One month in Guatemala, an amazingly unique and beautiful country. A place I had no idea what to expect and it definitely didn’t conform to anything I thought it would.
Firstly, Guatemala is a huge backpacking and holiday destination. I truly, and maybe naively thought Guatemala was off the beat path but that path is well and truly beaten. We met people on their first backpacking trip, their trip of six months, families on holiday and even older couples taking a backpacking holiday. I loved this about Mexico and I love it about Guatemala, it isn’t exclusively for any specific type of person.
However, the down side to this is the prices. I expected it to be cheaper than Mexico but it was not. The food and hostels were always more expensive, although the transport was cheaper. We found it was cheaper to get private rooms than stay in a hostel, and that you can live off two ‘plato de vegetariana’ a day for 25QZ each, which isn’t too bad. In the more touristy towns like Flores and Antigua this food was a lot harder to come by and we were spending closer to 40QZ per meal.
Anyway, let’s get into the destinations. We went to Flores, Semuc Champey, Antigua and Lake Atitlan; Panajachel, San Pedro, San Juan and San Maros.
Our first stop was in Flores after crossing the boarder from Mexico to the north of Guatemala. We decided to spend a good few days in Flores upon arrival which seemed to surprise everyone we spoke to. It seemed like everyone would arrive at the town, visit Tikal and then leave the next day. When we arrived in Flores I was completely in love with it.
You are on the smallest island that you can walk around in a matter of minutes and I just loved looking out over the water and seeing everything else surrounding us. It was also small and quaint and had a selection of great restaurants. And I am willing to stay in a town if only for the food.
We obviously went to Tikal and then spent the rest of our time finding tasty vegan food and drinking cheap beers. Some restaurants that we fell in love with were Restaurant San Telmo, Legumbres Maya and Cafe Riquisimoo. All had some really amazing vegan options; and we ate the best avocado pasta I have ever had in my life. It was a great little town and I would definitely recommend taking a few days to explore it and its surrounding areas.
Visiting Tikal was amazing, it is always interesting to to places that have a huge reputation.. it can sometimes be disappointing. Tikal was not one of those. It is this huge area, which we haven’t experienced with any ruins- where you can walk around entirely freely for hours, discovering new ruins every ten minutes. We took the 4.30am bus and spent around 3 hours walking around before deciding we had had our fill on ruins. We then when to the small restaurant, the menu here was so limited but we managed to get beans and nachos, which was surprisingly we tasty.. we even had another round!
Flores was a beautiful little town and if you like to sit with a book/journal/chess then this town is great to spend a few days relaxing and enjoying the beautiful island.
We then took a long bus ride to Semuc Champey. A place we did not know much about but had been told we had to visit, so we did. It was a national park, known for its blue waters, beautiful nature and quiet retreats.
The journey here was intense. For the first 6/7 hours it was a normal bus ride; then we hit a dirt round taking us down to the town of Lanquin, the town that people generally stay at when visiting Semuc Champey. Then we arrived into the town where hostel trucks were waiting to pick you up and take you to your hostel as a lot of them were closer to the national park. And this is where things went bad.
We got loaded into the back of a pickup truck, having to hold on for dear life as they raced around another hours worth of bumpy, uphill gravel road. Before this began we pulled into a gas station; and as we did the driver moved around a lying dog. However, his back wheels rolled over the dog and it was hell. We had to all stand in the back of this truck, the dog inches behind us, listening to the sounds of this animal crying, until it died. As the driver waited for his delivery, seemingly not bothered by the whole experience. It was awful and for days it was all I thought about, the feeling of the truck rolling over the dog and the sound was literally haunting me. And I guess, the reason I’m writing this instead of pretending it didn’t happen; as I would like to, is because we all want to portray travelling as amazing and fun and nothing bad happens but they do and at times travelling sucks and you just want to be back at your mum’s house in your bed.
This experience meant I was not a fan of Semuc Champey. I wanted to get off the truck and go anywhere else in the world. We arrived at our hostel Pachamaya and I didn’t like it all too much. The night before we had arrived the dorm had been robbed because there was no lock on the door and anyone could walk in. I didn’t feel safe and I just wasn’t in the mood. We then moved back up to the town; staying at El Retiro which I preferred a lot more. The hostel owners were incredibly friendly and every night they held a family dinner which was really awesome and we met some awesome people here. The national park itself was beautiful- the water was insanely blue however the hike was closed off which was a huge portion of the experience.
