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Guatemala on Budget: How to Save Money Traveling

view of lake atitlan from a shore full of trees and plants
Guatemala has a lot of amazing attractions that you can enjoy without spending a lot of money. You can visit natural wonders, cultural sites, and historical monuments.

Guatemala is a beautiful country in Central America that offers a rich diversity of landscapes, cultures, and experiences and is also a great destination for travelers who want to enjoy an authentic and affordable vacation.

You can explore ancient Mayan ruins, hike up active volcanoes, relax on stunning lakes, and immerse yourself in colorful markets and festivals.

Despite being an affordable destination, traveling on a budget can be challenging, especially if you don’t know how to do it.

That’s why I have created this guide to help you save money on your Guatemala vacation, as well as discuss costs and budget options.

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How to travel to Guatemala on a budget?

Traveling to Guatemala on a budget is possible, if you follow some tips and tricks to save money and avoid unnecessary expenses.

Here are some of the key ways to travel to Guatemala on a budget:

Travel in the low season

The low season in Guatemala runs from May to October, which is the rainy season. This is the best time to travel if you want to save money, as the prices are lower, the crowds are fewer, and the scenery is greener.

However, you should also be prepared for the weather, which can be unpredictable and wet, and the roads, which can be muddy and slippery.

You can find cheaper flights, accommodation, tours, activities, discounts, and deals.

Book in advance

Booking in advance can help you save money and secure your spot, especially for flights, accommodation, and activities.

You can find cheaper and better options, as well as avoid last-minute fees and surcharges. Make sure to compare prices and reviews, and choose the best value for your money.

Use different online platforms, to find and book your flights, accommodation, and activities, or contact local agencies to book your transportation, tours, and packages.

Compare flight prices

Guatemala has two international airports: La Aurora in Guatemala City and Mundo Maya in Flores.

Depending on where you are flying from and where you want to go, you may find different options and prices.

Use a flight comparison website or app to find the best deals and book your tickets as early as possible.

You can also save money by flying on weekdays, avoiding holidays, and choosing flexible dates.

Research visa requirements and travel insurance

Depending on your nationality, you may need a visa to enter Guatemala. Check the official website of the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs to find out if you need one and how to apply.

You should also get travel insurance that covers medical expenses, theft, loss, and cancellation.

Make sure to compare different plans and prices online and choose the one that suits your needs and budget.

Palacion Nacional de Guatemala in Guatemala City
Another way to explore Guatemala for free or cheap is to join free walking tours or volunteer activities. You can find free walking tours in major cities, such as Guatemala City.

Negotiate and bargain

Negotiating can help you get a better price and a better deal for local transportation, at the moment accommodation, tours, and souvenirs.

You can always ask for a discount, a free upgrade, or a free extra, and you can always walk away if you are not satisfied with the offer.

Use your skills, like speaking Spanish, volunteering, or reviewing, to get a lower price or a free service.

But remember, you should also always be respectful and fair, and not try to rip off the locals or the vendors, who are trying to make a living.

Use public transportation

Using public transportation can help you save money and experience the local culture, especially in Guatemala, where the buses are colorful, lively, and super affordable.

You can find buses that can take you to almost any destination in the country, for a fraction of the cost of a shuttle, o a car.

However, you should also be careful and vigilant, as the buses can be crowded, uncomfortable, slow, and sometimes unsafe.

guatemalan chicken bus
You can save a lot of money traveling in Guatemala by getting around using local buses, but most of the time they are uncomfortable, crowded, and not completely safe.

Avoid renting a car or hiring a driver

Renting a car or hiring a driver should be avoided unless you have a specific reason or need.

While it may be more comfortable, it’s pricier, and it’s wise to consider alternatives to save costs and maximize convenience.

Renting a car can be very expensive, as you have to pay for the rental fee, gas, insurance, and parking sometimes. Hiring a driver can also be very expensive, as you have to pay for the driver’s fee, the tip, and the expenses.

Moreover, driving in Guatemala can be very stressful and dangerous, as the roads are often in bad condition, the traffic is chaotic, and the drivers are reckless. You can save money and hassle by using

Stay in hostels or VRBO

Staying in hostels or VRBO can help you save money and meet other travelers, as well as the locals.

