Peppered with towns seemingly lost somewhere in the 20th century this remarkable place has a lot more to offer than what most television networks will tell you about third world, Latin American countries. Rich in jungle, amazing volcanoes, Mayan ruins, beautiful black sand beaches and a thriving party scene, Guatemala is quickly becoming a must visit destination for anyone wanting to visit anywhere slightly out of their comfort zone. I had the pleasure of volunteering and traveling around this incredible country for just under 6 months over two separate trips and found it just as difficult to leave both times.
Unfortunately I did find the task of organising a ‘top 5 list’ far too challenging as I enjoyed each little town or city just as much as the other, so in no particular order these are my 5 favourite places in Guatemala…
With many dubbing this as’ The world’s most beautiful lake’, Lake Atitlan has a maximum depth of 340 metres and is the deepest in Central America. Picture this: sparkling water, surrounded my mountains and volcanoes covered in a bazillion wildflowers, this place is beautiful and is home to approximately 200,000 locals, (wanna be) hippies and wide-eyed tourist typically in search of one of the lakes many yoga and/or meditation classes. As most of the locals speak ancient Mayan languages as a first language, this a perfect example of a place where time has stood still and I wouldn’t be surprised if it remained that way for another thousand years.
Here’s a quick one sentence summary of the most popular villages around the lake…
San Pedro: A lot of tourists, good gringo food, cheap drinks and partying.
Panajachel: Good place to go for souvenir shopping in an authentically Mayan environment.
San Marcos: Meditation, yoga, aura cleansing and a town where the word ‘energy’ is HIGHLY overused.
Santiago: Largest and the most native of all the towns with a great view of the Volcano San Pedro
Do NOT miss out on the Indian Nose tour to catch Lake Atitlan’s amazing sunrise.
Flores – Tikal
Even if you aren’t generally the biggest fan of ancient ruins this complex set of pyramids and buildings will impress you. Discovered in the Guatemalan rain-forest in the 1840’s these ruins date back to 100CE and have been made even more famous by the Mel Gibson movie “Apocalypto’,
For many, the main reason you’d ever want to visit Flores is because of its close proximity to Tikal, Guatemala’s most famous Mayan ruins, however Flores itself is awesome. Flores is, for the most part, a fairly quiet and peaceful place with cobblestone streets, a huge variety of delicious street food and is fit with an orgy of old-school colonial buildings. The main part of Flores is located on an island and if you take a look close look you’ll realise that a massive amount of the Flores shore line is now completely underwater.
Having volunteered here for 5 months this is one of my personal favourites. Situated less than an hour from the countries concrete capital of Gautemala City, the nearly 500-year-old city is beautifully surrounded by some fairly spectacular volcanoes. Whether you’re on a major budget (me) or have a tonne of money to spend this city really is a place for anyone.
Best places to party: The Terrace hostel, Las Vibras, Lucky Rabbit, La Sala, Reilly’s and for after-partys there’s a party in an empty pool 20 minutes outside of Antigua on Saturdays.
Best places to stay: The Terrace hostel, Big Foot, Tropicana, Roos or for something a little quieter there’s Hotel Dionisio.
The Driftwood Surfer
This absolute gem of a hostel is around a 2 hour shuttle ride from Antigua which shouldn’t cost you anything more than 90Q ($12US). The hostel sits right on the beach which makes for amazing sunsets whilst swimming in the pool sipping a beer waiting for your dinner to be served.
The hostel dorm rooms come at the inexpensive rate of around $8US per night and are fully air conditioned and the beds are super comfortable. The town of El Paradon itself is fairly uneventful, however if you’re in the mood for a chilled tranquil couple of days this is the perfect spot for you. (Although you may find yourself drunk in the pool before midday).
Video courtesy of no to czesc
If you are a nature freak this is a MUST visit spot on your Guate trip. Hidden in the heart of the beautiful mountains, Semuc Champey will definitely be one of your highlights.
The famous ‘cave tour’ starts with taking you deep into a massive water-filled cave (with bats) and with your only light source being that of a lit candle, you really feel like you’re discovering it for the first time.
After finally exiting the cave to see the sunlight again you’ll head out on a short hike to the unforgettable view point of the pool and waterfalls which are nothing short of truly breathtaking.
When you climb down – it’s good news! Swimming is allowed and after taking in your surroundings it will feel as though you’re swimming in the world’s greatest natural aqua park. Finally, tubing on the river with a beer in your hand is up next – the current is pretty fast, but it’s super fun and is certain to be a day you’ll remember for a loooong time.
Most photos courtesy of Quetzalvision. To see more of their epic drone photos visit their Facebook page