Backpacking in Guatemala on a Gap Year

Countries  »  Guatemala

Guatemala is a country most backpackers have heard of but most overlook in favour of other Central American nations such as Mexico, Costa Rica, and Belize. It might be small, but that just makes it easier to visit everything it has to offer: Mayan temples, incredible biodiversity, a sliver of Caribbean coastline, rich culture and more. Backpacking in Guatemala is definitely worth your time.

Cities in Guatemala

Although you’ll probably spend most of your time in Guatemala visiting its many natural wonders, you shouldn’t miss its colonial, characterful cities. Guatemala City, the nation’s capital, blends Mayan history with modern architecture, filling it with striking sights. Chief among them is central Plaza Mayor, home to the Metropolitan Cathedral. The city also boasts a top selection of museums to help you learn more about Guatemala’s storied history. You can also follow trails a little way out of the city to climb active Pacaya Volcano (follow safety advice on this one).

Guatemala’s other unmissable city is Antigua, its crumbling, pastel exterior belying a vibrant culture and huge historical significance, all set against an incredible backdrop of volcanoes. The city’s most famous landmark is the Santa Catalina Arch, but you should also look out for the baroque Iglesia de La Merced and iconic Cerro de la Cruz, a lookout point offering a view unlike any you’ve seen before. Antigua is guaranteed to keep your Instagram feed stocked for a long time after your visit.

Countryside in Guatemala

Backpacking in Guatemala is likely to revolve around experiencing one gobsmacking natural wonder after another, certainly too many to list here. Only 2% of Guatemala’s landmass is urbanised, making it a country perfect for adventure.

There are countless trekking routes taking you through dense jungle (home to huge biodiversity) and up volcanoes, and there are plenty of opportunities to get the adrenaline pumping by zip lining through the canopy, white-water rafting down raging rivers, or caving in the Verapaces.

Whether it’s the volcano-ringed Lago de Atitlán, epic Rio Dulce canyons, or picture-perfect Semuc Champey swimming hole, remember to put your camera down once in a while and just enjoy it.