I know I will get hate for this but that’s okay. I’m just being honest and that’s what my blog is all about: honesty. I definitely don’t think Guatemala is a bad or uninteresting country. It’s worth traveling to if you have some money and that’s the other thing my blog is about; budget travel.
Click here to read my short travel guide (money and cards, transport, accomodation, safety etc) about everything you need to know about travel in Guatemala.
Guatemala; a beautiful multicultural country with many volcanoes, Pacific and Atlantic coast and the most beautiful lake in the world; lago de Atitlan.
Doesn’t sound too bad, huh? Indeed, if you have money, it doesn’t sound bad at all.
However, if you don’t have money (or not much at least), like me, then it might not be that wonderful for you.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Mexico but most likely you have as many travellers take a shuttle from San Cristobal in Chiapas (Mexico) to the Atitlan lake or Antigua. In case you haven’t been to Mexico; Guatemala is on average 3 times more expensive than Mexico. It’s even a lot more expensive than Monterrey (food wise) and Monterrey isn’t only the richest city of Mexico, it’s also in the top 5 of richest cities in Latin America.
Back to Guatemala;
My first time in Guatemala was when we had to do a visa run out of Mexico. We decided to go to the easiest accessible town from San Crisobal; Panajachel at the Atitlan lake. Panajachel is ugly, dirty and quite expensive for budget travellers. I’m talking about European prices, people. The lake is extremely beautiful but the town is a huge disappointment. They have really good coconuts though.
For our second visa run, we decided to go to Antigua and explore the country from there. We planned 9 nights in Antigua so we could work there and enjoy the city. Dorm beds in hostels were very cheap, until I selected the “security locker” box and suddenly many of the cheap options disappeared. As we have lived in Mexico for a year, we have a lot of valuables, we NEED to have a locker or private room, that’s also why I wanted to book beforehand.
Then I looked for AirBnbs. The cheapest one I could find (€8/66Q per person per night in a private room + small breakfast+ shared kitchen and bathroom) was about 15 minutes away from the centre. When it rained a lot (it’s currently rainy season so the country surly is used to it…) the Wi-Fi simply disappeared. Same happened in Panajachel.
We went to the market at first where they offered us €2,5 (20Q) for 5 (!) oranges. No thanks, even in Switzerland I can get oranges for less money.
After the market we went to the supermarket, outside of the centre. Only locals there. The prices were written on the products but everything was still expensive. Not as bad as at the market of course where they gave us a ridiculous gringo price but still…expensive. 3 Times as expensive as in Mexico. €1,50 (12Q) For a bottle of milk for example.
Don’t even bother going to a bar or restaurant. Small cup of hot chocolate for €2 (14Q) and sandwiches for €7,5 (60Q). We’re in a country where a big percentage of the population lives in poverty and here they are, selling sandwiches for a higher price than in Europe. (I simply can’t believe that Antigua represents Guatemala…)
Street food is the key to relatively cheap food if you don’t wanna cook yourself. You’ll get 1 tostada for 10Q. Not cheap, but compared to the 60Q sandwich, it’s quite alright.
Lago de Atitlan: like I mentioned before; extremely beautiful but expensive as f*ck. Avoid Panajachel at all costs. San Pedro and San Marcos should be better and there are a couple of small towns too that are worth paying a visit apparently.
Antigua: beautiful charming town with views on the volcanoes. The Guatemalan version of San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico but 3 times more expensive and not that special. I’ve seen plenty of towns like this before – I really don’t understand the hype of Antigua. To me, this city is overrated.
Hiking volcanoes: the volcanoes make the country special, that’s a fact. It creates a special atmosphere. The 2 most famous volcanoes to hike are the Pacaya volcano and the Acatenango volcano. Pacaya isn’t that hard; 1h15 of climbing. You won’t see lava (in contrast to what the pics in the tour company show) and you won’t go to the crater as the volcano is still active and this is too dangerous. Price: €10 (75Q) for the tour (in total 4hrs) and €6 (50Q) entrance fee. €16 (125Q) is okay but in Mexico you can do a huge tour of a full day for that money…
Volcano Acatenango is for the experienced ones among us. A 2 day trek. Don’t even think about it if you’re not in good shape. More than 9hrs of climbing. Must be highly special though.
Semuc Champey: I really wanted to go there when I saw the pictures, until… I found out that literally EVERY traveler goes there. You cannot find a traveler/tourist in Guatemala who hasn’t been there yet or who hasn’t booked a shuttle yet. To me this was a huge turn off. Why? I love nature but I wanna feel like I’m (almost) alone when I’m in nature. When there are too many people it just annoys the sh*t out of me and I cannot enjoy myself. Also, it takes 8hrs to get there and the roads to get there are hell. I’ve been to similar areas/rivers in Mexico and I was almost alone, Semuc would’ve been a disappointment for me. I get sick when I’m in crowded places. Like, actually sick.
