Guatemala, the Mayan heart of Central America, where it’s natural beauty is nothing short of breath-taking. If you are looking for rich culture, fast-paced adventure, mixed with tranquil surroundings this is your destination.
Guatemala is a backpackers paradise, a hidden Central American gem that radiates exquisiteness. Guatemala can certainly be done on a budget. Meals will range from $3-5 CAD per meal. Transportation around the country is mainly by bus. If you are feeling slightly audacious, you can ride the infamous “chicken bus”. Chicken buses are the public transportation for the local people. They are basically regular school buses that have been decorated in vibrant graffiti. If you choose this option be prepared for an invasion of personal space, sweat, odors, loud music and chaos! Sounds fun, right? A long trip on the chicken bus can take double the time and lead to mass confusion if you do not speak Spanish. Chartered tour buses or shuttle vans are highly recommended.
Ready to explore Guatemala? Strap on your backpack, and let the adventure begin…
Antigua is a small city overflowing with life and culture. On a sunny day you will be able to see the astounding views of the city back drop, Volcán de Agua or “Volcano of Water”. This volcano is 12,356 ft high. The city is interlaced with winding cobblestone roads that give you a vintage European feel with every step. Antigua is a place where you can wholeheartedly lose yourself in the ruins, churches, markets, parks and art galleries. There is a special treasure for everyone, regardless of your interests. Don’t be surprised when you see women draped in traditional Guatemalan couture are doing their weekly laundry in the city center basins. This is an everyday occurrence that you will become used to seeing.
Earth Lodge Avocado Farm
This one-of-a-kind avocado farm is located 30 minutes uphill from Antigua. You can arrange with the lodge for a truck to come pick you up at an agreed location in Antigua. It is a fully functional avocado farm buried in the mountains of Guatemala. The farm also serves the purpose of a lodge; equipped with tree houses for rooms. The wood burning sauna is a nice added bonus. After you have arrived to your destination high atop the mountains be prepared for a 15 minute hike to the farm, as it is not accessible by car.
There is an enthralling sense of seclusion your feel when you are tucked away in an avocado farm with immaculate views of the countryside right outside your bedroom window.
Semuc Champey is a spectacular sight located 6 hours north of Antigua. The breath taking views that you have access to, are one of the main reasons to make this your destination hot spot. You have the option of hiking up to the tallest point of the mountain were there are several lookouts overlooking Semuc Champey. The hike can be very strenuous at times, as there are some steep points. Ensure you come prepared with hiking shoes and a lot of water. After relishing in a trance of disbelief you can begin the decline. At the end of your decline, award yourself by diving into a body of crystal clear, blue water. This natural beauty is composed of several fresh water pools that descend in a stair like pattern. You can swim from one to another, using the slippery limestone in between to catapult yourself in the pool beneath. Semuc Champey from the tallest lookout
As for accommodations, the Hostal El Portal de Semuc Champey is highly recommended, it reminds me a lot of the hotels in downtown Victoria (BC). It is clean, cheap, directly on the water and the rooms are a 10 minute walk to Semuc Champey. It really doesn’t get much better than that. Another added bonus to Hostal El Portal de Semuc Champey, is there are water caves located across the river. If you are feeling a little adventurous sign up for the guided tour through the dark caves filled with neck-high water. At some points throughout your excursion you will have to break into a full-fledged swim ,while awkwardly holding your candle in one hand. Your candle will be your main source of light, so tread carefully! After your exhilarating cave experience is completed, you can enjoy your natural surroundings by tubing down the flowing river.
Venture up the mountains on the winding roads that lead to Lake Atitlán. Again a shuttle van is recommended. This journey will take 5-6 hours. Lake Atitlán is a tranquil serene lake where you can find peaceful settings and Zen atmospheres hidden in the nooks of rocks and cliffs. Casa Del Mundo (World house) is a hotel on the lake which is built into a rock. You can expect impressive views, and outer landscapes draped with gardens, pillows, and hammocks. There is a pool that is built into the lake on the bottom of the rock cliff. Elevations in the cement and water levels help play a role in creating shallow and deep ends directly in the lake. Your transportation to and from this hotel will be by boat. The best part is the price! This luxurious rock palace will cost between $35-80 USD per night.
Arrive to San Pedro by boat. This little town located off Lake Atitlán offers great shopping and a diverse array of restaurants from Turkish, to Asian, to Guatemalan. You can walk from one end of the town to the other. The further away from the lake you walk, the less touristy it becomes. Saunter through the streets of San Pedro to get a glimpse of everyday life for these Guatemalans. If you’re up for a good party, Zoola Hostel is the place to rest your head, or do quite the opposite.
Zoola Hostel is cheap and located directly on the lake overlooking views of the volcanoes. The atmosphere is hippy-sheik with colorful flagged roofs and pillow covered floors. There is a pool in the back and several bars throughout. The pillow covered floors allow for open conversation and new friendships. The cold beer of Guatemala, Gallo also helps.
The Tikal pyramids are located in the northern part of the country. These pyramids are one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. Wake up early and climb to the top of the pyramids for a serene sun rise like you’ve never seen before. Explore the premises of the ancient pyramids while using your vivid imagination with every step to envision life in those primeval times. Animal sacrificing and deadly games were the usual rituals.
Guatemala offers a magnitude of affordable adventures that are not only for thrill seekers but culture enthusiasts. Rich, native customs still seize to remain prominent in their everyday culture. Make Guatemala your next backpacking destination for an experience of a life time!