Why You Must Visit Now!

When people ask us what our favourite country is, we can never find an answer. Every country we have visited has had its own fascinations and intricacies. But in all honesty, Guatemala always comes to mind as maybe achieving that title. It is a beautiful country with so much to offer. From its spectacular sights of natural wonder to the ever so kind locals. It is a wonderful country not overly touched by tourism and the country where we first met each other.

I hope you enjoy… Guatemala – Why You Must Visit Now!

A view of Lake Atitlan and its many volcanoes
Oh beautiful Guatemala!

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Blog Contents

Getting Around Central America

One of the most spectacular things about traveling through Central America is the public transport. Most used by locals and outgoing backpackers is the Camionetas, or better known as ‘Chicken Buses‘. The story behind the chicken bus is that they are retired school buses from the United States brought down south. But in true Central American style, they are given a brand new paint job in bright and fantastic colours. As I am sure you have picked up from the name. They are called chicken buses is because traditionally a lot of live animals were transported on these buses. In the modern era, this is less likely to be observed. But you can still anticipate some fantastic memories as the locals walk down the busy isle of the bus carrying a large plates of snacks to sell to those in transit.

When getting on the chicken bus, don’t be surprised to hand over your bag before then seeing it thrown on the roof. This form of transport can be very busy. So to allow space, the driver’s assistant organises all of the items on the roof. Even with this, at one point through our travels we actually found ourselves hanging out the front door as the bus traveled along the main highway (legit!). You will get your bag back when you get off, but don’t forget about it as the bus stops are treated like a race car pit-stop. A friend of ours once did, but fortunately was able to chase after the bus. He actually jump onto a ladder on the back of the bus whilst it was moving to retrieve it. Got to love an exciting travel story!

The chicken buses will remain a fantastic memory of your trip and they are extremely cheap. If you need help with the routes we recommend checking out the website, Centro Coasting. As there is no formal postings for bus times, this website is incredibly useful providing all the details on where buses go and rough times. A lot of the information is provided by travellers, so the times can vary when you arrive, but it is a great base to start. We used it the entire time we were in Central America.

If you are looking for a faster and easier option. A lot of the hostels work with organisations that provide transfers from city to city in small vans called ‘Conectivos’. For those long distance trips or when you’re carrying a lovely hangover, these can be very useful. They are more expensive but we certainly used a few of them on our travels.

Guatemala Itinerary

As itineraries vary in Guatemala with travellers working their way through from a number of neighbouring countries or flying in and out of Guatemala City. We have decided that it is best to give our little insight into the places we visited during our adventure and leave the order up to you!

Map of guatemala with the must see locations
The must see spots in Guatemala


Flores is amazing in itself. But it is also the gateway to several famous archeological sites in the North of Guatemala. It is a great little village and a must visit while in Guatemala.

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Flores Island & Jorge’s Swing

On the southern edge of the Guatemalan jungle, you’ll find the lovely island village of Flores Island. Accessible only by a small causeway, you’ll find an array of pastel coloured houses as they line up against the mirrored waters of the surrounding Lago de Peten Itza. Despite not having canals, you can’t help but feel a Venetian vibe to this place.

On your first day on Flores Island, the only reasonable thing to do is explore the island itself. One of the funniest things we did, was get a boat out to Jorge’s Swing. Grab a bunch of fellow travellers and pay one of the boatmen (approx. 50 Quetzal return trip) to take you out to the little hangout on the lake edge. Only accessible by boat, the small property features a large diving board and a rope swing. While also selling beers and small snacks, it will make for a great afternoon.

Once you have returned to Flores Island, we recommend grabbing some beers and sitting by the lake for the sunset. With the north side of the island absorbed by the lake, it makes for a great spot to welcome the evening. The nightlife of Flores Island is not sparse, so we recommend you head to Hotel Los Amigos. They provide great food before turning into the hotspot for an evening with backpackers. We have no doubt you will be welcome the sunrise after partying all through the night!

The lake around Flores
On route to Jorge’s Swing


Flores is the gateway to the magnificent and must see UNESCO world heritage site Tikal. Dating back to the 1st century, it was the capital of the Mayan empire with life flourishing in this place from 200 AD to 850 AD. Tikal is the largest excavated Mayan site in the world and allows for an incredible experience into the Mayan Life. The site features several temples and pyramids, with the largest being Temple IV (known to the Mayans as the Temple of the Two Headed Snake). This pyramid is 64.5m tall and provides a magnificent view of the surrounding jungle. It is the tallest pre-Columbian structure still standing in the new world.

