Guatemala Travel Guide
Welcome to my Guatemala travel guide. I created its in-depth guide to help you plan your Guatemala vacation. Feel free to skip around to the relevant sections. For more in-depth blog posts click the in-article links to learn more.
Oh Guatemala, my first love. Guatemala was the first country I visited when I took off for a new life as a Digital Nomad little did I know that my short trip to Guatemala to learn Spanish would end in what I am sure will be a lifelong love affair!
All in all, I spent 9 months in Guatemala and I try and return once a year to keep this blog updated and get my annual dose of Guatemalan magic.
So what makes Guatemala so magical and why did I write this Guatemala travel guide?
Honestly, I don’t know that I can really describe it in words, but to me, Guatemala feels like the center of the earth. Situated on the meeting point of 3 tectonic plates, if the earth isn’t trembling from them then it’s moving with the rumbling of the volcanos.
You have to visit Guatemala to really understand why it is so special, and with the help of Guatemala travel guide, I hope to help make your Guatemala vacation planning that bit easier!
NOTE: As I said I do try and get back to Guatemala as much as possible and keep this Guatemala travel guide updated, but if you do notice anything out of date please do let me know so I can get it fixed.
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Guatemala Travel Information
Guatemala is home to volcanos, rainforests, Coffee farms, and some of the most important Mayan sites in the world.
The capital of Guatemala is Guatemala City, normally referred to as Guate.
Because Guate isn’t a very safe city to visit most travelers skip it and opt to spend most of their time in the colonial city of Antigua or the mesmerizing Lake Atitlán.
The curency in Guatemala is the Guatemalan quetzal (Q)
The dialing code of Guatemala is +502
The water is not safe to drink from the tap in Guatemala, however, you will find water filters everywhere so no need to buy bottled water. Just bring your water bottle.
In my opinion, Guatemala is great for all types of travelers, of course, there are things you need to know when traveling to Guatemala with children that will make it easier for you. And if you prefer staying in 5* luxury, maybe this isn’t the best place for you to travel.
Try not to expect too much with accommodation in Guatemala and you will be ok. If you get hot water, think of that as a bonus! Most often than not the showers are these crazy electric things with wires hanging out that work when they want to and you may get a little electric tingle to wake you up in the morning. Almost all accommodation will have wifi but do double-check before booking, especially when you are in some of the more remote places like Rio Dulce or Semuc Champey.
One thing to look out for is a kitchen, most hostels in Guatemala don’t have a kitchen. so If you want to save money by cooking then check before booking.
Almost all of the hostels or hotels in Guatemala are cash only and you will be able to pay in either local currency or USD (must be clean and with no rips at all).
For a bed in a dorm expect to pay $10 USD if you want a private room in a dorm then you are looking at around $15 USD. Or if you prefer to stay in a hotel expect to pay around $20 USD.
Food in Guatemala
Food in Guatemala is generally good. Expect to eat a lot of rice beans and eggs though!
Best Things To Do In Guatemala
Most people come to Guatemala for cheap Spanish classes. So if you want to take a week of 121 classes here studying for 2 hours a day expect to pay about $95 USD a week. You can get a head start on learning Spanish by signing up for this travel Spanish course created by Heart of Travel based in Guatemala.
I would budget at least $15 USD a day for activities if you want to do all of the hikes and fun tours to Tikal and Semuc Champe. Somedays you will spend less of course, and some days more.
Guatemala budget per day:
Backpackers Budget – 350 Q ($37 USD)
Accommodation: 100 Q
Food: 150 Q
Activities: 100 Q
Mid Budget – 550 Q ($60 USD)
Accommodation: 200 Q
Food: 200 Q
Activities: 150 Q
Luxury Budget – 800 Q ($105 USD)
Accommodation: 400 Q
Food: 200 Q
Activities: 200 Q
Recommended Guatemalan Tour Companies
These are companies I 100% recommend booking activities with In Guatemala. they are all at least part-owned by Guatemalans and I know they all pay their staff well and give back to the community.
Heart Of Travel – Cultural tours and activities, both day and multi-day.
OX Expeditions – Volcanos, surfing, Mountain biking, and any other adrenalin activity you might want to do in Antigua and Lake Atitlan.
