This post contains all of my top Guatemala travel tips.
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Are you planning a trip to Guatemala soon?
Guatemala is one of my all-time favorite countries to travel to. I love the warm weather, friendly locals, volcano views, beautiful hikes, and colorful cultural activities.
I’ve spent a total of 6 weeks in Guatemala and through that experience, I’ve put together a list of my top Guatemala travel tips. I go over everything you need to know before traveling to Guatemala, safety tips, things to do, how to get around, and much more.
Here are my top Guatemala travel tips:
Things To Know Before Traveling To Guatemala
When To Visit Guatemala
Guatemala basically has two seasons – dry season and rainy season. Dry season is typically from November to April and is the best time to visit Guatemala. You’ll see milder temperatures and far less rain during these months. The rainy season is from May to October and obviously there is much more rain and heat during this time.
I’ve visited Guatemala twice, both times in January and the weather was great. It was hot enough during the day to enjoy the sunshine, but it did get a little bit chilly at night.
If you’re from the U.S., EU, or UK, you can enjoy up to 90 days in Guatemala for free. Travelers from other countries should check the visa requirements here.
Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees
If you want to avoid unnecessary fees abroad, it’s important to get a debit card with no foreign transaction fees. I’ve been using Charles Schwab since 2015 and I’m a huge fan! They don’t charge any foreign transaction fees and they even reimburse you for ATM fees charged anywhere in the world. They’re definitely my number one pick for debit cards for travelers.
Learn A Few Words Of Spanish
English is not very widely spoken outside of Antigua. You’ll definitely have an easier time traveling in Guatemala if you know a few words of Spanish. I love using apps like Duolingo and Babbel for learning basic language skills.
Some of the most important words to learn are numbers, hello (hola), thank you (gracias), how much does it cost (cuanto cuesta?), and please (por favor).
Guatemalans Are Very Friendly
It’s not uncommon to be walking down the street and be greeted with a “Buenos Dias” from everyone you pass! As a solo traveler, this made me a little bit nervous at first. I’m pretty used to keeping my head down and avoiding unwanted attention, especially from men. But after awhile you start to really enjoy the warm smiles and friendly greetings!
You Can Hike Active Volcanos
One of the coolest things to do in Guatemala is to hike the active volcanos. It’s such a bucket list experience to see the volcanic activity up close, witness lava flows, and even roast marshmallows on the volcanos.
The main volcanos you can hike are Pacaya and Acatenango, both of which are easily accessible from Antigua. For safety reasons, make sure you do these treks with reputable guides and bring plenty of warm clothes! It may seem strange, but temperatures can drop quickly when you’re at the top of the volcanos.
You May Hear Fireworks
Don’t be alarmed if you hear fireworks all night in Guatemala. During religious festivals, Guatemalans love to set off fireworks for hours. The first time I visited Guatemala I thought I was hearing gunshots going off, but it turned out to just be a celebration in the streets!
Things To Do In Guatemala
Climb To Cerro De La Cruz
All travelers eventually make their way to Antigua when they’re in Guatemala. It’s the tourism hub of the country. While you’re staying in Antigua, make sure you do the hike up to Cerro De La Cruz. This spot offers some of the most incredible views over the city of Antigua.
Be aware that it is a pretty steep climb that takes around 15-20 minutes. If you’re not feeling up for the climb, you do have the option to take a taxi to the top. I’ve heard that this hike is a little bit sketchy at night so make sure you go during the day when there are more people around.
Shop At Chichicastenango
If you’re looking for some souvenirs, there’s no better place to shop than Chichicastenango market. This giant market is open on Thursdays and Sundays in the town of Chichicastenango. You’ll find excursions to this market town all over Antigua and Lake Atitlan so it’s super easy to make a day trip out of it.
Hike Pacaya Volcano
One of my all-time favorite experiences in Guatemala is the hike up Pacaya volcano. This hike only takes a few hours to complete but it is still a little bit challenging.
Pacaya is an active volcano and you can definitely still see the signs of volcanic activity. There are several thermal pockets where you can actually roast marshmallows right from the ground! Sometimes you’re even able to see lava flows at Pacaya. Obviously, be very cautious here and don’t stray away from your guide.