If you get the option, we recommend that you take the sunrise tour. It is both something you won’t forget, but also allows you to experience the site in pure silence (apart from the morning call of the Howler Monkeys…). Honestly, we’ve visited many Mayan sites all through Central-America and Tikal was by far our favourite! The sheer size of it allows you to never feel overcrowded, there’s wildlife that still wanders through the site and the preservation of the temples is amazing. Tikal is a must visit in Guatemala.

Amazing structure within the archeological site of Tikal Guatemala
One of the many amazing sites within Tikal


Yaxha is the 3rd largest archeological site in Guatemala. While not being as popular or well known as Tikal, from our personal experience, it is just as an amazing experience. With a limited amount of tourists visiting, it allows for a truly personal adventure as you wander through the ruins of over 500 structures (which were equally as impressive as Tikal). Due to the reduction in crowds there is also a greater presence of Howler Monkeys. This magnifies the true jungle nature of this magnificent site. One of the largest pyramids provides a view out over the surrounding jungle and Lago Yaxha. This is a view you wont forget!

Amazing structure within the archeological site of Yaxha Guatemala
One of the many amazing sites within Yaxha

El Mirador

El Mirador is the true lost city of the Mayans. With no roads or rivers leading to the site, a 5 day (round trip) hike into the northern Guatemalan jungle is required to observe this hidden gem (or a helicopter trip if you are able). Discovered in 1926, the site is still under archeological investigation. It is thought too potentially be the oldest and most extensive Mayan site in the world, covering over 60km2. El Mirador flourished as a trading centre from around 200 BC to 150 AD with a population as high as 100,000. It was one of the first large cities in the Americas.

The walk is not for everyone. It isapproximately 41 kilometres each way from the closest town of Carmelita to the heart of El Mirador. It is a significant effort, though the reward you get of the experience is well worth the trek. I can honestly say that this trek was one of the most remote experiences we have ever undertaken. With the company of 2 other backpackers and our tour guide (which you must have). We were alone in the entirety of the jungle with nothing but the surrounding nature. This pure untouched area allowed for truly wonderful natural experiences like the video of the monkeys below.

The highlight of the trip is visiting the Mayan Pyramid of La Danta. La Danta is a immense structure that is 72m in height, but the pure volume of it is the true impressive factor taking over 2.8 million cubic metres. This makes it one of the largest pyramids in the world. As most of this site has been lost for a long time. It has been taken over by the jungle and is slowly being revealed by archeological investigations. One day this site may become the greatest tourist site in the world, but it was absolutely fascinating to see it in its current way inhabited by the jungle. I couldn’t recommend this adventure enough.


Lanquin is the village where Lynsey and I first met. So while obviously this place is special to us, we promise it’ll also be special to you too. As this place is remote, you won’t find proper roads here. So be prepared to spend a lot of time in the back of jeeps on wobbly roads. While the town of Lanquin itself is small with not a lot to do, the place is a gateway to several adventures.

Semuc Champey

The true reason everyone comes to this part of Guatemala is for the famous Semuc Champey. Your eyes will be in awe as you look on the incredible series of turquoise pools. These pools are carved into a bed of limestone and surrounded with nothing but jungle. When you arrive be sure to go to the viewpoint first. The view from above is not something you want to miss and will provide you with the famous photo we have below. Another reason is that you’ll be craving a swim after the hike. The humidity of the walk will no doubt have you sweating, and there is nothing more soothing than paddling from pool to pool as you explore Semuc Champey.

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K’anba Caves

A little adventure we did not know about until reaching Lanquin was the K’anba Caves. To say the least, we did not know what we had signed up for at the hostel. As we made our way into the cave, we quickly reached chest height water and started to question the effectiveness of the candle the guide had given us. Water and fire, makes sense right…

As we progressed further into the cave, we reached many areas where we had to swim, climb ladders, cling onto cliff edges and even duck under waterfalls. All while following a single file line of humans with candles (which I should mention, half of them had been submerged in water by now). Though this adventure was a complete surprise (and sketchy to say the least). It is now an incredible memory for us. One of those experiences you take away with the feeling of true adventure.

