Why go to Guatemala ?


You will find here the results of our backpackers' survey as well as comments on some aspects of Guatemala.

We asked backpackers who had traveled in Guatemala for more than three weeks already to answer the followings :

Do you like Guatemala ?  100% of the backpackers surveyed (51) say yes !

Difficult not to be charmed by Guatemala... Even the few people who experienced safety issues have to admit that they enjoyed it as a whole !


Would you happily come back ? 94% of the backpackers surveyed (51) say yes !

Nearly everybody would enjoy doing it again : to climb more volcanoes, shop at more markets, practice your Spanish with more people and drink more coffee ?


Would you recommend Guatemala ?  100% of the backpackers surveyed (51) say yes !

Unanimity again ! If you like your friends, you will recommend them Guatemala !

We also asked them to rate the followings :

The tourists attractions        Backpackers (51) : 16.94 /20
With the exception of Mexico, Guatemala is, in the area, the country with the most to offer : the splendid ruins of Tikal are the obvious primary attraction, followed by the ancient colonial capital of Antigua and the lake Atitlan. Those are the three places most visited by tourists. But the list does not stop there : climbing a volcano, visiting a traditional village, shopping at a colorful market, enjoying a Caribbean atmosphere... The whole country is a big tourist attraction ! 

The city scenery       Backpackers (49) : 11.92 /20
Although a few people find the cities 'charming', the charm is usually limited to the central plaza, by the church or cathedral. Otherwise, there isn't much to write about and you certainly do not visit Guatemala for its city streets. There is of course one exception : the enchanting colonial city of Antigua !

The natural scenery         Backpackers (51) : 18.82 /20
"This is not China" quoted a traveler. No, but it actually rates higher ! Indeed, if Guatemala does not have the magic of some of the South China's scenery, its 33 volcanoes, lakes, mountains, rivers and waterfalls and 19 different ecosystems in an area of just 41,700 square miles overwhelm most of the visitors. It even has a few acceptable beaches !

The cultural opportunities        Backpackers (51) : 15.53 /20
Guatemala is, with Mexico, the best country in the area to understand and appreciate the Maya & ladino cultures. There are a few museums but it is above all by observing the lives of the locals, the costumes, traditions and markets, that these unique cultures are best experienced. And if you manage to get fed up with the Maya world, you also have Livingston and its relaxed Garifuna atmosphere !

The food         Backpackers (51) : 12.94 /20
Westerners' palates will find in the cities or tourist areas everything they need, from fast food to Italian or Chinese delicacies. Finding the cheap local restaurant in those places can however take some time. In more remote areas, chicken, beans and tortillas will be on every tables. The local cuisine certainly is not very creative. The markets also offer little choices of snack and they are not as cheap as one might expect. Thailand, this is not ! Happiness however could be a coffee or chocolate cup away, with very fine cups available in a few localities (but a few only).

The infrastructures         Backpackers (51) : 13.10 /20
Fairly good actually ! And I am not talking about the tourist first class shuttle buses running between the touristy places on good paved roads. Backpackers will usually travel on 'Chicken Buses', old yellow North American 'Bluebird' school buses : this means little rooms for the legs and three persons per seat but also acceptable seats & suspensions. The roads in the countryside are a bit rocky and very dusty but it is more unpleasant for the pedestrians than the passengers. But the best thing about transport in Guatemala is that you get frequent buses to nearly everywhere. And if you don't, hitch and ride a pick-up !

The cost of living and traveling        Backpackers (51) : 17.33 /20
Guatemala is one of the cheapest places to travel to in the area. Accommodations & transports are always a bargain. The cost of food will however depends of your habits : eat 'exotic' and spend a lot, eat 'local' and spend little, about $2 per meal. Beers are fairly expensive at $1 the 33cl bottle and the cost of foods at the supermarket is surprisingly high. Expect around US$8 per day. Check the cost table for more details. 

The safety        Backpackers (51) : 12.24 /20
Safety is certainly an issue in Guatemala, one of the most dangerous country in the region in terms of organized & violent robbery. The tourists area (luxury buses, volcanoes, Tikal,...) are where bandits are the most likely to set up a tourist trap, sometimes catching unfortunate backpackers into their net... If you are there at the wrong time, there is little you can do... Other areas are reputed 'dangerous' and you will certainly need to exert special cautions, like avoiding walking alone or at night or with flashy articles. But, truly, if most backpackers have heard the stories, little have experience them directly (hence the fair rating) : most places are 'normal' and common sense should prevent you from any mishap. There is also the hope, following violent crimes in Tikal, that the safety issue be eventually tackled seriously by the government...

The cleanliness        Backpackers (51) : 8.39 /20
Guatemala is perceived as a dirty country and this is very well deserved : the roads & hills are covered with rubbish, the rivers are sometimes full of detergent and nobody seem to worry about living in a such a dustbin. It will take some years until Guatemala can be perceived as a clean ecotourism destination, although some tourists spots are starting to clean up...

The pollution        Backpackers (51) : 9.41 /20
Seen from an height, the colors of the big cities are indeed problematic and walking by any traffic street is a suffocating exercise, thanks in part to the public transports' black smokes. Fortunately, travelers usually concentrate in the countryside, where air pollution is usually limited to the few transports on the dusty roads. Your lungs shall survive Guatemala !

