The Ultimate Guatemala Travel Guide for an Unforgettable Journey

Guatemala travel guide for those who are not yet sure if Guatemala is worth it. 

The truth is that you cannot believe everything you read online. Most countries that hope to attract more tourists use huge marketing budgets, pay the right influencers, and some even do business with big economies around, offering them some business advantages so that they will bring more tourists around.

Guatemala travel guide for those who are not yet sure if Guatemala is worth it. 

The truth is that you cannot believe everything you read online. Most countries that hope to attract more tourists use huge marketing budgets, pay the right influencers, and some even do business with big economies around, offering them some business advantages so that they will bring more tourists around. 

If you look at the U.S. Travel Advisory about Guatemala, you will see that they mostly advise against travelling to Guatemala. As any normal person on the internet, I immediately got scared after reading those recommendations. I thought I was in for a really dangerous adventure. 

But then I landed in Guatemala and decided to face my fears, rent a car and drive everywhere I wanted to go. And wow, I was in for a huge surprise. 

So, if you’re thinking anything like this, and if you are worried that the trip you just booked for Guatemala is a huge mistake, then I am here to tell you exactly what to expect, what to do and how to make the best of it. 

But here’s a spoiler alert for you – you’re in the biggest surprise ever. Because you will absolutely love Guatemala. 

Best time to visit Guatemala

Guatemala has two main seasons:

  • Rainy season (May to October)
  • Dry season (November to April)

I did this 10-day road trip in Guatemala in March, and the weather was great. 

However, it will depend on the type of activities you are planning for your trip. 

The climate around Guatemala City, Antigua, and Lake Atitlan is more subtropical, and therefore, it’s a more stable climate throughout the year. Most tourists visit primarily these places. 

However, the eastern, central, and northern parts of Guatemala definitely have a tropical climate. 

In March, I could feel the sun burning during the day and the humidity at night, which made it hard to sleep. During the rainy season, expect rainfall that can last from a few minutes to a few hours. 

Here’s a more accurate description of each climate that you will encounter during your trip to Guatemala and when the best time to visit each. 

Guatemala Travel Guide

Climate of Guatemala

Guatemala City

  • 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) above sea level
  • Mild subtropical highland climate
  • Temperatures are generally comfortable, averaging between 15°C to 23°C (59°F to 73°F) throughout the year. 
  • The rainy season, from May to October, brings afternoon showers, while the dry season, from November to April, is mostly dry and cool.

Antigua

  • Slightly higher at approximately 1,530 meters (5,020 feet)
  • Shares a similar climate to Guatemala City
  • Mild temperatures ranging from 13°C to 24°C (55°F to 75°F)
  • Its high altitude keeps the climate temperate year-round. 
  • Antigua experiences a clear division between the dry and wet seasons.

Lake Atitlán

  • This lake is situated at a higher altitude, approximately 1,560 meters (5,120 feet)
  • The climate is comparable to that of Antigua and Guatemala City but can feel slightly cooler due to the lake’s influence and the surrounding mountains. 
  • Temperatures typically range from 12°C to 24°C (54°F to 75°F). 
  • The area around the lake also sees a pronounced rainy season and a dry season, with the best time to visit is during the dry months for clearer views and more comfortable travel conditions.

Central Region (Cobán Area):

  • Located in the central highlands of Guatemala
  • Subtropical highland climate
  • Elevation of about 1,300 meters (4,265 feet)
  • Temperatures are generally cooler than in the lowlands, ranging from 12°C to 22°C (54°F to 72°F). Known for its moist conditions and significant rainfall throughout the year, 
  • Particularly heavy rainy season from May to October
  • The area is often cloudy and misty, which supports its lush green landscapes and vibrant coffee plantations.

Eastern Region (Puerto Barrios and Río Dulce):

  • A more tropical climate, given its lower elevation and proximity to the Caribbean Sea
  • Warm and humid throughout the year with temperatures typically between 24°C to 34°C (75°F to 93°F)
  • Rainfall is abundant, especially during the rainy season from May to October
  • The region can also experience significant precipitation in other months due to its tropical climate. The weather is ideal for exploring the lush rainforests and waterways that characterise this region.

