The truth about Guatemala. Before starting this adventure I did some research on what to expect in Guatemala as well as some things to do and what do I find, a bunch of posts about how amazing Guatemala is. How people went for a week and ended up spending a month. Hmmmmm, let me honestly break down what Guatemala truly is.
For starters $1 = 7.14 Quetzals (Q)
I was shocked when I first got to Guatemala about how things where so expensive. My first meal in Guatemala was believe it or not chicken wings (4 of them cut in half) and you wouldn’t believe the price, 40Q, which is about $5.75. Mind you these wings didn’t come with fries, shucks it barely came with ketchup. An order of French fries was 20Q.
Now, of course the street food was super cheap but I didn’t like the taste. Guatemala has a heavy corn influence so all their tortillas and all of their street food was of corn base. Mind you, I love love love corn on the cob and lose corn but I can’t get down with corn tortillas. 5 tacquitos was 15Q or if you are good at battering (not beating up the old lady but talking the price down) you can get it down to 10Q. A big piece of tamale with chicken in it was 10Q. If you like corn tortillas then the street food is for you. Therefore, you can eat for cheap with the street foods but if you are like me, your base is 35Q and upwards. In San Pedro I didn’t really find any street food but I did find a local restaurant that charged 35Q for tortillas, ‘soup’, and rice.
Local dish call Pepin
Now the bread is a different story. The bakeries in Guatemala are delicious and super cheap. My favorite from the bakery was ‘the stones’. Stones are a very dense bread/muffin/loaf made with banana and chocolate chips throughout. One stone was 2-2.50Q. A big slice of ‘pizza’ which is really a big piece of bread with sauce and veggies was 3Q. So you definitely can eat for cheap by getting meals from the bakery but that would be a whole lot of bread. Then again, all the walking and hiking you do in Guatemala you wouldn’t have to worry about putting any weight.
In terms of food, my budget was about 50Q a day. I would have one good meal and then food from the bakery. One downside I found was that most hostels in Guatemala had no kitchens so I wasn’t able to cut down cost by cooking my own meals.
Hiking is the main thing to do in Guatemala. If you are not into nature, walking, or getting bite up then Guatemala might not be for you. But if you are into that then there is an excursion and a difficulty level for everyone.
There are two main volcanoes you can climb Pacaya(easy) and Acatenango(hard) for hiking.
Acatenango, I would never be doing that lol because just to get up the volcano is 6+ hours depending on your level. Plus when you get to the top you can climb for another 3 hours to get to the top of Fuego(an active volcano). Acatenango is a 2 day excursion. You spend the night on top of the Acatenango and you best believe it is freezing up there once the sun goes down. You must make sure pack a wool hat, warm clothes, wool socks, and a blanket. Also if you are a light sleeper between the howling monkeys and snoring hikers don’t expect to sleep that night. But according to fellow travelers I met along the way said that the hike was worth it and beautiful. Chile, its just not for me.
Pacaya, now this is the hike I did. Super easy, well as easy as its going to get cause you know your girl was huffing and puffing while climbing. To climb up the volcano takes 45+ mins depending on how slow you walk. On the plus side the whole time climbing you are followed by locals offering ‘taxis’ in case you want to stop climbing. Now I use the word taxi very loosely because it’s really just a horse, yup you read right a horse. Once on the top, if it is a clear day you can see the other volcanoes in the horizon. You also get to roast marshmallows in lava (if there is) or in a steam hole. I paid 80Q for transport and a guide.
super foggy at about 10am
San Pedro, Lake Atitlan
Here, you have kayaking, zip lining, and hiking. For hiking, you can climb San Pedro Volcano(hard) or Indian Nose Mountain(easy). Of course, I didn’t climb San Pedro but based on my research it is a 4+ hour hike up. Indian Nose was super easy to climb and by far the prettiest. It is a 30+ mins hike up the mountain with views of farms, cornfields, forest, and the city. The views were beautiful and picturesque. You can go for a sunrise tour, which I would recommend. Simply gorgeous. Depending on how many is in your group depicts the price. If it is just 1 person it is 150Q for transport and guide. The more people you have the more the price drops. Luckily for me I met a group of fellow travelers and joined in with them. One of the guys stays with a host family every time he visits Guatemala so the son was our tour guide and driver. Therefore the trip was based on donation.
You can go zip lining as well in Santa Clara. In the park there are only two lines, one regular the other you have the option of riding superman style. It is 20Q to enter the park and 80Q zip line. In the park there are other activities you can do like free falling. Parque Ecologico Chuiraxamolo is the name of the park. For the money you spend it is worth visiting the park. What you would pay for one excursion in Costa Rica you can do about 3-4 at the park in Guatemala.
I am not sure if visiting Tikal is an excursion but there isn’t much else to do there. Well actually, I was approached by a local to take a 40min boat ride to the other side of the lake where there is clear water to do some snorkeling. There is also kayaking and other water activities to do at the lake. But anyways back to Tikal, the price to enter the park is 150Q and 250Q for sunset or sunrise. I was able to get transport to Tikal cause of course it was an hour and a half away from Flores for 50Q. There is no need to pay for a guide because it is quite easy to get around the park but if you are bad at directions or reading a map pay for the guide.
There are two ways to travel around Guatemala, by chicken buses or by shuttles (whether it you spring for private/nice shuttles or regular ones).
For me I didn’t feel secure enough in my Spanish to ride the chicken buses. It is the cheapest way to travel but also the most dangerous. The chicken buses get stopped and robbed often enough. As a solo female traveler I chose to not chance it. Now if I wasn’t traveling alone I would have chanced riding the chicken bus.
When booking shuttles don’t be afraid to shop around and haggle the price down. The cost to go to Volcano Pacaya for me was 80Q but some people in my shuttle only paid 60Q. My shuttle from Antigua to Lanquin to Flores and back to Guatamala City was 650Q. Of course by chicken bus can be much cheaper. For example some fellow travelers I met only paid 25Q each to go from Antigua to Pacaya by chicken bus but then again they were two males (big/fit ones at that).
So it is possible to travel cheaply around Guatemala but safety must come first.
Guatemala is a beautiful country full of adventure and things to do but it is not as cheap as other travelers make it out to be. In my opinion, Nicaragua is by far the cheapest of the countries in Central America (maybe certain parts of Mexico as well). It is definitely a must see country and if you are into nature and hiking then you definitely should check out Guatemala.
what a view
Semuc Champey, my favorite experience of the trip