Despite the fact that Alice, Abbie and I have all been on the same trip, living out the same experiences, we have very different opinions when it comes to our favourite places. The one similarity that we all share, however, is that we adore Guatemala – it truly captured our hearts. If you’re feeling inspired to experience the Guatemalan magic for yourselves then here are some travel tips to take note of before you go!
Where to stay:
El Hostal, Antigua
$12 per person, per night (8-BED DORM)
10/10 – The day has finally arrived. I’m officially giving a 10/10 rating and, although I am a bit surprised, there is no doubt that this was our favourite hostel of the entire trip. It’s going to be hard for me to justify exactly why that is because there’s no pool, no night time activities and it’s not even located in the centre of town. You’ve just gotta trust me when I say this place is perfect. We stayed here twice – once before El Salvador and once when we returned. Because of the fact that it was the only hostel we actually went back to, it felt like a home. I actually miss this place when I think about it now! The staff are all local and incredibly friendly and helpful. They’ll give you free towels and extra blankets, they’ll lend you coats and gloves for your Acatenango hike and they’ll even make you a breakfast-to-go in the morning. The breakfast deserves a separate mention entirely – it’s free (woo) but it’s not just cereals and bread, oh no… You get a choice from a menu of delicious dishes – fruit salads, pancakes, muesli, ham and eggs, traditional Guatemalan breakfast with refried beans, potatoes and cheese, breakfast muffins, the list goes on! There’s free drinking water, hot showers and the beds are insanely comfortable. It’s easy to book tours at the reception and they’ll even help you organise transport across the border to El Salvador, Honduras or Mexico. Our stay here was perfect – 100000000% would recommend!
Zephyr Lodge, Lanquin
$14 per person, per night (10-BED DORM)
9/10 – Despite the fact that ‘El Hostal’ wins the 10/10 score, this place sure did give it a run for it’s money. Zephyr Lodge is nestled away in the mountains of Lanquin. This was easily the best location of a hostel so far – absolutely unbeatable views. The pool is incredible too with a built in bar and plenty of rubber rings to play on. Every 4th night that you stay at this hostel is free, which makes it very appealing for long term guests and they often have paid staff positions available for backpackers. You have to purchase all your meals on site because there aren’t any restaurants close by but luckily the food is super tasty (albeit quite expensive). Everything is on a tab, which could be a good or a bad thing… We love this method because it means we don’t have to faff around with cash until the very end but some people complained about losing track of their spending. The WiFi is turned off between 7pm and 7am too, which is also a love/hate thing. Some people don’t like the inconvenience, whilst others think it promotes a more social environment. We fell into the second category – it’s a really great way to detach yourself from technology! The dorms are where this place fails slightly – we encountered 2 massive tarantulas, the 3-person bunkbeds are scarily high and difficult to climb, the bathrooms are quite a trek from the rooms (terrifying in the middle of the night) and the showers are usually freezing. That may seem like a lot of negatives for a 9/10 rating but, honestly, the positives of this place (atmosphere, staff, activities, common spaces) outweigh the negatives by a mile. So, please, if you can put your fear of spiders aside then you’ve gotta give this hostel a try!
Los Amigos Hostel, Flores
$10 per person, per night (8-BED DORM)
7.5/10 – Los Amigos is a great option as a base before/after a trip to Tikal. It’s located in the town centre of Flores and provides a hippy haven for weary travellers. There is no free breakfast or free drinking water but the food served on site is moderately priced and very tasty. The dorms are simple but every bed has a plug socket/locker and there is air conditioning!! The atmosphere is very dark but in a cool way – mandala throws on the walls, candles and fairy lights everywhere, pillows on the floor for seats…. I’m sure you can envision the vibe. There’s even a spa inside the hostel if you fancy a treatment or a steam room session! The staff are a bit disorganised but we didn’t think this was a big deal. Overall, we enjoyed our stay here!
• Guatemalan currency is the Quetzal. 1 quetzal is the equivalent to 10 pence (or cents if you’re from the US) so 10 quetzales = £1, 100 quetzales = £10 and so on…
• There is no fee to enter or exit Guatemala – a blessing for budget backpackers! So, make sure you don’t fall for any cons or scams at the border that insist you need to make a payment.
