Guatemala

Short on time? Here are our Guatemala top recommendations:

Places: Antigua for a charming colonial city,
Lake Atitlán for a stunning lakeside setting with charming small towns and outdoor activities,
Tikal for fascinating Mayan ruins.

Activities: book your Guatemala Tours with Get Your Guide.

Accommodation: we use Booking.com to find the best hotels.

Flights: find cheapest flights with cashback on WayAway.

Airport Lounge Access: start your holiday the right way with Priority Pass.

Travel Medical Insurance: SafetyWing Nomad Insurance is the ideal choice for long-term travellers and digital nomads.

Why you should go to Guatemala

Guatemala is the birthplace of chocolate! Moreover, it is filled with rugged natural beauty, charming cities and rich Mayan culture. Set on the ring of fire, Guatemala has an impressive 37 active volcanoes! With mountainous terrain, travel times within the country can be long and arduous. However if you make the journey you will be rewarded with an unforgettable travel experience. Guatemala is a great low cost destination. Unsurprisingly it is also a popular spot on the Central America backpacker trail. It was one of our favourite countries in the region, and it will be yours too! This Guatemala travel guide will give you everything you need to know to plan your next Guatemala trip.

Woman Standing In Front Of Santa Catalina Arch Antigua Guatemala
Santa Catalina Arch

Guatemala travel guide: Know before you go

Basic info about Guatemala

  • Language – Spanish. Many tour operators and hotel staff speak English in popular tourist areas. However if you prefer travelling and shopping local you will need a basic understanding of Spanish.
  • Currency – Guatemalan quetzal (GTQ). Many hotels and restaurants also accept United States dollars (USD). Keep in mind you will generally get better rates if you pay in quetzales. ATMs in some areas of Guatemala such as Antigua dispense both quetzales as well as US dollars.
  • Population – 16.86 million (2020)
  • Area – 108,889 km2
  • Capital – Guatemala City
  • Emergency number – 1500 (bilingual operator)
  • Police number – 110

Utilities in Guatemala

  • Electricity – Guatemala uses Types A and B power plugs. This is also the same plug type as the United States. The country operates on a 120v supply voltage at 60Hz. Power outages are not uncommon. Fortunately they generally don’t last for too long.
  • Water – the tap water in Guatemala is not safe to drink. However your accommodation will usually provide bottles of purified water for guests to use.
  • Toilets – sit-down flushing toilets are the most common type of toilet in Guatemala. Don’t flush your toilet paper. Instead, use the bins provided. Public toilets are not common in Guatemala. However you can usually find toilets in cafes and restaurants.
  • Telephone country code: +502

Where is Guatemala?

Guatemala is a country in Central America. It is shares land borders with Mexico, BelizeEl Salvador as well as Honduras. Guatemala has a long coastline along the Pacific Ocean. It also has a short coastline on the Caribbean Sea.

Entry requirements for Guatemala

El Salvador is covered by the Central America Border Control Agreement (also known as CA-4). The CA-4 Agreement covers travel to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

These are the general entry requirements for the CA-4 countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua):

  • You need whatever visas are required for your specific country to enter the CA-4 area. Most travellers can enter the CA-4 area visa free if they are staying for less than 90 days
  • Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months from your date of entry and must have at least one blank visa page
  • You need proof of funds for your proposed stay
  • You must purchase a tourist card on entry. This costs $12 USD (as at April 2024)
  • You may also need a return ticket or proof of onward travel to another country

How to get to Guatemala

Guatemala travel guide: arriving overland

Land border crossings for Guatemala

Guatemala has land borders with Mexico, Belize, El Salvador as well as Honduras.

The border between Guatemala and Mexico constitutes much of the western and northern boundary of Central America within North America. There are 10 official border crossings between Guatemala and Mexico:

  • Ciudad Hidalgo, Chipas Mexico – Ciudad Tecún Umán, San Marcos Guatemala
  • Talismán, Chipas Mexico – El Carmen, San Marcos Guatemala
  • Union Juárez, Chipas Mexico = Toquían Grande, San Marcos Guatemala
  • Mazapa de Madero, Chipas Mexico – Sibinal, San Marcos Guatemala
  • Ciudad Cuahtemoc, Chipas Mexico – La Mesilla, Huehuetenango Guatemala
  • Carmen Xhán, Chipas Mexico – Gracias a Dios, Huehuetenango Guatemala
  • Nuevo Orizaba, Chipas Mexico – Ingenieros, El Quiché Guatemala
  • Frontera Corozal, Chipas Mexico – Bethel, Petén Guatemala
  • El Ceibo, Tabasco Mexico – El Ceibo, Petén Guatemala
  • El Martillo, Tabasco Mexico – El Naranjo, Petén Guatemala

