THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN GUATEMALA
Ask anyone who's travelled Central America which country is their favourite and most will answer Guatemala. From the moment you cross the border you can feel it in the air, something you can't quite put your finger on. There's a reason Guatemala is so popular amongst outdoor-loving, thrill-seeking budget backpackers and yet, somehow, amidst all the tourism, Guatemalans have managed to preserve their traditional way of live and values, making it one of the most authentic places to visit.
UK citizens do not require a visa to visit Guatemala. So long as your passport is valid for 6 months you may stay for up to 90 days. Officially, you can be denied access to the country if you are unable to provide proof of onward travel, although the chances of this being enforced are incredibly slim. Under normal circumstances you would most likely be asked where you plan on going and how long for, but that's about it.
Entry fee: N/A
Exit fee: N/A
Airport exit fee: $30 (£23.10) - Usually included in ticket price.
From El Salvador (Las Chinamas) - You have a little bit of walking to do for this crossing, but it's very straightforward. The bus drops you off in Chinamas and the immigration office is about a 10 minute, down hill walk away. At the bottom of the hill you'll find the office on your right hand side. Once the formalities are complete, cross over the bridge where you have another 10 minute walk, this time uphill, to the Guatemalan immigration office. As you're walking to the office there are dozens of market stalls on both sides of the road along the entire way. Some serious bargains to be had if you're after cheap clothes, hats and shoes etc. After immigration you'll find the buses waiting on the other side of the building ready to take you to your next destination.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Climb Volcan Acatenango -
The Acatenango tour is one of the most popular activities in the whole country, and for good reason. After a 5 hour hike up the dormant volcano you will reach your camping spot for the night where you can see Volcan Fuego erupting into the early hours of the morning. This was one of the most spectacular moments of our entire trip. Nothing compares to seeing a volcano spew out lava against the moonlit nighttime sky. In the morning you will climb the final hour to the top where you will enjoy the sunrise over the volcanoes and villages below. Pure magic
We highly recommend using Soy Tours to ensure you get the best experience possible. They are the most trusted and professional tour company in Antigua and take care of every little detail so all you need to do is enjoy yourself (and climb for 5 hours). The price for the 2 day tour including all transport, food, equipment and tents - $35 (£26.90) plus 50 GTQ (£5.55) admission.
Lake Atitlan -
Another well visited location but you'd be a fool to miss it. The beautiful Lake Atitlan is set in a massive volcanic crater and framed by not 1, not 2, but 3 volcanos. The edges of the lake are dotted with little Mayan villages which you can hike through. You can swim, snorkel and scuba dive in the lake before taking in a fantastic sunset. There is magic in the air here and it's easy to see why some people stay for weeks on end.
Hostel recommendation - La Iguana Perdida is the best choice for an amazing stay on Lake Atitlan. They are right on the waterfront and the whole property is surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers. The restaurant serves up some delicious food and the bar has a variety of cheap drinks. By design, there is no WiFi making this the perfect place to disconnect and relax.
This small colonial city is full of surprises around every corner. It is set in the valleys with Volcan Acatenango towering above it in the background. Picturesque in every sense of the word you could spend hours strolling the cobblestone streets, taking pictures and admiring the architecture.
Another classic backpacker spot here. Semuc Champey will be in pretty much all travellers top 3 for Guatemala. Buried in the mountainous jungle, Semuc Champey is a long, naturally-formed bridge which hangs over a number of spectacularly coloured pools. You can swim, tube down the river or explore the caves. Entry is only 50 GTQ (£5.55)
El Mirador -
Well known but not so well frequented due to its location. El Mirador is an ancient Mayan city deep in the jungle. This historical location has great significance in the Mayan culture and is a real treat for the eyes too. The crumbling pyramid complex will leave you in awe and, in our opinion, is every bit as impressive as the likes of Machu Picchu and Ciudad Perdida.
BUDGET & MONEY
Great news again for the budget traveller as Guatemala is another place that won't hit the budget too hard. On average, for 2 people, we were spending about 288 GTQ (£32) per day. That figure includes accommodation, transport, activities, food and, of course, beers. Guatemala's currency is the Quetzal (GTQ) and its exchange rate to GBP is currently around £1=9. We found that USD are not as widely accepted as in Costa Rica or Nicaragua but you can still exchange them in banks and bureaus.
Prices are very comparable with those in El Salvador and Nicaragua. A private double room in a hostel or cheap hotel will set you back 109-144 GTQ (£12-16) and you can find dorm beds for as little as 45 GTQ (£5).
As with everywhere, you can spend as much or as little as you like on food. Guatemala has a wide range of options to cater for all tastes. We found a lot of vegetarian and vegan places in the likes of Antigua and Guatemala City. If you're sticking to street food you won't be spending much more than 20 GTQ (£2.20) for a nice, filling meal and you can expect to pay a minimum of 40 GTQ (£4.40) for a meal in a local restaurant and 75 GTQ (£8.35) for western style food.
If you aren't familiar with the infamous Central American "chicken bus" then just picture an old American school bus painted in bright colours, with loud music, crammed to the point of bursting with people (and sometimes livestock, hence the name) flying around at the speed of sound. It may not sound tempting, but it is the easiest way to get around Guatemala. They're cheap and plentiful and, although each bus doesn't go far (2 hours at most), you will never be far away from a connecting bus.
- Valle Nuevo to Guatemala City - 3 hours - 30 GTQ (£3.35)
- Guatemala City to Antigua - 1 hour - 15 GTQ (£1.70)
Being such a tourist hotspot, Guatemala has a number of more direct and convenient shuttle services to ferry you to the more popular tourist spots.
- Antigua to Lake Atitlan - 2.5 hours - 80 GTQ (£8.90)
- Lake Atitlan to San Cristobal, Mexico - 12 hours - 210 GTQ (£23.35)
Guatemala has the same security concerns as other parts of Central America, but it appears to be very well policed around the areas tourists are most likely to visit. It is certainly not considered one of the more dangerous countries but, none the less, we would recommend being a little more vigilant than usual and keep your wits about you. As with any destination on the backpacker trail you need to keep a sharp eye on your belongings on buses and in and around stations, cities and major attractions as petty crime and bag theft is always a concern. It has been known for tourists to be targeted in violent robberies at night so try to avoid being out alone after dark and only use registered taxis which staff in most bars, clubs and restaurants will call for you.
Final thing; make sure to have these numbers saved in your phone -
- Police: 120
- Ambulance/Fire: 125/123
- Tourist Police: +502 2421 2878
- Your Embassy (UK): +502 2380 7300