Though this may sound like we are talking it up as a bigger thing than it was. Please mention the word ‘Cave’ to any traveller who has been to Semuc Champey and we have no doubt they will be willing to back us up on this. Oh, and now that we have warned you about the adventure you are about to embark on through the K’anba Caves. Please learn from our mistakes and limit the amount of mojitos consumed the night before. A throbbing head was not optimum for this adventure, haha.

Zephyr Lodge

Usually we wouldn’t put a hostel as a must see place when visiting somewhere. But this place has to be seen to be believed. With views of the surrounding valley from your hostel bunk, to the infinity pool sharing this same insane view. This place hands down is the best hostel in the world. This is not only our opinion. Ask any backpacker who has been to Central America. They will know all about this hostel and tell you the fantastic memories they have from this place.

Not only are the views amazing at this place. You are bound to have a ridiculously fun time in great company. With drinking games and good banter on show most nights of the week, you’ll be waking up with a sore head, but also a massive smile on your face. One of the activities the hostel offers is a thing called Tubing. The concept is simple. You get dropped off upstream with a rubber tube with a bunch of people and float back down to the hostel on the river. But I nearly forgot… a bartender comes along to provide beers for the entire ride! It was 90 minutes of the most relaxing and fun beers we’ve had in our lives.

The bedroom room from the hostel Zephyr Lodge into the surrounding mountains of Guatemala in Lanquin
Not a bad hostel view at all!


There’s not many villages where you can sit back and watch the local volcano erupt on a regular basis. But in Antigua… that is the norm.

Volcano eruption from volcano Fuego in Antigua Guatemala
An eruption from Volcan Fuego (viewed from Antigua)

Central Antigua

Before you set off on the many adventures available from Antigua. Make sure you spend the first couple of days absorbing the culture that the city of Antigua has to offer. The people of Guatemala are truly beautiful both inside and out, and for us this place provided the best of the best. With a true local presence throughout the town, take the time to wander the many markets that are available. If you are looking for souvenirs from Central America, this is the country to do it! Authentic hand crafted goods in all the colours you can imagine, made with quality that is not to be beaten. We could have honestly bought everything.

Local markets in Antigua Guatemala
The magnificent tapestries at the local markets.

Once you have loaded up on souvenirs it’s time to explore the area, and what better way than a self-guided ruin tour. With Antigua dating back to the 16th century. An earthquake in 1773 destroyed a lot of the town leaving the ruins of a bunch of churches, a monastery, a covent and a school. All now available to explore. But don’t worry, not everything was destroyed. You’ll find some gems still standing as you make your way around on foot. One of these structures is the famous Arco de Santa Catalina. With its lovely yellow colour, it’ll have you in awe as it perfectly frames the distant volcano.

Our recommended way to finish off the afternoon is to get a drink from one of the rooftop bars available. A few bars we visited were: Cafe Sky, Los Tres Tiempo and Antigua Brewing Company. The reason we advise this is because it’ll provide you with the best view of the erupting Volcan Fuego. Something that will never leave your memory.

Arco de Santa Catalina surrounding the local volcano in Antigua Guatemala
The view of Arco de Santa Catalina.


Prepare yourself for one of the hardest but best things you’ll do in your life. Hiking up Acatenango whilst in Antigua is a must, but not for the faint of heart. With a 5-7 hour hike straight uphill for a 1500m elevation gain, the trek is bound to get your heart pumping. But with the enthusiasm of the people around you and the views to come, you’ll be pushed on to the top.

The hike is overnight with a base camp 1 hour from the top of the peak. Around 3am in the morning, you’ll be woken up to climb the last section in the dark. As you reach the peak you’ll start to see the view you came for. Out from the neighbouring Volcan Fuego, the active lava glows as it erupts out into the air against the pitch black background. As the morning sun rises, the show continues providing an incredible view out over the surrounding landscape. This is not one to miss and we have no doubt you’ve seen the photos if you have started to plan your trip of Guatemala.

Unfortunately for us….the experience described above was our friends and not ours. We, in a true silly nature, did not do our research before undertaking the trek and managed to experience extreme weather and even snow once we reached our base camp. Due to significantly bad weather, including visibility no further than your hands and freezing conditions. The hike to the peak was cancelled and we did not get to experience the true wonder that is Acatenango. Further to this, our tour operator was terrible providing very little food and tents that leaked throughout the night. Despite all this, we do have the story to say we went to Acatenango for fire, and ended up with snow. These are the ones you remember more sometimes.