There is one main land border crossing between Guatemala and Belize:

  • Beque Viejo del Carmen, Cayo District Belize and Melchor de Mencos, Petén Guatemala (we have done this border crossing)

There are 4 main land border crossings between Guatemala and El Salvador:

  • La Hachadura, Ahuachapán El Salvador – Ciudad Pedro de Alvarado, Jutiapa Guatemala
  • Las Chinamas, Ahuachapán El Salvador – Valle Nuevo Guatemala, Jutiapa Guatemala
  • Anguiatú, between El Molino, Guatemala and El Panal, El Salvador
  • San Cristόbal, between El Progreso, Guatemala and Santa Ana, El Salvador

There are 3 main land border crossings between Guatemala and Honduras:

  • Corinto, between Puerto Barrios, Guatemala and Omoa, Honduras
  • Agua Caliente, between Esquipulas, Guatemala and Nueva Ocotepeque, Honduras
  • El Florido, between Chiquimula, Guatemala and Copán Ruinas, Honduras

Guatemala land border transport

The main transport options for travelling overland to Guatemala are:

  • Private vehicle
  • Private transport operator
  • Shuttle bus
  • Local transport – by far the cheapest option is to take public transport. Keep in mind that local transport is also a slower option. Furthermore, you may need to take multiple buses to get to your required destination.

Guatemala travel guide: arriving by air

There are two international airports in Guatemala:

  • La Aurora International Guatemala Airport in Guatemala City (Airport code GUA). This is the 4th busiest airport in Central America. Guatemala Airport is a hub for the airlines Avianca Guatemala as well as Transportes Aereos Guatemaltecos.
  • Mundo Maya International Airport in Flores, Petén (Airport code FRS). This airport services areas such as Flores as well as the Mayan ruins of Tikal. It also services the neighbouring country Belize.

Guatemala travel guide: arriving by sea

Cruise Critic

A number of cruises visit Guatemala. On the Pacific Coast they dock at Puerto Quetzal. Additionally, on the Caribbean Coast they dock at Puerto Santo Tomás de Castilla.

Guatemala travel guide: How to get around Guatemala

Local transport in Guatemala

Local buses are the cheapest way to get around Guatemala. The local buses are called camionetas. Tourists often refer to these as chicken buses. The bus network is very affordable but slow going. However taking a bus in Guatemala is an experience in itself. It is also an excellent way to become immersed in the local culture. The buses in Guatemala are old US school buses. These repurposed buses are painted in vibrant colours. A one way ticket costs around 2 quetzales (around US$0.30). To get more details on buses in Guatemala, we recommend visiting this website.

Local Bus Antigua Guatemala, Red Old School Bus Central America
Colourful Local Bus

Publico boats on Lake Atitlán

To get in between the villages on Lake Atitlán you will need to catch a boat. The cheapest option are the publico boats. A boat ride on a publico boat will cost you between 10 and 25 quetzales per person. The price depends on how far along the lake you go. Publico boats are reasonably frequent. Alternatively, you may be able to pay publico prices for a private boat if they are going in that direction anyway. Make sure you confirm the price before your trip. You pay the fare at the end of your journey. Importantly, take care when getting in and out of the boats. This is because it can be a bit tricky stepping from a rocky boat onto the pier. With this in mind, we wouldn’t recommend the publico boats for mobility impaired travellers.

Boat at Wharf at Santa Cruz Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Wharf at Santa Cruz

Minibuses in Guatemala

Minibuses operate between major tourist destinations in Guatemala. You can often book these shuttle buses through your accommodation. Alternatively you can also book them through tour operators. Keep in mind that travel times are long due to the mountainous terrain in Guatemala as well as the road conditions. We’d recommend not planning activities on travel days as travel times can vary considerably.

