There’s no doubting that Australian’s love to travel. Filling our passports with stamps from far-fetched places.
Usually, we do the ‘mandatory’ Europe, Asia and North America trips, then start to get curious about the less-known, but equally beautiful countries. Guatemala is a perfect example.
This Central American beauty is just south of Mexico. If you surf or you’ve got some wave-loving mates, you’ve probably heard good things about Costa Rica and Nicaragua. But the sweet, Spanish colonial feels of Guatemala shouldn’t be skipped (and I’m going to tell you why).
Guatemala is a mystery to many. Volcanoes, rainforests, ancient Mayan sites, palaces, museums, lakes, coffee fields, villages and my favourite, the little town with a delicious heart, Antigua.
Wander the quaint colonial streets of Antigua.
Antigua, west of the capital, contains preserved Spanish colonial buildings. Lake Atitlán, formed in a massive volcanic crater, is surrounded by coffee fields and villages. The only thing that I felt was missing from my 10 days in Guatemala was the beach.
Let me give you a quick rundown on the main things you need to know about Guatemala.
Preparing for my first time in Central America
After you’ve visited over 50 countries, travelling to a new one didn’t quite carry the same lustre. But, stepping foot on a new continent flashed me back to my first overseas trip (Malaysia and Thailand… at 19).
Central America was always an “I’ll get there someday’ kind of place” until one of my best friends moved to Antigua, Guatemala. She kept sending me photos of her rustic little hippie heaven in a terrace, looking out to a volcano (as you do) in the far distance. Photo by photo, she won me over and I booked a flight.
You might be able to catch a glimpse of a volcano from where you’re staying!
It’s Guatemala go-time!
Do Australians need a visa to travel to Guatemala?
Easy! Australia is one of the lucky countries that can travel to Guatemala and stay for 90 days without a visa. Depending on how long you can take off, I’d suggest visiting for at least a week, preferably 10 days.
Customs will probably ask to see your return ticket, so make sure you’ve got this before arriving into Guatemala.
Flying to Guatemala
I flew from Vancouver to Mexico City, then down to Guatemala City. The flights are usually cheaper when you land in bigger cities, so keep this in mind. Panama City is also another popular international hub.
Aussies don’t need a visa for visiting this country, making it easy to enter.
What vaccinations do you need to travel to Guatemala?
Smart Traveller suggest organising the following vaccinations before you visit Guatemala. They include typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies and influenza. I found Guatemala to be clean and safe, but it’s best to be covered.
If you’re a frequent traveller like me, you might already have had these shots for previous trips. If you’re not sure, the best thing to do is to visit your doctor to check your vaccination history.
Transport and getting around
When travelling longer distances, take a taxi. For example, I paid AU$50 to get a private taxi from Guatemala City (airport) to Antigua. It was around a one-hour drive. But for short five or ten-minute rides in town, we took a tuk-tuk for no more than $5-10.
There are a few ways to travel around when you’re there.
What language do they speak in Guatemala?
The local language is Spanish and while you’ll get by just fine speaking English, take this opportunity, and courtesy, to learn a few basic words and phrases.
What travel insurance do you need?
Don’t forget to tell your travel insurance company you’re visiting Guatemala. Check your cover for adventure sports, such as hiking a volcano. I personally use and recommend World Nomads.
You’ll probably be hiking up volcanoes, so make sure your insurance covers that.
What’s the currency, and how far will your Australian dollar go?
As for money, the currency is the Guatemalan Quetzal (GTQ). AU$1 is worth just over 5 GTQ and your money will go far here. We’d wander the charming cobblestone streets of Antigua every morning and spend no more than $6 for a nutritious, organic brunch (including a coffee). Think Bali prices or even a little less.
You can get a delicious brunch at a cafe for very little in Antigua.
When’s the best time of the year to visit?
The best time of the year to visit Guatemala is their dry season – between November and May. But don’t worry if you can only get holidays from April to October. Another one of the delightful things about this country is its year-round spring-like climate.
The climate is very mild all year round.
What are the accommodation options in Guatemala?
When it comes to accommodation, Guatemala has a range of options. There’s quaint hotels, adorable guest houses, Airbnb, and of course, hostels.
You can book a whole house for less than $50 a night or stay in a 16th-century colonial mansion for around $200.
My suggestion? Earth Lodge.
There are a variety of places you can stay in, but I suggest Earth Lodge.
Cities to visit – Antigua
Elevate every sense at 6,000 feet up in the mountains above Antigua. Start your day with yoga, followed by a hammock hang gazing out over the avocado farm and, yes… more distant volcanos. Lodge in a treehouse, eat home-cooked meals, brush up on your Spanish and end your day with a Maya sauna. Truly mesmerising is an understatement. Trust me.
If you’re a lover of adventure and history, Guatemala will be one of those super-pleasant surprises.
The bohemian, UNESCO World Heritage listed, Antigua holds a special, unexpected, place in my heart. It’s a small town that’s magical enough merely with its location.
If you’ve never visited South America, Guatemala is a great place to start.
Things to see and do in Antigua
Three volcanoes – Acatenango, Fuego and Agua embrace the township, so even walking along the colourful cobblestone streets is a surreal, visual experience.
Wander Mayan craft markets, sipping on local coffee, learning how to make chocolate (cocoa is famous here), and dining in one of the many garden terraces and ancient buildings. Bella Vista is one of my favourites.
If you’re aiming for 7 or 10 days in Guatemala, base yourself in Antigua. Spend three days exploring this heavenly town (ensure you save all your energy for your must-do volcano hike).
Hike one of the volcanoes in Antigua.
Acatenango – the most beautiful volcano in Central America
Acatenango has been voted the most beautiful volcano in Central America. Experience this majestic wonder at sunrise and sunset, 3,776 metres above sea level. I recommend the two-day trip.
Visit Lake Atitlán
And just in case one of the famous volcanos isn’t enough, there’s Lake Atitlán. Hop in a car and drive three hours to, I believe, the most beautiful lake in the world. Yep, you read that right.
Explore the waters of Lake Atitlán in Antigua.
Experiencing the Guatemalan highlands
In the Guatemalan highlands (in a volcano crater), the lake is an incredible spectacle. Experience the indigenous world of the Mayans, kick back and relax, go scuba diving and learn some Spanish. Stay at the lake for a couple of blissful days, before you head back to Antigua.
If you’re lucky enough during your trip, you’ll see Feugo going off (safely) in the distance. I glimpsed the fire red lava on a warm November night – in the company of good friends, looking out to a clear star-lit sky.
I told you, it’s magical.
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