The Shopkeepers' attitude        Backpackers (51) : 14.20 /20
There are really three worlds. In regular shops, sellers are usually friendly and honest. At the souvenirs stalls, sellers are often over-friendly in order to quote a price as ridiculous as possible. On the streets, sellers are a bit pushy but fortunately never insist long if you tell them 'no, gracias' 

The Minorities' attitude        na
More than half of Guatemala's 10 millions inhabitants belongs to the 21 Mayan groups. 23 dialects are spoken incl. Quiche, Cakchiquel, Mam and Kekchi. The Mayan world is everywhere and this is the reason why Guatemala rates so high with travelers : this is unique in Central America !  Unfortunately, it is quite obvious that the Indian are not in charge of the country and land ownership & businesses are clearly in the hands of ladino. Like it is too often the case, the Indians are usually the poorest & the drunkest and this can sometimes affect their attitude toward the rich & arrogant tourists. Being respectful and keeping a low profile is always a good idea. Doing so, you should be greeted with smiles. This is less the case with the Garifuna people however, "busy" as they are to live their specific culture : quite a few people reported their lack of interest toward visitors... 

The local people's attitude        Backpackers (51) : 16.86 /20
Guatemala people are, in the vast majority, very hospitable, helpful, smiling, friendly and eager to talk. What is more, this does not seem to be too hypocritical... Considering how they have suffered in the past, such a demonstration of kindness toward strangers is a real wonder !  Truly, hospitality is not specific to Guatemala in the area but, although I would personally disagree, it got the highest rating !

Entertainment        Backpackers (36) : 11.67 /20
There are a few things to do in the big or touristy cities but considering that walking those places at night is not often recommended... In the countryside, things are simple : you go to bed early ! Travelers usually come to Guatemala more for the religious processions (some by night) than the disco or bar atmospheres. One exception however : Livingston and its reggae energy ! 

Shopping        Backpackers (50) : 16.16 /20
From the colors, originality or artistic point of view, Guatemala is a great souvenir place ! Of course, it would be even better if the prices were more reasonable and if you did not have to negotiate so hard to get your rip-off price down to a more acceptable level... Souvenirs indeed are not cheap, especially if compared to Asia. As for basic goods, you usually find what you are looking for but must be ready to pay the high price : imported goods (and most goods are) will be more expensive than in your own country ! 

Generally, the country        Backpackers (73) : 17.80 /20
Guatemala is without contest one of the favorite backpacker's place in the world : great scenery, friendly people, colorful markets, top-notch attractions... Best rate of the table ! Enjoy !

Value for money        Backpackers (73) : 18.04 /20
Best rate again, at least within Central America, as Guatemala offers a lot of colors, culture and smiles for your money. A real backpacker paradise !

Backpacker's Tips :  Nadia T. (June 05)
« I completely disagree with Raphael Hun from France about his negative comments about Guatemala. Firstly I went backpacking there for two months and I had the best time, not only did the doctors treat me for free when I was very ill but they were very helpful and friendly. What you have to remember when you travel to these countries is that they are poor people with very little education, so maybe to you they seem thick but they are certainly not fortunate enough like you to have a good education in France. The countries bus system is not good but they just don’t have the money to fund these things, we go from a first world country to expect what from these third world countries…fun, happy people that’s not realistic to expect that, their lives are about survival and it may be dirty and poor but they have culture and you have to respect that.» 

Backpacker's Tips :  Tim Borntrager, USA (March 03)
« I decided to add one more in favor to the Guatemalan survey. Mainly because I had such a great time there, also because of the French fellows response (see below). I'm a world traveler, have been to many many places, and will always have a spot in my heart for Guatemala...it is a magical place. One can travel very cheaply if they spend just a little time off the beaten path, traveling as the locals do. For me, it was extremely easy to have a real adventure in Guatemala, and refreshing to find places that were not over run by tourist. Rather then just jumping on a tourist bus one had to do a little more research to find these places. If your not about putting forth a little effort in your travels, you'll miss the good stuff, and think places like Antigua are the gems.  » 

Backpacker's Tips :  Raphael Hun, France  (Dec 02)
« I have toured through all of South America, living in a certain number of countries in Europe and Middle-East, and I have to say, Guatemala is the worst country I have been to. The transport network is totally disorganized (no bus terminals for example), and so if you want to travel as a backpacker it is a nightmare. Thirdly, Guatemala is quite expensive, in comparison with countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia... Finally, I didn't like the people. They were not very nice, and were very thick. For instance, on a certain number of occasions I couldn't get a correct answer to some basic questions. As I am bilingual in Spanish, I dismiss the eventuality of the poor quality of my Spanish. To conclude, I didn't like Guatemala at all, and believe that it is the worst country I have been to in my life. It is OK for people doing an organized trip, or for people who only know Central America. For me, Guatemala doesn't compare to South America. I am writing to you in order for your survey to express another view of the country. My feeling is that the expectations I had thanks to your survey didn't live up to the reality. I reckon it is necessary for others to avoid being mislead in such a way. This is by no means a criticism of your work, and I would like to thank you for it. It is a great idea that a backpacker builds a site for backpackers. On the contrary, the only problem is that it seems that not enough people have visited it... I hope my contribution will be taken into account.  » Note from Passplanet:  your comment is certainly taken into account, although I certainly (as most people I suppose) disagree with your appreciation of Guatemala. I did not update the above figures since I received so far too little surveys about Guatemala. Anyway, it is good to hear someone with a different view...  

Give your opinion !  If you have traveled in Guatemala for more than 3 weeks, please participate to our surveys ...

Compare Guatemala with other countries in the Central America Section


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