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  • Markus Miller

7 Amazing Things To Do In Guatemala As A Backpacker In 2022

Updated: Jul 10, 2022

Looking for an awesome backpacking route that you can do in Guatemala in about 3 - 4 weeks?


Guatemala is the perfect place if you're looking to hike some stunning volcanos, relax at beautiful lakes and explore old colonial cities!


Here I tell you everything you need to know (things to do, where to stay, how to get there etc.) for your trip to Guatemala:


Table of Contents:

  1. Lake Atitlan

  2. Antigua

  3. Volcán Acatenango

  4. Volcán Pacaya

  5. El Paredon

  6. Semuc Champey

  7. Tikal and Flores


(If you're interested in how to get to Guatemala from Mexico, you can read it here.)


1. Lake Atitlan


Probably the most visited destination in Guatemala - well-deserved, I think. It's a beautiful place and definitely worth to hang around for a while...



I stayed for a week in San Pedro. In the main tourist road you can find great coffee, excellent food and some party (There is even a party boat once a week). I definitely suggest to take a short walk up the hill where you can find the authentic part of the village! You can buy delicious food for very little money on the local market and have a chat with the super friendly locals.


Hikes around the lake:


A relatively easy hike is from San Marcos to Santa Cruz. Especially the part from Tzununa to Jaibalito was incredibly beautiful which goes directly along the lake. The whole hike takes around 2 - 3 hours.


Another option is to hike Volcán San Pedro. The entry fee is Q 100 (~ 12 USD), including a guide. You should start early morning (to not run into rain and have the best views). The whole hike takes about 5 - 6 hours.


Other nice villages to visit are San Juan, San Marcos and Santa Cruz. You can take a boat to get around (which is quite cheap and includes scenic views of the lake).


Photo by Christopher Garcia

All villages have their own vibe and there is a lot to explore!


Apart from its beautiful nature and villages I felt that Lake Atitlan has a very special energy. If you're interested in my experiences, you can read more about it in my Spirit blog.

Where to stay?


I stayed for a week in Tzunun Hostel in San Pedro. It is quite basic, but has a cool garden to hang out (see picture at top). It is really affordable for 6 USD/night and only a 5 mins walk from the main tourist road.


If you're looking for some quiet time, the village Santa Cruz might be perfect for you. I can recommend La Iguana Perdida in Santa Cruz. It's a quiet and super cozy place for 8 USD/night.

San Juan is only 5 mins by boat from San Pedro. It's a small, authentic village where I met some super friendly locals. A good place to stay is Eco-Hostel Mayachik 10 USD/night).

How to get there


2. Antigua


Antigua is a cool colonial city with lots of amazing (but rather expensive) restaurants and good coffee places. I can certainly recommend the lookout Cerro de la Cruz where you have a nice view of the whole city and Volcán de Agua!



You can find some beautiful architecture, including the famous Santa Catalina Arch.


Photo by Parker Hilton

If you wanna get out of town for a bit, there are many day-trips from Antigua. For example, you can take a coffee tour or a trip to one of the biggest markets in whole Central America, Chichicastenango Market, which is especially bustling Thursdays and Sundays.


Photo by Jeison Higuita

Furthermore, you can hike the nearby volcanoes like Pacaya or Acatenango...


Where to stay in Antigua?


Tropicana Hostel is a quite famous one where you'll easily meet other travelers. It costs 10 USD/night.


If you're traveling in a group, I can totally recommend to stay at Hotel Posada don Valentino! You can have a nice private room, including free breakfast for 10 USD/person. It also has a well-equipped kitchen if you want to cook for yourself.

How to get there


3. Volcán Acatenango


If you are in Guatemala, don't skip this one! It was one of the highlights of my entire trip. You can see an active volcano erupting and spewing lava in the air! It's a crazy and at the same time beautiful thing to see!


Photo by Alain Bonnardeau

How to get there:

The easiest and most common thing to do is to book a tour in Antigua.

(I covered in a different post how to get to Antigua either from Mexico or El Salvador).

The tour takes care of everything for you, including transport to and from Antigua, warm clothes, food, accommodation for the night, etc.

(You can also get to Acatenango by yourself and do the hike alone, but I wouldn't recommend that since spending a night at the camp and seeing the sunrise is awesome!)


Cost:

We booked at SOY tours which was Q 450 (~ 55 USD), including everything. You have to go there at least one day before. If you prefer booking a tour online, this one might be for you.


Photo by Michiel Ton

The hike:

It's a 2-day hike starting around 10 am at the foot of the volcano and arriving the next day again around 10 am. You gonna sleep at a camp close to the top. Of course it depends on your overall fitness, but for the average backpacker I'd say it is exhausting but manageable. It took us around 5 - 6 hours to get up to the camp where we spent the night.

From there you have an awesome view of Volcán El Fuego which erupts approximately 3 - 4 times per hour.

The next day you wake up at 4 am to to see the sunrise. For that you need to hike another hour up. The view is absolutely beautiful!


Photo by Ben Turnbull
There is also the option to hike from the camp (where you sleep) to Volcán El Fuego. It is an extra Q 200 (~ 24 USD). But be warned, for me it was super super exhausting! After already hiking 6 hours up to the camp, it takes you another 5 - 6 hours to El Fuego and back. So, we arrived back at camp at 11 pm. If you feel like it, do it! You can see the lava up-close. But it is definitely a hard one...


