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 as a woman in Guatemala.
WHERE TO GO IN GUATEMALA:
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, Acatenango, 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 GUATEMALA:
- 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.
FEMALE SAFETY TIPS FOR GUATEMALA:
- 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.
- Buy a Local Sim Card: If your phone is unlocked (call your home carrier before you go), you can buy a local Guatemalan sim card at most major mobile phone shops and local convenience stores. This way you can stay in touch with friends and family back home, make sure your ride is taking you the right direction, and even share your location with a trusted friend. Traveling is a great time to unplug, but using a sim card for safety is a great tip.
GUATEMALA WRAP UP
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 your own tips and favourite places to visit with our readers in the comments below.
Do you want to share your own travel tips by guest writing for We Are Travel Girls? Please visit our Contribute page for guidelines and to submit your article.
Read More About Central America
- 5 Waterfalls You Can’t Miss When Visiting Costa Rica
- Off The Beaten Path: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
- Paradise Found On Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
- How To Travel To Costa Rica On A Budget
By We Are Travel Girls Contributor Mariah Henderson of WanderWithMariah.com
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Tilly Horseman says
This country looks like it has so many beautiful geological features. Your photos are fantastic. It’s not anywhere I’ll be going to any time soon as I have have a million other places on my bucket list to head to first, but lovely to read about and see the beauty of the place!
We Are Travel Girls says
Thanks for reading and commenting Tilly! Pleased that you enjoyed reading this post, and once you get through your bucketlist hope you add Guatemala! XO, Becky
Dalit Barrett says
I traveled to Guatamala as a solo female in 2014 and it was the best trip I’ve ever taken! Now that I’m married and expecting a little one this summer, I can’t help but be so happy I took this trip by myself when I did. Definitely recommend a solo trip to Guatemala to any ladies out there considering it.
We Are Travel Girls says
Thanks for reading and commenting Dalit, And for recommending others do the same as you and travel solo to Guatemala! XO, Becky
Perla Medina says
Now I want to go to Guatemala! Love this article! C:
Becky van Dijk says
Guatemala is beautiful – you should definitely add it to your list! Thanks for reading!
This post has jump started my solo trip to Guatemala. I just started teaching English in the USA and want to volunteer in Guatemala. Do you know of any English language schools?
Robbery and Attempted Murder at the Summit of La Nariz
On February 13, 2018, a friend and I hiked to the popular La Nariz on Atitlan for the sunrise. What started as a promising sunrise excursion turned into a harrowing experience that highlights how I believe tourists are openly targeted for violent crime by the locals with the tacit permission of the local authorities.
On our journey up the mountain, guides and other tourists accompanied us. After the sunrise, my friend and I followed behind the group. However, as my friend tried to descend from the peak, a young guatemalan man in front of my friend turned, pulled out a machete, put it to my friend’s throat and demanded his money. My friend quickly backed away and ran down the hill through the brush. As my friend ran, the man picked up and threw grapefruit sized rocks trying to kill him. Already being further down the mountain, the guides and the other tourists fled.
Unfortunately, everyone else’s escape left the young man shoving me at machete point demanding my money. After a tense few minutes of talking, I gave him my money (120Q) and ran down behind my friend. As we descended, another man with a machete blocked our path and demanded even more money. We ran through the brush and escaped.
When we arrived at the town below, we stopped at a small tienda and told the lady what had happened. While talking with her, the two bandits walked past. We told the lady they were the criminals who had assaulted us. She knew who they were and gave us their names. She also called the police for us and told us that she was afraid to get involved.
Twenty minutes later, when the Guatemala national police arrived, we told them what happened and gave them the criminals’ names and a picture. The police asked us if we wanted to file a report. We told them that this was their community. If it helped the community, we would. Otherwise, we would just leave. They said they wanted us to file a report so we followed them to the police station.
As it turned out, we didn’t need the criminals’ pictures or names. They met us and the police as we walked through town. As expected, they denied holding us at knifepoint, kidnapping me, or trying to kill my friend. When we arrived at the police station, neither the town police nor the national police took a report. We reviewed nothing. We signed nothing. Neither man was arrested. We left enlightened.
Upon returning, I researched La Nariz more thoroughly combing through travel blogs. I found that the two criminals are a father and son team who have been committing violent crime against tourists for years. Here is a blog entry from 2016 that spells out their activities:
It’s highly unlikely that the local authorities don’t know this.
In the end, going to La Nariz is simply dangerous. It is remote and away from town giving criminals the time and space they need for their dirty work. With proper support from the police, it could be safe. But in my experience you, as a tourist, are considered by the police and the guides to be fair game to the locals who are regularly committing violent crime against foreigners.
If you are the adventuresome type and don’t mind being robbed at knifepoint for a few bucks, then the sunrise at La Nariz is nice enough. You’ll get some exercise and see a pretty sunrise. If you are squeamish about being subjected to violent crime, you may want to consider other sightseeing options.
After talking with lot of people, it also seems that virtually all paths around the lake are being worked similarly by violent criminals. The guides will tell you that it’s safe if you go with them, but it’s not.
We Are Travel Girls says
Thanks for your comment Michele and sharing your experience to help our readers make informed and safe choices in planning their travels to this area in future. I am sorry that this happened to you, it sounds like a terrifying experience. Becky, Founder – We Are Travel Girls
The more I read about Guatemala the more I get excited to travel in that part of the world. This blog really helps Becky and Van.
Am leaving for a few months stay in Guatemala on January 29, 2020 first landing in Belize and will bus to Flores to start my solo female journey till March 25 when I will return to Northern Ontario, Canada
Jessica Maldonado says
Hi Dee! I would love to hear about your journey! im inspired