Guatemala and its varied landscapes
Article updated on 06.02.23

Guatemala and its varied landscapes

We’re off to visit our 4th country on this trip. We had no expectations about Guatemala. We just let ourselves go and discovered the country.

We cross the border with our friends Jasper and Lonneke ( It took us quite a long time because the administration to import the car took a long time. After 3 hours at the border, we’re in Guatemala!

The ruins of Tikal

Our first point of interest is the ruins of Tikal. This Mayan archaeological site is located in the middle of Guatemala’s tropical jungle. We were lucky enough to be able to park at the entrance to the park so as to be among the first to enter when it opened at 6am. We woke up before sunrise and set off to explore these magnificent ruins.

We were almost cold in the morning with the mist hanging over the enormous jungle. The atmosphere is just incredible. We are practically alone in the middle of these ruins with the birds, monkeys and coatis. We wander from one site to the next, admiring the beauty of the architecture. We’re really glad we went into the park at 6am because by 11am, when we leave, it’s full of tourists.

The Flores peninsula

After the ruins, we wanted to spend a few days on the shores of Lake Peten Itza at El Remate. Unfortunately this isn’t possible as it has rained so much in the last few days that all the access roads to the lake are under water. So we decided to take the road to Flores, a few kilometres away, and meet up with our friends Jasper and Lonneke. We find a free spot in a car park next to the lake where we can leave the camper while we visit the Flores peninsula. Because of the heavy rain, we can’t walk through all the alleyways, which are flooded with water. That didn’t stop us from admiring this pretty little town with its colourful streets.

New Year's Eve in Rio Dulce

We decide to drive to Rio Dulce, in the east of the country towards Belize and Honduras, to spend New Year’s Eve there. We found a campsite on the shores of Lake Isabal with private access to the water. The site is magnificent. There’s a pier that leads to a small house on pilotis. We feel very lucky and have the impression of having won the lottery with this house on the lake. On the deck, we can relax on sofas. We missed the feeling of sprawling out on a sofa.

There we met up again with the Bishop family, whom we’d seen several times on our trip. They are a Canadian couple travelling with their twin and their dog Palapa.

On New Year’s Day, we cook a delicious pizza and Jasper and Lonneke make sushi. We enjoy ourselves on our terrace on stilts. Around midnight, we watch a fireworks show all around us. It’s perfect, we couldn’t have wished for a better start to 2023.

Visit a coffee plantation in Coban​

After a few days in our lake house, we set off for Coban with Jasp and Lon. We have 200km to drive in 5 hours… the road isn’t paved all the way and it’s very sinuous.

After this long day of driving, we stop at Coffee Tour Chicoj to sleep in their car park. As you can imagine, we took a tour of the coffee plantations and had the chance to taste the local coffee.

A turquoise river at Semuc Champey

By chance, we meet up with our Swiss friends, Seb and Olivia, in Coban. They were travelling with backpacks, so we suggested that we visit Semuc Champey together, which is a 2-hour drive from the city. We set off at 7am to try and get there before the crowds. We have to park the camper in a car park and take a “collectivo” (a taxi-pickup) for the last stretch of road. The road is impracticable with our car.

When we arrived, we didn’t know if we’d have the chance to see the famous turquoise water as it had rained heavily the day before. What we didn’t know was that some of the water is filtered by the forest before it reaches the river. That’s why we were able to admire the turquoise water.

The Chichicastenango market

Here we go again for a long day of driving. We cover 190km in 6 hours… Guatemala’s roads are not the easiest. The town of Chichicastenango is 1965 metres above sea level, so it’s very cool. We’re not used to being cold, but it’s very pleasant. In the evening, we make a campfire with our friends Lon and Jasp, who cook us their incredible pizza!

We’re in this town for a special reason. Every Thursday and Sunday, one of the biggest markets in Central America takes place in the narrow streets of the town. We were blown away by the beauty of the traditional dress of the locals and the colourful stands. We spent several hours wandering around this enormous market.

The lake Atitlan

After the market, it was 3 hours on the road for 60 kilometres… We experienced one of the worst roads of our trip. In fact, the last 20km are a series of very steep curves. We used engine braking and drove very, very slowly to avoid burning our brakes.

After this very stressful route, we were rewarded by the view from our campsite. We could see the lake surrounded by volcanoes and it was magnificent! The cherry on the top is that we’re still quite high up and the evenings are chilly. The place reminds us of Switzerland. We really feel at home here and are always well accompanied 😉

We stayed a few days and took water taxis to visit the small villages around the lake. They all have a certain charm. The experience of being transported by boat is quite exceptional.

The highlight of our trip, the Acatenango volcano

One of Guatemala’s best-known activities is hiking up the Acatenango volcano. This volcano offers a breathtaking view of the Fuego volcano, which is still active. It has the particularity of exploding several times a day, but some times it is quieter than others. Will we be lucky enough to see the lava?

