11 Tips for Driving in Guatemala Like a Local

If you’re like me and love to go on road trips all around the world, including Guatemala, then you should know that driving in Guatemala is possible. 

I was in Guatemala in March 2024 and decided last minute to book a rental car while I was on my way there. I never thought I would need to use the expensive WiFi provided by airlines, but here we are.

If you’re like me and love to go on road trips all around the world, including Guatemala, then you should know that driving in Guatemala is possible. 

I was in Guatemala in March 2024 as part of my 10-day itinerary in Guatemala and I decided at the last minute to book a rental car while I was on my way there. I never thought I would need to use the expensive WiFi provided by airlines, but here we are.

In this blog post, I want to share my experience of driving in Guatemala and all my tips and tricks on how to make this experience special and enjoyable.  

I also aim to answer all the questions I had before driving in Guatemala and clarify any concerns you may have about safety and road conditions in Guatemala. 

I want to be really honest about the driving style in Guatemala so that you can form your own opinion and decide for yourself if this is something you can handle. 

This will be a long one, but there’s a lot to say about Guatemala. I have also made a video about driving in Guatemala, which you can find on my YouTube channel

Renting a car in Guatemala

Unless you’re coming from Mexico, Belize or Nicaragua, you might want to rent a car in Guatemala. 

I used Hertz, which wasn’t necessarily the cheapest option, but I thought that renting from an international company might be easier in case of any inconvenience. 

There is also an office in the airport, located just before you get out. Remember that the airport in Guatemala City doesn’t allow non-passengers to get it. So if you want to call a taxi (Uber) or rest a bit, do it before you get out where all the taxi drivers try to hassle you. 

I used RentalCars to book my rental, and it all went smoothly. I booked it online just a couple of hours before landing, and it was really easy to find my reservation and go through all the necessary steps. 

One thing I want to point out is that almost everyone in Guatemala speaks only Spanish. In this case, the Hertz employee was speaking to me in Spanish. Luckily, it wasn’t a huge issue for me because I understand almost everything in Spanish. But this is an important aspect of travelling in Central and South America. 

Since I read online so much about the reckless drivers in Guatemala, and all the locals were commenting on Reddit about how you shouldn’t drive at night, I decided to get the extra insurance offered by Hertz. I paid about $550 in total for nine days, with the super extra insurance included. Because I got the insurance, the excess (credit card deposit) was reduced to about $450. 

Take note that the insurance was more than half of the total rental price in Guatemala, but that’s because the basic price doesn’t include any kind of insurance. 

Considering the driving conditions in Guatemala, I don’t recommend skipping the extra insurance.

I don’t normally get the extra insurance, and I consider myself one of the best drivers I know. Last year, I rented two cars in Portugal for a total of 3 weeks without insurance.

I have driven in many countries. I know and have seen a lot of things in traffic. But, in Guatemala, you should get extra insurance when renting a car. 

In fact, I strongly suggest checking out my comprehensive Guatemala travel guide to have a better understanding of what to expect when travelling in Guatemala, regardless of whether you want to rent a car or not.

driving in Guatemala

Why you should get the extra insurance when renting a car in Guatemala?

There are a few aspects that I considered before getting the extra insurance for my rental car in Guatemala:

  1. Driving style in Guatemala. Driver are reckless and oftentimes don’t obey simple driving laws, such as signalling, keeping their lanes or taking sharp turns without checking other cars around them. I will get into more detail about the driving style later on. 
  2. The extra insurance isn’t just about you. It’s about any kind of damage that can happen to the car or the damage that you cause to other cars. Again, considering the local driving style, you can end up in an unpleasant situation caused by you. 
  3. Not having the insurance will stress you out. Without the insurance, I tend to feel constantly stressed, and obsess about every single detail everytime I park or make a turn in traffic. It’s certainly not healthy and it might become a mental barrier. For me, this kind of stress only causes my driving skills to become worse. 

These are the top 3 motives to get the extra insurance when getting a rental car, in general, but they apply to Guatemala every single moment you are driving. 

Chichicastenango. driving in Guatemala

Is it safe to drive in Guatemala?

I drove all around Guatemala for 9 days, and I was safe. 

Safety is an ambiguous term, and it can mean different things to different people. 

In my personal opinion, after driving in Guatemala, I can say that driving in Guatemala is safe, but it mostly depends on the type of driver that you are. It will not be safe for all people to drive in Guatemala, simply because most people do not have experience driving in similar places. 

Many people on the internet, including the Guatemalan locals, would advise you against driving in Guatemala. That’s because they’ve been living there for a long time and have seen horrible things happening in traffic. 

They understand that most drivers are breaking the law, and their answer is meant to protect you. If you want to avoid all risks and lower your chances of encountering uncomfortable situations, then the simple solution is to simply not drive in Guatemala. 

But, the reality is that many people, including foreigners, drive in Guatemala every day, and many enjoy their holidays there while road tripping. 

The bottom line is that driving in Guatemala can be safe, as safety is more about the kind of driver that you are. I will get into this a bit later. 