Northern Region (Petén – Lake Izabal, Flores, Tikal):

  • The Petén region, encompassing Lake Izabal, Flores, and Tikal, is characterised by a tropical rainforest climate. 
  • It is warmer and more humid than the highlands
  • Temperatures generally ranging from 20°C to 32°C (68°F to 90°F)
  • Rainfall is copious and can occur throughout the year
  • The wettest period extends from June to December. 
  • The dry season is short, from January to May, and is the best time to visit archaeological sites like Tikal, as the lower humidity and cooler temperatures make for more comfortable exploration conditions.
tikal national park guatemala 10-day itinerary

For optimal weather in Guatemala, aim to visit during the dry season (January to May) when days are sunny and evenings cool, which is ideal for outdoor activities and sightseeing. The dry season also coincides with vibrant cultural events, including the famous Semana Santa celebrations at the end of March/ beginning of April, making it a particularly appealing time for tourists.

I was there just a few weeks before the Semana Santa (Holy Week before Catholic Easter), and there are multiple religious rituals in many cities across Guatemala. 

Tikal Guatemala Travel Guide

Must-visit destinations in Guatemala

What to visit in Guatemala? There’s more than plenty to do, and it will eventually come down to how much time do you want to spend in Guatemala. 

However, here are the main attractions spots in Guatemala, which you shouldn’t miss if you decided to drive around Guatemala or you are simply planning a 10-day road trip itinerary around the country. 

Antigua Guatemala

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the jewel of colonial architecture in Central America. Stroll through cobbled streets, explore ruins of old churches, and enjoy views of towering volcanoes.

I wrote a very detailed guide on the best things to do in Antigua, Guatemala, and why you should add it to your Guatemala itinerary.

I stayed at Hotel Luna Maya, which I recommend as the location is perfect and the staff is very friendly.

guatemala 10-day itinerary

Lake Atitlán

Surrounded by volcanoes and dotted with colourful Mayan villages, Lake Atitlán is renowned for its natural beauty and vibrant indigenous culture. Take a boat tour to visit the different communities, each with its unique customs and crafts.

lake atitlan Guatemala Travel Guide

Tikal National Park

Venture into the heart of the jungle to discover ancient Mayan ruins. Tikal, one of the largest archaeological sites of pre-Columbian Maya civilisation, offers a profound glimpse into the past amidst a backdrop of lush rainforest.

I wrote a comprehensive guide about visiting Tikal ruins in Guatemala, with everything you need to know before going there, from logistics to tips to make your visit memorable.

This UNESCO site is located in the middle of the jungle, and not only will you get to stare and wander around these massive Mayan pyramids and structures, but you will also see many of the birds and animals native to this tropical climate, such as toucans, parrots, howling monkeys, but hopefully not jaguars. I saw them all (not the jaguar) and I was in awe, all included in your Tikal entrance price ticket. 

Semuc Champey

Hidden in the verdant mountains of Alta Verapaz, Semuc Champey features a natural limestone bridge with a series of stepped turquoise pools above a rushing river. It’s a perfect spot for swimming, hiking, and enjoying the tranquillity of nature.

The location is pretty deep in the central area of Guatemala, in the tropical highlands, providing a well-deserved oasis from the humid jungle. Luckily, there’s a new road being built right up to the entrance (March 2024), so in about a year or so, you will be able to drive all the way there.

Before the completion of the road, a 4WD was necessary to get there, and locals were organising private cars to get tourists there for just a few USD. 

Semuc Champey

Chichicastenango

Known for hosting one of the largest and most vibrant markets in Central America, Chichicastenango (or simply Chichi) is a place where traditional Mayan culture is vividly alive.

Shop for handicrafts, textiles, and other local goods, and soak in the rich atmosphere of Mayan traditions.

Chichicastenango Guatemala Travel Guide

I feel that many are drawn to this religious community because of its spirituality, but it may not be for all of us.  Chichi is crowded and full of cultural vibes, and it’s pretty much different from anything else you will find in Guatemala or pretty much anywhere in Latin America. 

Cultural experiences

Guatemala has it all, from nature to culture and adventure and all the experiences in between to make you say, “I want more.” The truth is that I didn’t expect Guatemala to be such a fulfilling travel destination. I was mostly fearful when I first landed in Guatemala City, but one week later, I felt that this trip to Guatemala wasn’t long enough to do everything I wanted to do. 