As an example of costs and travel times in Guatemala, here are some of the minibus trips that we took (prices as at 2024):

  • Flores to Lanquín – 225 quetzales per person for an 8 hour bus ride
  • Lanquín to Antigua – 225 quetzales per person for an 8 hour bus ride
  • Antigua to Lake Atitlán – 125 quetzales per person for a 3 to 4 hour bus ride
Minibus from Flores to Lanquin Guatemala
Minibus from Flores to Lanquin Guatemala

Vehicle hire in Guatemala

Bicycles, Motorcycles, ATVs, Cars and SUVs can all be hired in Guatemala. Expect to pay around:

  • US$45-75 a day for a bicycle (mountain bike)
  • US$25-90 a day for a motorcycle
  • US$50-60 a day for an ATV
  • US$15-70 a day for a car
  • US$30-100 a day for an SUV

In Guatemala, they drive on the right hand side of the road. The roads in Guatemala can be challenging. This is due to the mountainous terrain as well as the road conditions. While there is work going in to improve the road infrastructure, there are still dirt roads to popular tourist destinations such as Semuc Champey. Furthermore, in the rainy season the roads can become flooded. We would recommend getting an SUV if you want to drive in Guatemala. Additionally, avoid driving at night. This is because the roads are not well lit and animals such as cattle, horses and stray dogs may be on the road.

Taxis and Tuk-Tuks in Guatemala

Taxis and Tuk-Tuks are common in Guatemala.

Ride-share services in Guatemala

Uber, inDriver as well as CarpoolWorld are rideshare services that operate in Guatemala.

Domestic flights around Guatemala

There are 3 commercial airports operating in Guatemala:

  • La Aurora International Guatemala Airport in Guatemala City (Airport code GUA). This is the closest airport to Guatemala City, Antigua and Lake Atitlán.
  • Mundo Maya International Airport in Flores, Petén (Airport code FRS). This airport services areas such as Flores, the Mayan ruins of Tikal as well as the neighbouring country Belize.
  • Puerto Barrios (Airport code PBR) – This is on the Caribbean Coast. It is also close to borders with Belize and Honduras.

The domestic airline of Guatemala is TAG Airlines (Transportes Aéreos Guatemaltecos). The main domestic route in Guatemala is between Guatemala City and Flores. This is a good option for seeing the northern part of Guatemala if you are short on time. Travelling this route by road can take the best part of one day. Conversely, the flight time is only one hour. Flights cost around US$100 per person one way.

The other destination available in Guatemala is Puerto Barrios (Airport code PBR). It is a one hour flight from Guatemala City. Flights cost a bit over US$100 per person one way.

Guatemala travel guide: How long to spend in Guatemala

The most common visa is a CA4-90 day visa. This grants you access to Guatemala, HondurasEl Salvador as well as Nicaragua for a maximum of 90 days total. 2 weeks in Guatemala is a good amount of time to see the major destinations. However if you have the time, we recommend devoting more time to this beautiful country to see all that it has to offer. We spent 2 weeks in Guatemala and we would have happily spent a lot more time in this beautiful country.

Best time to visit Guatemala

The best time to visit Guatemala is during the dry season from November to April. In particular, Guatemala is busiest for tourism between December and March. Prices are at their highest in the month of January as well as during Easter. For those planning to visit Guatemala during these months, it’s wise to book well in advance to secure accommodation.

If you want to avoid the crowds as well as high season prices, the cheapest time to visit Guatemala is during the low season in the months of May and August. This is the rainy season in Guatemala, however the rain usually only lasts a couple of hours a day during the late afternoon in the most popular tourist destinations.

Guatemala travel guide: Best areas to visit in Guatemala

Guatemala is full of amazing Mayan ruins, stunning waterways, spectacular volcanoes as well as a UNESCO world heritage city. The most popular areas to visit in Guatemala include:

  • Mayan Ruins – Tikal
  • UNESCO world heritage city – Antigua
  • Lakes and natural pools – Lake Atitlán and Semuc Champey
  • Islands – Flores
  • Volcanoes – Acatenango and Fuego Volcanoes, Pacaya Volcano, Volcan Atitlán
  • Beaches – Monterrico, Livingston, Playa Tilapa
View of campground on Acatenango Volcano, Sun rising over Pacaya Volcano Guatemala, clouds surrounding Pacaya Volcano
Imagine waking up to this!

Weather in Guatemala

Guatemala is a tropical country with a dry and wet season. The dry season is between November and April. The dry season is the best time to visit.

The mountain regions in Guatemala such as Antigua and Lake Atitlán have milder climates. Additionally, Guatemala has a hurricane season which generally runs from June to November. However hurricanes  mainly affect the Caribbean side of Guatemala.