I wrote a separate blog post about my best Guatemala travel guide and tips.

driving in guatemala roads in guatemala

How are the roads in Guatemala?

The road condition is surprisingly good in Guatemala. Forget all about the info you read on the internet because most of it is outdated. After driving all around Guatemala and doing this 10-day road trip itinerary in Guatemala, I can honestly say that the roads are in good, almost perfect condition in Guatemala. 

There are no highways, and almost all roads are single-lane traffic in each direction. This may cause a lot of traffic congestion, especially during peak hours.

Around Guatemala City, there are roads with two or even three lanes in each direction, but the traffic is more intense and full of trucks. The first lane is often used by buses and locals for random stops. If you’re only going to Antigua, then the roads are good; you just need to avoid peak hours, and you should get from Guatemala City to Antigua, Guatemala, in under three hours.

However, it seems that the government understands the importance of a good infrastructure and has invested in rebuilding the roads, especially those leading to their most important tourist attractions in Guatemala. 

I must admit that a couple of times, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the landscapes and drove blindly in the wrong direction. It didn’t occur to me that I was way off until I found myself in a village that had a slightly poorer infrastructure. 

After driving all around Guatemala, my best tip for you is this – if the road is bad (unpaved, full of potholes, doesn’t exist on the map), then you are on the wrong road. 

I drove all the way to Tikal National Park, which is deep in the jungle, and the roads were ok even there. Here is my complete guide for visiting the Tikal ruins in Guatemala.

Almost all roads are very good, and you will get to your destination driving on really good roads. 

I strongly suggest that you use the Waze navigation app on your phone while driving in Guatemala. Most of the time, Waze gives the best route, and locals use it, too, which means that they also post any alerts (such as accidents and other possible incidents) on the app. 

To use Waze, you will need an internet connection. I used Airalo, and it works great all over Guatemala. 

Driving style in Guatemala (local drivers)

There is a lot to be said about the driving style in Guatemala.

That’s why most locals have commented on Reddit that foreigners shouldn’t drive in Guatemala. They are trying to help you and keep you safe from any potential accidents caused by careless local drivers. 

After driving in Guatemala for more than one week, here is everything you need to know before deciding for yourself if you are ready to drive in Guatemala: 

  • Drivers don’t signal. They may turn sharp turns, change lanes, or even stop without signalling. That’s why it is important always to keep a safe distance from other cars so that you can react to any sudden changes in traffic. 
  • Traffic laws are often ignored. Since traffic lights don’t really exist outside Guatemala City, there is no rule to dictate who has priority, so it’s mostly a game of chicken. In more crowded places, you will need to pay a lot of attention to all the cars around you, and it is quite tiring. 
  • Cars often stop suddenly. Most drivers don’t signal when they want to park and they simply stop on the first lane. If there’s only one lane in each direction, they will stop there, minding their business. As everyone is doing this, it doesn’t seem to bother them. 
  • Cars and trucks overpass you even when it’s not allowed. It doesn’t matter if there is a double line, a car is coming, or there is a car stopped in fron of you. If the driver behind you wants to overpass you, there’s nothing stopping him, so I suggest to make room for him to do that. Don’t let your ego get to you, it’s not worth it. 
  • It seems that many drivers don’t have driver’s licence. You can tell by the way they drive, so keep your distance. 
  • Many cars seem to be missing essential parts, such as headlights, and lateral mirrors. Be mindful when driving around them. This is an issue more in the country side, and less around big cities. 
  • Some cars drive without lights at night. That’s one of the reasons for which it is not recommended to drive at night. 
  • There are many motos on the street, and they drive all over the place without minding driving laws. Always check your mirrors when turning left or right, as they might appear suddenly around you. 
  • The roads are full, and they all seem to understand each other in a weird way that seems to work for them. Expect motos, cars, trucks, pedestrians, animals and everything else on the street. 

Also, try to avoid driving at night since everything gets a lot worse when you can’t see all of this happening on the road. 

driving in guatemala

Driving in Guatemala at night

Most locals strongly advise against driving at night for one simple reason – you can’t see the traffic. 

A lot of cars, motos, bikes or people don’t have any kind of reflective signs and drive blindly in the darkness. Even if you do use your lights, driving fast, as a normal car would drive, it might be too fast to see the others jumping in front of your car or appearing out of nowhere. 

Remember that there are many stray dogs that seem to imitate the behaviour of locals who tend to cross the street at the most unfortunate moments. 

Driving during the day is somehow chaotic, but you can still see them around you. But driving at night in Guatemala, with poor or no public street lights, is a recipe for disaster. 

Also, remember that in more remote areas, with less traffic, it’s not unusual for locals without a driver’s licence to drive a car. 

There are too many things that can go wrong, and it’s better not to take any chances. Even if you do all things right, there’s a chance that others don’t know the traffic laws and don’t obey them. 

And there’s no point in ruining your holiday in Guatemala when all of this can be avoided by simply not driving when you cannot see. 