That’s why I want to give you my top experiences that you won’t want to miss while you are in Guatemala. 

Volcano hiking

Guatemala is home to numerous volcanoes, many of which are accessible for hiking. 

A climb to the summit of Volcán Pacaya, one of Guatemala’s most active volcanoes, allows you to see lava flows and enjoy panoramic views. For a more challenging trek, the hike to the top of Volcán Acatenango provides stunning vistas of the erupting Volcán Fuego.

Guatemala travel guide

Zip-lining

Experience the thrill of soaring over lush coffee plantations and dense rainforests on a zip line. 

The Atitlán Nature Reserve offers zip-lining experiences that combine adventure with breathtaking views of Lake Atitlán and its surrounding volcanoes. Many also choose a boat tour on Lake Atitlan. If you’re not feeling so adventurous, then a day trip to visit the villages around Lake Atitlan is for you. 

Cave exploration

The limestone landscapes of Alta Verapaz provide opportunities for cave exploration, notably the Lanquín Caves, which are part of a larger network that includes the famous Semuc Champey. These caves offer a glimpse into the geological and cultural history of the region.

If you aren’t driving around Guatemala, you can see all this on a 3-day trip from Antigua

River tubing and kayaking

For water-based adventures, the Río Dulce and other rivers in the eastern part of Guatemala offer excellent opportunities for kayaking and tubing. These activities provide a unique way to explore the natural beauty and wildlife along the riverbanks.

Coffee plantation tours

Guatemala’s coffee is known worldwide for its quality and rich flavours. Many plantations offer tours that explain the coffee-making process from bean to cup. These tours often conclude with a tasting session where you can sample different varieties.

I visited Chicoj Cooperative near Coban City, but coffee grows all around Guatemala and you can go on a tour from Antigua or even Guatemala City. 

Workshops (weaving or cooking)

Engage with Guatemala’s rich textile tradition by participating in a weaving workshop. 

Many indigenous communities offer workshops where you can learn about traditional weaving techniques and the cultural significance of their vibrant textiles.

And if you want to purchase some handmade crafts, don’t miss the craft market in Antigua, it’s next to the popular St. Catalina Arch. 

Foodies might be more interested in joining a cooking class. Here’s a cooking class with a local family in Antigua. If you want just to taste some food, then a food walking tour of Antigua is for you.

Guatemala travel guide: 5 travel tips for Guatemala

Safety

Most people are concerned about the safety situation in Guatemala. I can’t blame them because I was also concerned about that before travelling to Guatemala. 

Luckily, there’s not much to worry about. Locals are mostly welcoming and helpful everywhere you go, especially around the main tourist areas where you’ll likely be heading. 

Hotels are very safe, and I don’t think there is any need to worry about the staff stealing from your room. I’ve been in all sorts of hotels all around Guatemala, and it felt really safe. I would dare to say it was safer than in the U.S. 

The only place were you should be more cautious is Guatemala City, especially at night. I didn’t spend much time there, and I also visited two huge shopping malls which were very safe. 

Money

You will need some cash money if you travel to Quatemala. You can get it from any ATM, so always make sure you have some on you. But don’t stress yourself too much about it. If you are driving in Guatemala, then it will be easy to find places to pay with card. 

It’s always better to ask before if they accept card payments, to avoid any situations. In Spanish, it’s something like “Puedo pagar con tajeta?”, which means “Can I pay with card?”.

What I needed cash was for food bought on the street (fruits) or small souvenirs. 

But generally speaking, you can also pay with your card almost everywhere (gas stations, hotels and restaurants). 

I also noticed how most prices are really affordable and that locals don’t try to scam you. 

However, in more touristy areas, some bus drivers might try to overcharge you just because you are a tourist. But I didn’t take any buses, and this didn’t happen to me. 

Guatemala travel guide

Language

Locals speak Spanish in Guatemala. Some small communities speak a Mayan dialect, but those somehow related to tourism will also speak a bit of Spanish. However, unless you are in a big city like Antigua, it will be difficult to communicate in English. 

To be able to travel in Guatemala and interact on a basic level with locals, you will need to speak at least a bit of Spanish. Even if you need to ask basic questions like “How much does it cost?” or “Where do you get the bus?” you will need to ask in Spanish. 

Speaking the language will open so many new doors and opportunities for you, it’s hard to describe it. Sure, if you can afford it, some tours will have English-speaking guides (but even those seem to have a limited level of English) and it will be more expensive overall to not speak the language. 

From my personal experience, almost all foreigners I have encountered in Guatemala spoke Spanish to some degree. 

When I landed in Guatemala, my understanding in Spanish was almost perfect, but it was harder to articulate detailed sentences. By the end of my trip, I was able to carry out casual conversations. Basically, you get to immerse yourself in the culture and language, and you just have to embrace it. 

Health

As a poor country in Central America, many believe Guatemala to a health risk. But I didn’t feel any issues with that during my trip in Guatemala. 

The only thing you should be aware of is that you can’t drink tap water. Nobody drinks tap water in Guatemala, so don’t do it. You can find affordable bottled water in any store. Since I rented a car, the first thing I did was to buy a 10 liter water tank and carry it in the back of the car. I used that to refill my water bottle every day. 

It’s also recommended that you avoid ice in your drink and salads, since you don’t know where the water is coming from for the ice cubes or the kind of water used to wash the vegetables. 

But all my restaurant meals were great; some contained vegetables, and I never got sick during my trip in Guatemala. At some point, I stopped randomly by the side of the road to eat at a cafe, and I didn’t get sick. While some establishments look more poor, the locals are already friendly and welcoming, taking good care of their customers. I have to say that I was impressed by all of them overall. 

Transport

To travel around Guatemala, you have a few options – take chicken buses (the common bus locals use), take tourist buses (more expensive but safer and reliable), or rent a car and drive yourself. 

This is more a matter of budget and energy. If you have plenty of time to spend in Guatemala, then you will probably tend to take local transport to save money. That’s ok, as long as you take good care of your luggage (never let it out of your sight). 

For many, a trip to Guatemala looks more like this:

  • Transfer by tourist bus from Guatemala City airport to Antigua
  • Time in Antigua, transport on foot (Antigua is very walkable)
  • Transfer from Antigua to Lake Atitlan
  • Boat tour on Lake Atitlan to discover the villages around the lake
  • Bus transfer to Chichicastenango
  • Bus transfer to Coban (for the more adventurous) or transfer back to Guatemala City
  • Flight to Flores or overnight bus to Flores (if you have the budget, just take the plane)
  • Two nights in or around Flores to visit Tikal
  • Bus or flight back to Guatemala City and departure to next destination
Guatemala travel guide

Guatemala travel guide: accommodation and dining

Hotels in Guatemala are usually pretty nice. In the more tourist areas, such as Antigua and Lake Atitlan, you will find many hotels for all budgets. 

I recommend Hotel Luna Maya in Antigua. The location is good, the staff is nice, and they even have secure, private parking if you need it. 

Around Lake Atitlan, you can spend a night or two at Hotel Atitlan in Panajachel, from where you can take a boat tour to visit other places around the lake. 

If you decide to stop in Chichicastenango, I recommend Mayan Inn, located right in the heart of the city. 

Coban is a great base from which to visit some coffee plantations, so I recommend staying at Hotel Don Juan Matalbatz

If you want to visit Semuk Champey, then stay at El Retiro Lanquin and get a local transport to the natural park. 

If you decide to visit Tikal (an absolute must-see in Guatemala), then stay in El Remate village. I choose Casa Alemán, which has the greates view over the lake. From there you can get a local transport to Tikal, running every day, according to demand. 

I know it sounds complicated, but it’s not. The trick is to always ask locals, how to get to the next place, where is the bus stop and what time does it depart. You will be surprised to find many locals willing to help. 

I put all this and more in my 10-day itinerary for Guatemala, which I strongly advise you to use, and you can add or subtract days and location as you wish. But this is the most touristic route and a good baseline for all your adventures in Guatemala. 

Guatemala is also a haven for foodies. While I personally don’t eat meat, you will find many eateries for all budgets in any of these locations. Of course, Antigua is the most upscale city, and it offers anything from American chain restaurants to vegan restaurants and craft beer places. 

