Bucket List Guatemala Experiences
The official language of Guatemala is Spanish. Some locals in the tourist industry will speak limited English but it will make your trip smoother to speak Spanish. Guatemala is one of the best places to learn Spanish in Latin America as the accent is easy to understand and the classes are affordable.
Visa requirements: Citizens of most Western countries including the USA, Canada, and EU, and Australia don’t need a visa in advance. You will be given a C4-4 90-day visa on arrival which allows you to travel Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. (It’s 90 days for the entire region, not each country).
Staying Connected – SIM cards can be picked up easily in Guatemala and data is cheap. Tigo, Claro and Movistar are the main carriers. Make sure your phone is unlocked and bring your passport with you when you go to pick up the SIM card.
Power Sockets – Guatemala uses Type A and Type B power sockets, so you won’t need a converter if you’re traveling from North America.
Drone Laws – Drone laws in Guatemala are very relaxed. I flew my drone all over Guatemala with no issues, just follow standard rules and don’t fly over crowds or private property.
Flying: Guatemala has two international airports. The main one is La Aurora International Airport (GUA) in Guatemala City. The other airport is Mundo Maya International Airport (FRS), which is outside Santa Elena/Flores in the North.
Land: Guatemala shares a border with Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico. It is possible to travel by land from any of these countries to Guatemala. Where you come from will determine where you should start your Guatemala itinerary.
By Boat: Guatemala is connected to both the Atlantic and Pacific ocean. Cruise ships often come into Puerto Quetzal on the Pacific Side.
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Once inside Guatemala, it’s very easy to get around the country.
Busses: Busses are the main form of transportation in Guatemala. The country is well connected with tourist shuttles between all the main attractions which is the easiest way to get around. You can book tourist shuttles through your hostel, tour agencies in town, or online on Viator.
If you are on a shoestring budget, there are also local busses between cities, which are a mix of collectivo minivans and brightly coloured ‘chicken busses’. These are retrofitted school bus used to carry goods and locals in Latin American communities. They are an authentic form of transport that you should try at least once while in the country. Just don’t expect a comfortable ride, they are usually crowded, slow, and loud. They cost about 10Q an hour ($1 USD).
A ticket on a local chicken bus will rarely be more then a couple of dollars. Tourist shuttles are generally much more expensive, although nothing crazy. For example, a tourist shuttle will cost you $20 where the chicken bus will cost you $2. It really comes down to your budget and your level of comfort.
Flying: Since there are only two airports, the only place you can fly is between Guatemala City and Flores, which is near Tikal.
Taxis/Shared Ride Services: Taxies are available throughout Guatemala and are cheap. Uber is also used in major cities. Uber costs around 2.3Q per KM and 5Q base fee.
Guatemala is an affordable country and transportation costs won’t break your bank. I spent 2 1/2 weeks traveling around Guatemala, and only spent $200 on transportation costs which were mostly tourist shuttles.
Daily Budget: Accommodation & Food
Guatemala is a pretty budget friendly place, especially if you are using local transportation and staying in hostels. You could get by on 15-$20 just doing this. If you add in day tours, western food, and private rooms, it’s going to cost you a lot more.
I spent a total of $900 while backpacking Guatemala for two and a half weeks, which falls in range with an average budget of 45-65$/a day. I stayed in hostels, ate local food, and did tours almost every day.
A high-end luxury budget will cost you 90$+ each day, which would include private rooms, private transport, and lots of tours.
Budget: Guatemala has a great hostel scene, you can expect to find amazing hostels in many of the main destinations in Guatemala. A shared bed in a hostel dorm will cost between 7-12$.
Mid-range: If you want a break from hostels or your own space, there are plenty of guesthouses in Guatemala for around $15-25 for a basic room with a fan and shared bathroom. If you want a private bathroom and AC, it will cost you around $25-50. Airbnb is also used in Guatemala, and you can get some amazing long-term deals.
Higher end: Guatemala does have some higher-end hotels and lodges, which will cost you upwards of $100 a night.
Central America is not known for its food in general, but I found Guatemala did have some of the best food in the region, with neighbouring Mexico influence.
A typical plate in Guatemala will consist of rice, beans, tortillas, and meat. In a local restaurant this will cost you between $3-5. You can also find plenty of Western food in Guatemala which will cost you between $7-12 for a meal. It is customary to tip 10% in Guatemala, and many places will automatically add this on the bill.
Water: The water in Guatemala is not safe to drink. Use a lifestaw so you don’t have to buy bottled water.
Safety & Solo Travel
Guatemala has a pretty bad safety record, but it’s rare that tourists are targeted. I felt safe the entire time I was in Guatemala. That said, you need to be smart and follow basic safety. Don’t walk alone at night, especially if you’ve been drinking. This is when most tourists get targeted.
Even as a solo female traveler, I felt safe in Guatemala. The locals are wonderful to talk with, and will make you feel welcome. The crime you’re most likely to encounter involves pickpocketing, bag-snatching, and bag-slitting in crowded streets and markets. To avoid this from happening, I recommend using a product like Pacsafe.
If you don’t feel comfortable traveling Guatemala alone, taking a group tour is a great option. Even if you are comfortable traveling alone, tours can be a great thing to do as it takes the work out of planning and you can just focus on enjoying the trip. I’ve done group tours before with G adventures which I loved. This company promotes responsible adventure travel and their tours are jam-packed with fun adventures.
Health/Vaccines: Always check with your doctor or travel clinic before traveling to see what vaccines you need. You can get an overview of what vaccines you need for Guatemala on the CDC website.
Best Time to Go
The dry season in Guatemala runs from November to April while the Wet Season runs from May to October. However, you can visit Guatemala at anytime of year. Even in the wet season, it usually rains heavily for an hour or two and the rest of the day is fine. The climate is still warm and there will be fewer tourists and cheaper prices during the wet season. The most popular time to visit Guatemala is January and February.
Climate and Packing Suggestions
The dress code in Guatemala is relaxed and you don’t need to worry about any strict requirements. Instead, dress according to the area you are going. Guatemala has a warm climate overall, and in most places you’ll be most comfortable in shorts and a tank top/t-shirt. However some cities can get cold at night, so it’s always a god idea to bring at least one sweater and a long pair of pants. If you are going to be doing Volcano trekking, which I highly recommend, then you’ll want to bring some very warm clothes for the top. In Antigua, you can rent winter clothes to hike up Acatenango.
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