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Guatemala... What's all the fuss about?

Written by Milly Whitehead on 11 / 01 / 2018

Gap Year Advice

Find out why Guatemala is top of the travel charts for 2018.

First, there was Madagascar, then Cuba and Namibia – new ‘off grid’ countries to satisfy the boundary-pushing gapper…so where next, who is going to be the new coveted passport stamp?

Drum roll please as we introduce you to the next place to visit Guatemala - tricky to spell, I grant you, but this secret gem is creeping up the popularity stakes as gappers snub its neighbours who are ‘so last year’.

So, what’s all the hype about? Let’s take a peak…starting from the top:

Where is Guatemala?

guatemala map

Bang in the middle of Central America - below Mexico and Belize and above Panama and Honduras - with a foot in both on the white sandy beaches of the Caribbean (kick-back opportunity) and the black turtle nesting beaches of the Pacific Ocean (volunteering opportunity).

In between these two oceans you’ll find a string of majestic volcanos running through its core, decorated with rainforests, coffee plantations, the breath-taking creator Lake of Atitlan and the uber cool city of Antigua.

Sounding good so far? Let’s take a look at the highlights and what not to miss.

Best City - Antigua

best city antiqua

Once the capital – this stunning, ancient, colonial beauty is what you would hope for – half renovated, half faded glory, enveloped by 3 towering volcanoes who create a majestic, looming backdrop.

The cities centrepiece is the Cathedral de Santiago - a stunning 17th century cathedral surrounded by meandering cobbled streets and plaza’s brimming with street vendors, cafes, boutiques and markets selling everything you could possibly need - even the largest goat!

Best Volcano - Pacaya Volcano

volcano trek

Towering over Antigua is the dramatic Pacaya Volcano, standing tall at just over 2500m. A day trip is a must to climb this beast who will provide some seriously outstanding views – pray for a clear day and hot rocks to cook on as you work your way up. Literally – no joke – there are steaming rocks found along the path, hot enough to roast some marshmallows. Added bonus.

Best Lake - Lago de Atitlán

best lake to visit

Nestled in amongst the towering volcanos is the aquamarine Lago de Atitlan, home to many indigenous communities who go about their day fishing from their rustic rafts, while women in their multi-coloured outfits do their washing by the banks, under bloom bursting trees. So peaceful.

The lake is 8km across from north to south, 18km from east to west, and averages around 300m deep. Aim for the main lakeside town of Panajachel and from here springboard down to Santiago Atitlán, (to experience local life), San Pedro La Laguna (for a party or 2), San Marcos La Laguna (healing) and Santa Cruz La Laguna and Jaibalito, for picture perfect downtime.

Best Ancient Ruin - Tikal

Tikal ancient ruins

Set amongst the rainforest is the ancient site of Tikal – a complex of temples, plazas and broad limestone causeways, who have been protected over the centuries by the canopy of their jungle setting.

The most striking features of Tikal are the towering, steep-sided, partially restored temples, rising to heights of more than 44m, the plazas - which have been cleared of trees and vines, linked by causeways set under a jungle canopy who home monkeys, agoutis, foxes and ocellated turkeys - so take your binoculars.

Best Pacific Beach – Monterrico

turtles conservation on gap year

Monterrico is a hip beachside town and on the map due to its unique setting within the Biotopo Monterrico-Hawaii, a nature reserve that stretches along a 13-mile (20-km) section of the coast and inland borders the mangroves. The entire area is a prime nesting site for leatherback and olive ridley sea turtles so mind where you walk.

The Tortugario Monterrico, located in the heart of town, is a turtle hatchery where eggs are reburied and allowed to hatch under protection. While here, it is highly likely you’ll witness the hatching and release of baby sea turtles and if you would like to volunteer, send us an email.

Yes please, I would like to know more about the turtle conservation.

Read more on turtles

Best Carribbean Beach - Livingston

best carribbean beach

Livingston is located at the mouth of the Río Dulce at the Gulf of Honduras. The town is fairly tranquil with a relaxed, Caribbean-infused pace of life so expect a chilled vibe, delicious food, reggae and a few bars to wet your whistle.

While here it’s easy to hire a boat, and explore the canyons, jungles, beaches and waterfalls up-river and for a real Caribbean experience, head out to the Zapotillo Cayes. The Cayes are part of the Belize Barrier Reef— where you will find the powdery, white-sandy beaches and delicious turquoise water. Postcard perfect.

What next?

chicken bus

Promise me you'll give this ‘off grid’ country some serious consideration. It’s safe, beautiful and ready to be explored. The best way in is Via La Aurora International Airport which is 6.4kms from Guatemala city centre and 25km from Antigua Guatemala.

Brush up on your basic Spanish – which will help you get around and don’t worry too much about the time of year you go as the temperature is pretty good all year round - averaging at about 22c, depending on altitude more than anything else. Nov – April = dry season. May to Oct = rainy season - when you might experience an afternoon downpour.

If you want it all done for you, then, of course, we can help – we send 4 teams throughout the year to combine all the highlights described above with turtle and community volunteering.

Our Guatemala program includes all the highlights described above and volunteering.

read all about it

Look forward to hearing from you.

Check out our gap year programs

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