• You don’t have to book a hostel in Lanquin in advance because there will be people advertising hostels when you arrive in the town centre. However, places like Zephyr Lodge and Utopia can get really busy and need to be booked in advance if you want to secure a bed.
• If you’re a weak swimmer then you may struggle with the tubing because the water current in the river is so strong. Also, if you’re heavier or taller than most, make sure to double-check that the zip line is a suitable activity for you.
• If you choose to stay at Zephyr Lodge, try and bagsy a dorm inside of the main hostel and not an outside dorm. There tend to be less spiders in the inside dorms and you don’t have to walk very far to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Also, if there’s no hot water then just ask – they usually keep it turned off in the day but will turn it on for you if you’re polite enough.
• It is probably cheaper to book tours for Semuc Champey or bus tickets to other cities in the town centre but we booked through our hostel because we liked the idea of going as a big group and being picked up/dropped off directly at our front door.
• Zephyr Lodge is expanding and will soon house a spa and luxury hotel-style rooms. This might appeal to people who dread the thought of dorms and backpacking. You’ll soon be able to experience this incredible location without having to ‘slum-it’. Yay!
• When in Lanquin, you’ll see small children who sell chocolate EVERYWHERE. First things first, the chocolate is terrible, so be prepared for that. Secondly, although it’s nice to support the locals, the parents sometimes take the children that sell the most chocolate out of school – so keep that in mind.
• You don’t have to hike up to the viewing platform at Semuc Champey, you can just choose to go straight to the pools for a swim instead.
• If you’re taking a long journey in a pick-up truck (to Semuc or Kan’ba, for example) try to snag the seats inside of the truck. Most people choose to stand because they think it looks fun but standing in the back can be difficult over the massive hills and around the windy roads. It’s so much more comfortable to be sitting down inside.
• In Antigua, you can do the 2-day Acatenango volcano hike. It’s very difficult so I wouldn’t recommend it to those with a low level of fitness. There is the option to hire a porter (someone who will carry your bag and camping gear to the top) which is great because it supports the local community by giving people jobs. At the same time, you’ll get a bigger sense of achievement if you carry your own bag. It’s very much a personal choice though.
• Before you start the volcano hike, you will have a chance to buy any last minute bits and pieces from the local villagers. I would recommend purchasing some big, black bin liners to keep rubbish in and to keep your clothes dry if it rains. Also, rent the walking sticks. 100000%! They are so useful when because the terrain is basically just loose volcanic rock, so they help you stay stable.
• When we were at the top of Acatenango, our iPhones turned off because of the temperature. Luckily, I had my GoPro with me so we could still take pictures and videos but basically try to have an alternative picture taking option – it would suck to see such incredible views and not be able to capture a memory of them!
• Take as many layers and snacks as you can physically carry to Acatenango. I’m not kidding. I had about 12 layers and I was still cold – it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before and I think it’s better to be over prepared than under prepared. Some hostels will lend you jumpers, coats and gloves for a small fee otherwise there are cheap markets in town where you can grab things knitted by locals. Same goes for snacks – I was constantly hungry (no surprises there) and I’m glad I had 63289483298 packets of biscuits. At the same time, you have to be prepared to carry the weight so it all depends on you as a person.
• Flores is notorious for scams – overpriced tours, fake tickets, poor quality tours. We were conned into buying from a particular tour company but we were lucky not to have any problems with the tickets themselves. Don’t believe lies such as: ‘The tour is sold out everywhere else, you have to book with us’ or ‘We’re about to close so you need to book now, we won’t be open again until next week’.
• Los Amigos hostel had cheap options available for Tikal tours and international bus travel so I assume other hostels in Flores would follow suit. The best thing to do is to check in to your hostel and speak to their staff BEFORE you book anything in town.
• There is a sunrise or sunset option for Tikal. Sunrise is slightly the more expensive option and is also the time when the park is busiest. We’ve heard from friends that it’s not impressive enough to be worth the 3am wake up call and extra money so we are going to recommend the sunset tour instead!
• If you need to withdraw cash in Flores but the ATM on the island isn’t accepting your card, just walk along the straight road to the mainland and you’ll see a shopping mall immediately on your right. There are 2 or 3 banks there with ATM’s that accept foreign cards.
Guatemala’s Top 3:
TIKAL NATIONAL PARK
If you’d like to know more about our time in Guatemala then click the links below: