Guatemala is a popular up and coming destination, but still lacks the crowds of major tourist traps. Instead, what you get from Guatemala is an uncovered gem; a unique destination in the heart of Central America with a wholly unique culture.
It’s the preservation of Guatemala’s Mayan culture, uniquely blended with the legacy of their Spanish colonial past, that makes Guatemala like no other country on Earth.
The country boasts impressive ruins from both of the major epochs in their history; and has a vibrant culture that continues to flourish. That, coupled with an impressive landscape, encompassing some of the most beautiful mountains and lakes on Earth, make Guatemala a real must-see.
If you plan to visit this wonderful country, resplendent with precious historical artifacts and natural jewels, follow these 7 tips to have the best, most exciting experience you possibly can.
- Visit Guatemala City
Ignore the naysayers – Guatemala City is the place to be. People often fuss about the safety in Guatemala City, but it’s no less safe than plenty of cities in the United States.
If you spend some time in Guatemala City, you’ll be rewarded with a vibrant metropolis with an exciting music scene, and some truly impressive colonial architecture.
- Travel Between Places by Bus
By and far the cheapest way to travel between all of the wonderful cities, towns, architectural sites and natural features Guatemala has to offer is by bus.
Guatemalan ‘chicken buses’, gaudily decorated former U.S. school buses are the most charming, but are not advised for long journeys, and are generally regarded as unsafe at night.
Go for first-class Pullman buses for long journeys, as they typically shorten the journey time and are much more comfortable.
- Part with some cash in Chichicastenango
A visit to Chichicastenango is not just a visit to a gorgeous market town – although, it is that – but is the opportunity to experience a place where the Mayan heritage most vividly lives on.
The sixteenth-century church of Santo Tomás Apóstol Church has been used for both Catholic and Mayan rituals, so is a truly unusual site to visit. Enjoy the markets rich with Guatemalan crafts on Tuesdays and Saturdays and buy some traditional wares for family and friends back home. If you need to transfer money to a local bank account, an app like Pangea makes it easy.
- Visit Tikal as the Day Dawns
Tikal is commonly regarded as one of the most impressive and extensive Mayan archaeological sites, and it’s easy to see why. It spans a large area and boasts an unparalleled atmosphere, nestled as it in the heart of the forest.
To get the most out of your trip to Tikal, stay nearby the night before, and beat the crowds by going for an early morning tour as the day dawns – watch the sunrise across this ancient wonder.
- Eat the Local Cuisine
Try and avoid the tourist trap restaurants – instead, to experience the best of its unique culinary heritage, eat at smaller, less crowded, and cheaper places. The flavors in Guatemala are delicate but combined together pack a strong punch. Eat an empanada made with potato and spinach, topped with a healthy dose of tomato and cilantro.
Try Tostados with Noodles (!) and the delicious chicken stew Pepian, made with pear, squash, and carrot, to enjoy a dish that can trace its heritage back to the pre-colonial era.
- Don’t skip Antigua
Not that most tourists do – for many, Antigua is frequently reported as the highlight of a trip to Guatemala. Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage site – given the status of its architectural significance and astonishing beauty.
Once the capital of Guatemala, the city can proudly boast of being the best-preserved Spanish colonial city in Central America. Stay here and enjoy the town – including markets that have a delightful range of traditional crafts – and if you’re feeling adventurous, hike up a volcano that surrounds the city.