I arrived in Guatemala as a visitor and then moved there for several years, traveling around the country that’s why I can tell you precisely what you need to know before traveling to Guatemala. Because when traveling to different places, you usually have between seven days to two weeks max.
When people travel to Guatemala, there are usually three top locations in Guatemala that everyone kind of goes to when they first arrive, like the first time. If you’re going to stay longer, I have unique ideas for you as well that you could add in.
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Best time to Visit
Guatemala has two seasons: the dry season and the rainy season.
The best time to travel to Guatemala is during the dry season, from November to April.
But if you can’t make it during this time, don’t worry, Guatemala has a great climate all year round, with temperatures between 70°F and 90°F.
Things To Know About Guatemala
Currency: The Guatemalan currency is called Quetzal, just like the bird. It stays around Q7.60 for one USD.
Weather: Guatemala is known as the country of Eternal Springs. It stays warm all year long. The rainy season goes from May to late October.
Tap Water: Because of various bacterial infections in the tap water, you need to ensure you only drink filtered water.
Visa Free: Most people can travel to the country visa-free for 90 days. It’s important to check regulations beforehand.
Arriving in Guatemala
When you arrive in Guatemala, usually you arrive by air. You arrive at Aurora International Airport. It’s just a tiny, really accessible, really easy airport.
There’s only one terminal. I personally recommend having a taxi or a driver already waiting for you because you don’t want to take the risk of just some pirate taxi. There is a taxi that is part of the airport, but you could also have a driver already set up. It’s just much safer.
So when you arrive, you arrive in Guatemala City. Now, when you’re only coming for seven to 14 days, you don’t want to spend that much time in Guatemala City simply because there are many more things to do.
Best Places to Visit In Guatemala
Guatemala is a beautiful country, with a rich and diverse culture, history, and nature. It has a lot to offer travelers who want to explore its many different landscapes Whether you are looking for adventure, relaxation, or learning, the country surely has something for everyone.
Here are some of the best places to visit in Guatemala:
The very first place to go is Antigua. It’s is what Guatemala is known for, is this beautiful, colonial, colorful, cobblestone town nestled in a valley that is surrounded by three impressive volcanoes. So that’s the place that everybody goes to.
It has a lot of different places to eat and Antigua’s McDonalds, which is one of the most beautiful in the world. Not only that, you’ll find different places to stay and cafes suitable to work, a super expat or nomad-friendly location.
Antigua is only 1 hour from the airport. So you could get into your cab or the driver, whatever, and go straight to Antigua.
Where To Stay
When you arrive in Antigua as I said earlier, it is this adorable ten-block squared town, literally cobblestone, colorful.
It’s a UNESCO site. You should have a hotel, a hostel, or an Airbnb booked simply because you don’t want to arrive and walk around with your backpacks or suitcases.
There are so many different excellent hotels and hostels. Suppose you’re traveling on a lower budget or even Airbnb, from private rooms to entire homes, colonial-style homes. So make sure that you have that.
You do not need a car in Antigua, where everything is pretty much walkable.
You could also take Tuktuk. Tuktuk is a very popular model of transportation to get around Antigua and the surrounding areas of Antigua.
How much time do you spend in Antigua?
You can do all that within three, or four days because of the day trips, and add an extra day if you’re doing the Acatenango Volcano hike.
If you come to Antigua, I recommend two to three days minimum, one day just for sightseeing to visit Central Park or the Cathedral. Jade is the national gem, kind of, there are Jade museums. Jade was the main stone, the central gem, and the primary rock that the Mayans used.
So it is really interesting, and there are some places you could go and visit different museums.
You must take some cool day trips when you get to Antigua.
So the big thing to do in Antigua is go to a volcano. So, as I mentioned earlier, Antigua is literally in the heart of the Ring of Fire, three different volcanoes. You have Agua, which has been dormant. And it is like the central volcano that’s right there. You could certainly go for a hike on it.
However, it’s the least popular one to visit like that. It’s just kind of a thing that you enjoy and admire from anywhere you are in Antigua.
Another really popular place to go is Atitlan Lake. This is about two, 3 hours from Antigua. Again, you could take a shuttle or a private driver and it will still be cheaper for you than to rent a car, you do not need a car when you get to Atitlan.