Guatemala is one of my favorite places to learn Spanish. It’s affordable and the locals speak a little bit slower than other Spanish speaking countries like Spain.
The best way to learn Spanish is to immerse yourself in the language. I took a Spanish course in Antigua and it really helped me learn the language quickly. Shop around for different language schools around the country and find one that fits your budget and learning style.
Hobbitenango is a super fun hobbit-themed hotel near Antigua. Even if you’re not a guest, you can pay a small fee to get the shuttle from Antigua and enjoy the property for the day.
There is a small restaurant onsite, bar, old school carnival games, a swing, mini golf course, etc. so you’ll never run out of activities here. If you’re interested in staying at Hobbitenango, this post from Dharma Trails does a really good job of explaining what it’s like here.
Hang Out On A Rooftop In Antigua
Antigua is one of my favorite cities to travel to, in part because of the incredible views around town. From one of the many rooftops in Guatemala, you can spot several volcanoes and mountains in the distance.
My favorite rooftops in Antigua are Cafe Sky, Bella Vista Coffee, and Antigua Brewing Company.
Swim In Semuc Champey
If you want to go really off the beaten path, head to Semuc Champey. It’s about 9 hours by bus from Antigua but once you’re here, you’ll feel like you’re in another world.
Semuc Champey is made up of a series of pools filled with stunning turquoise water. You can swim here, swing on a rope swing, and hike to a lookout to see the pools from above. The nearest town to Semuc Champey is Lanquin, and we had an amazing stay in town at Zephyr Lodge.
Explore The Ruins At Tikal
Did you know that Guatemala is home to some of the most impressive ruins in Central America? Tikal is located in the northern part of the country, near the border to Belize.
Walk around the various temples, pyramids, and other structures left behind by the Maya civilization. You can even climb to the top of some of the structures at Tikal!
Visit The Chocolate Museum In Antigua
One of my favorite things to do on a rainy day in Antigua is visit the Chocomuseo (Chocolate Museum). The museum is completely free to visit and is a great place to learn about the chocolate making process. There are plenty of free samples (!!) and chocolate products to purchase while you’re there.
If you want to dive a little bit deeper, you can take one of the chocolate making demonstrations. You’ll learn each step of the chocolate making process and have a chance to make your own chocolate products.
Trek Volcán Acatenango
If you’re up for a real challenge, sign up for a trekking adventure to Volcán Acatenango. You’ll spend the day hiking and then camp overnight near the top. If you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with insane views of nearby Fuego volcano erupting.
Visit The Atitlan Nature Reserve
One of my favorite things to do in Lake Atitlan is to visit the nature reserve. It’s located just a few minutes from downtown Panajachel and you can get there on foot or by taxi.
You’ll find hanging bridges, waterfalls, gorgeous views of the lake, and even a butterfly garden.
Ride A Chicken Bus
If you want to see Guatemala through the eyes of a local, there’s no better way than by riding in a chicken bus. They’re basically just retired U.S. school buses that have been painted in wild colors. You’ll usually find them packed with locals and blasting reggaeton music.
P.S. there’s typically no real chickens on the buses unfortunately.
Swim In A Hot Waterfall in Rio Dulce
One of the most unique things to do in Guatemala is to swim in a hot waterfall in Rio Dulce. Finca Paraiso is one of the only waterfalls of its kind in the world. Water from a nearby hot spring flows down into the cool river below it, creating a small warm pool to swim in.
Getting Around Guatemala
By Shuttle Bus
One of my top Guatemala travel tips is to get around by shuttle bus. The tourist shuttles in Guatemala are affordable, safe, and convenient. If you base yourself in Antigua, you’ll be able to find a tourist shuttle to pretty much anywhere in the country. Just pop into any of the tourist shops in the main area of Antigua and ask for a shuttle to wherever you want to go.
Riding the chicken bus is definitely the cheapest way to get around Guatemala. Chicken buses are restored U.S. school buses that have been painted wild colors. They’re usually packed with locals and blasting music. Rides usually only cost a dollar or two and the ride is definitely an experience of its own.
Chicken buses are the most convenient option for short distances. Because the locals take them, they go pretty much everywhere you’d need to go. However, I definitely don’t think they’d be comfortable for rides of more than an hour or two.
Renting A Car
I do not recommend renting a car in Guatemala, unless you are extremely comfortable with driving in Central America. The roads are very rough in the more remote areas, security and parking can be an issue, and traffic is very heavy in the capital.
Taxis are available in all the bigger towns in Guatemala, and they’re fairly cheap. Taxi rates start at around $3USD for a short ride. Be prepared to negotiate because taxis are rarely metered here.
TukTuks have become very popular in places like Antigua and Panajachel. They’re a great way to get around town for just a few dollars.
If you’re spending any time in Lake Atitlan, you’ll definitely take a few lancha (public boat) rides. You can take the boat across the lake to any of the towns for $2.50-3.00USD. This is my favorite way of getting around in Guatemala because it’s super scenic and fun.
Uber currently runs in many of the larger towns in Guatemala. If you have phone service, you can get around town with Ubers for really affordable rates. This is a great option if you’re not comfortable negotiating a taxi price.
If you’re short on time and you have room in your budget, you can fly across Guatemala as well. The main route is from the capital city to Flores, and tickets cost around $250 roundtrip. The flight only takes 50 minutes, as opposed to 8+ hours by shuttle bus.
Plan For Delays
No matter what transportation method you use, you will probably run into some delays in Guatemala. Shuttle buses run late, make extra stops, or run into unexpected traffic. Make sure you always factor in some extra time when you’re planning your journeys in Guatemala.
Guatemala Travel Tips: Safety
Guatemala Is Safer Than You May Think
People seem to think that Guatemala is an extremely violent or unsafe country. However, I have always felt very safe traveling Guatemala. As long as you’re sticking to the typical tourist destinations and using common sense, you shouldn’t have any issues with safety in Guatemala.
Use Common Sense
As with any destination, it’s important to use common sense when traveling in Guatemala. Don’t walk around by yourself at night, don’t keep a ton of money on you while you’re out and about, don’t flash your valuables, keep an eye on your drink if you go out, etc.
Walk On The Sidewalk
One of the most common types of theft in Guatemala involves robbers on motorcycles grabbing your bags. To avoid this, make sure you walk on the sidewalk out of reach of motorcycles. It’s also recommended to avoid cross-body bags. This is because if your cross-body purse is snatched, you will likely be dragged behind the motorcycle until the strap breaks.
I always recommend bringing a small backpack and wearing it on the front of your body when you’re out in crowded areas. This method is the safest way to avoid robberies because your belongings are right in front of you and secured to your body.
Be Careful in Guatemala City
The capital city is definitely the most dangerous part of the country. Most tourists land in Guatemala City and immediately transfer to other destinations.
However, there are some areas of the capital that are safer for tourists. If you have to spend time in Guatemala City, make sure you know which areas are safer and which ones to avoid.
Wear Bug Spray
In the more remote areas of Guatemala, there have been breakouts of mosquito-borne viruses such as Dengue Fever and Zika. Make sure you protect yourself by wearing bug spray and long pants if you’re out hiking or on some of the more remote beaches.
Don’t Drink The Tap Water
Tap water in Guatemala is not safe to drink. Make sure you’re using bottled water when drinking, brushing your teeth, or making ice. If you’re cooking with tap water, make sure it is boiled or otherwise sterilized.
If you want to avoid having to buy bottled water everywhere, get a water bottle with a filter like the LifeStraw Bottle. It filters out bacteria, parasites, chemicals, and microplastics which means you can safely drink tap water through it.
Always Have Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is SO important for any destination. Your health insurance will likely not cover you in case of an emergency abroad. Plus, many countries are now requiring health insurance that specifically covers quarantine and COVID-19.
The number one recommended travel health insurance provider for short term travel is World Nomads. They were created by travelers, so they really cater to the needs of people who travel.
If you’re going to be traveling long term, I highly recommend getting a policy with SafetyWing. It’s an insurance policy designed for digital nomads and remote workers that covers medical assistance and travel interruptions.
