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Why Guatemala Should Be Your Next Trip

canopy bridge

Canopy bridge walk in Panajachel’s nature reserve

Despite warnings of violent crime and terrifying conditions, I booked a trip to Guatemala — and loved it! Not only did I find the country to be safe for travel, but also full of memorable experiences and natural beauty that could be explored on a budget. Want to know more? In this Guatemala travel guide, I share 10 reasons why this incredible country should be your next trip.

1. It’s Safer Than You Think

Obviously, this will depend on where you go — Guatemala City, in particular, is avoided by most tourists due to its high rate of violent crime; however, traveling through areas like Lake Atitlan, Antigua, Tikal, and the Earth Lodge allow for a memorable Guatemalan experience without the worry. Of course, no matter where you go in the world you should always exercise caution. For some ideas, check out 17 Safety Tips for Solo Travelers (much of this is also applicable for non-solo travelers, as well).
meat and rice

This delicious and satisfying meal cost only $3.75 USD.

2. It’s Affordable

For most western travelers, Guatemala’s exchange rate allows for an extremely budget-friendly vacation. Think dinner and a beer for about $6, hostel dorms from $3, private rooms for $13, and popular adventure travel tours like hiking India’s Nose and Pacaya Volcano for $13 including transportation and guide. Even if you splurge for a hotel for $20-$30 a night you’ll typically also receive free breakfast, wifi, and drinking water, as well.
Pepian de Pollo

Pepian de Pollo, Guatemala’s national dish

3. The Food

Barbecued meats, hearty dips, freshly-made tortillas, and Mayan staples like chilies, corn, and beans are the focus of Guatemalan cuisine. While for the most part, the whole country is budget-friendly, one tip is to look for restaurants offering set menus where you can have soup, meat, rice, vegetables, and guacamole for about $4. The national dish is Pepian, a hearty stew with slow-cooked meats, vegetables, and chunks of potatoes accompanied with a side of rice. No matter what you order, make sure to pair it with a local Gallo beer or Quetzelteca rum (or Zacapa if you want to splurge!).
indian's nose sunrise

Watching the sunrise over Indian’s Nose was truly surreal

4. The Hiking

No Central America travel guide would be complete without mentioning the local trails which, in my opinion, are some of the best hikes in the world! With a landscape dominated by volcanoes and mountains, there’s no shortage of scenic and challenging hikes to enjoy. My favorite trekking experience in Guatemala was a sunrise hike up Indian’s Nose from San Pedro. The steep uphill 45-minute hike — and the early 4am meeting time — is worth the effort as you sit above a blanket of clouds hovering over the emerald-green Lake Atitlan, watching hot pinks, oranges, yellows, and purples streaking the sky and mixing with black clouds over San Pedro Volcano.
earth lodge view

Photo taken while laying in bed in my treehouse accommodation at Earth Lodge

5. The Views

Whether you’re driving down the highway or lounging at Zoola’s pool on Lake Atitlan Guatemala has no shortage of striking natural views. My favorite view was from the treehouse of the above-mentioned Earth Lodge, where from my comfortable bed and private patio hammock I enjoyed clear aerial views of Ciudad Viejo, Hocatanengo Village, and the volcanoes of Agua, Acatango and the active Fuego. Gliding vultures that appear close enough to touch enhance the visual.
guatemalan weaver

Woman weaving on Lake Atitlan’s Santa Catarina

6. The Locals

For the most part, Guatemalans — especially in areas where tourism is the bread and butter of the economy — are very friendly and receptive to visitors. This allows you to not just interact with locals and get to know the culture, but also practice your Spanish. Thankfully, this is one of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers. Tip: Guatemala is full of language schools, and you might want to consider taking a course during your trip.
earth lodge