4. Volcán Pacaya


If Acatenango is a bit too challenging for you, or you just prefer an easier one, Volcán Pacaya might be just right for you. It's one of the easiest accessible volcanos in Guatemala. If you can, I'd suggest going during the week to avoid the crowds.


From Antigua you can book a day tour that takes you by shuttle to Volcán Pacaya.


Photo by Sydney Angove

The entrance fee is Q 200 (~ 24 USD) which includes a mandatory guide. The hike up takes around 1.5 - 2 hours. Like Acatenango the volcano is still active. However, you most likely won't see red lava running down the hill... A common thing people do though, is roasting marshmallows over some hot stones - that's pretty cool!

How to get there


5. El Paredon


El Paredon is Guatemala's most famous beach town that offers some nice waves for surfing!


Photo by Marc-André Julien

It was an amazing feeling to arrive at the ocean again after spending so much time inland!


It's definitely a cool place to stay if you like party and surf. To be honest though, we didn't like it that much since there were no proper waves when we were there and we weren't into drinking and party either. In addition it was super hot and humid the whole day and quite expensive for Guatemala as well...


So in the end we only stayed 2 nights. But don't let my experience hold you back from going there! I met many backpackers that enjoyed the place a lot.


Where to stay in El Paredon?


Two of the most popular hostels are Driftwood Surfers (14 USD/night) and Mellow Hostel (18 USD/night). Make sure to book in advance since they are always booked out!


El Paredon Surf Camp seemed like a chill and laid-back place, too. However, it was fully booked when we arrived...

How to get there


6. Semuk Champey


Semuk Champey is a natural limestone bridge. A river passes under it, creating six beautiful turquoise pools where you can take a swim.


The entry fee is Q 50 (~ 6 USD). When you're there, definitely hike up to the lookout (approx. 45 mins). The view of the pools and the surrounding area is amazing!


Photo by Alexander Schimmeck

You can enjoy a swim in the pools which is super refreshing after a long day of hiking or traveling.


Other things to do there:

  • River Tubing (Q 50, ~ 6 USD):

You can rent a tube, jump in the water and get taken along by the river. It is not an adrenaline experience like wild-water rafting, but certainly a lot of fun if you enjoy water activities.

  • K'an Ba Cave (Q 60, ~8 USD):

You can go on a tour into the a water cave which takes about an hour. You don't get any equipment except a candle (might sound a bit strange but it works actually quite okay). Prepare yourself to climb and squeeze through tiny holes and to swim at parts, though. You can see stalactites and the occasional bat might pass above your head.


Where to stay?


I haven't stayed there myself, but I've heard good things from other backpackers about Greengo's (15 USD/night) and Ch'i Bocol (10 USD/night).

How to get there


7. Tikal and Flores


Most travelers go to the North of Guatemala to visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. It is one of the largest archeological sites of the Mayan culture and dates back to the 4th century BC.


Photo by Jimmy Baum

The entrance fee is Q 150 (~ 20 USD). When you are visiting the site, chances are high you'll also encounter some nice wildlife, including monkeys and raccoons. Even jaguars live there.


To get to Tikal you first need to go to Flores. However, Flores is more than just a base for the ruins. It is a beautiful lake island that ancient Mayas built in the 13th century and that was later (like most of Central America) conquered by the Spanish.


Photo by Michiel Ton

There is a lot to explore. You can walk around the cobblestone streets, admire the colorful architecture or enjoy yourself in the many bars and restaurants.


You can take a boat tour that takes you around the lake and to different beautiful spots including a lookout where you can oversee the whole lake and surrounding area.


Where to stay?


Hostel Los Amigos Hostel is a good choice if you're looking for a bit more comfort. It has a built in restaurant which offers delicious food (19 USD/night).

A cheaper option is Hotel Mirador del Lago which costs 9 USD per night. It is more basic, but has everything you need, an - as the name implies - it comes with a nice view of the lake.


There is also the possibility to go to the national park El Mirador which is further up North. There you can do a 5-day hike to another ancient Maya site. A friend told me that it was one of the most incredible things he has ever done. However, you have to walk around 70 km in five days and the tour costs quite a lot. If you're interested, read about it here.

How to get there


How long does it take to visit all these places?


You can do this itinerary in 3 - 4 weeks, but obviously it really depends on your travel pace. You might wanna chill for 2 weeks at Lake Atitlan for example...


If you still have time, you can go to Rio Dulce and Livingston (which are in the East of Guatemala). If you're interested in doing that, read more about it here.



How is traveling in Guatemala during Covid?


Well, you can enter the country with proof of vaccination OR a printed PCR test.

In the bigger cities are certain regulations in place like wearing a mask or social distancing, but I can say that overall you get a really free travel experience.



Is Guatemala safe?


Well, like most countries in Central America, you should always travel with precaution and common sense. Some general recommendations are not to travel at night, to always watch your valuables and to walk in groups at night. Trust your gut and try to avoid anything that seems a bit off, for example a small side alley in a dodgy area at night. Of course, you can never guarantee 100 % safety, but I wouldn't have backpacked in Guatemala, if I thought it was really dangerous.



How to get to Guatemala?


Here I show you how to get from Mexico to Guatemala.


Do you plan to go South (El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica)?


In these articles I describe how to get from Guatemala to El Salvador and 5 awesome things you can do in El Salvador.


Enjoy your trip to Guatemala and safe travels!!


NOTE: Some links in this post may be affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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