We chose to do this trek over two days with a guide so that we could sleep in a camp and climb to the top of the volcano at sunrise. The day before the hike, we slept in a small village close to the start of the hike. Being at 2256 metres, this gave us a chance to acclimatise to the altitude. We’ve rented walking sticks and gloves because they’re predicting very cold temperatures (below zero) at the summit. We packed our warmest clothes and several litres of water.

We started the hike at 2256 metres around 9am. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t with us. The clouds are low, we can’t see any scenery and it’s raining at times… The good thing is that we’re not too hot. We took several breaks during the climb to avoid altitude sickness. The climb is very steep and we’re out of breath from the altitude. During the lunch break, we were all frozen. It was very cold and we saw no scenery to cheer us up. After a 5-hour walk, we reached the camp at 3400 metres.

At times, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Fuego between the clouds, but only for a few seconds each time.

In the back of our minds, we’re worried that the clouds won’t go away. We’re prepared to stay an extra night in case the sky doesn’t clear and we miss our chance to see the volcano erupt. We really want to see this unique spectacle.

The afternoon was quite long, as there was no sun and we were half in the fog. Our spirits were a bit low as we could hardly see the Fuego. When night fell, we couldn’t see a thing and were very, very cold. It was -10 degrees and we didn’t have the right clothes for this kind of climate. The guides built us a campfire to warm us up, but it was so windy that we were suffocated by the smoke. We took refuge in our “room”, sheltered from the wind. The room is built with 4 plastic sheets as walls and a few pieces of wood for the bunk beds, nothing luxurious. We eat a typical dish of spaghetti with red bean paste and chips. It warms us up a bit. Around 9pm, we try to get some sleep as the fog is still there. It’s frustrating because we can hear the Fuego exploding, but we can’t see anything at all.

At 2am, Benji wakes up and sees through our wall of sheets that the fog has lifted. We get up and see the Fuego. A few minutes later, we see an explosion! We wake everyone up and settle in for the rest of the night to witness this surreal spectacle!

At 4am, we get ready to climb to the top of the Acatenango volcano to watch the sunrise. The climb was tough, as we were freezing, had hardly slept, the ground was very slippery and the altitude was taking a strong toll. During the climb, we continued to watch the Fuego erupt. It’s magical!

At the summit, at 3,976 metres, we found a rock to shelter us from the wind and witnessed one of the most incredible sunrises of our lives. We’re so happy. It’s magnificent!

Then, when it’s light again, we head back down to the camp to have breakfast in the sun and get ready for the way down. The path is very steep and we decide to jog to rest our knees. By the time we reach the bottom we’re exhausted, but we’re the happiest people in the world.

The beautiful city of Antigua

Many travellers have told us that Antigua is the most beautiful city in Central America. And to be honest, we can’t contradict them. The old town is all paved and the houses are colourful. The alleyways are filled with cafés, shops and restaurants, each one prettier than the other.

We were lucky enough to be able to stay for free in the garden/parking area of the tourist police office in the centre of town. The place is secure and we meet several travellers who stay in the same place.

We stayed for several days, taking time out in the cafés to organise the rest of our trip. We took the opportunity to try out different cafés and restaurants, much to the delight of all of our taste buds 😉

Guatemala's capital city

One step we would have preferred to avoid was a visit to Guatemala City. It’s not very safe, the traffic is terrible and there’s not much to do. With its huge buildings, it doesn’t represent the country at all.

Unfortunately, we had to go there to repair two problems with our car, which we’d been lugging around since Mexico. We were advised to go to a garage run by a Guatemalan/German family.

The advantage of this garage for us is that we can speak English with the owners. Since the end of Mexico, we’ve already seen 3 garage owners and none of them were able to solve our problem because of the language barrier. The other advantage of this garage is that we can sleep on site. So we don’t need to stay in a hotel.

So we made an appointment for Tuesday morning so that all the problems could be sorted out before the end of the week. Unfortunately, when we arrived, nobody knew we were there. All the staff were busy and couldn’t deal with us until the following day.

Friday, the car is ready. We set off with the car, but as we drove through the town, we noticed that the problems were still there… We were disappointed, because we’d just spent a week at the garage and had to pay a certain amount of money. We decide to go back to the garage to tell them about it, and they tell us to come back on Monday.

We head back to Antigua for the weekend and come back to the garage on Sunday evening, hoping that they’ll be able to take care of us first thing Monday morning. Fortunately, they’ve taken good care of us. We have access to wifi, a hot shower and even a washing machine for our dirty clothes. What luxury! The owner took time to show us around the town and made sure that everything was running smoothly every day.

After several tests, they finally found one of our problems. It had to do with the fuel injection regulator. A sensor had to be changed because it was no longer working properly. The second problem was with the rear suspension. We have to go to a specialist who will add a new suspension leaf. The weight of the camper on the rear of the pickup is too much and this extra leaf will help to harden and strengthen the suspension.

On Saturday morning, we can hit the road and set off to discover a new country: El Salvador!

When we arrived in Guatemala, we had no expectations and yet we fell under the charm of this country. The people are incredibly friendly and the landscapes are extremely varied. We can’t recommend visiting this country enough!