This blogpost definitely won’t do justice to Guatemala. My words can’t even describe well enough what I saw and experienced there. You just have to travel around the country yourself to understand my enthusiasm and love for Guatemala.
I do not even know where to start.
Just thinking about Guatemala makes me very excited. I really would like to advise you to visit this country before it becomes very touristy one day.
I crossed at Tapachula to Guatemala and exchanged some Mexican Pesos straight at the border. I advise you to do the same, somehow the rates are better than the actual rates. Funny fact – Before I traveled here, many Mexicans warned me Guatemala is dangerous. That’s completely bullsh**. It’s the same when Americans tell you Mexico is dangerous.
I mean everywhere around the world could be dangerous, just use your common sense and trust more or less your gut feelings. Anyway, I couldn’t feel safer in Guatemala. Similar to Cuba, which was also surprisingly very safe too.
My first stop was Quetzaltenango, simply known amongst the locals as Xela. So if you search for a bus to Quetzaltenango you can wait for an eternity, because they will scream everywhere Xela and not Quetzaltenango.
Guatemala has truly EVERYTHING my adventurous heart desires. And not many countries could satisfy me in such a great way like it did.
It started with the so called Chicken Buses. I went to Xela by bus. Let’s say this small school bus fits maybe 50 people. But they tried to squeeze in more than double that. You feel like a chicken in a very small cage. The woman next to me sat half with her thigh on my thigh. After 10 minutes my legs were numb, also because my legs didn’t have enough space to stretch in the kid-sized school bus. Therefore, the 3 hour bus ride to Xela was like a rollercoaster ride with all the bends in the mountains. I was amused and seriously happy for no rational reason. My friend Mau was totally exhausted and not in the best mood. First day and it felt like back in Asia – I just love it!
Xela – A surprising start
Arrived in the pitch dark at 6 in the evening in Xela. We walked around and to our astonishment we realized how safe it was to walk around at night.
No one bothered us and everyone helped in a super friendly manner. Also no rip-off with the money as it would normally be in Southeast Asia.
I was overjoyed again.
I was even more amazed when I saw huge shopping malls and American fast food chains like Taco Bell and Wendy’s everywhere. The streets were partly clean but I assure you all the accommodations I stayed at in Guatemala were squeaky clean. So clean that you could eat off the floor. Moreover, there was water in all our accommodations to fill up free of charge. Very environmentally-friendly.
Xela is a nice small town you can visit in half a day walking around. You can visit the colorful cemetery which are full of color like in Bolivia.
Volcano Santa Maria and Volcano Santiaguito
You will love the country even more if you are a hiking or trekking-lover. The two interesting volcanoes that are close to Xela are Volcano Santa Maria and Volcano Santiaguito. For both, you can take a bus in front of the church of the cemetery for 2 Quetzales (0.25 USD) and the bus drops you off at the starting point of the hike.
Schedule at least a full day for the two volcanos. We did it spontaneously and didn’t get to the top. Instead we were totally lost, climbed over a few *cough* private fences and at the end were caught in the rain after the sunset. A great fun if you love crazy adventures like I do. It was such a terrific trek, I would do it again anytime. It is not difficult and you can see a lot on the trek. From vegetable patches to shepherding, and no tourists at all when I was there.
We were lucky to see a (harmless) eruption from Volcano Santiaguito!! Next to me a cow was eating grass in the mist. Like a Fairytale, I swear.
At the end of the day, I was drinking hot chocolate. And I was probably the happiest girl in the world.
Antigua – The Former Capital
I thought Guatemala would not be so touristy. But then Antigua changed everything in my life. So many Americans and tourists in a heap. My first discovery – most of them went to McDonalds! I had to stop myself from laughing and cringing. I mean why not try cheap and tasty local dishes instead of McDonalds. This silly fast-food chain is frigging everywhere in the world. But each to his own.
Everyday I went to the local market and ate local food for 15 Quetzales (almost 2 USD). Totally delicious, plus I met very friendly local people. At this point of course you need some Spanish skills for some conversations.
I’ve been walking around here and there. But I have not explored much of the old capital.
The weather in Xela, Antigua and Guatemala City was pretty cool and sometimes frosty at night in November. Perfect weather for trekking or hiking. But despite the many tourists, Antigua has its charm with the cobble streets and the colonial buildings. Antigua is also the starting point to explore the volcanoes.
I liked the city, especially at night I enjoyed some live rock music in the bars.
And I highly recommend you to stay in Lemontree Hostel, the facilities and staff are superb!
This little volcano is a great warm-up for your next challenging volcano called Acatenango. Pacaya is an active complex volcano in Guatemala and has an elevation of 2,552 metres.
What we did (foolishly) was arrive in Antigua and walked straight into the first travel agency we saw. Yes totally dumb. Nevertheless, we booked two tours with this agency. One to Volcano Pacaya for half a day and the other one to Volcano Acatenango. We felt even dumber when we realized how much we paid and that Volcano Pacaya was so easy that you could do it without a tour.
To Pacaya, you need only half the day. It is usually from 2pm until evening, therefore you can see lava flowing down the volcano at night. Pretty amazing.
But if you are sporty then just go without a tour and only pay the local bus and the entrance fee of 50 Quetzales. An easy and pretty little volcano. The way is not steep and you can’t get lost like in Volcano Santa Maria.