Earth Lodge is a great place to just relax, meditate and enjoy the view

7. Budget-Friendly Holistic Offerings

Guatemala seems to attract a very hippie-style traveler, and you’ll find many lodges and venues offering yoga, delicious vegan meals, permaculture classes, massages, and other holistic wellness travel offerings for very cheap. My personal favorite holistic offering was staying at the secluded Earth Lodge near Antigua, located up in the mountains and not accessible by car. Their most expensive accommodation is the Treehouse for $35 a night, totally worth the splurge to wake up to unobstructed views of the surrounding volcanoes. The property is located on a farm, and meals incorporate ingredients sourced onsite and from the market in Antigua. Enjoy complimentary morning yoga, a dry sauna, sports offerings like badminton and volleyball, scenic hiking and just lounging in hammocks with a Guatemalan Gallo beer and enjoying the natural beauty around you.
chocomuseo antigua

Yummy chocolates at Antigua’s ChocoMuseo

8. The Chocolate

Guatemala is one of the world’s richest cocoa-growing countries. In fact, chocolate is said to have originated in Guatemala, used by the Mayans who worshiped the cacao tree and called chocolate the “food of the gods.” While you can find chocolate all over Guatemala, Antigua is particularly interesting for chocoholics. Not only are there chocolate shops on every corner, but this is where you’ll find the ChocoMuseo, a museum, and cafe offering free samples of fine chocolate, chocolate-making classes, chocolate fondues and drinks, and interesting displays talking about the history and culture of chocolate in Guatemala.
coffee cherries

Coffee cherries abound in Guatemala’s many coffee plantations, many of which visitors can tour

9. The Coffee

Coffee production in Guatemala began in the 1850s, and today the country is one of the world’s leading coffee producers. In order to keep quality high, Anacafe (Asociacion Nacional del Cafe) was established to represent all of Guatemala’s coffee producers. The group helped establish the eight different coffee zones in the country and its “Rainbow of Choices.” No matter where you are in Guatemala spend some time in a local cafe people watching and sipping this elite java, or book a coffee plantation tour to learn more about the crop firsthand.

One of the many beautiful street views in Antigua

10. The Beauty Of Antigua

Forget for a second that Antigua is overrun with tourists and language students and think about the bigger picture. You’ll walk down cobbled streets, weaving in and out of weathered colonial buildings in pinks, purples, blues, greens, yellows — some with a rainbow speckled exterior. Relaxed plazas and parks abound, as do dramatic arched structures, ruins, and cathedrals. Here you’ll find more trendy restaurants, bars, and cafes than in other places, and tourist attractions like the ChocoMuseo, Catedral de Santiago, and free salsa lessons every day at 5pm at Salsa con Gloria y Moi Dance Academy enhance the experience. Bonus: Antigua’s location near numerous volcanoes — some of which include Agua, Acatenango, Fuego, and Pacaya — allows for some adventurous day trips.

What are your favorite things about Guatemala travel?

About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is an New York-based travel content creator who is passionate about empowering her audience to experience new places and live a life of adventure. She is the founder of the solo female travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and is editor-in-chief of Epicure & Culture, an online conscious tourism magazine. Along with writing, Jessie is a professional photographer and is the owner of NYC Photo Journeys, which offers New York photo tours, photo shoots, and wedding photography. Her work has appeared in publications like USA Today, CNN, Business Insider, Thrillist, and WestJet Magazine.

Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

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  1. Stef on at 4:49 pm

    Great post! As I probably head to Mexico in September I hopefully be able to explore Central America including Guatemala afterwards. I cannot wait to hike through its landscapes and try local dishes. Thanks for sharing those information.

    • jess2716 on at 5:17 pm

      @Stef: Guatemala is FANTASTIC. I’m already mentally planning my next trip there 🙂

  2. Brigid on at 7:28 pm

    You captured the magic of Guatemala beautifully! I lived in San Pedro on Lake Atitlan for 3 months and couldn’t get enough of the scenery, the people, the food, the culture and the relaxed way of life. I remember many a great Sunday’s lazing around Zoola’s pool, enjoying the 5q tequila shots 😉 Also loved the chocolate making class in Antigua, so much fun! Would love to head back to Guatemala in the future, one of my favourite countries so far on my travels.

    • jess2716 on at 7:40 pm

      @Bridig: Thank you! San Pedro was probably my favorite place in Guatemala, mostly because of the Indian’s Nose hike. Amazing!

