This Beautiful Destination Is A Great Budget-Friendly Vacation Spot In Central America

Adventurous travelers looking for an off-the-beaten destination in Central America should immediately add Guatemala to their bucket list. The underrated country offers incredible cultural experiences, beautiful natural scenery, and mouth-watering food without the high prices of other top destinations like Costa Rica and Mexico.

Guatemala borders Mexico to the north, Belize to the northeast, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast. On the southern end, you'll find the Pacific Ocean coastline, and to the east, the Caribbean Sea. The 42,042 square mile country is known for its lush rainforests, epic volcanoes, magical lakes, and beaches. The landscapes are stunning, but what truly sets Guatemala apart is the Indigenous culture that prevails despite hundreds of years of colonialism and authoritative regimes. Just under 45% of people in Guatemala are Indigenous – most of whom are Mayan.

The peak tourism season runs from December through March. Tourism has steadily increased over the past decade, and solo travelers and backpackers praise the country for its exciting activities, accessibility, and affordability. On a trip to Guatemala, you can surf massive waves, hike to the top of active volcanoes, explore unique cities and villages, and visit various Mayan sites scattered across the country. With plenty of affordable options when it comes to transportation and lodging, it makes for an ideal budget-friendly vacation.

Adventure awaits

Guatemala isn't a large country; it's about the size of the U.S. state of Tennessee, but it feels massive because there are so many incredible things to do. Whether you're a history buff, a nature enthusiast, a foodie, or simply looking for a great place to relax on the beach and catch some waves – you'll find plenty to keep you busy.

Exploring the city of Antigua is must for anyone visiting Guatemala. Until a massive earthquake struck in 1773, the city served as the nation's capital. It's full of colorful colonial architecture, great restaurants, and affordable accommodations and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage City in 1979. Wander the streets and take in famous sites like cathedrals, museums, and ruins that date back to the 16th century.

Head to Lake Atitlan, nestled in the Sierra Madre Mountain range for swimming, kayaking, and boating between the enchanting Mayan villages and colorful markets. Yoga studios and spiritual retreat centers attract many wellness enthusiasts to this region as well. The breathtakingly beautiful lake is the deepest in Central America and is surrounded by three massive volcanoes: Atitlan, Toliman, and San Pedro. It formed within a crater from a volcanic eruption that occurred tens of thousands of years ago. 

For some of Guatemala's best beaches and surfing, head to El Paredon. Book a surfing lesson, swim in the ocean, and relax on sandy beaches. You'll meet plenty of other travelers when you stay at one of the backpacker hostels.

Budgeting for your trip

Guatemala is an affordable destination that can fit comfortably within most traveler's budgets, especially if you stay at hostels and eat at the local restaurants and street food stalls serving delicious traditional food. In Antigua, it's easy to find a tasty meal at an inexpensive restaurant for under $5. A three-course meal at a nice restaurant will cost around $40 for two people, and a coffee at a local cafe will cost about $2. Expect similar, or slightly cheaper, prices in the villages around Lake Atitlan.

Regarding transportation, buses are the cheapest way to get around the country. Driving yourself is not recommended if you're a first-time visitor to Guatemala, as the roads can be challenging. Many of the local buses are brightly painted and affectionately known as "chicken buses." Short trips cost around $2, and longer trips between cities cost anywhere from $5-$10 for a three-hour journey. Shuttles are another popular way for visitors to travel to major destinations around the country, with a seat from Guatemala City to Antigua costing under $20.

Accommodation prices vary throughout the country. Consider booking a private home for as little as $200 per week for extended stays. A hostel bunk costs as little as $10 per night in many popular tourist areas. Three-star hotel rooms can be booked for under $50 in many areas throughout the country. Remember that in the smaller towns, particularly around Lake Atitlan, accommodations book up in advance during peak tourist season.