Internet and mobile phones in Guatemala

The main internet and phone companies in Guatemala are Tigo and Claro. Tigo has the widest coverage but is slightly more expensive. Both currently operate on 4G. Movistar is another common provider. As of April 2024, Guatemala was ranked 78th in the world for mobile internet speed and 101st for fixed broadband speed. However high speed optic fibre internet is available in some areas of Guatemala. Additionally, free wifi comes standard with most accommodation. You can also find free wifi in many restaurants and cafes catered to tourists.Cell phone SIM cards can be bought in many places throughout Guatemala.

How much to budget for Guatemala?

Guatemala travel guide: Daily spend for a couple travelling in Guatemala

Guatemala is a great value budget destination. Additionally it also caters to those after a more luxurious experience. As a rough guide, we recommend the following budgets for a couple:

  • Low-budget daily spend – US$35 per day for a couple will get you hostel accommodation, meals at local eateries and markets, local transport and free or cheap activities such as pub trivia, going to the beach and entry to the national park areas.
  • Mid-range daily spend – US$100 per day for a couple will get you mid-range accommodation, local transport or shuttles and a few tours during your trip.
  • Luxury spend – $500 per day for a couple will get you a premium experience in Guatemala. This includes staying at luxury resorts, travelling by private transport, doing a range of tours as well as eating at high end restaurants.

Guatemala travel guide: Accommodation in Guatemala

Guatemala has a good range of accommodation to suit all budgets. Airbnb also operates in Guatemala. Long-term fully furnished rentals are also available in areas like AntiguaLake Atitlán and Guatemala City.

For short-term accommodation, a general price per night is as follows:

  • Budget accommodation – US$5-15 for dorm accommodation
  • Mid-range accommodation – US$15-40 for a private room, sometimes with breakfast included
  • Luxury accommodation – US$60-200 a night for a luxury hotel
  • Rental property – US$200-350 a night for a fully furnished 3-5 bedroom home
Bedroom Casa Kaktus Santa Cruz Guatemala
Bedroom Casa Kaktus Santa Cruz

Guatemala travel guide: Food in Guatemala

The main tourist areas in Guatemala are full of great cafes and restaurants. Guatemala also has plenty of street food to tempt your taste buds.

Our price Guatemala travel guide for your food budget in Guatemala is as follows:

  • Local eatery – US$5 for a main dish (40 quetzales)
  • Street food – US$0.75-1.50 (6-12 quetzales)
  • Beer (try the local beer Gallo) – US$1.50-2 (12-15 quetzales)
  • Coffee – US$2 (15 quetzales)
Woman eating oreo and ice cream sundae at Los Amigos Hostel Flores Guatemala
Enjoying the Oreo Ice Cream Sundae at Los Amigos Hostel Flores Guatemala

Must try dishes in Guatemala include pepian, tostadas, enchiladas, gallo en chicha as well as rellenitos.

Guatemala culture

Guatemala National Holidays

  • New Year’s Day – 1 January
  • Holy Wednesday – this is a bank holiday which occurs during Easter (Semana Santa) in March or April each year
  • Maundy Thursday
  • Good Friday
  • Holy Saturday
  • Labor Day – 1 May (also known as International Workers’ Day)
  • Mother’s Day – 30 May (only observed by mothers)
  • 30 June (variable) – Army Day
  • Bank Holiday – 1 July
  • Assumption Day – August 15
  • Independence Day of Guatemala – 15 September
  • Day of the Race – 12 October (Bank Holiday)
  • Revolution Day – 20 October
  • All Saints’ Day – 1 November
  • Christmas Eve – 24 December (from noon onward)
  • Christmas Day (Navidad) – 25 December
  • Local holidays, usually the patron saint day, are celebrated in each area

National symbols of Guatemala

  • Guatemala flag – two sky blue vertical stripes with a white band containing the Guatemala coat of arms in the middle. The blue bands represent the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea as well as the sky over the country. The white band symbolises peace as well as purity
  • Guatemala coat of arms – this consists of the quetzal bird, crossed Remington rifles, crossed swords, a laurel wreath as well as a parchment with the words “liberty 15 of September of 1821”. The quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala. It represents freedom as well as independence. Additionally, the rifles represent the will to defend Guatemala. The crossed swords represent justice and honour. The laurel wreath represents victory. The words on the parchment are the date of Guatemala’s independence from Spain
  • National flower – monja blanca (a type of orchid, also known as the white nun)
  • National bird – Resplendent Quetzal