You can find plenty of hostels in almost every destination in the country, for a reasonable price and good quality.

Many accommodations, like hostels are affordable and still offer good amenities, like free breakfast, wifi, kitchen, laundry, and even tours.

Make sure you also check the reviews of the location, and the rules, if there’s a common area for several travelers, you should always respect the space and the people.

Tip: Guatemala is a safe place for tourists, but be aware!

The biggest issue is theft.

Get travel insurance before starting your journey.

I recommend Visitors Coverage.

Look for discounts and deals

You can save money by looking for discounts and deals on your accommodation. For example, you can use a coupon code, a loyalty program, or a referral program to get a lower price.

You can also book for longer periods, such as a week or a month, to get a better rate.

Additionally, you can negotiate with the owner or manager of your accommodation, especially if you are traveling during the low season or staying in a less popular area.

Avoid peak seasons and touristy areas

You can also save money by avoiding peak seasons and touristy areas, as they tend to have higher prices and lower availability.

For example, you can avoid staying in Guatemala City, Antigua, or Lake Atitlan during Christmas, Easter, or national holidays.

Instead, you can look for alternative destinations or areas that are less crowded and more affordable, like Quetzaltenango, Livingstonm, or Coban.

Use the shuttle only when needed

Shuttles are small vans or minibuses that run on fixed routes and schedules, they are popular in tourist areas and are a good option to get to attractions that are far away from the place you’re staying.

They have air conditioning, they pick you up and drop you off at your hotel or hostel, and they have better drivers and maintenance, but all of that comes with a higher price and regular buses.

If you want to save money while traveling in Guatemala, I recommend you book shuttles in advance and only for attractions you can do in a day, for example, a day trip from Antigua.

woman smiling next to a man while on top of a pick up car for transportation in Guatemala
Using alternative methods of transportation can be a good option to make your Guatemala on-budget trip even more affordable.

Eat Like a Local

Guatemala has a delicious and diverse cuisine that reflects its history and culture. You can enjoy a variety of dishes, from traditional cuisines like pepian, kakik, to street food, like tamales, and chuchitos.

Or try some exotic fruits, like zapote, maranon, and jocote.

Avoid restaurants near popular attractions

Another way to save money on food is to avoid restaurants near popular attractions, as they tend to be more expensive and lower quality.

For example, you can avoid eating in restaurants near Central Park in Antigua, or avoid eating at Tikal National Park.

Instead, you can look for restaurants that are further away from the main tourist spots, or ask locals for recommendations.

Cook your meals if possible

If you have access to a kitchen, you can also save money by cooking your meals. Food ingredients in Guatemala are super affordable and you can buy ingredients from supermarkets or markets and prepare your breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

You can also make your coffee, tea, or juice. Cooking your meals can also be a fun and rewarding experience, as you can learn new recipes and skills.

Try street food and markets.

One of the cheapest and most authentic ways to eat in Guatemala is to try street food and markets. You can find stalls and vendors selling snacks, meals, and drinks on the streets, plazas, and parks.

Visit local markets, where you can buy fresh and organic produce, meat, cheese, and bread.

Some of the most popular street foods and markets in Guatemala are shucos, tostadas, atol, and the Chichicastenango market.

Activities

Guatemala has a lot of activities to offer, you can find activities that are fun, adventurous, cultural, educational, or relaxing.

You can also find activities that are cheap or free, or that offer great value for money.

Here are some tips on how to have fun and explore the amazing attractions of Guatemala:

Volcanoes

Guatemala is a land of volcanoes, with more than 30 of them, some of which are active, dormant, or extinct.

Volcanoes are one of the main attractions and challenges for travelers who visit the country, as they offer stunning views, thrilling hikes, and unique experiences. Some of the most popular and accessible volcanoes are Pacaya, Acatenango, Agua, and Atitlan.

Unfortunately, you can’t visit these volcanoes on your own, you’ll need a guide or a tour. You can expect to pay a minimum of $59 for a volcano hike, but that will depend on the volcano, the duration, and the service.

Tip: A good tip to save money on volcano hikes is to look for group discounts, or to join other travelers who are going to the same volcano.

