Guatemala is the heart of Central America, and one of the most popular stops on the classic backpacker’s trail. An inexpensive and stunningly beautiful country, it’s long been popular with solo travellers – but that doesn’t mean that exploring this country is always plain sailing. Here’s everything you need to know.
If you’re flying into Guatemala you’ll probably land in Guatemala City. Unless the capital has a particular draw for you, it’s wise not to spend too much time here. Guatemala City is where most of the gang-related violence occurs in the country, and it can be very dangerous at night. It has its fair share of interesting museums, markets and galleries, but nothing that the much safer colonial city of Antigua doesn’t have. Just an hour’s drive from Guatemala City, Antigua is the most popular travel destination for a reason.
This picturesque colonial city is situated in a valley surrounded by three volcanoes and is absolutely packed with culture. Famous for its cute cobbled streets, striking baroque architecture, excellent restaurants and buzzing bars, it’s perfect for solo travellers. If you’re looking to meet other tourists, this is the place to come, and the city certainly isn’t short of cheap hostels either. Here you can take a salsa class, tour a coffee farm, or learn about the history of Guatemala chocolate.
Antigua is famous for its excellent Spanish schools, so you’ll have no problem meeting people from all over the world. If you don’t fancy staying in a hostel, try a family homestay, which is a great way to meet locals. Make sure you visit some of the city’s fascinating museums and art galleries, and take your time wandering through the many colourful markets throughout town. Be sure to schedule enough time here… Antigua is a place to immerse yourself in and you can spend weeks exploring without getting bored.
Whether you’re happy travelling solo or are hoping to make some friends along the way, a trip to Guatemala isn’t complete without hiking up one of its iconic volcanoes. Visiting the active Pacaya Volcano is one of the best activities to do from Antigua, and it’s close enough to complete in a single afternoon. There are lots of volcano tours you can do from Antigua, but the best ones include toasting marshmallows on the still-hot rocks.
Gorgeous Lake Atitlan is an important stop-off on the solo traveller’s schedule. Framed by three volcanoes and several traditional villages, each with their own unique culture and lifestyle, it’s one of the most beautiful and interesting spots in the country. The touristy village of Panajachel is a great base where you can easily arrange tours of the lake and volcanoes, and its bustling bars, restaurants and cafes mean you’ll find it easy to meet people.
The tourist-friendly town of Flores is the gateway to the Mayan ruins of Tikal. Located on an island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza, Flores is pretty, packed with travellers and safe, so if you have the time to spend a few days here kicking back, it’s always a good idea.
Of course, the main reason people visit Flores is to visit Guatemala’s most famous cultural attraction, Tikal. Hidden in dense jungle, this is the largest excavated Mayan site in the world, and it’s a joy to explore. There are all kinds of different tours you can do here, but to make it extra special why not stay the night in the park? Catching the sunrise over the pyramids is something you’ll never forget. Keep an ear out for the roars of the howler monkeys, too!