Avoid Walking Around At Night
This is good advice for pretty much any destination. Always try to avoid walking around alone at night in Guatemala. If you’re going to be out late, have a buddy to walk home with or be prepared to take a taxi.
Monitor Weather Conditions
Guatemala sometimes experiences landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and other extreme weather conditions. Keep an eye on the weather and make sure you have travel insurance in case of any natural disasters.
Also, make sure you pack at least some warmer clothes if you’re going to be doing volcano hikes. When I was in Guatemala, they experienced an unusually cold night and unfortunately several people who were camping on Acatenango volcano lost their lives due to hypothermia. Make sure you go with a reputable guide that provides the proper equipment and heavy duty sleeping bags.
Other Guatemala Travel Tips
Guatemala uses the Quetzal (GTQ or Q). At the time of writing this, $1USD = 7.72Q. You can check the current exchange rate on this site.
ATMs are everywhere in big towns, but they can be hard to find in more rural areas. Make sure you take out plenty of cash when you’re in a city or large town. You don’t want to be stuck somewhere without a way to take money out.
I found the WiFi situation to be really good in Guatemala. I was able to work remote and do Facetime calls in many coffee shops, hostels, and Airbnbs. Just make sure to do research ahead of time – it’s rare but definitely possible that your accommodation wouldn’t have internet.
Guatemala is a super budget-friendly country. Accommodation, transportation, and food costs are all very low. You can easily travel here for around $30USD per day if you’re staying in hostels and eating at local restaurants. If you’re looking for a little more luxury, you could travel very comfortably for around $75 per day.
Accommodation In Guatemala
Accommodation costs in Guatemala are fairly low. You can typically expect to pay $10 to $15USD for a bed in a hostel dorm. A standard hotel room or Airbnb will cost around $30 to $75 per night, depending on where you go.
Guatemala’s outlets are 127V/60Hz. You can use standard American plugs here.
Tipping is not expected in Guatemala. Many restaurants will add a small service charge of around 10% to your bill, and no additional tip is expected. If you do want to leave a tip, you can simply round up your bill or leave a dollar or two’s worth of Quetzales.
Guatemala Travel Tips: Packing List
As mentioned earlier, the tap water in Guatemala is not safe to drink. Plastic water bottles are inconvenient and super bad for the environment. My favorite solution for staying hydrated when I travel is the LifeStraw Water Bottle.
It filters out parasites, bacteria, chemicals, and microplastics, making the tap water safe to drink. LifeStraw is a super reputable brand that’s been making water filter products for years.
One of my top Guatemala travel tips is to bring a portable charger. I bring one with me on every single trip because there’s nothing worse than running out of battery on my phone or camera when I’m out and about.
I love portable chargers with built in charging cords. It honestly makes things so much easier because you don’t have to carry around any additional cables. This one from Amazon comes with built in charging cables, a carrying case, and a built in wall plug.
I LOVE packing cubes. They make packing a backpack or suitcase SO much easier and more efficient. My absolute favorites are these clean/dirty packing cubes from Eagle Creek. They have two zippered sides so you can separate your clean and dirty laundry.
A daypack is one of the number one things I recommend packing for Guatemala. If you’re planning on doing any day trips, you probably don’t want to bring your big luggage just to carry around your sunscreen and towel.
A packable daypack barely takes up any room in your luggage but allows you to carry around smaller items throughout the day. I seriously use mine on every trip I go on and it’s a game changer. I definitely recommend getting one with a water bottle pocket so that you can carry water with you during the day.
There are a lot of activities in Guatemala that require sturdy, waterproof shoes. My absolute favorite shoes for light hikes and water activities are Chacos. They’re super rugged, durable, and waterproof.
When I first started traveling, Chacos came in some pretty ugly patterns and colors. Now they make Chacos that are honestly cute enough to wear on a regular basis! When it’s time to upgrade, I’m definitely getting these tan Z1 Classic Chacos.
This post was all about my top Guatemala travel tips that you need to know before visiting.
I hope you enjoyed these Guatemala travel tips! Guatemala is truly one of my favorite travel destinations, so I hope this post inspired you to plan a trip there.
Click here to read all of my other Guatemala travel posts.
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