Atitlan Lake is a lake that is in a super old volcanic crater in the Solola Department that is now obviously completely not alive. However, there are volcanoes all around it. Again, they are not active. But this crater that was once a volcano is now this Lake.
Atitlan is surrounded by all these little villages known to be where the Mayans live. There are all these different dialects. These are the Indigenous villages of Guatemala. It’s a really interesting place to go and visit. The main town is called Panajachel.
Then there are these other villages and the only way to get around is by boat. You’ll see there are these public boats. You can hire a private boat if you’re a big enough party. But honestly, you could take these public boats to any of these locations.
So you would start at Panajachel. Then there is another, really popular town that’s called Santa Catalina. Then another one called San Marcos or another one. San Pedro Santiago is the largest town, mainly locals and Indigenous. It is interesting to visit, but usually, the majority of visitors stay in Panajachel.
How much time do you spend in Lake Atitlan?
You could spend a good two, three, or even four days. It will depend on your schedule. You could spend one day just enjoying the village you’re staying in for one day like a village tour.
And also you could kayak, you could do outdoor activities. It depends on what your main interests are when you are visiting.
Now, if you arrive early enough, another place that people go to almost immediately is Tikal. It’s the Northern region of Guatemala, the most famous Mayan ruin. You could take an airplane there.
It’s only about 45 minutes, but that’s only if you arrive early enough and can make that connection and arrive directly at Tikal.
As I mentioned, Tikal, the Mayan ruin, is in the Northern region of Guatemala and is also one of the most popular places to visit. Still, because it is so far, it’s about nine to 10 hours driving from Antigua or Guatemala City.
That’s why it is recommended if you are on a limited time to fly to Tikal and you could do that from Guatemala City.
So you would go back from either of the villages to Guatemala City to take a plane. There are several planes every day that go up to the name of the town that you would visit. It is this adorable, colorful little island called Flores Island in the Peten Department that is about 45 45-minute drive from Tikal itself.
Tikal is a National Park. It’s also a UNESCO site.
It is this humongous rainforest where you have to walk to the actual ruins. The closest ruin is about 1 km.
Where to Stay
You could stay in hotels right in Tikal National Park. Or you could stay in Flores which is this cute, adorable town.
There’s also another town in between and it is called El Remate. And that also has a ton of really cool hotels, campsites, and some Airbnbs.
So Airbnbs are mainly in Flores and El Remate on a beautiful Lake. So that makes the city even more attractive, you could swim in this Lake.
How much time do you spend in Tikal?
So you don’t need more than one night. There was a day and a half in that region, and you could fly back to Tikal.
Many people put that trip together in the very beginning when they first arrive. They fly directly to Flores, spend the night, spend all day in Tikal, and then take an evening flight back to Guatemala City and then go with the first ideas of going to Antigua and Atitlan or they do it at the very last part.
Or they do Antigua and Atitlan Lake and then go back to Guatemala City, take a flight there, do Tikal, fly back, and either spend one night in Guatemala City or catch their flight. So that is the most popular thing to do and it’s usually a good ten days.
📖 Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for more useful information, check out the El Mirador, Guatemala: Complete Guide to the Lost Mayan City
Another really popular city to visit is Chichicastenango. That’s a really popular place situated in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. It’s where a lot of Spanish schools are, a lot of people go and learn Spanish and it is the second largest city in Guatemala outside of Guatemala City.
It is one of the most bustling markets and it’s really fun. You can also take a day trip to Chichicastenango, the largest Central American market. It’s 2 hours away from Antigua. You could do a day trip to it. It’s only on market days, which are Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
So if you want to do that, you must hire a tour company. It’s cheaper to do that than to have your own car because you don’t need a car to do that.
This is a really popular place to visit and that is about a four-hour drive from Guatemala City or Antigua. It does not matter where you will be going from and you probably want to spend at least two days there to visit.
Now, if you are lucky enough and have extra time, there are some incredible other locations to visit. One is called Rio Dulce and it’s right on the river.
That’s why it’s called Rio Dulce and you could take a boat to Livingston which is this town completely inaccessible other than by boat, there are no cars, there’s nothing you could take to get there.
So this is a cool place but it is about a five-hour drive from Guatemala City to get there so you have to add an extra three or four days.
Also another place, that’s a really popular trip to Semuc Champey and it is considered one of the wonders of Guatemala. Semuc Champey, It is these beautiful blue pools where you could do river rafting and tubing and it’s just this incredible natural place.
