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Guatemala: 5 Weeks Of Adventure!

Guatemala: 5 Weeks Of Adventure!

Old Jun 14, 19, 1:53 am
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Join Date: Aug 2018
Posts: 53
Guatemala: 5 Weeks Of Adventure!

Hi there!

We're a Belgian couple (of weirdo's) who quit our jobs to travel Latin America and Asia for 1 year. As part of that trip, we recently spent 5 incredible weeks in beautiful Guatemala.

We had a great time there and wanted to introduce you to this Central American country that may still be a bit off your radar. But, fear not, that's actually good news! While Guatemala is still faaar less crowded than its bigger and more touristy neighbour Mexico, that also means it's easier to submerge yourself in local life. Interested in our itinerary and top recommendations for each stop? Then, by all means, read on!

1. Antigua

If you could only visit one town in Guatemala, then make it Antigua. It's the most beautiful colonial town we've seen on this trip.

And if you can chose any time of year to visit, go during Semana Santa, the Holy Week before Easter. Yes, it's ultra high season and it'll be busy and likely a bit more expensive. But the incredible processions during this week offer an incredible perspective of local life and are one of our favourite travel experiences in Latin America.

There's also plenty of other stuff to do in and around Antigua: free museums, beautiful viewpoints overlooking the city, climbing active volcanoes - and did you know Guatemala has its very own version of Hobbiton, the Lord of The Rings film set? It's called Hobbitenango and is a good place for a short, peculiar daytrip.

Top tip: hike Pacaya volcano!! It's an active volcano that's very accessible and only requires a 1-1,5 hour hike to get close enough to the crater to see ACTUAL. LAVA. FLOWING. DOWN! It's a short but steep hike, yet the volcano is accessible to just about everyone. If you're in poor shape or have kiddos with you that may get tired about halfway up, then you can rent a horse taxi.

An active volcano hike is always exciting, but our own visit to Pacaya volcano was a little more special (and maybe even completely different) than we expected... Ready to see some lava? Then make sure to watch the video to follow along on our crazy experience.

2. Tikal

Ah, Tikal. It's the biggest Mayan site in Central America in terms of the number of ruins it contains. Located in the Peten region of Guatemala, this vast site is surrounded by lush jungle and hosts many impressive pyramid-style ruins. You could easily spend an entire day here and still not see it all. One of our top 3 Mayan sites in Mexico and Guatemala!

Top tip: go as early as possible. You can sleep on the bus drive there (from Flores, where you'll likely be staying - it's the easiest entry point to Tikal and most people stay there for 1 or 2 nights only to visit the ruins and then continue onwards). We got there around 6 AM and had the main plaza almost entirely to ourselves when we arrived. Now THAT is worth an early morning start!

3. Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey is a nature reserve in the Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala, consisting mainly of natural turquoise-colored pools that lie above the river Cahabón and that are covered with trees between steep valley walls.

Although the main draw here are the pools (and the viewpoint overlooking them - which requires a 30 minute steep hike up to get to), almost every hostel in Semuc Champey offers a combi tour that also takes you on an exploration through the caves of nearby Lanquin. Crawling through the caves in your bikini, a burning candle in hand that you'll have to keep above the water level even as you plunge down cool natural water slides, was a really unique experience.

Top tip: we stayed at Zephyr Lodge, an incredible hostel which is located on a hill in Lanquin. Location really is everything here - the infinity pool (yes, you read that right: a HOSTEL WITH AN INFINITY POOL!) overlooks the valley on both sides and also hosts a pool bar. There are parties here every night. 2 beds in a dorm room (in front of a really, really big window that overlooks the sunrise in the valley) cost us less than 27 USD here.

The Zephyr Lodge is a bit notorious for the Zephyr bug, a stomach bug that quite a lot of the guests contract while being there. It was no different for me (Kim) - and I do not have a sensitive stomach at all. Aside from Zephyr, I actually didn't get sick at all on our 4.5 month trip through Latin America. I spent a good amount of time on the toilet there for the first 2 days, as did a number of other guests that we met. Not a reason not to go there in my opinion, because it truly is one of the best hostels that we have EVER been to. But a word of caution is in order; I guess

4. Rio Dulce & Livingston

The Rio Dulce may be my personal favourite place in Guatemala. It's a 40+ km river that runs all the way from the Izabal lake in the east of Guatemala to the Gulf of Honduras.

The most happening place on the river is the small town of Fronteras. Not really charming in itself, but a good port of entry for the area. We took a very bumpy bus ride there from Lanquin (travelling wouldn't be nearly as fun if all transport was comfortable!) and then headed straight to our river-side lodge, Casa Perico. We absolutely LOVED that place! It's built on stilts and located right in the middle of the jungle, only a 10 minute boat ride from Fronteras. Free kayaks are also available on site!

Top tip: from Rio Dulce, you can take a 1.5 hour boat journey to Livingston, which is a beach town in the Gulf of Honduras that is home to the Garifuna people (the only black community in Guatemala). We spent a few days there, but a daytrip is actually more than enough.

