A quick Guatemala travel guide
Looking for a Guatemala travel guide? Here’s everything you need to know to experience the best of the country.
Guatemala is the heart of the Mayan world. With ruins like Tikal and El Mirador, this country has some of the most important and powerful sites of the entire empire. The diversity of the country allows you to explore lush jungle, wildlife, the Caribbean Sea, active volcanos, mythical lakes and colonial towns.
Guatemalans are generally friendly and helpful, and if you don’t already know Spanish, the cities of Antigua and around Lake Atitlan offer the cheapest (and most popular) classes in the region.
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Guatemala travel guide
In this Guatemala travel guide, I’m sharing the most essential tips and information for a visit to Guatemala. You’ll find the best activities and adventures, budget tips, visa requirements and more.
How to get around
You can get around Guatemala by shuttle bus or public transportation (chicken busses), with the latter being the most affordable, but also lower quality and safety.
You can arrange shuttle busses from most hotels, hostels and travel agencies. Ask around for prices before you book to make sure they’re reasonable.
Best things to do in Guatemala
Here’s a list of the best things to do in Guatemala from volcano climbing to indigenous markets and exploring Mayan temples.
- Explore a UNESCO town. The oldest colonial town and probably the most visited city in Guatemala is Antigua. It’s surrounded by (hikeable) volcanos and coffee fields.
- Visit the most beautiful lake. Lake Atitlan is a beautiful highland lake surrounded by three volcanos and indigenous Mayan people. Most popular places to stay are: San Pedro la Laguna, San Marcos and Panajachel.
- Go to the market. Chichicastenango is the largest native market in North and Central America. It’s open every Tuesday and Sunday, and you can get there from Xela, Antigua and Lake Atitlan with shuttle or chicken busses.
- Discover an indigenous town. Todos Santos in the Guatemalan highlands is predominantly of Mayan descent. It’s one of the only places where indigenous men and women still wear their traditional clothing.
- Visit Semuc Champey. A stunning natural monument that consists of a 300m limestone bridge over the Cahabón River, which is punctuated by stepped, turquoise pools (where you can swim).
- Visit Mayan temples in Tikal. Located in the Peten basin of northern Guatemala, the 222 square mile Tikal National Park is home to some of the greatest archaeological remains of the ancient Mayan civilisation.
- Live with the Garifuna people in Livingston. A small community of the Garifuna People, only accessible by boat.
- Rio Dulce. Popular area to visit because of its scenery and market spot for locals who arrive by canoe.
Best time to go
The best time to visit Guatemala is during the dry season from December to March. Peak months are December and January as everything is still green from the rains, but the sky is clear. April is also a good month to visit due to the Semana Santa (Easter) where you will experience processions and the making of alfombras (sacred carpets made out of dyed sawdust, vegetables and flowers).
Keep in mind that government offices, banks, transportation services and stores are closed or reduced on official holidays.
Guatemala is in a trading agreement with El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, which means that visiting one of these countries gives you a 90-day stay for the entire region. At the moment, most nationalities will get the visa upon arrival. For everyone else, a visa will cost US$25 and needs to be arranged in advance.
Safety in Guatemala
Guatemala is relatively safe. Robberies and kidnappings have been an issue in the outskirts of towns like Antigua and Lake Atitlan and on some of the hiking trails (particularly to viewpoints and volcanoes). Guatemala City is particularly dangerous in the outskirts of town and after dark
Although the safety situation has improved in the last few years, you should still take some safety precautions when traveling in Guatemala. We simply did the below and had a wonderful trip with no safety issues whatsoever.
- Read my general travel safety tips, because many of them will apply here as well
- Do not use public ATMs. Only use ATMs inside secure bank lobbies or hotels.
- Avoid walking after dark (take a tuk tuk)
- Avoid empty streets if possible
- Don’t flash your valuables
- Hire an experienced guide or tour if you want to do a hike (especially to view points and volcanos)
- Take shuttle busses instead of chicken busses. They’re safer and better maintained.
- Don’t hail taxis on the street in Guatemala City. Instead use Taxi Amarillo from the “SAFE” stand from the airport or hotel taxis. Uber is also generally safe to use in Guatemala City and Antigua.
- There are four active volcanoes in Guatemala. Also be aware of the possibility of earthquakes. Read up on the current situation before you visit.
How to travel Guatemala on a budget
Living expenses in Guatemala are pretty cheap. You can easily live for $30-$40 per day, which includes hostel with hot shower and three daily meals.
Here are my best budget tips:
- Bargain – but know when. In supermarkets and stores that have price tags on their items, you can’t bargain the price down. But in most open markets it’s a mistake not to. Vendors automatically increase the price as soon as they see you’re foreign.
- Buy supplies at the local markets. You can buy vegetables, fruits, handicrafts, jade, coffee and much more at local markets in Chichicastenango and Antigua.
- Walk. Most towns in Guatemala are small enough for you to walk around. Unless it’s after dark, save the money for a tuk tuk and take a nice walk instead.
- Eat local. Guatemalan food is both tasty and cheap.
- Buy ‘meal of the day’. Throughout Central America, this concept is a cheap and great opportunity to stay within budget.
- Practice your Spanish. If you speak the language, taxi drivers and local vendors are more likely to expect you to bargain – and thus give you a fair price.
Got questions about my Guatemala travel guide? Ask me in the comments!
More posts from Guatemala you might like
- The ultimate guide to San Pedro la Laguna Guatemala
- A quick Guatemala travel guide
- 15 magical things to do in Antigua Guatemala
- Exploring a colorful Guatemala cemetery (San Pedro la Laguna)
- 17 unique things to do in Lake Atitlan
- How to visit Santiago Atitlán and Maximón (the chain-smoking saint)