It’s safe to say you will not starve in Guatemala, so don’t worry about it. 

Guatemala travel guide

Guatemala travel guide: must-try foods in Guatemala

  • Pepian – This rich, spicy stew is one of Guatemala’s oldest dishes, typically made with chicken, beef, or pork mixed with various vegetables and roasted spices.
  • Kak’ik – A traditional Mayan turkey soup that is spicy and flavorful, coloured with achiote and loaded with vegetables and herbs.
  • Jocon – This dish consists of chicken cooked in a sauce of green onions, cilantro, and tomatillos, often served with rice and tortillas.
  • Paches – Similar to tamales, paches are made from potato dough instead of corn and are typically stuffed with meat and sauce, then wrapped and steamed in banana leaves.
  • Rellenitos – A popular snack or dessert, these are mashed plantains stuffed with sweetened black beans, shaped into balls, and fried until golden.
  • Tostadas – These are crispy fried or baked corn tortillas topped with guacamole, refried beans, cheese, and salsa, a common street food found throughout Guatemala.
  • Enchiladas – Guatemalan enchiladas are an open-faced tortilla piled high with layers of cooked ground beef, sliced hard-boiled eggs, vegetables, and topped with beetroot and a sprinkle of cheese.
  • Hilachas – A savoury dish of shredded beef in a tomato-based sauce that includes potatoes, carrots, and bell peppers, typically served over rice.
  • Fiambre – A traditional dish served on All Saints’ Day, this salad consists of dozens of ingredients, including various meats, cheeses, and pickled vegetables.
  • Chuchitos – Similar to Mexican tamales, but the dough is firmer and they are usually filled with a simple tomato sauce and chicken or pork, then wrapped in corn husks and steamed.

Shopping and souvenirs

I found a few lovely souvenir markets in Guatemala, which are not to be missed. 

The first one is the Nim Po’t (Google Map location) craft market in Antigua, next to Santa Catalina Arch. You’ll find so many souvenirs here, you’ll fall in love with this market. They have everything from keychains to purses to traditional costumes, coffee, chocolates and furniture. It’s a lovely and colourful place. They let you roam around as you please, and the vendors don’t hassle you. I truly enjoyed this palace and ended up buying a bunch of small souvenirs. All items have a price tag and you can pay with an international credit/debit card. 

The other tourist places all have a bunch of souvenir shops around them, so you will find them everywhere, but I would say that most of them offer similar items. There are also some shops at Tikal, near the restaurants at the entrance, where you can buy souvenirs, so check that out as well. 

Guatemala travel guide

Guatemala travel guide: What can you buy from Guatemala?

If you’re looking for something to buy as a souvenir from Guatemala, you should consider the following items:

  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Mayan souvenirs (images of their gods, alphabet)
  • Jade stones (usually carved with the Mayan months)
  • Textiles with Mayan motifs 
  • Wood-carved symbols (keychains or bigger figurines), which are very colourful 
Tikal Guatemala travel guide

Is Guatemala worth it?

YES. Guatemala is worth it. It offers so much culture, nature, history and friendly locals. Unlike other areas around Central America, Guatemala is the birthplace of the Mayan civilisation.

They had their own calendar, alphabet, and calendar. Remember that movie “2012” in which the end of the world was coming? It was all based on the fact that the Mayan calendar was calculated only up to 2012. 

The biggest question I saw people asking in Guatemala is, “Why did the Mayans disappear?” and the answer is that” They didn’t.” After the Spaniards came and “discovered them”, they mixed, and they continue to exist to this day. 

If you travel long and deep enough in Guatemala, you will find many villages populated by the descendants of Mayans. They still speak their own language (apparently, the Mayan language has about 22 different dialects), and they live in peace with those around them. Always smiling, always helpful. 

For me, that’s Guatemala. A land that, thankfully, wasn’t yet ruined by overtourism, that sticks to its great deal of customs and is always looking forward to pleasing its travellers. 

I would lie if I would say Guatemala is a nice place. It’s a great place, the kind of place a traveller only hopes to discover during their travels. Nowadays, most places are ruined by over-tourism and both tourists and locals seem tired of the same restaurants or situations. 

Guatemala is not like that at all. It’s a place to explore, to experience and to humble you. 

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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