Solo Travel in Guatemala
Guatemala repeatedly appears high up in the worldwide rankings of countries with the highest crime rates and consequently has a reputation of being one of Central America’s most dangerous countries to visit. Factually the ranking may be justified, however the statistics fail to mention that hardly any tourists are affected by the large homicide rates and drug-related crimes. For those of us who choose to solo travel in Guatemala, crime does exist but it generally happens hidden away from where the tourists are.
In fact, Guatemala is Central America’s hidden gem. The community of other travellers, especially backpackers, is tight, making solo travel in Guatemala relatively easy. While Guatemalans are friendly and helpful when approached, they most of the time tend to their own business and leave travellers alone. Begging and hawking is a relatively rare sight, especially in comparison to most South-East Asian countries.
Female travellers are treated no differently than male travellers, and the country is overall safe and fun for women to travel to. I haven’t experienced any form of catcalling or situations that I felt unsafe in as a traveller, however other women have – especially those that have spent a longer time in the country. As with most countries female travellers are at a higher risk, so it is advised to stick to your gut feelings and common sense when moving about.
Robberies have taken place along the Agua Volcano route so check with locals or choose a walking tour for this area.
Below is our guide to how to travel solo in Guatemala as well as lots of practical information such as where to stay, which tour company to use and how to get around. Find out how to get from the airport and what to do in each place. All companies included have been recommended by solo female travellers and come with our Solo Female Friendly endorsement. Just choose the relevant section or read the full article.
- Places to Visit in Guatemala
- Accommodation in Guatemala
- Guatemala Tours
- Travelling In Guatemala
- Guatemala Itinerary
- Best Time To Visit Guatemala
- From Guatemala Airports
- Border Crossings
- Frequently Asked Questions About Guatemala
- Map of Guatemala
- Plan Your Trip to Guatemala
Places To Visit in Guatemala
Guatemala is a land of breathtaking beauty with idyllic coastlines and Mayan jungle temples of Tikal. But if trekking highlands and ancient civilisations aren’t your thing then enjoy the tranquility of Lake Atitlan. Pick up some Mayan arts and crafts at the open-air Chichicastenango Market.
Guatemala has over 30 volcanos with Pacaya one of its most active. If you’re feeling adventurous, trek to the top of Agua volcano, with it’s amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and the tropics. You won’t find many crowds in Guatemala so head to the beaches and enjoy the surf at Marina del Sur.
The Rio Dulce National Park with its tall cliffs is a great place for birdwatching and spotting Guatemalan wildlife. You’ll also be able to mingle with the Garifuna in the nearby town of Livingstone who have their own style of dancing.
Guatemala can roughly be divided into three regions, which in stark contrast co-exist: The highlands, the lowlands and the coastal regions.
The Guatemalan highlands are marked by stunning mountain ranges that are home to a number of Guatemala’s tourist highlights such as the still active volcano Fuego, the former colonial town and Central America’s hipster capital Antigua, as well as the incredible Lake Atitlán. It is a region where you will see the most beautiful sunrises. At an average of 1500m altitude you can feel the smallness of your lungs whilst you wish you had brought another fleece. To move about off the beaten track visit Guatemala’s second largest city Quetzaltenango (Xela) and climb Central America’s highest peak Tajamulco for sunrise near the Mexican border.
The Guatemalan lowlands are home to the beautiful pools of Semuc Champey and its extensive cave system and limestone bridges. Semuc Champey isn’t that easy get to (the closest village is Lanquín) but this beautiful area is definitely worth the journey.
The lowlands are also home to Tikal, one of the most important sites in Guatemala. These ancient Mayan ruins are hidden away in lush jungle flora and fauna and the island of Flores, which serves as a gateway to the Mayan settlements Tikal and Mirador.
Tikal was discovered in 1848 and became a national park in 1955. Its name means ‘the place of spirits’ and inside its 575 square kilometres of jungle are ruins of temples and palaces. The tallest structure in this large archaeological site is 57 metres tall and climbing to the top for a view of the forest canopy below is just breathtaking.
The weather in the lowlands is much warmer and more tropical than elsewhere in Guatemala and mosquitos all of a sudden call for your attention.
Both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines are somewhat off the beaten track and a lot less busy with tourists. The Atlantic coastline near Livingston is marked by the Rio Dulce delta and the Pacific coastline Monterrico is a top tip for surfing. Give both a visit if you have time to spare and would like to see regions that are more authentic and less travelled.
