Central America’s most diverse country captivates travelers with its extraordinary landscapes and a civilization-spanning culture that reaches back centuries.
The dry season runs from October to May and the wet season from June to September. During the summer months it rains on average once a day, though the rain rarely lasts longer than a few hours. Regardless of the season, remember to always carry a light sweater or jacket. Antigua is pleasant year round as is the lake, though mornings and evenings can be chilly. The eastern side is hotter and humid so be prepared to sweat!
The Spanish left behind plenty of footprints from their colonial conquest of Guatemala, the most visible being the frequently stunning architecture. The best are dotted around Antigua, the old capital, with its neat plazas and crumbling ruins. While Antigua’s churches, plazas and markets throb with activity, the town is also a global hotspot with a laid back vibe, thanks to the dozens of Spanish-language schools that operate here. Outside the city, Maya communities, coffee plantations and three volcanoes offer ample opportunities for exploration.
Peten (Tikal & Flores)
The dizzying pyramids of Tikal are Guatemala’s most famous tourist drawcard. And what’s not to love about this mighty monument to Central America’s greatest civilization. But those who stop to ask whatever happened to the Maya are sometimes surprised by the simple answer: nothing. Maya culture continues to evolve today.The Maya villages in the highlands, where locals still wear traditional dress, are the most visible indicators of this centuries-old culture. But look closely when you’re visiting an archaeological site and you’ll see altars with modern offerings to ancient spirits.
San Juan La Laguna
Of all the 11 town around Lake Atitlan, San Juan is special: the Tz’utujil inhabitants take pride in their craft traditions – particularly painting and weaving – and have developed their own tourism infrastructure to highlight their culture to outsiders.Perhaps part of what makes it all run so well is the communal spirit: coffee growers, fishers, organic farmers, natural dyers and widows are among the like-minded groups who’ve formed cooperatives here. As you wander around the village, you’ll notice various murals depicting aspects of Tz’utujil life and legend.
Often used as a stop off on the journey to or from Mexico, or as a staging area for forays deeper into the Cuchumatanes mountain range, Huehuetenango has a welcoming if scruffy character. The name Huehuetenango means “Place of the Ancients,” and near the city are ruins of an ancient Maya centre called Zaculeu, which has been developed into an archaeological park.
At the east end of the Lago de Izabal, this town still gets referred to as Fronteras – a hangover from the days when the only way across the river was by ferry, and this was the last piece of civilization before embarking on the long, difficult journey into El Petén. Times have changed. A huge bridge now spans the water and the Petén region’s roads are some of the best in the country. The town sees most tourist traffic from yachties – the US Coast Guard says this is the safest place on the western Caribbean for boats during hurricane season. The rest of the foreigners here are either coming or going on the spectacular river trip between here and Lívingston.
Lívingston is unlike anywhere else in Guatemala. Its Garifuna people, their colors, culture, rhythms, flavors, and disposition, are the best reason to visit – nowhere else in Guatemala will you find such a friendly, fun and relaxed vibe. But it’s not just the people: good beaches are nearby and the slow-and-easy take on life is enchanting. Here ruined boats lie derelict in picturesque decay; people paddleboard or kayak lazily amid refreshing ocean breezes; and pelicans soar overhead as happy hour starts in late afternoon. It’s just lovely.
Safety & Security
- Dress modestly and don’t display excessive jewelry or flashy items that call attention to you.
- During the daytime it is safe to walk around the towns and cities on your own. Nevertheless, we recommend walking in groups at night and taking a cab if you’re far from the hotel.
FAQ travel in Guatemala
- How long can I stay in Guatemala?
U.S. citizens are permitted to stay in Guatemala for 90 days without a visa. Citizens of other countries may be limited to 30 days. It’s best to confirm with your country’s embassy the length of time that you can stay in Guatemala, as it may change.
- How important is it that I be able to speak Spanish?
Being able to speak Spanish is not absolutely essential for surviving in Guatemala, but it certainly helps. In some parts of Guatemala City and in Antigua specially, people are used to having frequent contact with foreigners and will generally be able to speak some Spanish.
- Is tipping customary in Guatemala?
It’s customary to add 10% to restaurant bills (if this hasn’t already been included). Tipping elsewhere is optional, but leaving spare change at small cafes is a good idea as most Guatemalans typically earn little.
- What is the Internet access like in Guatemala?
Internet cafes and Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming more prevalent in Guatemala’s cities, although the connection may be slower than what you’re used to. Remote areas will have little to no internet access.
- Can I drink the water in Guatemala?
Drinking tap water isn’t recommended in Guatemala. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water; ask your leader where filtered water can be found. It’s also advisable to peel fruit and vegetables before eating.
- What are the toilets like in Guatemala?
Many tourist sites and restaurants have flushable toilets, although some remote areas may have compostable or drop toilets. It’s a good idea to carry your own toilet paper and soap as these aren’t always provided. Also remember the drainage systems are antiquated so after you use the toilet paper always put it in the waste bin instead of flushing it down the toilet.
- Are credit cards accepted widely in Guatemala?
Credit cards can be used at most large restaurants, shops and other tourist establishments. Expect to pay cash when dealing with smaller vendors, family-run restaurants and market stalls.
- What’s the currency in Guatemala?
The Guatemalan Quetzal is the local currency and floats between 7.3 and 7.7 to the dollar. We recommend against exchanging money at the bank or airport as the exchange process can be timely. Instead, you can bring quetzales from the US or pull out cash from an ATM, which will be faster and easier. Make sure you call your bank to let them know you will be in Guatemala. If you would still like to exchange money at the bank once in Guatemala, you will need your passport. Don’t exchange money at the airport, as they usually offer an unfavorable exchange rate.
- Can you use ATM’s in Guatemala?
Internationally compatible ATMs can be found in most of Guatemala’s major cities. ATMs are far less common in rural areas and small villages so have enough cash to cover purchases when travelling away from the larger cities.