Lakes

Lakes are one of the most beautiful and relaxing attractions for travelers, they offer scenic views, refreshing swims, and peaceful moments.

Some of the most popular and stunning lakes to visit in Guatemala are Lake Atitlan, Peten Itza, Izabal, and Amatitlan.

You can visit these lakes on your own, or with a guide or a tour. How much you spend here will depend mostly on the distance and transportation you choose, also, you need to take into consideration the cost of activities and food there.

I personally recommend you visit lakes only when checking out other attractions, unless want to visit Lake Atitlan (which is its attraction). For example, you can visit Peten Itza Lake if you visit Tikal National Park.

Tip: A good tip to save money on lake visits is to look for public transportation, like buses or boats, that connect the lakes with the nearby towns or villages.

Look for the free or cheap activities that you can do on or around the lakes, like kayaking, swimming, fishing, or hiking.

Markets

Markets offer a chance to experience the local culture, cuisine, and crafts and you can find markets in different towns and villages of the country, especially in the highlands, where the indigenous communities live.

Markets sell different types of products, from fruits, and vegetables, to flowers, and textiles, as well as pottery, or souvenirs.

The price for a market visit is not that much, probably only the transportation if you decide to visit the Chichi Market. Now, how much you spend buying is completely up to you.

Tip: Look for local and seasonal products, which are usually cheaper and fresher than imported or preserved ones.

You can also look for the best time and day to visit the markets, as some of them may be more crowded or expensive during the weekends, holidays, or festivals.

Festivals

Festivals are a fun way to experience the cultural side of the country, they offer a chance to witness the traditions, customs, and celebrations of the local people.

There are festivals in different towns and villages, especially in the highlands of Guatemala, most of those festivities celebrate different events, like Easter, Christmas, Independence Day, or All Saints Day.

Again, how much you spend here will depend a lot on which festival you decide on, the transportation, and the activities you will be doing at the festival. Most festivals are completely free.

Some of the most popular and colorful festivals to visit are:

Ruins

Ruins are one of the most fascinating and historical attractions, they offer a glimpse into the ancient and complex civilizations that once inhabited the region.

You can find ruins in different regions of the country, but some of the most famous and impressive ruins to visit are Tikal, Yaxha, Quirigua, Iximche, and El Mirador.

To visit most of the ruins you don’t need a guide or a tour, but it’s highly recommended you get one since you’ll be learning a lot more.

You can expect to pay between 20 and 150 quetzals (3 and 20 USD) for the entrance fee if you decide to go with a tour or a guide prices can go a lot higher.

Tip: Look for the combined tickets, or the boletos combinados, which usually offer access to several ruins for a lower price than buying them separately. They are rare, but it’s a possibility. For example, you can visit Tikal and Uaxactun in one go.

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How to find cheap and comfortable places to stay in Guatemala

In case you’re traveling to other areas like Lake Atitlan or Tikal, you’ll most likely need to find a place to stay. Fortunately, there are several ways to find cheap and comfortable places to stay in Guatemala.

You can use online platforms, like:

Search and compare different types of accommodation and check out the online reviews, ratings, and recommendations from other travelers to help you choose the best option for you.

If you are already in the place you can also ask locals, like taxi drivers, bus drivers, or shop owners, for suggestions and directions to cheap and good places to stay.

Walk around and look for signs that say “hospedaje”, “hotel”, or “hostal”, and check the prices and conditions of the rooms.

Note: I highly recommend that you DON’T go to a new place without getting a room beforehand, tourist areas can get packed during high season and you may end up stressed out looking for a place.

Tip: A good tip to save money on accommodation is to always book in advance, especially during high season, holidays, or festivals, when the prices and the demand are higher.

Best areas and towns to base yourself in Guatemala

Guatemala has a lot of places to visit and explore, but you may not have enough time or money to see them all.

Therefore, you need to choose the best areas and towns to base yourself in Guatemala, depending on your interests, preferences, and itinerary.

Here are some of the best areas and towns to base yourself in Guatemala:

Guatemala City

Guatemala City is the capital and the largest city of Guatemala. It is also the main gateway to the country, as it has an international airport and the main bus terminals.

