The “Gringo Trail” might be the beaten path that most backpackers take while traveling through Central America, but it’s still too good to miss, especially in Guatemala. I spent one month exploring as much of Guatemala as I could and I still wish I had time to see more. The nature in Guatemala is incredible and unmatched. If you’re stepping onto the Gringo Trail in Guatemala, you’re in for a ride so beautiful you won’t believe your eyes. Here are a few places that have to be on your Guatemala itinerary:
Most people traveling through Central America will visit Mayan ruins at some point. The Mayan Ruins at Tikal were hands-down the most interesting and jaw-dropping Mayan ruins I visited in Central America. It was incredible to see and learn how the Mayans lived and the massive temples they could build at that time. Definitely take a guided tour; you’ll find yourself walking through a labyrinth of ruins and jungle and learn so much more than you would by just walking around by yourself.
If you’re adventurous enough, camp on the campgrounds or the Jaguar Inn in the park. While I had a bit of a scare when I camped there with my friend and we were the only two people staying at the campground that night, it was a unique and fun experience. The best part was hiking to the top of one of the temples to watch the sunrise the next morning.
The cascading waterfalls at Semuc Champey were a tortuous and bumpy 8 hour bus ride away from Rio Dulce, but seeing the turquoise pools of in real life was worth the uncomfortable travel. I stayed in a hostel along the river and woke up to the sounds of birds chirping and water flowing; all I could see were trees and hills. This part of Guatemala is as up close and personal to nature as you can get in Guatemala, and it’s so refreshing.
Antigua and its nearby volcanoes
Antigua is a great place to sample some of Guatemala’s best coffee, revel in the beautiful colonial architecture, and relax in a cooler climate. The street food outside La Merced church is incredible, and the artisan markets offer up cute little souvenirs and knickknacks. Remember there is no to tip in street food vendors in Guatemala.
If I could make only one suggestion to a traveler making their way through Guatemala, it would be to hike a volcano. Hiking Volcán Acatenango, the third-highest peak in Central America, was one of the most difficult, yet rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Staying overnight at the campground gave way to stunning views of Volcán Fuego, an active volcano right next to Acatenango. The last push to the summit was challenging, but the views truly took my breath away.
Lake Atitlán wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but it turned out to be so much more. There are many little towns along the lake, each unique in its own way. I loved the coffee and the hustle and bustle of Panajachel, the larger of the towns along Lake Atitlán. San Marcos had a relaxed vibe and was very hippie and wellness oriented and the sunrise from the dock was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, ever. San Pedro is where everyone went to party, but I enjoyed hiking Volcán San Pedro to get another view of the lake.
Guatemala has a lot more to offer than this list of spots on the Gringo Trail. I enjoyed my time in Rio Dulce and Xela and wish I visited a few more places in Guatemala along the coast, but for any newbies to Guatemala, jump on the Gringo Trail. Remember, places are touristy for a reason; it doesn’t mean they aren’t worth visiting just because everyone goes there. It just means they’re worth it.