With its endless volcano views, picturesque landscapes, and lush mountains, Guatemala is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to. Unfortunately, because of its reputation in the media as a nation filled with gang and drug-related violence, it is often avoided as tourists opt to flock to the “safer” Belize or Costa Rica. But trust me, Guatemala is not one to be missed. As my first destination as a solo female traveler, I spent 15 days in this incredible country and while I was a bit afraid at first, I returned home a changed woman with a new perspective on the world. In this post I share tips on where to go, how to get around and how to travel safely in Guatemala.
WHERE TO GO:
If you are flying to Guatemala, chances are your flight will be landing in Guatemala City. Most people use this place solely as a pit-stop and I was no exception. From what I had read, this is where most of the gang-related violence occurs and is very dangerous at night. I avoided this city, instead heading straight to Antigua, about an hour west of Guatemala City.
This cute little colonial town of Antigua was where I spent most of my time. With its incredible view of the Agua Volcano and colorful stone buildings, you will not get bored walking these cobblestone streets. There are tons of things to do in town as well, from exploring the traditional markets to sampling the Guatemalan cuisine at one of the many cafes and restaurants, to taking Spanish lessons at a local school. Antigua is a town to immerse yourself in.
The Pacaya Volcano is a great half-day trip for those looking to have a more active holiday. Take a quick tour here so you get in your daily work out AND get to look at some pretty cool views while doing it! The volcano itself is active and you will have the opportunity to roast some marshmallows over the volcanic rock! Did someone say volcano s’mores?!
Nestled in the mountains above the town of Agua, the Earth Lodge offers spectacular views of the three volcanoes (Agua, Acatanango, and Fuego). I stayed at the Earth Lodge my first night in Guatemala and I highly recommend this place to anyone who is near Antigua. Accommodation options here range from camping in tents to dorm rooms to a tree house with a balcony facing the volcanoes. Also, the lodge is on an avocado farm so make sure you order the guacamole at their restaurant. You’re welcome.
One of my favorite destinations in Guatemala, Semuc Champey is unlike any place I have ever been to. It’s a long journey from Antigua (10 hours, one-way), but it is so worth it! This natural beauty consists of little limestone rock infinity pools filled with emerald green water. You can opt to visit just the pools or take a full-day tour around the area, which includes exploring local caves, tubing, hiking to the Semuc Champey viewpoint, and a Guatemalan BBQ!
Lake Atitlan has something for everyone! The lake is surrounded by many villages, each with their own unique culture and lifestyle. Panajachel is the main town where buses arrive and depart, as well as where many tours will depart from. I recommend San Marcos La Laguna for those who are interested in natural beauty, as there are places to hike, kayak, and cliff-jump from. It’s also known as the “hippie town” for its laid-back vibe. Another town popular among backpackers is San Pedro La Laguna. Here you can find cheap prices, cheap food, and an awesome nightlife scene.
HOW TO GET AROUND:
Chicken Buses – The local way of getting around! Before arriving to Guatemala, I remember reading various blogs claiming that the chicken buses are dangerous (due to theft). However, I took them almost every day and felt completely safe. I would recommend keeping your bags on your lap and not having any of your belongings out in plain sight.
Shuttle Buses – I would say definitely take the tourist shuttle buses if you are traveling long distances. They are relatively cheap (usually $8-$15 one-way) and are the most efficient way to get to your destination. You can take chicken buses, but they have frequent stops and you would need to change buses sometimes as well.
Flying – This is an expensive option for those looking to get to Tikal. The shuttle bus ride ranges from 12-14 hours, so for those short on time, a flight to Flores may be the best way to go.
Money Belt – The only money I had on me was the money I needed for the day. I kept the majority of it in my money belt, and the rest in my purse, just in case I needed to retrieve it quickly.
Don’t Go Out Alone At Night – This is a common solo female rule, but in Guatemala, I would suggest both genders take caution. Robberies are more likely to happen at night and they may possibly have a weapon. My advice is to take extra precaution here and be proactive by not putting yourself in that position at all. If you feel unsafe, have the place you’re at call a taxi or tut-tut for you.
Taxis – if you are wanting to go somewhere at night, but don’t want to walk, have your hostel or hotel call a taxi for you. Most of the time, the taxi driver will be able to drop you off and pick you up after. Do NOT take random taxis at night if you are by yourself.
Have Your Information Ready – I wrote down the names and addresses of all the places I was staying at. This made it easy for taxi drivers to know where I was going, even if they had not heard of the hostel before. I would also collect the business cards or phone numbers of the places I was staying at just in case. I always keep two paper copies of my passport so I am prepared if my passport happens to get stolen or lost.
Trust Your Gut – Most of the time, your gut is right. If something feels sketchy, or you feel uncomfortable in an area, make sure to put your safety first and figure a way out of the situation. That could be calling a taxi or staying at a different hotel. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, we all need it sometimes.
Make Sure At Least One Person Knows Your Plan – I know going off the grid can feel amazing, but as a solo traveler, it’s good for one person to know your (tentative) plan. I’m a college student and my parents are always worried when I decide to travel alone. I help ease their minds by providing them with the names and contact information of the hostels I am staying at. I also check-in about once every two days to let them know that yes, I am still alive.
All in all, Guatemala is an incredible place to travel through. Great food, thrilling adventures, and a nice tropical climate to relax in. I could not ask for more from a country. I encourage solo women to come and experience the laid-back Guatemalan culture and discover that, perhaps they do need a little Guatemala!
Have you visited Guatemala? Please share you own tips and favourite places to visit with our readers in the comments below. Read Next > 5 Waterfalls You Can’t Miss When Visiting Costa Rica