A modern and cosmopolitan city, with a lot of attractions, like museums, parks, markets, restaurants, bars, and nightlife.

However, it is also a chaotic and crowded city, with a lot of traffic, pollution, and crime.

That’s why many travelers prefer to avoid or skip Guatemala City, and head to other destinations in the country.

But, if you decide to stay in Guatemala City, you can find some decent places, especially in Zone 1, the historical center, or Zone 10, the upscale area.

sunset in guatemala city
Guatemala City is divided into zones, and many of those zones are more affordable than others but your aim should be finding an affordable place in Antigua, the best option for a trip headquarters.

Antigua

Antigua is hands down the best option to stay in while visiting the country, one of the most popular and beautiful destinations in Guatemala.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved colonial towns in Central America. Antigua is a charming and colorful town, with a lot of attractions, it’s also a great base to explore the surrounding area.

Antigua is a touristy and expensive town, compared to other places in the country, but you can still find some affordable and cozy places to stay, especially on the outskirts or in nearby towns, like Jocotenango.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is another great option to stay, and you can find several affordable accommodations in the area, you have several villages to try and search for places to stay.

Lake Atitlan is a peaceful and relaxing place, with a lot of attractions, like kayaking, hiking, swimming, and more.

Each village has its character and culture, and you can find different types of accommodation, some of the most popular and accessible villages are Panajachel, San Pedro, San Marcos, and Santa Cruz.

The downside is that Atitlan is kinda far away from other attractions of the country and you may find it difficult to explore the country from there without expending a lot of money.

How much does a trip to Guatemala cost?

The cost of a trip to Guatemala can vary depending on many factors, like the season you chose, the duration of your trip, the destination you decided on, accommodation, food, and activities.

However, here are some of the average costs of traveling to Guatemala, based on a one-week trip for one person:

Transportation

This can cost between 500 and 1000 quetzals ($65-$130), depending on the type of transportation, distance, and tour operator.

The cheapest way to get around Guatemala is by bus, which can cost between 10 and 50 quetzals ($1.3-$6.5) per trip.

The most expensive way to get around Guatemala is by renting a car, which can cost between 300 and 800 quetzals ($27-$104) daily.

Accommodation

Accommodations can cost between 350 and 2100 quetzals ($45-$273), and it will depend on the type, location, and season.

The cheapest option for accommodation in Guatemala is camping, which can cost between 20 and 100 quetzals ($2.6-$13) per night, and hostels that can cost anything from $9 to $45 per night.

The most expensive option is a hotel, which can cost between 100 and 1000 quetzals ($13-$130) per night.

Food

Food can cost between 350 and 700 quetzals ($45-$91), depending on what and where you eating or how are you doing it.

Cooking your food can cost between 10 and 30 quetzales ($1.3-$3.9) per meal is the cheapest way to eat in the country.

The most expensive way is to eat at a restaurant, which can cost between 50 and 200 quetzals ($6.5-$26) per meal.

Activities

Activities are complicated, but it can cost between 500 and 1500 quetzales ($65-$195), it will heavily depend on what type, location, or tour operator you are using.

The cheapest activity to do in Guatemala is to visit Antigua and check out its surroundings, hike, and explore, which can cost between 0 and 100 quetzals ($0-$13) per day.

While the most expensive activity to do is to discover Tikal, which can cost between 200 and 500 quetzals ($26-$65) per day. (If you’re staying in Antigua, you’ll need at least 2 days, staying in Tikal or Flores to explore the Mayan ruins)

Therefore, the total cost of a trip to Guatemala can range from 1700 to 5300 quetzals ($221-$689), depending on your preferences and choices.

This is an average estimate, and it can be higher or lower, depending on the exchange rate, and personal spending.

semuc champey pool guatemala central highlands
Semuc Champey is a top-tier attraction you must visit while traveling in the country, and the best part is you can do it on a day trip and find affordable tours.

How much does it cost to eat out in Guatemala?

Eating out in Guatemala can be very cheap or very expensive, depending on where and what you eat. You can find a variety of options, from street food to fine dining, and from local to international cuisine.