Now that’s a real challenge! Volcano Acatenango was my favorite hike. Maybe even for the whole year of 2018. Very steep, challenging, I sweat a lot, and having an altitude of almost 4000 meters.
Here you really need a guide. Can you do me a favor and not book with an agency? We hiked with a guide called Jonas, and learned that he hardly earned the money he deserves! Here’s his Guatemalan number and if you’re in Antigua call him. (Number: +502 31646630)
He will even host you before you head to the volcano in his house with delicious traditional dishes which is made by his wife. Hence you will experience what it’s like for a day to live with a Guatemalan family. And with the money which you will pay directly to him, you also support the community and the children there.
Hire Your Own Guide
Please do me this small favor. It was devastating to hear that he even doesn’t get 20% of the money we paid to the agency. For the tour we paid 500 Quetzales which included a night over in the mountains with tents and sleeping bags and food. Food portions are small, so take more with you if you need.
Water is important, everyone in my group took 3 litres with them. Guess how much I took? 600 ml of water. I am sometimes crazy and not rational, I know…
Anyway, I was lucky to trek with a small group. We were 6 in total, with guide included.
The volcano was very steep. 3 out of 5 of us had problems with the climb, so we had to take several breaks. I loved to feel the exertion in my body. How alive I was, how fast my heart beat. Truly a once in a lifetime experience. It was as if I was more than in my element. The scenery was breathtaking with the mist and the pine trees. Like going through an enchanted forest. The sweat was pleasant too, it was cool. And when we reached the base camp we could observe another volcano called Volcan de Fuego, which erupted many times on this day. The 2-day trek on volcano Acatenango is definitely my highlight in Guatemala.
And finally I could really relax and feel the exhaustion. Whoever wants to hike this volcano and needs a trekking partner can write me anytime! I would definitely repeat this experience. I just had a crazily indescribable happy feeling. Especially when you reach the base camp and get a view so wonderful that you would like to cry for joy. The last time I became so emotional while trekking was 3 years ago in the Himalayas in Nepal…
The Night And The Top
The night on the volcano I could hardly sleep. I saw fire eruptions and lava from Volcan de Fuego. Everything felt like a dream, it was too good to be true. We had a starry night with a fire camp and delicious food. And again I felt like the happiest girl on Earth. The joy was so great that I stayed awake. And watched our galaxy above with volcanic eruptions in the background. Many thoughts like mine and our existence on this planet went through my mind. When you see something as beautiful as the night I had, many philosophical thoughts automatically shoot through your head.
At 4 o’clock in the morning, we all got up to hike another 90 minutes to the top. One of us stayed behind, two had severe altitude sickness.
But 5 out of 6 made it to the top. The sunrise on the volcano and the view were a pure explosion of joy and adrenalin for me. I really loved everything about this trek and I could barely hide my enthusiasm and had to jump around on the top. It was one of my most beautiful moments during the last 4 years of traveling around the world.
Even now, I tear up when I write about it.
The Capital Guatemala City
Usually I do not like the capital cities in most Latin American countries. But Guatemala’s capital has convinced me otherwise.
After the exhausting trek, I only walked around in the capital for two days (zone 1 and 2) and in the evening I went to the cinema with Mau in Ciudad Cayala.
By the way, Ciudad Cayala architecture looks like my hometown Frankfurt, very beautiful and clean as well. Watch some beautiful sunsets there, which will make your day. Moreover, there I convinced Mau to eat Indian cuisine for the first time in his life. It was nice to have a normal day after the challenging trek. And I can highly recommend this museum: Museo Ixchel. It is kind of a cultural history museum with a huge collection of traditional Guatemalan clothing and textiles. Uber is also available in Guate. Hence, you can get anywhere faster if you only have a short time to visit the city.
Last Stop: Flores and Tikal
Okay, now to make my stay even more perfect I had to experience the cultural part of course. The last stop couldn’t be better chosen in my opinion.
How about a small town on an island on Lake Peten Itza? With picturesque sunsets, colorful houses and a pleasant silence after all the bustle.
Then you should go to Flores, this small town is linked by a causeway to the town of Santa Elena. Flores is known to be a gateway to nearby Mayan ruins.
Tikal, with its towering temples was my favorite Mayan ruin out of all the ruins I visited during the last 2 months. The reason might be that in the end I was already totally in love with Guatemala.
Our guide in the park had so much enthusiasm and humor, I thoroughly loved the whole tour that day. Amazingly, not even the famous Tikal was packed with tourists, which surprised me very much.
Why You Need To Visit Tikal
Tikal is a huge local interest because it is an ancient Mayan citadel in the rainforests. Tikal flourished between 200 and 850 A.D. and was later abandoned. The most famous temples are the ceremonial Lost World (Mundo Perdido) Pyramid and the Temple of the Grand Jaguar. At 70 meters, Temple number 5 is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in America.
But have a look through my pictures. And if you are not a fan of ruins, the sunsets in Flores will definitely get you.
See You Next Time!
As you can read from my article, I am totally in awe of Guatemala.
I hope this article makes clear why Guatemala is so amazing to me.
I planned nothing and made some mistakes like the trekking plans, but I regret nothing and would always travel Guatemala this way again.
A big thank you to all the amazing people I met in Guatemala, the country and its people. You have been treating this girl like a princess and made her happier than you could have ever thought. Guatemala – You are just amazing in every single way. See you next time! And peeps –go to Guatemala if not you’re going to miss something in your life.