Tikal: Tikal must be impressive but can I afford to pay €20 (150Q) entrance fee for just another ruin? No. Especially not cuz I’ve been to many ancient pyramids and ruins already. In Mexico – here I am again talking about Mexico – you can visit really impressive pyramids and ancient ruins for €1,5-3 ($30-60 Mexican pesos). Except Chichen Itza of course but don’t even talk about that one…
Taxis are overpriced (doesn’t matter how fluent you are in (Mexican) Spanish, they won’t drop their gringo prices if you’re not from there) and shuttles are okay I’d say. €18 (150Q / $20US) to go to Copan (Honduras), €36 (300Q / $40US) to go to Flores (Tikal) etc. If you travel with a chicken bus, you’ll pay a bit less (just a bit). However, that wasn’t an option for us as we were travelling with lots of valuables and lots of luggage from living in Mexico for a year. You can pay for the shuttles both in Quetzales and in US Dollars.
Is Guatemala worth traveling to?
If you have money (at least €22/180Q per day for food, accomodation and shuttles inside the country): yes. If you have less money, think it over.
Guatemala was a disappointment for us. We met so many people (in Mexico) who were crazy about the country but we simply didn’t see why. The country is quite beautiful and the people very kind but that’s it really. I couldn’t help myself comparing Guatemala to Mexico. I lived in Mexico for about a year and the country stole my heart. I feel like all the tourist attractions in Guatemala, are things you can also do in Mexico. The only difference is that, according to me, the Mexican variants of the Guatemalan tourist attractions are more impressive and A LOT cheaper.
The only very special thing that I know of in Guatemala (I feel so bad for saying this but I’m just being honest) is the Atitlan lake. You simply can’t find a lake like that anywhere else in the world. If you have to go to Guate, go to Atitlan, you won’t regret it (but please, just don’t stay in Panajachel).
How much does it cost then?
We spent on average €17 each (food, accomodation and shuttles inside the country) but we ate very, very poorly, no vegetables at all and for fruits, we drank a bananashake every day to fill our stomachs. Other than that, we ate oaths, pasta with plain tomato sauce, bread with beans and sometimes streetfood. The complete lack of vegetables wasn’t easy for us and definitely not healthy – I don’t recommend doing this. Going out for a small meal in a bar/restaurant was impossible for us. We did do one tour though cuz you simply can’t go to Guatemala without climbing a volcano. It costed in total €16 (135Q) (not included in the €17 per day) but was totally worth it. Click to read my post about the volcano hike + advice.
My boyfriend and I have traveled to 15 Mexican states if I remember well (south, east, north, west and central part) and also spent on average €17 per day per person, EVERYTHING included. It’s worth adding that in Mexico, we eat loads of fruits and vegetables every day and we can afford to go out for a small meal every now and then.
If you cannot afford to spend €22/180Q per day, don’t spend too much time in Guatemala then.
How to make your stay in Guate a bit cheaper:
- Don’t ever go out eating or drinking – always cook your own food.
- Don’t go to only 5 tour companies if you’re looking for shuttles. Search until you find as cheap as possible. F.ex. all the tour companies offer shuttles from Antigua to Flores for $40-50. However, we found one that charges $28. It takes 12hrs though and it’s in a very uncomfortalbe mini van but it’s A LOT cheaper. Also their shuttle to Copan and their tour to the Payaca volano was cheaper.
- Are you currently in a country that is cheaper than Guate? Take some food with you, seriously.
- Eat like the “poor”; lots of oaths, pasta, beans, coffee and banana milkshake.
Have you done extensive travel in Mexico? Most likely you won’t be impressed by Guatemala.
Is Guatemala one of the first Central American countries you visit? Then you should be fine. I know a couple of people who’s first Central American country was Guatemala and they were all very impressed.
So, if you’ve never been to Central America before, please go to Guatemala BEFORE going to Mexico. Otherwise you’ll be disappointed in Guate and it’s really not nice to be disappointed in a country.
I certainly don’t wanna discourage anyone from going to Guatemala but I feel like I have to tell how it really is like. I personally feel a bit mislead. I always read lots of (budget)travel articles about countries I’m about to visit and nowhere did I read that Guate is a little expensive – on the contrary, I’ve read budget travel blogs that said that the country is extremely cheap. “Budget” is subjective of course. €20/day can be very little money for one but a lot of money for the other.
Anyway, if you end up going there, enjoy. After all, it really is a beautiful place.
This post took a lot more time to write than my other articles. It’s not easy to write about a country I didn’t like that much. I wanted to love Guatemala, I really did, but I simply couldn’t. However, like I wrote in the very beginning of my article, my goal is to be honest, always. So that’s what I did.