When a friend asked me to accompany her to Guatemala a few months ago I didn’t hesitate and jumped on the occasion. This Central American country had never been on my travel destination list, but I am not one to refuse an opportunity to go somewhere new!
To be honest though, I had no knowledge of Guatemala other than its location. But my friend was going for her third time so it had to be pretty decent, right?
Well, not only was it good, it was an absolutely fantastic vacation! Not your typical winter break beach vacation, but the right mix of relaxation, adventure and sights to discover had me wishing I had more time to spend there.
If Guatemala is not on you travel destination list either, here’s the main reasons why you need to add it!
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Budget friendly accommodations
A great budget location, your Guatemalan trip can be done with very minimal resources. From accommodations to food, transportation, and activities, there is room for every budget.
For my trip, I stayed in hostels, a remote eco-lodge and a couple of hotels. All came with varying prices: my hostel dorm beds cost between 10$ to 13$ CAD and were clean and comfortable with eight to twelve beds per room; the lodge was a little more expensive at about 16$ CAD for a dorm bed in a cabin of eight; and the hotels 30$ to 50$ CAD with three people occupancy.
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I’m a little embarrassed to say, but I spent more on food this entire trip than I did on accommodations. Restaurants quickly get pricey, but that doesn’t mean there are no budget options. Limiting your alcohol consumption and resorting to local or Mexican restaurants will keep you on track. The tacos and nachos were reasonably priced and super delicious, so really there’s no need to question what you should eat!
I also tried some excellent vegetarian, Indian and Thai restaurants during this vacation. Though I usually stick to local food to stay within budget and truly experience the country, I was recommended these places by local so just had to try them and they were delicious!
Lots of free or cheap things to do
The best part about Guatemala is that most activities are free to very cheap! City views and landmarks, cemetery, street art, and shows in the plaza are all things I did for free. A small cost was required for hiking volcanoes (don’t go without a guide!), but it was completely worth it. Check out our guide to our favourite free things to do in Xela here!
Things like museum visits, guided tours and Spanish lessons come at a bit higher price, but the money you will save on the rest will compensate!
I know, almost every country south of the US has Spanish as their primary language. So can’t you learn Spanish in any of those? Well yes, you can. So what makes Guatemala so great for Spanish lessons? Low cost, less tourists and a correct dialect.
Homestays are popular for Spanish students and I will be returning for my own immersion as soon as I get the chance. The fact that there are less tourists means that you will have to use Spanish and therefore learn quicker.
Getting around is easy
There are a lot of transportation options, and there’s some for every budget. The chicken bus on one hand is very inexpensive and will get you around towns and even around the country (as long as you’re not in a hurry)! They are a bit sketchy and you should make sure to keep an eye on your luggage or packs while riding it. I really recommend trying it for a short distance before committing to a long distance transport!
The other option for longer distances is to take one of the many shuttles around Guatemala. Every hotel or hostel I stayed in offered to book shuttles for their guests. They will be much more expensive – for an approximately one hour ride from Antigua to Guatemala City, I had to cough up about 30$ CAD. But they will get you there faster and more comfortably than a chicken bus (hello air conditioning!!).
To travel locally, tuk-tuks, are a very inexpensive solution and can be an adventure in itself. There are also pick up trucks in which you will see people riding in the back, standing and holding on to a rail. They are more expensive than tuk-tuks, but less than taxis! Taxis are of course another option, but are the most expensive.
My main purpose to this trip was to hike a volcano for the very first time. We set off before sunrise and climbed up Volcano Toliman with the help of Luis, our guide. The Guatemalan terrain, which varies from lakeside trails, to fields, rocky sides, jungle and volcanic ash is as diverse as it gets and can offer a challenge for everyone from beginner to expert.
Don’t worry; some hikes are much easier than others so if you’re looking for something much more on the leisure side, there is a hike for you too!
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Amazing coffee and chocolate
I don’t even drink coffee, but my morning wasn’t complete in Guatemala without a good Americano with my breakfast! Seriously, these people know how to do coffee!
I was also lucky to connect with a friend who took me to Fernando’s, the Willy Wonka of Antigua! Fernando showed me how he makes his chocolate and gave me a tasting tour of his little factory. Delicious!
Don’t forget to also have a taste of the Mayan hot chocolate – it is simply incredible chocolate goodness!
Sunrise to die for
I’m not a morning person, so I have a hard time catching the sunrise anytime – even on vacation. As we woke up at 3 AM to climb Volcano Toliman, the beginning was excruciating, but as we got to the view point just in time for the sunrise it made it all worth it.
Seeing the colors of the rising sun creep up behind mountains and volcanoes is a sight for the bucket list.
Though not as satisfying as the sunrise, the sunsets were also incredible. Everywhere you go in Guatemala is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, so as soon as the sun is partly hidden behind them, it makes the landscape appear like a painting. It’s hard to believe it’s real!
Watch a volcano erupt
Last but not least, the great Guatemala adventure can take you to watch a volcano erupt! Fuego is an active volcano close to Antigua. It erupts regularly and on clear days you can see its eruption from as far as Lake Atitlan (as we did!).
There are of course closer viewpoints where you can really see it such as from Volcano Acatenango.
There is so much about Guatemala that I was able to discover, yet so much more that I still haven’t seen. As an adventure seeker, it was a perfect destination to unwind, challenge myself and learn.
Have I got you convinced yet? What is the thing that is attracting you the most to visit this beautiful country? Let us know in the comments, we want to hear from you!
Budget Travel Blog: Tips and tricks for affordable vacation planning. From cheap hotels to cheap flights and everything in between, prioritizing safety and comfort.
The Dime Travelers
It’s time to ditch your misconceptions about cheap travel and join us on our blog as we show you safe and comfortable ways to travel on a budget. We will guide you through the process of trip planning and share with you what we have learned from our own travels. Our advice and reviews come from personal experience and will offer easy to follow tips and tricks to make your vacation a positive experience you'll want to have again and again.
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