These are 10 things I wish I knew before visiting Guatemala!
For those of you that are new.. welcome to my blog! My name is Savanna Crowell and I'm a wanderer who likes to share travel tips and insights on my favorite destinations. If you are interested in knowing more about my background, travels, or anything, check out the 'About Me' section of my website. And don't forget to follow me on Instagram @slc_travels to join me on my journeys!
Guatemala is a country located in Central America, south of Mexico and north of El Salvador and Honduras. The capital is Guatemala City, and that is where you will fly into for your trip. It is a country full of volcanoes, mountains, and beaches along the Pacific Ocean. 3 of Guatemala's volcanoes are currently active, including 1 that you can hike to (Volcan Fuego, the hike is up Volcan Acatenango).
Culture in Guatemala is very strong. More than half the population is indigenous with the largest of the 20 Maya groups, the Quiche, living near the the city of Quetzaltenango, called Xela (SHEH-la) by the locals.
Many believe that the name Guatemala comes from the Maya word Guhatezmalh, that described the volcano near the old capital in Antigua, the "Mountain That Vomits Water." Today the volcano is simply called the Volcan de Agua, "Volcano of Water."
My Experience in Guatemala
I visited Guatemala for 10 days as a solo female traveler. This was my first ever solo trip and to be honest.. it was one of the best trips I've ever been on, and I already want to go back! We all know that Guatemala has a stereotype of being "unsafe" for tourists. Yes, there are definitely areas I recommend avoiding as a tourist (but, what country doesn't have areas you should avoid?!), but honestly there wasn't once that I felt unsafe. But, i'll get into that later!
During my time I spent a few days in Antigua, hiked Volcan Acatenango, and visited all of the villages around Lake Atitlan.
10 Things to Know Before Visiting
1. It Is Safe to Visit
I visited Guatemala as a solo female traveler. Not only that, but this was my first solo trip. If you visit Antigua and Lake Atitlan and travel smart, I guarantee you will feel 100% safe. As a solo female traveler, I felt safe at all times during my trip. I only spent my time in Antigua and Lake Atitlan, but came across no problems. I also recommend not going out at night alone, just to be extra cautious.
2. Spanish is the Official Language
Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, although I found that a lot more people than I thought spoke some English. I am not fluent in Spanish, but did take 4 years in high school so I know all of the basic words and had no problems communicating. Although, I would NOT recommend relying on people to speak some English. So, I would recommend knowing the basic Spanish words and downloading 'Spanish' from the Google Translate app so you can access that without WiFi in case you need to translate something!
3. Use GuateGo for Transportation
GuateGo is a shared shuttle transportation service in Mexico and Central America, it is really prominent in Guatemala and is my recommended form of transportation throughout the country. It's safe, reliable, and goes pretty much everywhere you would want to go! It is more expensive than other forms within the country, coming in at about $18/one way, but it's the best and easiest there is in my opinion.
Book Here: GUATEGO
Photo credits: GuateGo
4. Pack Lightweight Clothing
Guatemala only has two season: the wet and dry season. Dry season runs from about November to May. But throughout both seasons the temperatures don't vary greatly. Throughout the entire year, the high for the day will be in the 80s and the low will be in the 70s F (26 C and 21 C). Because of this, it makes making easy! You don't need to bring any heavy jackets or clothes (I'm wearing jeans in this picture because I thought I would need them- I didn't!). The only jacket I would recommend bringing is a light rain jacket if you're traveling during the rainy season. Other than that, bring a pair of lightweight joggers, shorts, leggings, and short sleeve tops.
5. Don't Drink the Tap Water
The tap water is not safe to drink in Guatemala, like a lot of countries. I recommend bringing a water bottle, preferably a filtered water bottle. A lot of hotels, resorts, etc. have filtered water in a big bottle for you to take from, but to be extra safe I would then put that filtered water into a filter water bottle. Can't hurt to be extra safe! And trust me you don't want a waterborne illness - I can tell you firsthand!
Photo Credits: Core77
6. Always Hike with a Local Guide
Hiking in Guatemala is one of the best things to do! Whether you're hiking a small mountain, or Volcan Acatenango (the active volcano there), you should always hike with a local guide. Hiking without a local guide can be dangerous, and it's just so must easier to not have to worry about those other factors, and just be able to enjoy the views!
7. Loud Bangs at Night are Fireworks (Bombas)
Bombas is the Spanish word for fireworks, and this is something that locals in Guatemala LOVE, particularly in Antigua. At night you will hear loud bangs going off which might be unsettling at first. (I hard to look it up because I had no idea what was happening lol). But, don't be alarmed because they are just fireworks! You get used to it because they set them off pretty much every night regardless of if there's a holiday or not.
8. Bring Money With You
The Official Currency of Guatemala is the Quetzal. I would recommend ordering plenty from your bank prior to your trip to take along (I brought $400 USD for 10 days). A lot of places do not accept credit card, such as the lanchas on Lake Atitlan, and it's super convenient to have.
9. The Locals are SUPER Friendly
One thing about Guatemala that I loved was how friendly the locals were. Every place I went I saw people smiling, and wanting to help others. In my pictures below, these were ladies that I met who make and sell their own products. They were so nice and let me watch their process as they taught me about their lifestyle.
10. Climb Volcan Acatenango
Last, but not least. One thing you have to do during your time in Guatemala is climb Voclan Acatenango! I recommend going with Wicho & Charlie's. They are the only guide that actually has structures at base camp (opposed to tents), and the food that they provide is vegan, and delicious! This is a bucket list activity and although the hike is yes, as difficult as you've heard, it's SO worth it. It's a 4 hour+ hike to base camp, and 1.5-2 hour descend back down. Once at base camp you have the decision to continue on to hike to Volcan Fuego. This hike is even more challenging than the hike to base camp, so make sure you are aware of this before deciding to go and eat something! I went on the hike to Fuego and was not aware of the difficultly and actually vomited after the hike (which was a bit thanks to altitude sickness also).
Things to bring along on your hike: wet wipes, pedialyte packets, 3+ water bottles, an extra change of clothes, quality hiking boots (everything else will be provided by Wicho & Charlies')
Guatemala is a beautiful country, full of culture, amazing food, and beautiful places. If you travel smart, you will have a safe and great vacation. I hope these tips both inspire your trip to Guatemala and help you better prepare! Until next time friends..keep exploring!! xxx, Savanna