Overall, I did not have a great time here but I’ve met people who said it was one of their favourite places. So although, maybe I wouldn’t go again, I am still glad I got to experience it.
I was very excited to get to this colonial style city. After what happened in Semuc I was craving normality and the comfort of friends. Here we met back up with friends we were travelling with throughout our first month in Mexico.
The food in this town was amazing. I ate at SamSara at least once a day; they had an insane amount of vegan options and it was tasty and never boarded being ‘healthy’ – my least favourite type of restaurant. We also ate at Mulan, a great Chinese restaurant with incredible spring rolls, and Tre Fratelli where I had an amazing vegan fettuccine. The Cafe Boheme had the greatest hot chocolate I have ever had which also had soy milk- which doesn’t happen all to often in Guatemala.
Antigua was a beautiful city, however there wasn’t too much going on here. It seemed like every just came to hike to see the volcano and then left. It was a great town to walk around and had some great quirky shops.
Lake Atitlan is a very well known destination for backpackers. Formed by a volcano eruption around 84,000 years ago and a max depth of 340m, it is a pretty spectacular place. Referred to as a single place but it as actually made of 12 different towns surrounding the lake; and we were lucky enough to visit five of them in just under two weeks. Each town was so surprisingly unique, and I even managed to find love for the tourist town I assumed I would hate, teaching myself a little life lesson there.
Panajachel (population 15,000)
This is the town that most people arrive in when going to Lake Atitlan. But it is also the place people spoke about the least, everyone said to do San Pedro and San Marcos which made me not want to go to those place. After two and a half weeks of tourist towns, I really wanted something different, so we decided to spend a few nights in Panajachel. This town was touristy with the main strip, however, it felt a lot more balanced and we found three for 15QZ tacos on this main strip, so I knew this was a great spot. We also found Mister Jons that hosted an all you can taco night with incredible vegetable options- including tofu!
Santiago Atitlan (population 53,200)
We then decided to go Santiago, a place no one ever spoke about and we were excited to go where people were not. And we definitely found that here. We found a cheap hotel room and spent our time walking around the town and finding cheap, local food. This was a great spot for it- we even found a cafe that a soy milk (Cafe Effile) so it was a town we loved and I am really glad we got to spend some time here.
San Pedro (population 14,000) & San Juan (popluation 11,000)
I really expected to hate this town. I thought it would be a massive party town with no culture. This wasn’t quite that but it definitely felt like the Rishikesh of Lake Atitlan. Meaning it was home to lots of ex-pats and many ‘hippies’ selling jewelry. But this town still had a certain charm to it. We stayed in the Guest house Brothers, which was a really great place to be based, we didn’t want to leave, so we didn’t. It was beautiful and relaxing and it felt like it had been a long time since we stayed in a really great accommodation.
The food in this town is what kept me here. We at at Hummus-ya, Fifth Dimensions, Salud Para Vida Health Store (amazing mac and cheese and chilli cheese fries and the chicken burger was the best thing I have ever eaten so GO). We honestly ate some of the best food here, if you go for one thing, just go for the vegan food.
We decided to base ourselves and this town for a week, since we loved it so much and go visit any other towns we wanted to on day trips.
We took the time to go and visit San Juan, about a 3 minute boat journey costing 10QZ. San Juan seemed like the coffee town. Every other shop was a cafe, and the quality of coffee available was next level. Quincy was drinking coffee with no sugars; that is how you know it is good! It was a small and quirky town that was a pleasure to walk around, it was a lot more peaceful than San Pedro and could definitely spend a few nights here exploring this town.
We did a day trip to San Marcos as well. This town was also incredible small. It had this main strip where you walked off the boat and were filtered past the restuarants and jewelry sellers. This place definitely was definitely what people said it would be; hippie town full of hippies. Because of this there were many veggie restaurants and I got a killer vegan brownie from one of the health food stores. We also went to the national park which was so beautiful and you truly felt surrounded by nature.
After this we went back to Panajachel for the night. Stocked up on any final souvenirs (so cheap) and found a bus to drop us off at Santa Ana, El Salvador. Easy? No. But I won’t spoil that surprise and keep it for my next blog post 10 days in El Savlador!
Thank you so much for reading this blog post. Overall, I loved Guatemala and it help some really incredible experiences for me.And in everything that I saw it taught me a lot of community and what matters in life; and it is definitely those who you surround yourself by. We are currently in Santa Ana, El Salvador and it feels incredible to be here. Keep an eye out for the post about our time here! My last two posts, if you feel like catching up were Two Months in Mexico and my one year living in Banff,