Here are some of the average costs of eating out in Guatemala:

  • Street food: This is the cheapest and most authentic way to eat, you can find many stalls and vendors selling delicious and fresh food, and it can cost between 5 and 20 quetzals ($0.65-$2.6) per item, and it can fill you up for a meal or a snack.
  • Comedores: This is a small and simple restaurant mostly visited by locals, where you can find home-cooked and traditional food, like soups, stews, salads, rice, beans, and meat. Comedores can cost between 20 and 50 quetzals ($2.6-$6.5) per meal, and it usually includes a drink.
  • Restaurant: This is a more formal and fancy restaurant, where you can find more variety and quality of food, from local to international cuisine. A restaurant can cost between 50 and 200 quetzals ($6.5-$26) per meal, and it usually does not include a drink or a dessert.

📖 Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for more useful information, check out 23 Restaurant In Guatemala: Best Places To Eat.

Best time to visit Guatemala

Guatemala has a tropical climate, with two main seasons: the dry season, from November to April, and the rainy season, from May to October.

Dry Season

The dry season is the best time to visit Guatemala if you want to enjoy the sunny and clear weather and visit the natural and historical attractions, such as the volcanoes, the lakes, or the ruins.

However, the dry season is also the high season, which means that the prices and the crowds are higher, and the availability and bargains are lower.

Rainy Season

The rainy season is the best time to visit Guatemala if you want to avoid the crowds and the heat and enjoy the green and lush scenery, and the festivals and celebrations.

While it may be more affordable to visit the country during the rainy season, you must know that the weather and the roads are unpredictable and unstable, and some attractions and activities may be closed or canceled.

Therefore, you need to weigh the pros and cons of each season and choose the best time for you.

inside a cave in guatemala
Guatemala is packed with interesting caves, like Lanquin Caves that you can visit and take a look at the Maya places, interesting rock formations, and more.

FAQ

Is Guatemala safe to visit?

Guatemala is generally safe to visit for tourists, but it has some issues and risks that you need to be aware of and prepared for.

The crime in the country can be high, especially in Guatemala City. You need to be careful and avoid walking alone at night, carrying valuables, or venturing into unfamiliar or isolated places.

Be careful and respectful, stay cautious of natural hazards, and keep an eye on health issues like food poisoning, or water contamination (tap water is not safe to drink).

How Long Should You Stay in Guatemala?

Guatemala is a relatively small country, but it has a lot to offer, so you should plan to stay at least a week to see the main attractions.

However, if you have more time, you can easily spend two weeks or more in Guatemala, and explore more of the country, like the Caribbean coast, its Western Highlands, or the Peten region.

You can also combine your Guatemala trip with a visit to neighboring countries, such as Belize, Honduras, or Mexico, which are easily accessible by bus or plane.

What is the currency and the exchange rate in Guatemala?

The quetzal is the official and the most widely used currency in Guatemala, and it is divided into 100 centavos. The US dollar is also accepted and exchanged in some places, like airports, hotels, or tourist areas, but it is not as common or convenient as the quetzal.

The exchange rate between the quetzal and the US dollar varies depending on the market and the location, but it is usually around 7.5 quetzals for 1 US dollar.

Do I need a visa to travel to Guatemala?

It depends on your nationality and the purpose of your visit. Most visitors from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand can enter Guatemala without a visa for up to 90 days, as long as they have a valid passport and a return or onward ticket.

However, some visitors from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East may need a visa to enter Guatemala, which can be obtained from the nearest Guatemalan embassy or consulate. You can check the visa requirements for your country here.

Looking for More Inspiration?

I have been traveling and living in Guatemala for over 25 years
Check out these Hand-Tested GUIDES

Tips

If you want to travel without the hassle and confusion – check out a complete guide for traveling to Guatemala.

Places

For more travel ideas to add to your bucket list, check out a complete guide to all the best places to visit in Guatemala.

Food

Guatemala has a huge variety of food, check out the guide to the top 15 Guatemalan Food and Dishes.

Disclosure: This blog post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission for any purchases made through the links. Your trust is important to us, and we ensure that all products or services we recommend meet or exceed our editorial standards.

Last Updated on December 16, 2023

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