If you want to go there, there are little towns that you could visit surrounding that area and you need at least three or four days simply because it’s a day drive there and one day drive back. So, at least two or three extra days for that particular area alone.
Not only the capital but also the largest city of Guatemala, it is located in the south-central part of the country, in a valley surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, and has a mild and pleasant climate.
The city also has a vibrant and cosmopolitan atmosphere, with various attractions and activities for visitors and locals alike. It’s comprised of several different zones, and each of them has something unique to offer.
You can explore the historical and architectural landmarks, such as the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Relief Map.
Not only that, you can also enjoy artistic and cultural events, such as the International Book Fair, the Jazz Festival, and the Contemporary Art Biennial. Or experience the natural and wildlife wonders, such as the Botanical Garden, and Aurora Park.
Lanquin Caves and Town
Lanquin is not only a cave, it’s also a small town in the Alta Verapaz department near Coban, surrounded by mountains and forests. It is a popular destination for travelers exploring the outdoors, especially the Lanquin Caves and the Semuc Champey pools.
The town has a relaxed and rustic atmosphere characterized by the Central Highlands of Guatemala, with several hotels, restaurants, and shops. While the main attraction of the town, the Lanquin Caves are a huge system of caverns that extend for several miles under the ground.
The caves are home to thousands of bats, which fly out at dusk in a spectacular show. You’ll also find stalactites, stalagmites, and other interesting rock formations that create a mysterious and fascinating scenery.
I highly recommend you visit the caves with a guide, who can show you the main chambers and passages, and tell you about the history and the legends of the caves.
It is located on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, in the department of Santa Rosa, and is part of the Monterrico Natural Reserve, a protected area that hosts a variety of wildlife, especially sea turtles.
You can relax and unwind on the beach, swim or surf in the ocean, or take a boat ride along the mangroves and explore the natural reserve. Also, you can visit the Tortugario Monterrico, a turtle conservation center that rescues and releases sea turtles, where you can learn more about these amazing creatures and even participate in their liberation events.
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Things to Do in Guatemala
Traveling to Guatemala offers a lot of opportunities and activities for travelers who are looking for adventure and fun. It’s an outdoor paradise, almost pristine, where you can find something for every taste and interest.
From cultural and historical attractions to natural and wildlife wonders. Here are some of the best things to do in Guatemala to make your trip unforgettable.
Climb Acatenango Volcano and See Fuego do a Live Lava Show
Visit Old Mayan Ruins in the middle of the Rainforests.
Walk on a Volcanic, Black Sanded Beach
Swim in a Natural Pool or Hot Spring
Release baby turtles on the beach.
Take a horseback ride.
Roast marshmallows on lava
Stroll around the Colonial City of Antigua
Shop at the local markets
Go on a surfing adventure in El Paredon
Explore Livingston and its blend of cultures
There are two volcanoes that you can visit. One is Pacaya, which is situated in the Escuintla Department. Pacaya is not visible from Antigua, but it is a really popular tour to go and see. But this is the one where you could walk on lava stone.
You could roast marshmallows on the lava rock, that’s one type of and that is a day trip you could do by horse or hike. It’s a relatively mild hike.
Acatenango and Fuego Tour
The most popular volcano tour is hiking the Acatenango and Fuego volcanoes. There are two volcanoes together. You go up Acatenango, but you’re looking at Fuego. Fuego is known to be the most popular one because it is the active one.
It does a volcanic show every single day. Pretty much you could see it erupting and giving you lava and whatnot. So, the whole Acatenango tour, it’s an overnight tour. It is genuinely rough. It’s like you’re camping, but it is so worth it, although I have to say.
📖 Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for more useful information, check out the 10 Most Stunning Volcanoes in Guatemala
Guatemala is a great place to learn Spanish, also, one of the most affordable. It is one of the official languages of the country, and it is spoken by most of the population.
You can find several schools in places Xela (Quetzaltenango) aimed at expats and non-Spanish-speaking visitors. Learning Spanish will help you communicate better with the locals, understand the culture and history, and enjoy your trip more.
The country is also known for having a clear and neutral accent, which makes it easier to learn and understand. It’s also one of the most convenient places to learn Spanish, as there are many options and opportunities, like language schools, homestays, and volunteering.
Experience Mayan culture
The country has a rich and diverse Mayan heritage, still alive and present in its people, art, and traditions.