  3. During our trip to Nicaragua last year, we spoke to our guide about Guatemala and he said that in his experience, the locals aren’t that friendly. Still, I’ve heard nothing but great things about Guatemala, and I look forward to exploring it someday for all of the reasons you outlined here.

    • Jessie Festa on at 9:20 pm

      @Dana: I guess it depends on the person’s experience. We found everyone to super friendly, which made it fun for practicing Spanish. Funny enough, Nicaragua is next on my bucket list!

  4. Josh on at 5:39 am

    Jealous you beat me there but glad it exceeded expectations!

    • jess2716 on at 1:38 pm

      @Josh: I’m jealous you have so much time there! ha. Butttttt I may be meeting up with you during your journey. Like I said, I’m dying to go to Panama and/or Nicaragua 🙂

  5. Jolene on at 1:55 am

    I have been staying here at Lake Atitlan for 6 months and love it so much that I have made plans to come back indefinitely . The people truly are friendly- so remember , you are in their world, treat them with respect and they freely give it back to you. I have found it very affordable to live here. I love the simplicity and lack nothing. You can’t beat the people, culture , the weather, the forever changing scenery and the peace and tranquility of the lake.
    I have met a lot of travelers, since I have been here, and most of them are planning their next trip back. Oh and yes, I also love Antigua- the food, the old ruins and the quaintness of the city- a must see if you are in Guatemala!

    • jess2716 on at 2:34 am

      @Jolene: Agreed about the Lake! Wow, do I wish I was going back sometime soon. I could definitely see myself moving there 🙂 You’re very lucky to be based in such an amazing place.

  6. Mary Jane Murray on at 6:11 pm

    Guatemala is one of my favourite place too You list is great. You asked for others’ highlights. One would have to be experiencing the tradition, colour and excitement of the festivals, especially Semana Santa in Antigua.

    • jess2716 on at 5:51 pm

      @Mary Jane: Semana Santa in Antigua sounds amazing. I’ll have to check it out!

  7. Mariana on at 5:08 pm

    Since our chat Guatemala is really climbing high on my list! This just made it even more appealing.

    • jess2716 on at 5:31 pm

      @Mariana: Do it do it do it 🙂

  8. Rick N on at 4:43 pm

    Completely agree about Guatemala! We’ve traveled widely through Europe and the Americas but Guatemala still tops our list. We splurged for the absolute best hotels, about $90-110 per night. We were worried about safety, so many bad stories, but the only problem we had was some government rebels blocked the road leading out of Panajachel by rolling huge rocks from the hillside. We stayed a few extra hours in the hotel we call “The Garden of Eden”, tough duty haha. We took the boat across Lake Atitlan to Santiago Atitlan. When a fun place to visit! The tuk tuk tour was worth the small cost.

    Also don’t leave out Tikal and the Lake Peten region. Truly an amazing place to experience! Don’t hesitate! Don’t miss Guatemala!

    • jess2716 on at 5:23 pm

      @Rick N: I definitely need to get back to do Tikal and Lake Peten. I’m thinking I might get an apartment there for a month or two and just immerse myself in Guatemala’s awesome-ness 🙂

  9. Jose on at 6:03 am

    Nice post, I am from Guatemala, next time you come here I recommend you visiting some other places like Semuc Champey, Hun Al Ye and Lachuá (In Alta Verapaz), or Tikal and Yaxhá (In Petén) wich are on the middle of the jungle if you like adventure, I’m sure you’ll love them! Oh, and about the food, beyond Pepian(don’t get me wrong I love it) try tostadas, chiles rellenos, dobladas, kak ik (turkey soup), tapado (If you go to the Carribean), every region has a different dish to offer.

    Greetings from Guate!

    • Jessie Festa on at 12:45 pm

      @Jose: I wanted to visit Semuc Champey SO bad. Just didn’t have time. It looks spectacularrrrrr in photos! I love chiles rellenos, but haven’t heard of the kak ik. I love soup so that’s always good to know. Thank you for the recommendations. PS: Just checked out your Instagram and followed you 🙂

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