Guatemala pastimes

  • National dish – Guatemala doesn’t have a national dish. However pepián is very popular. Moreover, this stew is one of the oldest dishes in Guatemala. It is a spicy stew which arose from a blend of Mayan as well as Spanish cultures. It is usually made with chicken. Pepián can also be made with beef or pork
  • Popular drinks – Gallo beer, quetzalteca as well as Guatemalan coffee
  • National sport – football (soccer)
  • Religion – 42% Catholic, 39% Protestant (as at 2018)
Pepian Soup from La Casa de las Sopas Antigua Guatemala
Pepian Soup from La Casa de las Sopas

Famous Guatemalans

  • National heroes – the last ruler and king of the K’iche-Maya people, Tecún Umán; general and president Justo Rufino Barrios; general and president Miguel García Granados
  • National sports stars – Olympian silver medalist racewalker Érick Bernabé Barrondo García, Footballer Carlos Ruiz

Is Guatemala Safe?

Guatemala travel guide: Safety in Guatemala

We found Guatemala to be a very safe place to visit. However petty crime and crimes of opportunity can be an issue. Consequently we recommend taking care to keep your valuables secure and out of sight. As with any country, there are some areas that are safer than others. By and large though, we found the country very safe.

Guatemala travel guide: General safety tips for Guatemala

Other general safety considerations for travel in Guatemala:

  • Drinking water – The tap water in Guatemala is not safe to drink. However most hotels will provide bottled water for guests to use
  • Mosquitoes – There are mosquitoes in most areas of Guatemala. The exception to this is the high altitude areas of Antigua as well as Lake Atitlán. In 2021, the main risks related to mosquito borne diseases were at Tikal. For the most up to date information we recommend checking the CDC or NHS websites
  • Road safety – In Guatemala we often travelled standing up in the back of vans as well as in vehicles without helmets or seat belts. Be aware that this does come with an element of risk
  • Water safety – If you visit any of the coastal areas or lakes, take care when swimming. This is because currents and waves may be stronger than you expect
  • Sun safety – The UV Index is very high in Central America. Sun protection such as sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses is very important to ensure you don’t get burnt
  • Altitude sickness – Guatemala has areas at high altitudes, so altitutde sickness is a risk. This is particularly the case if you are planning to do a volcano hike on Acatenango Volcano. Consequently, if you are planning to visit a high altitude area, make sure that you acclimatise. We recommend spending at least 48 hours in Antigua or Lake Atitlán before doing the Acatenango Volcano hike to acclimatise to the altitude.
  • Dogs – In Guatemala as well as other countries in Central America stray dogs are common. For more on dog safety while travelling, check out this video.

As with any destination, take all of your normal safety precautions.

Guatemala Blogs

You can find our Guatemala travel blogs below.

View of Volcan de Agua from Tanque La Union Antigua Guatemala, Street view Antigua Guatemala

Why you need to visit Guatemala right now!

Visiting Guatemala is a must for any Central America Trip. In this post we share our Top 5 things to ...
Parque Central Plaza Mayor Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala Flag

Top 5 Things to do in Antigua Guatemala

There are so many things to do in Antigua Guatemala! In this post we share our Top 5 things to ...
Cafe Sabor Cruceño Santa Cruz Guatemala

Why 4 days at Lake Atitlán was not nearly enough!

Lake Atitlán Guatemala must be seen to be believed. Surrounded by breathtaking volcanoes, this stunning location is a must do ...
Man at Tikal Temple I - Temple of the Great Jaguar - Tikal Guatemala

Tikal: Exploring Mayan Ruins in Guatemala

For lovers of history or for those looking for the perfect Instagram shot, Tikal is a must visit destination in ...
Smoke rising from Fuego Volcano Guatemala, man jumping in front of erupting volcano, man in white shirt and brown pants

Acatenango Volcano Overnight Hike: Everything you need to know (updated 2024)

The Acatenango Volcano Overnight Hike is a must do in Antigua Guatemala. Not only do you get to sleep on ...
View from the Lookout at Semuc Champey Guatemala

Semuc Champey Guatemala: A Hidden Oasis

The hidden oasis of Semuc Champey is a must visit destination in Guatemala! Visiting Semuc Champey Guatemala is a journey ...

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