5. Lake Atitlan

After a short detour from Livingston into Honduras (scuba diving, woop woop!!), we spent a total of 2 days travelling aaaall the way back from Utila in Honduras to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. But boy did we love the lake life.

There are many lake side villages where you can stay, but San Pedro La Laguna is by far the most popular one..Think budget-friendly and/or partying. If you want a quieter, more authentic village you can head to San Marcos (the hippy town) or Santa Cruz (best volcano views - just google it!).

Top tip: do the Indian Nose hike! This is a 30-45 minute hike up a small but steep hill where you can see an absolutely incredible sunrise (yes, we got used to the early mornings at some point - or at least a little...). This is the most rewarding short hike we have ever done - and easily the best sunrise of our lives.

Something to consider: Guatemala on a budget? Harder than you'd think

When you first head to Guatemala, just like us you are probably expecting that this less developed country will be a budget travel paradise. But many travellers know that Guatemala is actually quite a bit more expensive than they anticipated, because of higher prices targeted specifically at tourists.

Transport especially can really add up. In a lot of Latin American countries, spending a few hours in a (mini)bus to get to the next town won't be too expensive. But in Guatemala a bus journey of a few hours can easily cost you 30 USD or more. And that adds up quite fast, especially if you're planning to visit a lot of different places.

So is there no cheap transport in Guatemala? Yes, there is. These more expensive rides are what you'll encounter on the tourist minibuses - they know tourists can and will pay top dollar when the alternatives are not always very appealing, but there are alternatives:

(i) Locals often hitch a ride in the back of a pick-up (you'll often see up to 10-15 people leisurely standing in the back of a pick-up), but that's not for everyone (we couldn't do it because of a lingering knee issue of mine). This is not hitchhiking though, it's just entrepreneuring locals offering rides.

(ii) Chicken buses are old converted American school buses that you'll see all across Guatemala. They're very cheap, but not very comfortable. We used them quite a bit but they'll give you a sore but on journeys longer than 2-3 hours. It's an iconic, hectic and fun form of transportation though so we recommend taking a chicken bus drive at least once during your stay in Guatemala. Curious to see how crazy it can get? Then check out our video!

So this being said, is travelling Guatemala on a budget still possible? How difficult is that REALLY? We spent a few days exploring the beautiful colonial city of Antigua on 15 USD per day. Watch our video to find out if YOU could do it on such a tight budget...

* * *

We loved Guatemala. If you're thinking of going, then we highly recommend it. People are super friendly, nature here is beautiful, there are many, many Mayan sites (especially in the Peten region - Tikal is only the tip of the iceberg!) and opportunities for adventure are everywhere you look.

But as much as we enjoyed our time in Guatemala, we have to admit we had an even better time in Mexico and Colombia. Colombia especially blew our minds for being very budget friendly and having some of the most welcoming locals we have EVER met! If you're curious about what it's really like visiting Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia (not to mention scuba diving in Honduras!), then feel free to check out our YouTube channel. First video from Medellin, Colombia will post in just a few days...

If you have any questions about our trip, feel free to ask away

Safe & happy travels!
Naick & Kim
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KimDDD is offline  
Old Jun 14, 19, 4:37 am
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Hui, traveling in a chicken bus really Looks like a special experience…..
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Old Jun 14, 19, 8:03 am
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More photos please. This is such a great, succinct synopsis and is a destination not really on my radar, but your TR has piqued my curiosity.
And since you are from Belgium, how do you rate the local beers? (Asking for a friend.... )
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Old Jul 3, 19, 7:14 am
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Oh there are plenty more pictures where those came from haha. As for the beer scene, the local beers are OKish, but there is a small craft beer scene in Guatemala which is pretty cool. But not really a great beer destionation tbh. You might have better options for that.
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Last edited by KimDDD; Jul 3, 19 at 7:17 am Reason: Images
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Old Jul 3, 19, 7:17 am
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Old Jul 8, 19, 1:14 am
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Thanks for this, sure made me more curious.
Guatemala, it seems, always comes as big suprise for travellers.
I have myself bever been, but Antigua looks very beautiful, and I would love to see Tikal.
You said Tikal is one of your 3 top Mayan locations, what are the other ones (I guess Chitzen Itza is one of them)?
More photos please.
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Old Jul 8, 19, 1:39 am
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Guatemala is pretty amazing. We would love to return there to explore more.

In terms of best Mayan sites, we would highly recommend Palenque and Uxmal (including Ruta Puuc).

Here is a video of Palenque: https://youtu.be/KNgVwvyrTy0

Uxmal is a smaller site, but the architecture is amazing. The site has really well preserved buildings with beautiful decorarions. When going there you can do the Ruta Puuc, this was an ancient road of 50 km, leading to the site of Uxmal, with a lot of smaller ruin sites.

Chichen Itza is great as well. It is very big, but in my opinion not as well preserved as the other's mentioned. Is has the largest courtyard, but there is little left of it, while at Uxmal is it is a really good shape. What's prettty unique is that at Chichen Itza you have buildings from 3 different eras.
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