Guatemala is a small Central American country that is often missed off travel itineraries and overshadowed by its apparently safer and more publicized neighbours. However, having lived in Guatemala for over 9 months I have found it to be a treasure chest full of hidden gems ready to be explored.
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As a solo female traveler, I’ve found it just as safe compared to other countries in the area. There is so much variety in Guatemala, with its beautiful surf beaches, high altitude lakes, volcanoes, colonial cities and historical ruins it offers something for everyone.
To help those wishing to visit Guatemala, I’ve put together a list of things to see and do for not only females traveling solo, but for those who have kept Guatemala off their travel itineraries for far too long.
Places to see
Guatemala is filled with volcanoes ready for you to explore. No matter which volcano you choose to visit, I suggest you take a tour instead of attempting to visit these on your own. A tour will allow you to learn more about the history of the volcano and will also help you feel safe if you are traveling solo
There are two popular volcanoes that are definitely worth the trek. The first is Pacaya, an approximate two-hour hike where you get to roast marshmallows in volcanic hot rocks. The other well-known volcano is Acetanango, a more strenuous overnight hike, where you get to camp on the side of a volcano watching the active volcano Fuego erupt at night. In the morning you can appreciate a beautiful golden sunrise over Guatemala before making your way to another region to explore.
Solo Traveler Tip: Going with a group and a guide is a great way to not only feel safer on these hikes but to meet some other solo travelers as well.
Semuc Champey translated means ‘where the river hides under the stones.’ It is a natural preserve famous for its stepped turquoise pools and tranquil environment, known as the playground of Guatemala. You can swim, jump, explore or hike in Semuc Champey.
Semuc offers the adventurer in you the perfect place to explore and have fun. The short hike to a mirador (lookout) gives you a view of the natural pools that are so crystal clear they look as though they have been Photoshopped. Every afternoon there’s a caving tour available that is perfect for the adventurous type that ends with a gentle session tubing down the river.
Due to Semuc’s isolated location, I recommend to take a private shuttle and have a bed booked before you arrive. Your hostel will then arrange your transport from the shuttle to their location.
Solo Traveler Tip: Sign up to complete the caving tour through your hostel and you will meet other solo travelers and have a blast doing it!
One of Guatemala’s main attraction is the ruins of the Mayan city Tikal. Located in the middle of the jungle near the Belizian border, the Mayan Ruins are definitely worth a visit. Especially if you are a history buff or you just want to be wowed by the sheer scale of the temples!
The nearest place to stay is the town of Flores, and from here you can easily get a 1.5-hour shuttle to the ruins. The best time to visit is either early morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds and the midday heat. With an entrance fee of between $20-$25USD for a day pass, this is by far the most expensive tourist attraction in Guatemala, however often viewed as being a better site than the nearby Chichen Itza, it is definitely worth the price.
Solo Travel Tip: Go on an organized sunrise trip from Flores. You will leave at 3 am, hike through the jungle in the dark and climb Temple 4 (the highest temple of the site) just in time to watch the gorgeous sunrise over the jungle.
Guatemala is full of beautiful colonial cities that are worth a visit! However, if you are short on time, the one that is an absolute must is the city of Antigua. Nowadays, it has become more westernized but you can still see the traditional parts of the city. It has beautiful architecture, landscaping and a wonderful atmosphere. Antigua is located only a couple hours from the airport, which makes it an ideal first stop after landing in the country.
Cities are notorious for being unsafe in Central America. However, in my experience, Antigua is one of the safest. I have happily spent many days wandering around the city and enjoying nights out with locals without a single problem. The city is full of travelers so it’s easy to find a group to explore with and create great memories with.
Solo Traveler Tip: Antigua is bustling with lots of hostels and a crazy nightlife. It makes for a great place to meet other travelers who might want to join you on the rest of your Guatemalan adventures.
High altitude lakes
Lake Atitlan is a high altitude lake located just a couple hours from the Guatemala City. Nestled between three volcanoes, this lake provides picturesque views of the Guatemalan highlands. With so much to do – from hikes, scuba diving, yoga centers, and traditional weaving – you will always find yourself busy.
Lake Atitlan is surrounded by many small villages with traditional Mayan culture. Hostels are plentiful in many of the villages so you will have no problem meeting like-minded travelers.
Solo Traveler Tip: Each village has its own personality. If you have time make sure to spend a night or two in all the villages around the lake. If not, the public boats are safe and cheap so you can make your way around the lake in a single day.
The locals of Guatemala are incredibly kind and friendly. Once you get out of the main cities you will really get to see the true Mayan culture. From their beautiful clothes, their beaming smiles, and their infectious laughter, Guatemalans really are the type of people that will welcome anybody into their country. Although there is sometimes a language barrier you can still get by with communicating via hand gestures, nodding and smiling.
Solo Traveler Tip: One of the best ways to connect with the locals is by taking a traditional cooking or weaving class. Most hostels will help arrange this for you and it is a great way to meet new friends.
Getting around Guatemala
Getting around Guatemala is easy. There are almost always two ways of doing this: public transport and private shuttles. Guatemala is cheap, so taking the private shuttles is still a good option if you are traveling late or to lesser-known destinations, or trying to travel on a budget.
During your time in Guatemala, you should definitely try living like a local and take a chicken bus. These are old school buses, usually painted bright colors with booming jukeboxes. You will be squeezed in but you can safely travel with your backpacks on the roof or in the back of the bus with no problem. The drivers also help out so if you tell them where you are going they will usually indicate to you when it is time to get off the bus.
Solo Traveler Tip: Although I’ve said Guatemala is safe, as with any country, there are always opportunists, especially when the bus is full. So keep your wits about you and keep your valuables close by.
More tips & things to consider
Guatemala is surprisingly safe
The general view of Central America is that it is gang-ridden and there is no way to visit safely, especially as a solo female traveler. However this is very untrue, and I know first-hand. Yes, there are times where you have to keep your wits about you, and this can be said for any country you visit. But in general, the people in Guatemala are some of the kindest I have ever met. Everybody simply wants to help you; they want you to enjoy their culture and their country.
The Language barrier
Spanish is the official language spoken in Guatemala, however, if you are not a fluent Spanish speaker, don’t worry. It is easy to find somebody who can speak Spanish AND English who can help you with directions or translation. Almost all accommodation will have English speakers and tour guides will almost always run tours in English. Even transportation is possible as long as you know the destination that you are going to.
Take home unique momentums
Guatemala is famous for its beautiful hand-woven fabrics, from clothing, blankets, belts, bags to any knick-knack you can think of.
Personally, some of the favourite souvenirs that I have bought include some shorts with amazing detailing and a beautiful table runner and mat set that I bought as gifts to send home. Make sure you support local businesses and take home something that will let you remember your unforgettable trip to Guatemala.
I love Guatemala, and this is just a summary of some of the reasons why. I hope that by reading this I have persuaded you that it is definitely worth a visit. Whether you have 9 days or 9 months you will have a jam-packed itinerary with lots of things to do in Guatemala. You are guaranteed to make your own travel memories of this beautiful country!
About the Author:
Sam became a professional scuba diver in 2013 and since then have only returned home to the UK twice, managing to combine her work with her love of travel. She travels solo and really loves getting to know everything about the places she goes to and gets to call home. Sam enjoys the obvious tourist attractions but more than that, getting to know the culture the people and making new friends.
Follow Sam on Twitter, Instagram, and her website.