GuateGo – These are the guys with who you can book all of your transport online. They also let you book tours to some of the main attractions and even Spanish classes.
Guatemala Safety Advice
The first thing I want to say is don’t believe everything you read in the media when planning your Guatemala vacation. And please DON’T listen to anyone who hasn’t actually been there themselves. I swear there were so many people who warned me off traveling to Guatemala telling me it was too dangerous to travel there. And you know what, not one of those people had actually been, they just read about it somewhere.
I wrote a whole post on safety in Guatemala that you can read here. I keep this post regularly updated to reflect any current security risks.
But one thing I know for sure is that you should never travel to Guatemala without some kind of insurance. There is no free healthcare from foreign visitors there so if anything should happen to you you will end up with a very large bill without insurance. There are 2 travel insurance companies I recommend SafetyWing and World Nomads.
SafetyWing is insurance specifically for Digital Nomads which renews every month. Whereas World Nomads is more for Backpackers. You can read the full review I wrote about long term travel insurance here.
Guatemala Money Saving Tips
Take Some Spanish Classes
If you want to save money then one sure-fire way to do so is to take some Spanish classes. It’s amazing how things magically become cheaper when you speak to the person selling those things in their language. From getting the right fare from the taxi driver to haggling at the market, think of the money spent on learning Spanish as an investment. Read this to learn more about my experience of learning Spanish in Guatemala. You can also now take a basic travel Spanish course completely online with Heart of Travel. This way you will already have a decent foundation before you arrive. Click here to learn more.
Look Out For Hostels With Kitchens
It’s not all that common believe it or not for hostels in Guatemala to have. kitchen. So if you want to save money by cooking for yourself then I would strongly suggest checking before booking.
Save money on accommodation using Worldpackers
This is how I was able to stay in Guatemala for almost a year rent-free! It’s not expensive to join and if you join through my link and use the discount code in this blog post you get some money off… you’re welcome!
Not all accommodation is online
Some of the really budget accommodations aren’t online, especially around Lake Atitlan. So if you don’t see what like online take a chance and turn up. sometimes they will give you a discount booking directly on the day.
It’s pretty obvious really, but I’m going to say it anyway. Eat at the local places, or from the street food carts and you will save a lot of money.
Shop At The Market
The supermarkets can be expensive in Guatemala so always shop at the market first, then if you can’t find what you are looking for head to the supermarket or tienda.
Don’t Buy Bottled Water
Although the water isn’t safe to drink directly from the tap, almost all businesses including hostels have big water filters that are perfectly safe to drink from and they will almost always provide it for free. Although some hostels may ask for a small fee if you want to fill up large water bottles. So be sure to bring a good water bottle with you.
Guatemala Packing Advice
Wondering what to pack for Guatemala? I got you. I’ve done 2 full blog posts outlining everything you need to pack for Guatemala depending on the season.
Or you can just skip ahead and download my free packing list using the form below.
Where to Stay in Guatemala
It’s important to do some research before booking your accommodation in Guatemala. Especially if you a solo female traveler as you do need to be careful in many areas at night. All of the places I recommend below are in the best areas and I have either personally stayed there, or I know someone that has and it comes highly recommended. I wrote a complete guide to accommodation in Guatemala City if you do decide to stay there.
Where to Stay in Antigua
Where to Stay in Lake Atitlan
Circles Hostel – Book direct
Where to Stay in Tikal
Where to Stay in Flores
Where to Stay in Rio Dulce
Where to Stay in Semuc Champe
Traveling in Guatemala
If there is one thing that lets traveling in Guatemala down compared to other countries it’s traveling from place to place. Don’t get me wrong, it’s getting better each year, but most of the time you will be traveling in minivans without AC for long distances on bumpy roads, so brace yourself and take a read of this guide to surviving long bus journeys!
In general, the ‘public transport’ options available to you in Guatemala are as follows:
Chicken Bus – This is the local bus used by Guatemalan people to travel around the country. It’s great for some routes but if you want to go long distances it can be uncomfortable and you may have many changes making it a slow way to travel. However, if you are up for an adventure, on a tight budget, and don’t have any time constraints then it’s a great way to travel.