Wildlife lovers would love Cerro Cahuí Nature Reserve which has howler monkeys that you can hear up to a mile away! Get up close and personal to giant sea turtles and iguanas in Tortuguerio Monterrico Wildlife Reserve (you may not want to get too close to the alligators though). Or head to Chocón-Machacas for manatees.
Antigua has preserved its Spanish architecture so well that it is a UNESCO heritage site. It’s one of the most popular places in Guatemala because of its historical importance. With pastel-coloured buildings, and ruins of colonial churches within this centuries-old city which is cradled by volcanoes.
The town of Flores is just as pretty. Located in Petén on an island connected by a causeway, Flores is the perfect place to chill for a few days whilst enjoying some lake views.
You really can’t beat Lake Atitlán in the highlands for stunning lake views. Panajachel is one of the most developed towns around the lake and a good place to mingle with others. There are so many other places here including the spiritual and yoga haven of San Marcos, or San Pedro La Laguna where you can climb the volcano and embrace a cheap backpacker budget.
Guatemala City is not the best for solo travellers so avoid the capital if you can and head straight for Antigua which is only one hour away.
Whether you prefer Mayan ruins, volcanoes, or colourful towns, there’s no doubt that solo travel in Guatemala will be a culturally enriching experience which won’t break the bank.
Accommodation in Guatemala
Given the transportation system and overall development of the country, Guatemala is predominantly travelled by backpackers making solo travel in Guatemala easy to meet others. While beautiful hotels can be found in the main tourist spots, most places cater to the large backpacker population and plenty of upscale hostels are about.
There’s also Airbnb which connects you to unique travel experiences and isn’t just limited to staying in a local’s spare room. You can save $20 off your first stay with this Airbnb link.
All of the accommodation below have been recommended by solo female travellers from our Girls about the Globe community and come with a Solo Female Friendly endorsement.
El Hostal is a small but very sociable hostel in a great location with hammocks that you can chill out in on the patio. The staff are really attentive and friendly and the breakfast is included. The bathrooms although shared are really clean and play ambient music. Cafe No Se is just across the street and you are guaranteed to make friends when joining one of the tours offered by the hostel.
Rooms are either a 6 bed female dorm, 7 or 10 bed mixed dorm or you can choose a private double room for more privacy.
- Prices start from £8 for a standard 10 bed dorm per night
- To book, check prices or availability for El Hostal BnB
Somos is a very modern and clean hostel. Not only do they offer a TV with Neflix so you can catch up on your favourite series but they also offer a free perk card which gives discounts at their favourite places in the town. If you need a break from all the socialising, this hostel is the perfect place for you as the bed cabins provide you with just the privacy you were looking for.
Choose from a 3, 4, 6 or 8 bed mixed dorm room with a mix of single bed cabins or even a double bed tent.
- Prices start from £9 for a basic 8 bed mixed dorm.
- To book, check prices or availability for Somos
This place is the perfect mixture of opportunities to meet and party with people while also providing spaces to take it slow and chill all day long. It was the best hostel I stayed at whilst in Guatemala and I wish I’d stayed a bit longer to not only see Tikal but Flores as well.
They also have a spa onsite and offer massages. Just be prepared to socialise whilst you are here. Choose from a 6 or 10 bed mixed dorm or a private basic or deluxe.
- Prices start from £8 per night for the large dorm room
- To book, check prices or availability for Los Amigos
Doubling up as a cafe, this tiny, cute hostel in San Marcos has one of the most relaxing vibes. There are plenty of places to sit within the cafe which serves a fabulous breakfast (it’s included). The bunkbeds have curtains so you can have more privacy. Each bed has its own locker and there are plenty of plug sockets to charge your phone. Choose from a 6 bed dorm room or a private room.
- Prices start from £10 for a bed in a 6 bed dorm room per night
- To book, check prices or availability for Circles Cafe and Hostel
An absolute oasis of a place; this hostel has direct access to the water, dorms are quiet, and family style dinners ensure you fall never short of opportunities to socialise. The tours offered are well organised and if you fancy a bit more of a party atmosphere the “Zephyr” Hostel is just a short walk away. Choose from a bed in a 6 bed dorm room, a cottage with a garden view (it’s still cheap honest) or a double room with shared bathroom.
- Prices start from £8 per night for a bed in a 6 bed dorm room
- To book, check prices or availability for El Retiro Lanquin
if you feel more comfortable in a group for either part of your trip or the whole duration, G Adventures is a responsible tour company which mainly caters towards budget travellers. They don’t offer specific Guatemala only tours, instead you can travel through Guatemala and one or more of its neighbours on their adventures. Most tours have an average of 10 people and there is no upper age limit. Once you book your trip you pay extra for any excursions you want to do when you’re there.