Experiencing Mayan culture is one of the most fascinating and rewarding things you can do in Guatemala, as you can learn more about the history and the legacy of one of the most advanced and influential civilizations in the world.
You can also appreciate the diversity and the beauty of the different Mayan groups in Guatemala, while visiting archeological sites, testing their foods, and visiting markets and museums.
Shop for handicrafts
Guatemala is the right place for hand-made jewelry and handicrafts. Shopping for handicrafts is another of the amazing activities to do in the country, as you can find various products that are made with skill, creativity, and quality.
It’s also a good way to support the local artisans and communities and bring home some souvenirs and gifts that are unique and meaningful.
Some of the best handicrafts you can buy in Guatemala are textiles, like clothing, rugs, bags, and accessories. Pottery and woodcarving.
Not only that, you can get a hold of the Guatemalan Jade, which is unique in several ways and has its own museum.
Try local cuisine
One of the biggest draws about traveling in Guatemala is its delicious and diverse cuisine, blending the Mayan, Spanish, and African, cultures.
Trying local cuisine is one of the best things to do in Guatemala, as you can taste the flavors, the ingredients, the spices, and the techniques that are unique to each region and each group.
It’s also a good way to immerse and learn more about the local culture, as the food reflects the identity and the traditions of the people.
Getting around in Guatemala is simple and easy, most of the local people travel by “chicken bus”. Those colorful buses are a whole experience and an excellent opportunity to interact with locals.
There are many other options: shuttles, taxis, rental cars, Uber, and taxis. Still, to experience authentic local Guatemala you’ll need to try a chicken bus and tuk-tuk.
You’ll find taxis in most main towns and cities. They are cheap, around $5 for a short trip, and many times, you’ll find taxis offering day trips or excursions to nearby sites, prices range from $30 to $60. Most taxis are willing to negotiate.
You’ll not find any metered cabs, so fix a price beforehand.
A good draw about Guatemala is that bikes are standard, you can rent bikes in towns like Antigua, Quetzaltenango, Panajachel, and Guatemala City. The price for a rented bike is usually around $8 per day or $25 per week.
You must consider the country’s street conditions; many roads have potholes, and you’ll face many hills.
Have you ever seen the Thai tuk-tuks? Precisely the same, but in Guatemala, they have gained much popularity working as a taxi in the last few years. You can find tuk-tuks in most towns.
Prices vary depending on the town, but a short ride is $0.75-$1.
By Chicken Bus
Chicken buses are commonly known as camionetas, and they are easy to spot. Buses work out of public bus terminals, but you can just do a sign, and they will stop.
Tickets are bought on the bus, you just pay for the ride, which costs around $1–1.25 an hour.
It’s a unique experience: cramped buses, loud music, chickens clucking, and vendors coming in and out all the time.
Traffic is super heavy in the capital and some towns. Also, the locals can drive erratically and roads will have holes.
Rented car prices can go up to $40 daily for a tiny car and almost $70 for a 4×4 vehicle. Rental agencies are available in most main towns and the capital.
Gas Prices are called gasolineras, and they are pretty standard. The price of fuel in the country is $4.40 per gallon.
In Guatemala you’ll not find many internal flights, in fact, the only two right now are from Guatemala City to Flores Island or Puerto Barrios, it has a price of $130 for a one-way ticket and $200-$250 for both ways.
Taca and TAG are the airlines offering three daily flights. Head to a local travel agency or the airport to buy the tickets.
Where to Stay
Guatemala has many great hotels of all prices and amenities. Discovering them is part of the adventure.
Find the best hotels, resorts, villas, and villas in any place around the world and the best prices.
Get the best prices for houses, condos, apartments, villas, and a ton of other options.
If you’re looking for cheaper options, check out Hostel World and browse budget-friendly accommodations.
Guatemala is rich in culture and history, and its cuisine reflects that. Guatemalan food is a fusion of Maya, Spanish, and African influences, with various dishes that delight your taste buds. Some of the most unique foods to try when traveling in Guatemala are Pepian, Tamales, and Tortillas.
Here are the best foods and drinks to try:
Where to Eat
Eating in Guatemala is a whole experience itself, if you want to truly experience what locals eat in their daily lives, head to Comedores, small local eateries that are cheap and serve local food. On the other hand, the country offers various restaurants, from traditional Guatemalan cuisine to traditional Mayan cuisine.
