Guide to Backpacking Guatemala


If you ask any ten backpackers which country in Central America is their favorite, nine out of ten will say Guatemala. So before you ask, yes, Guatemala is our favorite country too! There's just something about this place that makes it memorable and lovable. Guatemala's rich culture is what we enjoyed the most. No matter where you go you'll find locals dressed in their traditional clothing, doing traditional work, and living a traditional life. Not for the entertainment of tourists, but because that's their way of life. While many other countries gave in to globalization, Guatemala did not. There are many things to do and places to visit in Guatemala, but below are some of our favorites.
Tikal. Tikal is an ancient Mayan city located in the middle of the rainforest in northern Guatemala, and it's nothing short of breathtaking. It was the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms in the ancient Mayan civilization until it was abandoned at the end of the 10th century. The archaeological site is huge and will take at least one day, if not two, to explore.
El Mirador. El Mirador is a large Mayan settlement located in the middle of the jungle. Its remote location prevents it from becoming a popular tourist site. The only way to get there is by a five-day hike through the jungle. If you like adventure, and want to get away from mass tourism, this is for you.
Pacaya. This active volcano was our first volcano and though it doesn't spew lava anymore, it is still worth the hike. Pacaya is located between Antigua and Guatemala City. The hike up to the mountaintop can be strenuous for people who don't have much hiking experience because it's very steep at times, but it can be done.
Lake Atitlán. This crater lake is surrounded by three volcanoes and many traditional Mayan villages. The biggest and most famous town is Panajachel, and although most tourists stay here, it felt less touristy than the neighboring town, San Pedro. San Pedro is more of a party town, and the locals and tourists live very segregated from each other. If you are into partying, you will probably enjoy it here. For people who are into meditation and other spiritual activities, San Marcos is the place to be. Other villages along the lake, such as Santa Cruz and San Juan, are still very much untouched, but as tourism is growing in this region, it won't be long until they too lose their authenticity. To get from village to village simple catch one of the many lanchas (small boats) crossing the lake everyday.
Chichicastenango. This indigenous town near Lake Atitlán is best known for its famous market days on Thursdays and Sundays, when vendors from different towns come and sell everything from handicrafts to pigs and chickens. Most travelers come here as a day trip to buy souvenirs and experience the chaos of one of the largest markets in the Americas.
Flores. Flores is located on an island on Lake Peten Itza. Is’s mostly used as a base for exploring the ancient ruins in Tikal, which are only a short bus ride away. Although, Flores doesn’t have much to offer besides visiting the neighboring town of Santa Elena and kayaking the lake, we actually liked staying here and even stayed longer than we originally planned. I think it might have had something to do with the relaxing atmosphere.