Adventures range from 9 days seeing Tikal and Flores and Belize for £729, up to a 33 days adventure travelling from Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. There are plenty of shorter journeys in-between. I have personally used G Adventures and recommend them as a solo female friendly company.
Intrepid Travel is similar to G Adventures with an average of 12 people on each tour. Over 50% of people who book their trips are solo travellers. They tend to use hotels instead of hostels and have a more comfortable style of accommodation hence the trips can appear a bit more than G Adventures.
Their tours range from 8 days including Tikal and Belize, a 9 day Guatemala and Beyond which starts in Guatemala and ends in Nicaragua (both for £695), up to an epic 65 day Complete Central America tour. With both tour companies you share a room with someone of the same gender or you can pay extra for your own room.
Quetzaltrekkers – Quetzaltrekkers are an Xela based NGO that offer (multi)-day hikes in and around Western Highlands of Guatemala. All treks are led by experienced guides and equipment to borrow is included in the price. I did the Tajumulco hike with them and could not recommend it more – in fact, I wish I had had more time to do other hikes with them.
Most hostels offer tours to the tourist attractions in their vicinity and it’s worth joining their tours to get the most out of the region’s hotspots. Tours vary in price but on average cost between USD 15-25. I personally found not much of a difference in the tours offered by the various hostels, so save yourself some valuable time looking for the best deal.
Travelling in Guatemala
Getting around in Guatemala is easiest and safest by means of shuttle buses. Distances can be quite long and shuttle buses are air-conditioned and reasonably comfortable. You are normally picked up directly from the hostel or hotel you are staying at and will be dropped off either at your next hostel, if already known, or a public space, from where further transport can be easily arranged. Shuttle buses are the most expensive mode of transport and can cost up to $10-20 one way.
A cheaper options for shorter distances are chicken buses. Especially in and around Antigua they are a lot safer than travel guides will make you believe. Knowledge of basic level Spanish is recommended to let the driver know where you need to get off, but people are quick to help even when there is a language barrier. Tickets are normally no more than $3, depending on the distance travelled. Notable is that no difference between local and tourist tickets is made.
The lack of an extensive transport system causes travellers to move in unison – from the Belizean border to Antigua and the Lake towards Honduras or the other way around. All major attractions are en route and a straight-forward transportation system is in place that makes getting from one place to the next easy.
The ease of travel and straightforwardness of the shuttle system means that Guatemala can be travelled in as little as 2 weeks – with all the main tourist destinations ticked off. Add another week, and you’ll be able to get off the beaten track, too.
One week itinerary:
a) Antigua – 2 nights, Lake Atitlan – 2 nights, Coban for Semuc Champey – 2 nights, Flores – 1 night.
b) Antigua – 3 nights, shuttle bus to Guatemala City then fly to Flores – 3 nights, Tikal – 1 night.
Two week itinerary:
A realistic 2-week itinerary is to start off in Antigua and spent a couple of days near Lake Atitlan before moving towards Semuc Champey, Tikal, and then onto Belize and Mexico. If you fancy a roundtrip, add another week and instead of crossing the border, move towards the Atlantic coast before returning to Antigua.
Best Time To Visit Guatemala
Guatemala does have a wet season so the best times to visit are between December and April when it is dry season. Even when it rains in Guatemala it only rains for a few hours so don’t worry too much if the only time that you can go is outside of the dry season.
This chart shows the average maximum day temperatures for Guatemala (from January to December).
From Guatemala Airports
Most international flights get in at Guatemala City airport, which is about an hours drive away from Antigua.
From and To Antigua
Getting to and from Antigua is easiest by arranging for a shuttle bus to pick you up. Although normally fairly safe, I would not recommended taking a chicken bus to Antigua or elsewhere from the airport. When organising a shuttle pick up, you can either book a space on an already scheduled shuttle or if none of the offered times are suitable, book a private shuttle.
For private shuttles, it is easiest to get in touch directly with the hostel or hotel you are staying at. Prices are normally $40 per car, so you could easily try to find other travellers to carpool with at the airport as that will split the cost. Pre-booking a space on a scheduled shuttle is best done through the operators below. Prices vary but are normally around $15:
As a frame of reference, if you are coming from the US, immigrations, customs and baggage reclaim can be done in under an hour of scheduled arrival time.
