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Guatemala Travel Guide

Welcome to my Guatemala 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 City, 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. In the heart of this vibrant country, Guatemala tourist attractions will amaze you because of its natural wonders and cultural richness.

You have to visit Guatemala to really understand why it is so special, and with the help of a Guatemala 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get back to Guatemala as much as possible and keep this Guatemala travel guide updated, but if you do notice anything out of date please do let me know so I can get it fixed.

You can also check the current update on Guatemala in the Guatemala Travel Advisory site.

Did You Get Insurance Yet?

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you need to be prepared for anything!

The Insurance companies I personally recommend are Hey Mondo and Safety Wing

Hey Mondo is great if you are looking for a great value flexible policy. They offer single trip cover, annual multi trip cover, and long term travel cover.

Safety Wing is great value with monthly cover starting at $39. It’s super easy to use and it just renews each month. I currently use them as they offer me free cover for my son as part of my policy.

Read my full travel insurance post here where I go into detail about the companies. 

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Guatemala travel guide
Guatemala travel guide

Top 10 Things to Do in Guatemala

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Quick Tip: Book accommodation, tours and transport ahead of time online to save money and stress. 

Best Guatemala ToursClick here to check out the top Guatemala tours
Best Guatemala Accommodation: Click here to check out the best accommodation in Guatemala
Best Guatemala Transport: Click here to book a bus, ferry, or train in Guatemala

Guatemala Travel Information

General Information

Guatemala is a country in Central America. It has borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

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 or Guatemala City is one of the cities in Guatemala that isn’t very safe 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. Therefore, it’s important that you understand how to get from Guatemala City to Antigua

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 you do Guatemala vacation 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. 

Guatemala Accommodation

Wondering best places to visit in Guatemala along with some good accommodations?

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 accommodations 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.

It’s also worth noting that in Guatemala there is still a lot of accommodation not on Hostel World or, especially If you are visiting Lake Atitlan.

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

What to do in Guatemala if you don’t know any Spanish? 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.

One of the things to do in Guatemala city is volcano hiking ($10-70 USD), Surfing ($10-20 USD), or visiting Mayan Ruins ($10-25 USD).

I would budget at least \$15 USD a day for many things to do in Guatemala city. and also 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 – 250 Q ($32 USD)

Accommodation: 60Q
Food: 60Q
Activities: 80 Q

Mid Budget – 625 Q ($82 USD)

Accommodation: 250 Q
Food: 150 Q
Activities: 150 Q

Luxury Budget – 1400 Q ($228 USD)

Accommodation: 400 Q
Food: 600 Q
Activities: 200 Q

Recommended Guatemalan Tour Companies

These are companies I 100% recommend booking activities for your Guatemala vacation. 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. 

GottoGO – 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 classes2

4 days in Antigua: A group of people walking down a cobblestone street with colorful umbrellas.

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 City, 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 Heymondo.

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 on your Guatemala vacation, 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

What to do in Guatemala if you’re on a tight budget?

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 have Guatemala vacation 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 budget accommodations in Guatemala City 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.

Eat Local

One of the obvious things to do in Guatemala City is to eat local! 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, market should be considered as one of the places to visit in Guatemala. 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 in Guatemala City, 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 during your Guatemala vacation.

The Indian nose hike offers a breathtaking view of the sun shining over a lake and mountains.

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.

Backpacking In Guatemala Packing List

What to Pack for Central America

What to Pack for Rainy Season in Central America

Or you can just skip ahead and download my free packing list using the form below.

Quick Tip: View my full Guatemala packing guide here including a downloadable checklist. And check out my Guatemala Essentials shopping list here.

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, best time to visit Guatemala as a first timer is during the day. 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

There are 3 places I recommend Selina or Yellow House Hostel if you are looking for a hostel.

For hotels, I recommend Hotel Mesón de María, Barbara’s Boutique Hostel, or Hotel Paseo de la Merced.

Where to Stay in Lake Atitlan

Cristalinas Cafe, Hotel & Restaurant at Lake Atitlan

Lush Atitlan

Circles Hostel – Book direct

Eagle’s Nest Atitlan

Stay here with my friends Julia and Joel at their amazing place!

Where to Stay in Tikal

Jungle Lodge Or  Tikal Inn

Where to Stay in Flores

Los Amigos

Where to Stay in Rio Dulce

El Hotelito Perdido

Where to Stay in Semuc Champe

El Retiro 

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 Guatemala public transport 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 looking for adventurous Guatemala tourist attractions, you could consider taking this public transportation. Plus, if you’re 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 to visit many Guatemala tourist attractions. And it’s not just tourists that use them, you will often 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 GottoGo, going to a Tour Agent, ask at your hostel. Last time I was in Guatemala I booked all of my transport through GottoGo 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, which you can try during your Guatemala vacation. 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 for most cities in Guatemala. They have set prices so check before you get in with a local what you should be paying if possible. 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 for your Guatemala vacation 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.

Guatemala Travel Guide planning

🧳 Any recommendations on what I should pack for Guatemala?

Yes! I have created a whole packing guide to Guatemala which you can read here and you can also check out my packing list for Guatemala on Amazon here.

🚗 Where can I book bus or private transportation while I’m in Guatemala?

I strongly recommend using GottoGo. You can book almost all transport in the major tourist destinations through them online. They don’t just cover buses they also cover shuttles, ferries, and private drivers.

🎫 Where can I buy tickets for museums, attractions, and tours in Guatemala?

I recommend either Viator or GetYour Guide. They have a lot of options!

👩‍⚕️ What is the best insurance to have while traveling?

I recommend using Heymondo for a great value policy. The app also offers you 24/7 Dr Chat. For Digital Nomads check out SafetyWing digital nomad insurance.

I have also written a blog post covering all my recommended travel insurance here

✈️ Any flight recommendations?

WayAWay offers you cheap flights with cashback. You can use this code CLAIRE22 to get 10% off. Otherwise Skyscanner or Expedia are my go-to flight searching platforms.

📱What do you use for internet connection while traveling?

I’m a big fan of personal WiFi devices and they have saved my ass so many times when traveling. I wrote a full review of the top travel WiFi devices you can read here. I personally use GlocalMe as I can either pop in a physical sim card or use their local carrier.

With regards to my phone connection, I use e-sims while traveling, so rather than having to swap out my regular sim card I can download the app and buy a virtual sim card. I recommend using eitherAirhub or Alosim. Both have great coverage of multiple countries and are very easy to use.

🛏️ What is the best platform to use for booking accommodation?

The 3 best platforms that I normally use are,, and Expedia They offer great deals and multiple options. I always check all three to be sure of the best deals.

🛅 Do you have any luggage recommendations for traveling?

I do have a complete list of the best packing and luggage products that I recommend, you can check the list here. I’m currently traveling with this suitcase and this backpack

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. 

Memoirs from the Living Heart of a Mayan Village

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!

Check out My travel books

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