Guatemala was the center of the Maya civilization. Therefore you can find the most beautiful Mayan complexes in Guatemala. Guatemala is characterized by the rich Mayan history, unspoiled beautiful nature, indigenous culture, and colonial charm. When you are in Guatemala its feels like you are going back years in time. Isn’t a typical beach destination. Guatemala is a backpack country where you can do many fun things. It is completely non-touristy which makes it a great country for travelers that are searching for adventure! This Guatemala travel guide will help you plan your trip through Guatemala.
Important information about Guatemala
Guatemala at a glance: Guatemala is famous for its beautiful nature. Did you know that only 2% of it is built on, in other words, there is a lot of nature to see in Guatemala. The volcanoes, beautiful mountains, breathtaking lakes, and wild jungles make it a top destination. Also, it has nice colonial cities and unique Mayan complexes that make Guatemala one of the nicest backpacking destinations in the world.
Most popular destinations in Guatemala:
- Antigua: This is the former capital of Guatemala. You will probably arrive by plane in Guatemala City, we recommend traveling directly to Antigua. Antigua is the nicest colonial city you can discover in Guatemala.
- Acatenango: there are a couple of volcanoes close to Antigua. Acatenango is one of these volcanoes that you can climb. From the top, you have a view of the active volcano Fuego.
- Lake Atitlan: The environment in which the lake is located is beautiful, as it is surrounded by large mountains. The many villages around the lake, each with its own character, make it a nice place to discover.
- Chichicastenango: near Lake Atitlan is the Chichicastenango, here you can find the most special market in Guatemala.
- Semuc Champey: Semuc Champey is located in the middle of Guatemala. If you are a nature lover you should visit this place.
- Flores: Flores is located in the north of Guatemala. Flores is an island that is the perfect base to visit Tikal.
- Tikal: For many travelers, Tikal is the number 1 reason to travel to Guatemala. Tikal is one of the most beautiful Mayan complexes in the world.
Currency in Guatemala: Guatemalan Quetzal | 2021 exchange rate: 100 GTQ = €10.88 / $12.96.
Tipping in Guatemala: Tipping in Guatemala is not mandatory. So whether you want to give a tip is completely personal. In a restaurant, tour or taxi you can give a tip if you liked the service. Decide on the spot whether you want to do this. No one will look at you strangely if you don’t do this.
Religion and culture: The nice thing about traveling through Guatemala is that you can still see the religion of the Maya. In the Guatemala culture, you see a mix between the old Mayan customs and the Spanish traditions. The native Maya religion is the largest religion in Guatemala. Also, Roman Catholicism is strongly represented in Guatemala.
Transport in Guatemala: Traveling in Guatemala is mainly done by bus. You can easily buy bus tickets for your next destination from local travel agencies or your accommodation. You will use the plane, taxi, chicken bus, car and taxi less. Also, keep in mind that traveling in Guatemala takes a lot of time. The roads are very bad. For this reason, we do not recommend renting a car and do a road trip through Guatemala.
The best time to visit Guatemala
Guatemala has a very pleasant climate, the temperature is really pleasant all year round. Guatemala has two seasons, namely the dry season (November to April) and the rainy season (May to October). During the rainy season, you should only expect a few hours of rain per day.
We were in Guatemala in July, so during the rainy season and we didn’t experience any disadvantages of the rainy season. You can visit Guatemala all year round without any problems.
High season in Guatemala: this is between November and April (dry season). During this period, prices are slightly higher compared to the rainy season. You do not have to avoid the high season, because tourism in Guatemala isn’t that big. This makes it such a nice backpacking destination.
Is Guatemala safe to travel?
Guatemala is safe to travel to, however, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind. Because Guatemala is less developed, you can experience a bigger risk of an unpleasant situation than, for example, Japan.
You can visit tourist places without any problems. You shouldn’t walk alone in strange streets in the evening. You should also watch out for pickpockets in busy places such as markets, stations, or airports. So be well prepared and use your common sense to avoid unpleasant situations. Again, Guatemala is safe. We never felt unsafe during our trip.
Do you have travel insurance? If not, we recommend that you always take out travel insurance! You don’t want to be traveling uninsured and experiencing an unpleasant situation. This applies not only if your mobile is stolen, but also if, for example, you break your leg and you have to visit a hospital. In these cases, travel insurance is a must. So be smart and buy travel insurance before you leave for your trip. You can do this easily by filling in the form below.
Best things to do in Guatemala
Maya complex Tikal
The number 1 reason for many people to travel to Guatemala is to visit Tikal. It is a beautiful complex to visit because it is located in the middle of the jungle. The highlight of your visit is Gran Plaza, on this square, you will find the most beautiful and largest temples. It’s breathtaking when you consider that this was built 16 centuries ago.
Natural spectacle Semuc Champey
In Semuc Champey you will not find luxury but pure wilderness. In the middle of the jungle, you can swim in the limestone pools filled with turquoise-colored water. Many call this the beautiful natural wonder in Guatemala. We totally agree!