As a result of all this. We recommend to both check the weather and book with a well reviewed tour company for this expedition.

Hiking up Acatenango and having no visibility
The unlucky weather on Acatenango

The Pool Rave

Need a way to let loose after all the adventure in Antigua? The jungle pool rave will be perfect. Twenty minutes by cab out of Antigua is an abandoned empty swimming pool which turns into a dance floor for an incredible rave every week. Despite sounding very dodgy, this set up is a legitimate event with an official bar, security and great DJs. With most people partying at this spot from around 1am until 6am. Make sure you get an afternoon nap in as you’re in for a late one!

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Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is a truly beautiful place. Imagine a glistening lake surrounded with mountains, volcanoes and blooming flowers in every direction. This is Lake Atitlan and it is a must visit while in Guatemala. A lot of blogs portray it as a single small place, but Lake Atitlan is surrounded by several large and small villages. Some of these touristy and others home to the true native people of Guatemala. As there is only so much you can do in a week at the lake. We will only be commenting on the villages we were fortunate to explore.

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Panjachel is known as the main entrance to the villages of Lake Atitlan. If you only have time for a day tour to the lake, this is likely to be your stop. Panjachel provides a well developed town with a lot of resources, the perfect spot for expats in Guatemala. One of the best things about Panjachel is the markets! As I have mentioned previously, Guatemala is the best place in Central America to get your souvenirs. If you are to do it in one place, do it here in Panjachel!

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a traditional Mayan town. Though several expats now live here, it has very little influence by modern society (except for at the lake edge) and provides a true experience of Guatemala. With Santa Cruz being built on the steepest hill out of all the villages. A short but steep climb and you’ll find some fantastic views over the lake!

This village is where we stayed during most of our time in Lake Atitlan and absolutely loved it. If you visit, make sure to stay at Free Cerveza. We are not at all affiliated with this hostel, but it deserves a mention as it was the perfect week of relaxation. Staying in cute little teepees with a bunch of fun backpackers. You’ll have the best time lazing by the lake edge with your new found friends. And the best part, every night you get to enjoy a communal dinner with, as per the name, FREE cerveza!

Teepee view of the surrounding volcanoes of Lake Atitlan Guatemala from the hostel Free Cerveza
The incredible teepee views over Lake Atitlan.

San Marcos

San Marcos is the hippie town of Lake Atitlan. With the lake known for its mystic energy, a strong hippie community has laid base in this town. San Marcos is tiny but absolutely beautiful. So unless you really love those hippie vibes, I recommend only having a day trip out here. While here, the best spot to go for a swim is by following the trail through the Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil. At the lake edge you’ll find a large platform to jump from height into the lake. A great way to enjoy your afternoon!

San Pedro La Laguna

San Pedro is one of the most visited villages of Lake Atitlan. In contrast with the other more laidback towns, this is the party hub of Lake Atitlan. You’ll find lots of restaurants and bars here, with the village feeling a lot more crowded with backpackers. From here we did a day trip to San Juan, a more remote and local village with lots of markets and artisan weaving demonstrations. Here you’ll get a great image of what life looks like around the lake. We recommend always supporting local initiatives to give back to the community. Particularly here as there are definitely still struggles with poverty in these areas.

Sun tanning at Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Not a bad spot for a sun tan!

Coastline of Guatemala

As we were heading across to El Salvador to soak in the sun and spend a week catching some waves. We unfortunately did not reach the coast of Guatemala. However, a lot of travellers we met absolutely loved their time in the south of Guatemala and couldn’t recommend it enough. The beaches that were mentioned by other travellers at the time were recommended for all different reasons. So have a look at them and pick your favourite.

  • Champerico
  • Monterrico
  • Playa Tipala
  • Puerto San Jose

Our Guatemala Trip Video

We made a video of our trip through Central America! We hope it can inspire your trip and provide the last bit of motivation needed to book a flight. Hope you enjoyed reading our post and the video to follow.


Thank you for reading our blog about Guatemala! If you love our blog post and want to keep up with our adventures, then come along to our Instagram.

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