📖 Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for more useful information, check out 23 Restaurant In Guatemala: Best Places To Eat
Guatemalan Celebrations and Festivals
Guatemala, like most Central American countries, has a lively calendar with many different celebrations and festivities and its people love to celebrate their traditions and beliefs. But by far one of the biggest is Semana Santa (Holy Week), where tons of people from all over the world gather and the streets are dressed in flowers.
Here are some of the most popular and colorful events that you can experience in Guatemala:
Every 1st or 2nd November, Guatemala uniquely celebrates the Day of the Dead, with GIANT kites! The best place to check it is Santiago Sacatepéquez.
Holy Week in Guatemala begins on Sunday, April 2, and ends on Saturday, April 8. The best place to check it out is in Antigua.
Tips for Traveling to Guatemala
Guatemala is Safe. A lot of people think Guatemala is unsafe, but the truth is, it’s safe. Of course, there’s crime but you can avoid most of it using common sense. Don’t go around flashing your valuables, stay alert, and avoid walking around too late at night.
Be Careful in Guatemala City. Depending on which Zona you’re in, the capital can be one of the most dangerous parts of the country. Learn which zone you should avoid and which zones are safe for tourists.
ATMs. I highly recommend you withdraw cash when you are in a larger town since many smaller towns don’t have ATMs and there might not be any other way to get local money, and not every place accepts credit cards or USD.
Lodging is cheap. There are many hostels and small places to stay where a room can cost $10 or $15 to $70, depending on your place.
Food is cheap. Head to the comedores (local eateries in the country) and a traditional meal can cost around $5 to $12, and the dishes are huge.
Check the weather and the news. It’s not something to worry about, but, Guatemala has a lot of seismic activity and can sometimes experience earthquakes, floods, and volcano eruptions.
Tipping. This is not customary in the country, and some restaurants will add a 10% table service tip to the bill, and it’s usually not expected to tip after that. But if you want to do it, you’re more than welcome.
Spanish is the national language. As expected, many people in the country don’t speak English. So, you should learn the basics before heading there, it’ll be easier to travel around the country if you know some Spanish. On the other hand, in Antigua, you can find many people who speak English.
Do I need a visa to visit Guatemala?
It depends on your nationality and the length of your stay. Guatemala has a visa exemption policy for citizens of many countries, such as the United States, Canada, the European Union, and Australia, who can enter and stay in Guatemala for up to 90 days without a visa.
However, you need a valid passport, a return ticket, and proof of sufficient funds. For more information and details, check your government’s official website or the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs website or contact the nearest Guatemalan embassy or consulate.
What is the currency and the exchange rate in Guatemala?
The currency in Guatemala is the quetzal. The exchange rate varies depending on the market and the location, but as of April 2023, 1 US dollar is equivalent to about 7.8 quetzals.
You can exchange your money at banks, exchange offices, or hotels, or you can withdraw cash from ATMs, which are widely available in major cities and towns.
You can also use credit cards, such as Visa, Mastercard, or American Express, in some places, such as hotels, restaurants, or shops, but they may charge a fee or a commission.
What is the culture and the etiquette in Guatemala?
The culture in Guatemala is a mix of Mayan, Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences, that create a rich and diverse cultural identity and expression. The Guatemalans are generally friendly, hospitable, and respectful, and they value their family, religion, and traditions.
You can show respect and appreciation for the culture and the people by following some basic etiquette rules, such as greeting people with a handshake, a hug, or a kiss, depending on the relationship and the gender.
Dressing modestly and appropriately, especially in religious or formal settings, asking for permission before taking photos or entering private places, and while it’s not common or expected tipping for good service or hospitality, usually 10% of the bill or the fare.
Is Guatemala Safe?
Guatemala is a country that has a lot of beauty and charm and is usually safe for tourists most of the time but it also has a lot of challenges and risks.
It is a country that faces many social and economic problems, such as poverty, crime, corruption, and inequality.
You should always be cautious and aware of these issues and respect the local customs and laws. Follow common sense, don’t show your valuables around, and don’t stay alone at night.
These are the primary locations you would do right when you get from Guatemala City. You can certainly cut down on some days you will be in certain areas. So this captures all of the highlights of Guatemala. Interestingly enough, there are some tremendous all-inclusive hotels in Guatemala to check out.
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