Guatemala is an incredible country – the culture is welcoming, vibrant, and rich in preserved traditions and history. I spent a few weeks backpacking through the some of its most beautiful destinations – from Antigua, to Lake Atitlán, to Tikal. Not only is it extremely easy to get around by buses and shuttles, it’s very affordable as well. If you’re considering visiting, here’s what I can tell you to expect: expect the street food to be incredible. Try tacos with fresh, homemade corn tortillas with local children, even if you don’t speak Spanish and they don’t speak English. Eat grilled corn, saturated with lime juice and sea salt, as you browse street-side markets lakeside as the sun sets. Always buy mango from the vendors in Antigua. Always.

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Expect the weather to turn as you’re exploring the far ruins of Tikal. You’ll be devoured by mosquitoes, listening to the screeches and growls from the monkeys in the trees, and quite suddenly startled by lightning bolts striking nearby. The rain will come as a welcome relief to the heat, but don’t be concerned if you get lost running back through the park to catch your bus. You’ll find your way.

Expect your hike up the volcano to require ten times the amount of stamina you thought you trained for. Bring extra snacks. Maybe save some of the banana bread you bought from the women with the basket at the bottom of the hill, instead of eating the entire loaf for breakfast. The view is worth the heart-pounding, breathless ascent – keep hiking, even if when you don’t think you can.

Expect dusk to be the most beautiful time of day. All the colors intensify and then soften to quiet, romantic nights.

Expect the coffee to be incredible too. Drink lots of it. Make room in your backpack for it. Brings lots home.

Expect Lake Atitlan to be the most beautiful lake you’ve ever seen. Expect the boat rides across to be fast and choppy. Hold onto your sunglasses so they don’t fall off.

Last, expect the culture to be welcoming and kind. Expect your tour guides to be funnier and smarter than you are. Expect your posadas and hostels to be very hospitable and personable. Expect to stand out as an American, but more than that, expect to feel right where you belong, even when you’re entirely out of place.

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Dock at Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.

Tikal, Guatemala.

Mother & Child. Antigua, Guatemala.

Mesón de María. Antigua, Guatemala.

Grilled Corn Remnants in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.

Tuk-Tuk Driver. Antigua, Guatemala.

Central Square in Antigua, Guatemala.

Santa Catalina Arch. Antigua, Guatemala.

Doorway in Antigua, Guatemala.

Volcán de Agua. Antigua, Guatemala.