I spent a month traveling through Guatemala and learned a lot about what a visitor needs to know to get through the country safely and have a pretty good time. Due to the low cost of living it can be a very cheap vacation, you can find some very cheap hotels throughout country.
By saving money on accommodation you are left with more money to spend on the delicious traditional food, Mayan art and jewelry. It’s a really beautiful country, no matter where you end up. Here are some tips which can make choosing your Guatemalan destination much easier.
The Sophisticated Shopper – Antigua
Antigua is a gorgeous town with a very metropolitan feeling. During the day there is a long strip of boutiques where you can buy anything from chic Paris fashion to traditional Mayan clothing.
There are street performers and artists that attract crowds until the night when this strip leads to great restaurants and clubs that create a pulsing night life.
There’s also a great central park where you can find a place to sit and people-watch and on occasion hear live music. The city has hiking all around for every level of expertise and you can be sure you’ll find a view that will take your breath away.
Antigua can be more expensive than other destinations, but you can get by with either dollars or quetzales (the local currency). Here the hotels are a bit more expensive, but you can easily find cheap hotels online or by just asking around the local Cafes. Most hotels here will accept major credit cards.
We stayed at Selina Antigua, on 6ta ave.norte 43A, which is something between a hotel and a modern hostel. If you are into classical cars you will love their recently restored VW Beetle and the yellow School Bus at the back yard, which has been transformed into a spacious chill out room.
We really enjoyed our stay at Selina. The cost of the accommodation was a little less than $20 a night.
Initially we had found on a travel guide a few cheap hotels just around the corner from Santa Catalina Arch, but Ronaldo at the reception of Selina was great when we pop in to ask for directions, so we decided to stay there.
A bit of advice on Antigua, instead of the over-priced souvenirs save your money for a great dinner and maybe a guided hike around.
The Beach Bum – Monterrico
To experience the lovely Guatemalan coastline Monterrico is an ideal location. It’s an incredibly relaxed area that’s perfect for the traveler who just wants to lay on the beach and have a cold drink in their hand.
In Monterrico you can choose between luxury five-star hotels and the many local guest houses. You will find cheap hotels as well as some very expensive hotels like the “Dos Mundos Pacific Resort’, it all depends on the needs of the traveler.
At Monterrico, you will also find many cafes and restaurants with plenty of fresh seafood, fresh fruits, right on the beach. Guatemala has black sand beaches that look amazing in any light, but here in Monterrico the water can be too rough for swimming–perfect if you just want to get your feet wet and get back in your hammock.
You can also find souvenirs for excellent prices if you walk into the town, though you may need some basic Spanish to communicate with the locals.
The Student – Quetzaltenango (Xela)
Xela is an urban area that is full of students studying and learning Spanish. If you stay more than a week or two, you can enroll at a local school at a very low cost to take casual classes where they cover everything from grammar to salsa dancing.
Outside of school you may need more Spanish than in other locations because of the high indigenous population, though this really adds to the cultural experience here, where you can find the most authentic mixture of the new world and the old.
Mayan tradition is still obvious in the clothing, religion and superstitions in Xela and is an important part of understanding this area.
There are multiple active volcanoes in this area with guided climbs–during the day to see the lush valley and some at night to see the clear sky.
Xela has many great indoor and outdoor markets where you can find the freshest fruits and some of the best prices on jewelry, clothing and gifts for friends back home.
The Adventurer – Tikal
This historical site is truly amazing and is suited for the traveler who likes a little bit of exercise and a lot of great photo opportunities.
The ruins are magical and quite expansive–be ready for a day full of walking. It’s a chance to see the Guatemalan rain forest and if you’d like to see a coati mundi or hear the howler monkeys in the trees there’s no better place.
If you want to see the canopy of the rain forest from the sky, you can climb El Gran Jaguar, the tallest temple in Tikal and look down on the jungle below you. For nature lovers, animal lovers and history buffs Tikal is a wonder.
If you get a guide (which is really helpful) there are tours available in many languages. The souvenirs here are a little expensive because it is a tourist hot-spot, but some of the items here may only be available inside the park at Tikal.
About the Author
Nick, the author of the “Traveler’s Guide to Guatemala: Cheap Hotels & Delicious Food” is a full time Travel Consultant for Reservations.com Currently he is on a sabbatical leave, backpacking around Central and South America.