A speed bump (Tumolo) in Guatemala. Watch out for them, they are everywhere.
A speed bump (Tumolo) in Guatemala. Watch out for them. They are everywhere.

11 tips for driving in Guatemala

I do not want to scare you and make you not wish to drive in Guatemala because I truly believe it is possible, and it’s not that hard. If I can do it, so can you.

However, I want to give you my best tips for driving in Guatemala. 

  1. Drive only during the day. Guatemala has around 12 hours of daylight (from 6 am to 6 pm) so plan your days according to this schedule. 
  2. Always pay a lot of attention to all participants in traffic that are around you. Look for motos and weird cars around you, and always be ready for a car to stop randomly. 
  3. Let others overpass you. They will often drive very fast to get places, only to then stop in front of you. This is how they drive, and you can’t change them. Just stay away from them. 
  4. Always pay attention to your blind spots. It’s not unusual for motos to appear out of nowhere. I suspect that many people on motorcycles do not have driver’s licences and have no clue about the blind spots in cars. 
  5. Always park in secure parking lots. There are many parking lots everywhere you go. Almost all hotels will have their private parking but always ask before booking a hotel if they have secure parking.  I always use Booking and set the filter “Private Parking” when searching for hotels.
  6. Rent a car with tinted windows. Almost all cars in Guatemala have tinted windows because of the strong sunlight. It’s always better to have it because others cannot see inside. I didn’t ask for it, but even my rental had tinted windows. This was also recommended by a local.  
  7. The way from Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios is full of trucks. If you need to drive this way, start your drive super early (as soon as there’s daylight), before it gets too crowded. It tends to always have car crashes and the delays can ruin your itinerary for the day. This segment was by far the most disastrous during my itinerary
  8. There are some police filters that might stop you. But these are mostly random filters, and they simply check for ID and driver’s licence. Don’t panic if you get stopped over; you will be allowed to continue your trip in a couple of minutes. 
  9. The entire country is full of speed bumps. They are called “Tumulo”, and they are big. Most of the time, there are signs before the speed bump, but there are some without any prior signs. Always keep your eyes on the road and lower your speed to the point of a standstill because you can damage your car if you drive fast on those. 
  10. If a road is in bad condition, you probably aren’t on the right road. I’ve learnt this the hard way. There are new paved roads to almost all tourist attractions. Keep an eye out for the occasional potholes, but there’s almost always a great road to get you to your destination. 
  11. Sometimes, you just need to drive with confidence. Or you will be stuck for a long time. I had to adapt to the local driving style and break many driving rules, because it was simply not possible to advance otherwise. If you’re not ready to do this, then you will either need a lot longer or just not drive in Guatemala.
driving in Guatemala

FAQ

Should I drive in Guatemala?

You can drive in Guatemala, but given the chaotic driving style in Guatemala, you should only consider driving there if you are a very experienced driver and have driven in other countries that don’t respect traffic laws. 

How is driving in Guatemala? 

Generally speaking, driving in Guatemala is chaotic. The roads are full of cars, motorcycles, trucks, people crossing the street, and even animals. Most of them just want to advance, and if given the chance, they will cut in front of you without second-guessing themselves. Honking is a way to show your disagreement, pay attention to other drivers around that you overpass them, or simply point out that the driver in front of you should move faster. 

Is driving in Guatemala safe?

Yes, driving is generally safe in Guatemala if you are an experienced driver. But don’t fool yourself. Be honest with yourself. Even if you have more than 20 years of experience but have driven only in the U.S., you may not be ready to drive in Guatemala. An experienced driver should have plenty of experience driving in other crowded, narrow places where lots of participants in traffic don’t know/obey traffic laws. 

What is the legal driving age in Guatemala?

You must be at least 18 years of age to drive in Guatemala. To rent a car, you must be over 25 and have at least two years of experience. Do note that most rental companies will charge you extra if you are under 30 years old at the moment of rental. 

Is it safe to drive in Guatemala City?

Yes, it is safe, but some areas of Guatemala City are seen as less safe for tourists. Guatemala City itself isn’t on the map for most tourists. It’s also not recommended to drive in Guatemala City because it’s much more crowded than any other part of Guatemala, and the roads don’t make any sense. It is easy to miss your turn if you don’t know the road, even with the GPS in front of you. Turning around can take a lot fo time since it is such a crowded city. If you can, it’s better to avoid driving in Guatemala City, as it can become frustrating and take a lot of your time. 

Can you drive in Guatemala at night?

Yes, you can drive in Guatemala at night, but it is strongly advisable not to do so. There are many cars without any lights, pedestrians and animals on the side of the road, and other obstacles which you might not see because there is no public lighting. Only drive at night if you absolutely must and be extremely vigilant. 

Iulia Vasile

Iulia is a travel expert, blogger, engineer, freelance copywriter, and a curiosity-driven personality. She sees travel as the ultimate tool for self-improvement and personal growth, and that's the main topic of her blog, Juliasomething.com.

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