Past student Abigail recalls her time on her Central America Gap Semester with Pacific Discovery in a three-part blog series. In part two, we head to Guatemala!

Guatemala was the part of the trip that I was most excited for and most anxious for.  This was a country I'd never explored before, so I was excited to see a new place. However, I think I had a lot of preconceived notions about Guatemala -- that it was a very poor and humid country, and that our accommodations and living conditions would be extremely rugged. This couldn't have been further from the truth. Besides the camping, which is obviously supposed to be rugged conditions, our accommodations were some of the most comfortable on the trip. Also, Guatemala is the land of "eternal spring" -- the weather is dry, not humid, and sunny, but not sweltering.  Guatemala quickly became my favorite destination on this program, and with this blog post, I hope I will inspire others to visit this fabulous country. 

Mountain hikes and volcanoes on the Central America Gap Semester

We visited various destinations in Guatemala, such as Flores, a colorful island; the Tikal ruins; the Rio Dulce, a highly underrated river; Livingston, a vibrant Afro-Caribbean community; Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala and a stunning colonial city; Volcano Acatenango; and Lake Atitlan, the most beautiful lake in the world.  

We started our trip with the Tikal ruins.  These are ancient and vast Mayan ruins that you can climb upon, a stark contrast to the Tulum ruins in Mexico. We continued our adventure to the Rio Dulce, where we participated in a river and sea kayaking adventure en route to Livingston. This was a very fun and active activity, but be forewarned -- once you hit the ocean, the water can be very choppy and can make for a challenging last portion of the expedition.  

Livingston is certainly less touristy than other parts of Guatemala and we got to spend some time absorbing the local culture. People are incredibly friendly. Additionally, I would recommend "Los Siete Altares" (the Seven Waterfalls). This a beautiful day excursion in Livingston, and as a waterfall lover, I was very happy splashing in the water and jumping off the rocks! Antigua is definitely worth a trip. It is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. It is a highly walkable city adorned with cobblestone streets and brightly colored colonial buildings, not to mention the volcanoes surrounding the city. 

Our most thrilling backpacking trip was by far our adventure up Volcano Acatenango. This six-hour hike was no joke; it was very steep and challenging. However, the feeling you get once you reach the base camp is indescribable. There is nothing like seeing next-door Volcano Fuego erupting from your tent. Additionally, hiking to the summit of Acatenango is very physically demanding: it is cold, windy, and very dusty.  However, standing at 13,000 feet and seeing the world from above the clouds was incredible.  

To finish up our time in Guatemala, we spent our last week at a yoga retreat on the shores of Lake Atitlan. We woke up every morning for yoga at 6:45. In the afternoons, we participated in various activities, such as empowerment workshops, a Temezcal ceremony (a traditional Mayan sauna ceremony), and partner yoga.  One morning, we got to go paddleboarding on the lake, which was beautiful!

As I wrote in my travel journal, Guatemala is "lush, green, mountainous, humble, and kind."  There are few places in the world that can compare to Guatemala's beauty, hospitality, and activities for thrill-seekers.  

Learn more about our Central America Gap Semester here.

by Abigail Hasselbrink

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Author Orla O'Muiri Posted

Category Central America Departure Fall 2023