Tourist Bus – This is the normal way that most backpackers travel in Guatemala. And it’s not just tourists that use them, you will oftern also see Guatemalans using these buses. It’s a very cheap way of traveling and it will save you a lot of time as they all go direct. They do run on a schedule, although they are often delayed depending on traffic, so always give yourself a few extra travel hours.
Most of the time the ‘bus’ is actually a minivan and they will pick you up either from a central meeting point or from your hotel. They will need to be booked in advance, often the evening before is fine. There are generally 3 ways of booking these buses, though GuateGo, going to a Tour Agent, ask at your hostel. Last time I was in Guatemala I booked all of my transport through GuateGo and although it is a little bit more expensive you can book using your debit or credit card and they have customer help available in English pretty much 24/7 which I was oh so grateful for!
Taxi – Out of all of the methods of transport in Guatemala, I think the only one I’ve never used is a taxi! Believe it or not, they just aren’t all that common. You will see them parked up in the square in Antigua but I’ve never personally needed to use one. The taxis will take you to the airport or longer distances. Be careful taking taxis at night, and always arrange the price before you get in unless they are using a meter.
Uber – This is much more common than taking a taxi. People generally use Uber to get from the airport to Antigua, or if they want to visit the neighboring villages around Antigua. You would struggle to find Uber in most places outside of Guatemala City or Antigua though.
Tuk Tuk – This is going to be the most common mode of transport you will use. They have set prices so check before you get in with a local what you should be paying if possible. And always confirm the fair before starting the ride. If you want to take a Tuk Tu after dark alone I would strongly recommend asking a local for a number of a trusted driver. They will almost certainly have one.
Launch – or a boat, is the main mode of transportation around Lake Atitlan. The prices are set and it’s safe and easy to travel this way. It’s also a hell of a lot more comfortable than going by road, most of the time. When possible avoid traveling in the afternoon as things can get pretty bumpy when the wind picks up later in the day.
The Best Time To Visit Guatemala
This is a hard one. In all honesty there is no bad time to visit Guatemala. I spent almost a year living there and loved the rainy season as much as the dry. Yes if you travel there during Rainy Season you may run into a few issues trying to travel from place to place, or do some trips like hiking Acatenango. But not always, and honestly Guatemala is so much more beautiful during the rainy months because everything is lush and green.
Probably the only 2 times during the year I would actively avoid is December as it’s pretty cold, and Semana Santa (easter) because it’s mental! Accommodation is impossible to find or super expensive and travel is often disrupted due to the roads being shut down for parades.
The high season in Guatemala is January through May.
The rainy season in Guatemala is from May until September.
September through November is nice but the weather can be cooler and there is some rain.
So if you want to visit Guatemala when it’s nice and green and not too expensive then September to November is a good shout.
What to Read in Guatemala
I couldn’t not include this Lonely Planet Guide to Guatemala in the reading list.
I’m not always a fan of these kind of travel guides as they are oftern out of date. I learned this more than once the hard way! But they do serve a purpose and it’s always nice to have one actual book that you can use to plan before your trip as well as having something to read when the battery dies on your kindle!
Although you can also get most of these Lonely Planet Guidebooks free as part of a kindle unlimited subscription.
Rigoberta Menchú is quite possibly the most internationally well known Guatemalan. She is a indigenous feminist and human rights activist who won a Nobel Peace Prize.
Her book I, Rigoberta Menchú is now a global bestseller and she has dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of the Indigenous people in Guatemala both during and after the civil war.
This book is a reflection on her personal experiences during the civil war in Guatemala when her mother, father, and brother were murdered by the Guatemalan military.
If you have an interest in the history of Guatemala then read this book. It’s both heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measures.
I was given this book to read while I was dog sitting in Lake Atitlan and I can’t even tell you how much I loved it. I knew the Lake well by then so reading this book really brought those places to life for me.
The book is based on the life of the author Martin Prechtel who somehow found himself on an incredible journey from New Mexico in the USA to a small Mayan Village in Guatemala where he became a shaman.
Read this book. You won’t regret it!
Ok so maybe A Short History of Guatemala isn’t the most riveting read. But it really is interesting, especially for all of you history buffs out there.
It’s easy to read and gives you a good overview on the good, the bad, and the ugly of Guatemalas history.
The book mostly focuses on the ninetieth and twentieth centuries. It is a little dates now, but it still does the job!