When you solo travel in Guatemala, remember that no exit fee is payable. There have been incidents where tourists were made to pay the equivalent of $3-4, however this is not legal and from my experience efforts are made to avoid situations where tourists end up paying such fees. For example, most shuttle drivers will remind you of the lack of an exit fee.
Guatemala to Belize
The most utilised border crossing into Belize is via Flores at Melchor de Mencos. You simply book a shuttle to Belize or Mexico from Flores and all else is taken care off for you. As with any other border crossing, you need to physically walk through immigrations and customs with all your belongings, however the same shuttle you came in will be waiting for you at the other side of the border.
It is advised to exchange Guatemalan monies before exiting the country, especially if going straight from Guatemala to Mexico via Belize. There were no opportunities to exchange Guatemalan Quetzales once in Mexico.
Guatemala to Mexico
From Flores to the Mexico border it’s only 1.5 hours. You can reach Palenque in Mexico within 6 hours from Tikal. There are a few bus companies which run from Guatemala to Mexico.
Guatemala to Honduras
From Guatemala City you can travel to various destinations in Honduras such as Copan, and La Ceiba (the gateway to the islands). Be careful with your belongings in some areas of Honduras such as Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula – other destinations that the buses go to. Toritos and Copanecos operate several buses a day to Santa Rosa de Copan.
Guatemala to El Salvador
There are a few buses which operate from Guatemala to El Salvador. Be careful in El Salvador as it’s not that safe for solos. The Tica Bus and Pullmantur, and Transporte Del Sol are some of the bus companies which go to El Salvador.
Where can I go from here?
Mexico – 2 hours 10 mins
Costa Rica – 1 hour 30 mins
Nicaragua – 1 hour 30 mins
Frequently Asked Questions About Guatemala
To save you time searching, here are the most asked questions about Guatemala.
- Can I drink the water? Not advised.
- Is tipping expected? Not as stringent as in the US, rounding up is a good compromise.
- Fixed price or barter? Barter
- Any ATMS? Yes, at least in main tourist areas.
- Which side of the road do they drive? Right.
- Good for vegetarians? Yes.
- Any Seven Wonders of the World? Tikal.
Map of Guatemala
Plan a Trip to Guatemala
If you are ready to plan a trip to Guatemala here are some useful links to help you plan, including airlines which fly there, where you can volunteer and eco accommodation.
Budget – £25 a day
Capital – Guatemala City
Population – 16.58 million
Language spoken – Spanish
Do I need a visa? Not on a British passport
The Best Time to Go – December – April
Did you know? Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America, at approximately 340 meters.
Situated in Semuc Champey, Utopia Eco Hotel looks over the Rio Cahabon. Made from Guatemalan materials 100% of all revenue goes into environmental and community programs. Choose camping on the river front, dormitory style rooms or coffee cabanas. They offer Spanish lessons too.
Earth Lodge is an avocado farm just outside of Antigua. This natural retreat is famous for its volcano views and friendly vibe. Stay in the dorm room, camp in a tent or in one of the magical treehouse with amazing views. The lodge in involved with the local community and fundraises for the local school.
Casa Guatemala is a children’s village on the Rio Dulce. Help volunteer by teaching or looking after the children, playing sports or just helping with their homework.
Find other volunteering experiences for solo travel in Guatemala through Go Overseas
Discover local aristans’ work and culture, or take a Quetzaltenango craft tour and make a traditional purse or jewellery through Visit.org (just search for Guatemala)
Guatemala has an absence of dental health within their culture. The introduction of the Western diet such as soft drinks and sugary sweets has created a number of health issues. Watch this video on the Guatemala Dental Awareness Project to find out more…
Hotel Backpackers and Restaurant on the Rio Dulce helps support the Casa Guatemala Orphanage and School. Each cent spent here helps care and educate more than 250 children.
Issues in the country
Guatemala has a history of cheap migrant labour, one of the most unequal societies and malnutrition rates in the world. Four in ten children (43.4%) under five are chronically malnourished and nearly half of the population cannot afford the cost of basic food. Read more…
Mind Body & Soul
Villa Sumaya is located on Lake Atitlan in a beautiful, tranquil spot. They offer all types of retreats such as a transformational cacao retreat, awareness and soul nourishing retreats and yoga and meditation retreats.
The Yoga Forest is situated in San Marcos and has such a stunning view. If you love yoga and vegetarian food this retreat is perfect. Choose from a Release and Manifest Retreat, or The Alchemy of Living, amongst others.
Do you have any tips for Guatemala to make solo travel easier? I'd love to hear your comments below.