First Impressions of Guatemala

First Impressions: Cruising through the streets of Guatemala
My Kind of Travel: Cruising through the streets of Guatemala with locals

I can’t help but to smile as my ass takes a pounding while we cruise through the side streets of rural Sololá.

The roads are gutted, the ride is long and the cold rain is just starting to pierce through my second layer and down my back, making my nipples rock hard. I couldn’t be happier.

Not so much for the diamond cutters, but because I’m happy with the moment: Riding on the back of a Honda Enduro, in the middle of nowhere with a couple of local guys as we speed past rubber trees and sugar cane deep into the jungle to meet business owners who will receive loans from Kiva.

It’s on the back of this weathered moto where I lurch over my Guatemalan driver and collect my thoughts about my arrival and how I got to this moment.

Like every other country I’ve been to before, I knew little to nothing about it before I arrived. Just the way I like it.

My time in the capital city was brief. I was told over and over again that there was nothing to see or do in Guatemala City except get into trouble, so I took the first bus I could find out of there and headed straight for Sololá.

The view of Solola Guatemala and Lake Atitlan
New Home: The View of Solola and Lake Atitlan

Solola nestles itself into a patch of lush green hills and overlooks beautiful Lake Atitlan and the massive volcanoes that protect it. The town consists of two main streets, a main plaza and a centralized market that offers fresh fruit, CDs and fried chicken, among other things. There are dogs everywhere and not a tourist in sight. Many residents dress in traditional Mayan garb unique to the region, women carry their wares on their heads, and men transport a ridiculous amount on their backs with the help of leather straps around their foreheads.

It’s the smallest town I’ve called home base since starting this travel adventure three years ago. The location, as well as the trip is different in many ways.

Working with Kiva and their field partners gives me the opportunity to directly connect with locals from day one and work side-by-side with them to help facilitate small businesses in the region.

On our second day of working together, I ventured to the Pacific Coast, four hours away from Sololá to visit three new clients and witness first hand how the organization I’m working with operates. The local team I’m working with showed me around the region in between meetings and at night a few friends and I crashed in a dodgy little hotel on the outskirts of town and got to know each other over a few national beers called Gallo.

The National Beer of Guatemala is Gallo
Male Bonding.

So it’s here, on the back of this glorified dirt bike that seems to find every pot hole and road bump, that I catch myself smiling over the circumstances. The one thing I crave most from each adventure is the authenticity of the experience. Finding a way to peek inside the lives of local individuals to gain an understanding of what life is really like in a foreign place.

I smile because I think I’ve caught a glimpse already and I’m happy because I think Guatemala has a whole lot more to show me.

My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!


  1. I lived in San Pedro for several months a couple of years ago and helped these guys to build their website

    If you guys are looking for good organizations to work with, I strongly suggest you contact them. Javier is a great guy and very genuine about helping educate youth.

    Enjoy Atitlan. Man, that is an incredible lake!

    1. Thanks for the info Matt, I’ve been planning a trip over to San Pedro so I’ll have to check them out. Their site looks great by the way, nice work.

  2. Sounds like an excellent start! Interested to hear more about the Kiva projects.

    The Lake Atitlan area is incredible. It’s too bad you didn’t spend more time in Guatemala City though, it’s really not as bad as all the travel rumors that get passed around about it. Plenty to see. Shoot me an email if you plan to be back there and I’ll give you some tips.

    If you can, make sure to hike Volcano San Pedro for a ridiculous view of the lake and surrounding volcanoes! 🙂
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