Traveling in Guatemala is an incredible adventure full of diversity and surprises. Marvel at the ingenious Maya ruins in the jungle, hike to the summit of the nearly 4,000-meter-high (13123-feet-high) Acatenango volcano, and learn all about the country’s history in the beautiful colonial city of Antigua. A journey through Guatemala will stimulate all your senses. To ensure you make the most of your trip, here are 10 things to know before you go to Guatemala. Get ready to hit the road well-prepared!
#1 The Best Time to Visit Guatemala
The best time of year to plan your trip to Guatemala largely depends on the weather. There are two seasons in Guatemala: the rainy season and the dry season. The dry season runs from November to April, making it the best time to visit Guatemala. The rainy season lasts from May to October, with September and October being the wettest months. The other months of the rainy season are less rainy, with occasional heavy showers mainly in the morning or evening, but sometimes extended periods of rain as well. The advantage of the rainy season is that everything is beautifully green, and it’s less crowded, resulting in lower prices.
Tip: Keep in mind that December and April are extra busy in Guatemala. Especially during Semana Santa, the week before Easter, the country is visited by people from around the world for various religious events. If you want to experience this, book everything well in advance and expect higher prices than usual.
#2 The Maya Culture in Guatemala
Of all of Central America, Guatemala is the place where you’ll encounter the most descendants of the Maya. Today, 21 different Maya languages are still spoken in Guatemala. What will also catch your eye is the colorful clothing, especially worn by women. They wear wrap skirts as skirts, with a top in various beautiful colors and patterns. The design varies by town, so you can tell which region someone is from.
#3 How Transportation Works in Guatemala
Almost every traveler journeys by bus in Guatemala, and there are different types of buses to choose from. The well-known local chicken bus is the cheapest but also the least comfortable, recommended only for short distances. Traveling on a chicken bus is a great adventure and a must-do in Guatemala. The colorful buses are often packed with people (and sometimes chickens), and the roaring engine and loud horns make quite a noise. It certainly has its charm. A ride of a few hours costs no more than a few dollars.
Because Guatemala is a fairly large country, some distances between destinations can be quite long. On these long routes, shuttle buses and luxury tour buses operate. You can expect more comfort here, including air conditioning, comfortable seats, and sometimes even Wi-Fi. These buses can often be booked online or through your accommodation. In our destination articles on Guatemala, you’ll find information on how to travel by bus to the next destination.
#4 Bring Warm Clothing As Well
Due to its location and numerous altitude variations, Guatemala has multiple climates. The low-lying areas have a tropical climate. In destinations like Flores, Lanquin, Rio Dulce, and El Paredon, temperatures hover around 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). Antigua and Lake Atitlan are located at around 1,500 meters (4921 feet) above sea level. Therefore, it always feels like a pleasant spring day here, with temperatures ranging from 16 to 25 degrees Celsius (60 to 77 Fahrenheit). If you go even higher in altitude, such as when climbing the Acatenango volcano, you’ll experience a cold climate, with temperatures at the summit possibly dropping to freezing.
#5 Guatemalan Cuisine
Guatemalan cuisine is based on the Maya culture with Spanish influences. You’ll find a lot of maize, meat, and beans on the daily menu. For breakfast, try a desayuno tipico. This traditional breakfast consists of fried or scrambled eggs, black beans, a tomato salsa, delicious sweet fried plantains, a piece of white cheese, served with corn tortillas. For dinner, you can order the national dish of Guatemala called pepián. This tasty dish with rice, meat, and vegetables falls somewhere between a stew and a curry. In the afternoon, you can buy various Guatemalan snacks like tamales. This is a mixture of cornmeal filled with meat, wrapped in a banana leaf, and then steamed to cook.
#6 Is Guatemala Safe for Travel?
Guatemala is generally a very safe travel destination, especially when you follow our travel route, which takes you to safe destinations. Nevertheless, unfortunate incidents can happen anywhere, so it’s good to be vigilant and use common sense. In quiet areas, it’s better not to walk alone in the dark and avoid displaying expensive clothing, jewelry, or cameras in plain sight. Additionally, it’s recommended to hike with multiple people.
Tip: Guatemala City is the only destination labeled as unsafe. Therefore, it’s better to travel directly to nearby Antigua.
#7 Local Currency, ATMs, and Tipping
In Guatemala, you’ll use the Guatemalan quetzal as currency, named after the national symbol of Guatemala, the quetzal bird. ATMs are available throughout the country, where you can often withdraw money using your Maestro debit card. It’s advisable to withdraw as much money as possible in one go to avoid paying a fixed commission per transaction. In a restaurant, a tip of around 10% is customary. This recommended tip, called “propina” in Spanish, is usually already included in the printed bill, so always check it carefully to avoid double tipping.
#8 Unique Accommodations in Guatemala
In Guatemala, you’ll find some very special places to stay. Think of glamping with a view of Lake Atitlan or staying in a beautiful eco-lodge in the middle of the mangrove. We’ve put together a list of 9 unique places to stay. These are all accommodations that align with the adventure you embark on when traveling through Guatemala. Accommodation in Guatemala doesn’t have to be boring or standard.
#9 Guatemala Combines Perfectly with Belize or Mexico
If you have the time and want to see more of Central America, you can easily combine a trip to Guatemala with neighboring countries like Mexico or Belize. You can easily cross the border by bus. Combining these countries creates an even more exciting round trip filled with beautiful nature and culture, allowing you to discover the unique charm of each country. Such a combination trip is especially recommended if you have more than three weeks available.
#10 The Ultimate Guatemala Travel Itinerary
We’ve been to this beautiful country multiple times and have created the ultimate travel itinerary for Guatemala. In three weeks, this itinerary takes you to the most beautiful places, showcasing the diverse aspects of the country. You’ll visit colonial cities, waterfalls, Maya temples, volcanoes, lakes, and rivers. These are all ingredients for an unforgettable journey!