Stroll through the colonial city of Antigua
Antigua is surrounded by enormous volcanoes which is very impressive to see. Antigua is the most beautiful colonial city you will find in Guatemala. Many travelers visit Antigua to learn Spanish. The best thing about Antigua is the many buildings built during the Spanish occupation. It is therefore recommended to walk through the streets and enjoy the many squares and bars.
Climb Acatenango Volcano
If you like a challenge, you can climb the volcano Acatenango. You can stay one night on the volcano and see the sunrise the day after. This is breathtaking. If you are lucky you can even see a small volcano eruption at the volcano Fuego.
Sunrise in Lake Atitlan
The special thing about Lake Atitlan is that the temperature is always the same, about 23 degrees, making it very pleasant. Lake Atitlan is surrounded by volcanoes and villages that are each very different. For example, you have villages that are characterized as party villages, the other as a hippie place, and the other as an activity village. There is a lot to do in Lake Atitlan, from kayaking on the lake to make beautiful hikes in the area.
Best travel itinerary for Guatemala
If you are going to travel through Guatemala you need an itinerary that you can use to follow. Most travelers have 3 weeks to discover Guatemala. Guatemala is a big country, so it is impossible to see everything. It is recommended to determine in advance which areas you want to visit. Also, keep in mind that traveling in Guatemala takes a lot of time. For this reason, we recommend that you follow an itinerary that minimizes travel time.
We have created a travel route, which we have followed ourselves, which has a good mix between nice destinations and acceptable travel times. You can open our personal itinerary here: Guatemala itinerary. You read about the best places to visit in Guatemala. If you want more information about a specific destination, you can open its article and read all the detailed information.
Best food in Guatemala
The food in Guatemala is delicious even though it isn’t very well known. The ingredients they use in Guatemala are fresh which makes them usually delicious. We recommend trying at least: Chiles Rellenos, Chicken Pepian, and guacamole.
Chiles Rellenos are stuffed chili peppers with rice, cheese, meat, and vegetables. They are served with tortillas and tomato sauce. Chicken Pepian is chicken in a spicy pumpkin and sesame sauce. You have to try this dish because it is the national dish of Guatemala. Finally, you have guacamole, which is mainly served with tortillas or as a topping with other dishes.
Budget type for Guatemala
Guatemala is one of the cheapest countries to travel through in Central America. This is because Guatemala hasn’t yet been discovered by mass tourism, which means that prices are significantly lower than, for example, neighboring country Mexico. Depending on what type of traveler you are, you should take into account:
- Budget Traveler: If you are on a tight budget and you pay close attention to what you spend, $24 – $36 a day may be sufficient.
- Mid-range traveler: If you want something more luxurious, for example doing a few more expensive activities or staying in better accommodations, a budget of $36 – $97 per day should be okay.
Do you want to know more about much it costs to travel through Guatemala and how much it costs in particular when you following our Guatemala itinerary you should open this article: Guatemala trip cost. For each cost category, you read in detail what the costs consist of and how you can save on each cost category. You can also read how much our trip cost.
Where to stay in Guatemala
In Guatemala, you have luxury accommodations where you can stay, but the majority is basic but clean. There are a lot of great hostels and hotels where you can stay.
Searching for the right accommodation is time-consuming. To help you, we wrote an article on basis of our Guatemala itinerary where we give accommodation recommendations for each destination. If you want to save yourself a lot of time, we recommend reading our article about the best places to stay in Guatemala and book the desired accommodation directly. This way you assure yourself of a place to stay. An advantage is that you still retain your flexibility because if you book via our links you can adjust your reservation free of charge up to two days before check-in.
What to pack for Guatemala
Guatemala is a country where you will be active and do a lot of adventures. It’s not a typical beach vacation. Because of this you also have to pack your bag differently than some other destinations. The most important tip that we can share with you is: pack as little as possible. We recommend the packing list below for Guatemala:
- Swim and normal clothes (pack as light as possible, work with layers)
- 1 pair of good walking shoes, 1 pair of slippers
- Toiletry bag with stuff
- Mosquito spray
- Sun protection
- Crazycap (UV water bottle)
- Personal items
Other tips Guatemala travel guide
- Make sure you have the right vaccinations. Contact your own doctor for more information.
- Before traveling to Guatemala, try to learn a few words of Spanish. We heard from travelers that they had difficulty communicating with the locals because they didn’t speak English.
- Try to arrange everything yourself and don’t do an organized trip. This saves you a lot of money and you keep your flexibility during the trip. There is nothing more fun than going on an adventure yourself.
- Pay as much as possible with cash (withdraw money at the banks). Also, bring a credit card should something happen to your normal bank card.
- Enjoy your holiday and let yourself be surprised! Guatemala is a real backpacking country where you can experience many adventures.
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