Mexico) to Tapachula (at the border, in the south).
My first impression of the country will not be excellent, dozens of Guatemalans surround me at the exit of the bus and try to sell me their tickets (I was the only tourist there...). I was put under pressure at the border with my bags, but after an hour I found the first bus to leave this place.
Let's go for the colectivo (know as chicken buses) experience, these huge American old School buses, colorful, sometimes in very bad condition. The roads are terrible, the drivers drive super fast and the seats are sometimes not very well attached ( good laugh from the first kilometers in the country) ! With those buses, you never know when you'll leave, and never know when you'll arrive (it always take a long time).
The first step was Xela (Quetzaltenango), 5 hours from the border, and I hadn't planned anything so I let myself be guided by the encounters I made on my way, which allowed me to discover several cities in the south of the country, before deciding to cross El Salvador and Honduras for my next destination: Nicaragua.
Xela (other name) is the second bigest city of Guatemala and it's not a very pretty city, but it allows you to dive into deep Guatemala (more than 75% of the population is indigenous) and to observe women almost all dressed in colorful traditional clothes and often braided in their hair.
Even if the city itself is not magnificent (church, market and small dirty streets surrounded by electric wires...), there are many things to do around. You Can go hiking on the Santa Maria volcano, visit the catedral del Espiritu Santo, the museum Ixkik', la laguna Chicabal ...
San Pedro is very colorful, lots of paintings and arts on the walls, small alleys that lead to the lake. most festive village around the lake, therefore a little noisier than its neighboring villages.
I arrived 2 days later in San Lucas (30 minutes by boat from san pedro) just before Semana Santa. This festive period is very important for Guatemalans, and many of them take several days to party at Lake Atitlan. Difficult to find last minute accommodation, but the tent in this hostel was perfect. This hostel was far from the village but by the lake so I walked around a lot and always had a magnificent view. San Lucas is much smaller and far fewer tourists come to visit it, which is all the more pleasant to walk around (even if the locals were surprised to see me traveling alone there).
Antigua is a particular city, very pretty, with many small craft markets and a little big outside the city. The city can be visited quickly and has many bars and restaurants. unfortunately having stayed there for several days, I also realized that the locals no longer lived there, the city is only focused on tourism and trade which takes away a lot of charm...
Antigua is surrounded by 3 volcanoes, the main one being El fuego, an active volcano that can be admired while hiking on its neighbouring volcano, acatenango. It is a hike of about 6 hours, of an intermediate level.
We were a group of about twenty people, accompanied by 3 guides. The camp at the top (more than 3500 meters) is basic and at night it quickly gets very cold (especially after sweating all day ..) but the show is absolutely breathtaking! El fuego erupts every 10/15 minutes. The ground shakes under our feet, the view is incredible and we even hear the crackling of the lava falling... An experience to do absolutely! The climate can be very bad, very cloudy so Ask before going there if it's a good period or not ...
I Can recommend also to go to Hobbitenango, which is about twenty minutes from Antigua. A village made in the image of the film lord of the rings.
Q & A
What would you have changed?
Spending more time to explore North, flores, Tikal, semuc shampey ...
Anything go wrong during the trip?
I've met a lot of people who have had their stuff robbed (especially in buses). Guatemala is a very poor country, and many tourists display their latest phone or jewellery for all to see.... Be smart and adapt to the country you are in 😊
Always recommend to eat in comedor! We discover the culinary specialties and the exchange with the locals is always interesting. They like to give us advice on their city, or even on their country when they have traveled a little.
Tips you would give a friend?
Be careful on the buses. Don't leave your belongings unattended !!
Good shoes (lots of beautiful hikes and impractical terrain), and a rain cape!
Plan trip and leave early, you'll never know when you'll arrive at destination with chicken buses, because the roads are not in good condition! There are a lot of Shuttles (small vans to go everywhere in Guatemala), everything is organized there but it's often expensive, much more than organizing your own transport with the chickens!