Backpacking in Guatemala is an experience which should be on every traveler’s wish list! This is a country with steaming forests, crumbling temples, golden beaches and friendly, fun loving, locals. In short, Guatemala is a backpackers paradise. Many adventurers start their central American travels in Guatemala and for good reason; the country is safe, cheap and pretty comfortable. The thing that really sold Guatemala to me is the history; the Mayan ruins of Tikal and the nearby mega-city of El Mirador (still hidden in the jungle) have fascinated me ever since I first learnt about them. There’s nothing quite like trekking through jungle corridors to find yourself standing in a clearing, a towering Mayan pyramid looming before you. This is Indiana Jones style exploring at it’s best!
Backpacking in Guatemala is relatively easy, if you have a bit of cash it’s possible to arrange everything through tour agencies but in all honesty, there are much cheaper ways to see the country. If you can, try to avoid the rainy season and visit the country from November to April. The really popular guest-houses fill up fast so this is a country where it can definitely be worth making reservations. The local Guatemalan people are a really friendly bunch and keen to help so if you have any problems don’t be afraid to ask for directions from the locals. A little bit of Spanish goes a long way in Central America so it is worth trying to learn a few phrases if you can.
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Backpacking Accommodation in Guatemala
Room costs vary wildly across the country with Antigua being one of the most expensive places to stay. In general, the good places fill up fast so you want to try and book in advance. It’s possible to get a dorm bed for as little as 35Q (around $5) but a double room will often cost the price of two beds in a dorm so if there’s two of you, you can have a private room most of the time for no additional cost. You could also rent a lovely Airbnb property, use this Airbnb coupon code for $35 off your first stay!
|This is such a fun party hostel with a great social vibe. Plus it even includes free breakfast!|
|They’re not lying about the free beer & sometimes it’s even tequila. This place takes glamping to the next level!|
|Hostel Casa de Grethel
|I loved chilling in the hammocks by the dock on the water! They have a free boat that’s available at any time to take you across the water.
|Located in the lush green hills of the Guatemalan jungle & super close to the national park. There’s a small river running through the property you can swim or relax in.|
|Rio Dulche/ Livingston
|Casa De La Iguana
|The staff here are what makes this place special. It’s a chilled green oasis that moves with the pace of the river!|
Guatemala Backpacking Costs
- Food: The food is cheap, tasty and plentiful. There’s not as much street food as I would like but you can normally pick up a meal in a local Comedor for around $3. If you’re eating out in Antigua, expect to pay more like $12 for a decent meal.
- Transport: When it comes to getting around in Guatemala, the options are pretty much endless. I hitched a fair bit and found it relatively easy and safe but some locals seemed to think I was crazy for risking it! The cheapest way to get around is by chicken bus. This is how most of the locals get around. Chicken buses started off as US school buses before being sold on and glammed up – they tend to be covered in glitzy chrome and sports kick ass paint jobs. If you can get a seat then they tend to be relatively comfortable but the conductors fill these buses to bursting points so travelling with backpacks can be a pain. Tourist shuttles are available to most major destinations on the backpacker circuit but they cost significantly more. Luckily, Uber has now come to Guatemala! Uber is hand’s down the best way to get around cities, the price is locked in on the app so you can’t get ripped off and it will always work out cheaper than travelling by taxi or rickshaw. Click here and your first three rides are discounted (plus my next ride will be too – cheers!).
- Activities: From kayaking and trekking to horse-riding and paragliding, Guatemala is an adventure playground. You can do some activities really cheap, certainly cheaper than back home, but others, like paragliding, tend to be quite expensive.
There are lots of international ATMs but many of these, charge pretty insane withdrawal fees so it’s advisable to avoid small ATM transactions and get out a bunch of cash at once – just make sure you hide it well. Check out the Travelex cash card – it’s usually the best value way of getting money out of ATMs.
You should always have some emergency cash hidden on you and I’ve written an entire post on the best places to hide your money. If you want to carry a fair bit of cash safely on your body, your best bet is to get hold of a backpacker belt with a hidden security pocket.
Where to go in Guatemala
Most first time travelers backpacking in Guatemala arrive in Antigua first. This is a classic colonial town, a cool place to kick back and chill out with a beer or two or go for a wander through the cobblestone streets. The brand spanking new Hostel Tropicana is definitely one of the best places to stay in town; dorm beds are just $7 and it has a pool but you really must book in advance. If you want something a little quieter, check out the super homely Captain Toms, near the market. During the day, wander around the main square or just chill out in one of the hundreds of cafes. For cheap, local, food try and find El Faro. The local McDonalds is also worth a visit (no, really!) as the building itself is stunning. For something really special check out the amazing Casa Santo Tomas: this is without a doubt one of the nicest restaurants I have ever been to. If you’re looking to party, check out the Terrace hostel’s rooftop bar or swing by the Snug. The legendary after-party is where people tend to finish up; you’ll have to ask around to find out where it is. You can get pretty much anything you want in Antigua with cocaine being the most readily available party drug. Just bear in mind that a lot of it is still cut and relatively pricey.
Backpacking Lake Atitlan
Backpacking Semuc Champey
Backpacking Finca Ixobel
Backpacking Rio Dulche & Livingston
Backpacking route from Rio Dulce
On every adventure, there are five things I never go travelling without.
1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
2. Leatherman Multi-Tool: I’ve been travelling with my Leatherman Skeletool for years now, my current one is actually my third one as I’ve had one stolen and another is in a Pakistani ravine. This is hand’s down the best multitool I have ever owned and if you are going to be hiking, camping, wild cooking or going on any kind of adventure, I strongly recommend packing a multitool.
3. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if needs be.
4. Headtorch: I would never travel without a headtorch. Even if you only end up using it once, a decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl LED headlamp with red light (which insects can’t see).
5. Hammock: Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colourful and tough.
For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.
Useful apps to download before travelling to Guatemala
There are a few apps which I absolutely swear by when travelling the world. Almost all backpackers these days have a phone and you can make your travels that little bit easier by installing the following adventure friendly apps…
Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll
Weed is definitely common on the backpacker scene throughout Guatemala. It’s defintely around & it’s often your tuk tuk driver who will offer you something to smoke. Although it’s easily available, it’s also easy to wind up in trouble with the po po, especially in touristy area’s like Lake Atitlan. Check out Blazed Backpackers 101 for tips on how to stay safe whilst getting fucked up!
Backpacking in Guatemala for free!
Perhaps one of the best options for backpackers wanting to explore Guatemala long-term and experience living in this truly incredible country is to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Alternatively, if you want to find a cheap way to stay in this incredible country for as long as possible, check out Workaway – for just $29 a year you get access to literally thousands of projects around the world where you can volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation.
How to stay safe in Guatemala
Check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking.
Pick yourself up a backpacker security belt to keep your cash safe on the road.
Check out this post for plenty of ideas on ingenious ways to hide your money when travelling.
I strongly recommend travelling with a headlamp whilst in Guatemala (or anywhere really – every backpacker should have a good headtorch!) – check out my post for a breakdown of the best value headlamps to take backpacking.
Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your backpacking adventure but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on your Guatemala backpacking adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get insurance with World Nomads, Please do get some sort of insurance from somewhere, there are lots of decent options online.
Get more information!
For more info, on all the kickass things you can do whilst backpacking in Guatemala, check out this travel guide.
Peace and love guys!
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