99 Things Savvy Travelers Should Know Before Visiting Guatemala

by | Feb 2, 2024 | Guatemala, Travel

Are you in the middle of planning your first trip to Guatemala, and you’ve still got some nagging questions?

You might be wondering how long you can stay.

How do I get the local currency?

What’s the best SIM card?

Do I need to tip?

Or maybe you’re contemplating whether to even go. You’ve probably heard (I sure did!) that Guatemala isn’t safe. No one speaks English. It’s hard to get around. The internet is terrible.

In this blog post, I’m going to answer those nagging questions that you have or maybe that you didn’t even know you had. I’ll also tackle some of those worries you might have about Guatemala.

This information is based on 3-months of traveling, working online, and studying Spanish in the country and the experience of friends of mine who live there.

Let’s get started!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.  As an Amazon Associate and a Bookshop.org Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  Please see this website’s Disclosure for more info.

Entry and Exit Requirements for Guatemala

In this section, you’ll find info on what you need to enter as well as exit Guatemala I’ve also included info on what borders to use to enter the country by land. I have personally entered from Mexico and Belize and exited via Belize and Honduras.

1. Do I need a visa to enter Guatemala?

You don’t need a visa to enter Guatemala as a tourist if you come from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, most European countries, Australia, several South American, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries, and all Central American countries.

For those coming from the Philippines and India, a visa is required.

For a list of countries that need or don’t need visas, visit the website of the Guatemalan government.

2. How many days can I stay in Guatemala?

You can usually stay in Guatemala for 90 days.

That’s what will usually be stamped in your passport at immigration.


For those wanting to see the rest of Central America, you need to know the following:

These 90 days cover the countries of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. They are called the CA-4 Countries. That means you get 90 days total for all 4 countries. Not 90 days for each country.

If you want to stay in these 4 countries for longer than 90 days, you need to extend your visa or exit Guatemala and then re-enter. For example, cross the border into Belize, Mexico, or Costa Rica, and then cross back into one of the 4 countries.

I stayed in Guatemala for nearly 3 months, crossed into Belize, spent about 3 weeks there, and then crossed back into Guatemala. I got another 3 months, which I used to visit Rio Dulce in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

map of Central America
Map of Central America map with country borders

3. Are there other requirements for entry into Guatemala I should know about?

It is VERY difficult to find information on entry requirements on the Guatemalan government website. Much of the information below comes from foreign embassy websites as of February 1, 2024.

According to Prensa Libre, Guatemala passed a law on entry requirements that will go into effect in February 2024. Airlines will be fined US$3,000 for each passenger who arrives in Guatemala and doesn’t meet the country’s entry requirements. Expect the airlines to be more strict about checking that you meet the following requirements.

  • Proof of a return or onward ticket. It needs to show that you are planning to leave the country within 90 days. The airlines might ask for proof of this ticket. I crossed into Guatemala twice by land, and immigration never asked me for a return or onward ticket.
  • According to the U.S. Embassy website, your passport should have enough time on it for your length of stay in Guatemala, meaning it shouldn’t expire before the 90 days are up. However, the U.K. government website says 6 months validity on your passport upon entering Guatemala and 2 empty passport pages. I’d be conservative and go with the 6 months.
  • Fill out the electronic Guatemalan immigration form. You can also get the form here. Save the confirmation email with QR code to your phone or print it. According to the U.K. website, you will need to show the code when entering and exiting Guatemala. The U.S. Embassy just says that airlines might ask for it before letting you board.

Rules and requirements change often and without much warning in Guatemala, so please check this information on a government website before your trip.

4. Can I renew my visa or get another 90 days?

Yes, you can extend your stay in Guatemala for another 90 days. As of February 1, 2024, it costs around Q193 (US$25) to extend. Pay in Quetzales and not in U.S. dollars. Cash.

To extend your stay, go to the General Directorate of Migration in Guatemala City (Google Maps). It opens at 7:00 am and closes at 2:30 pm. This is their Facebook page.

You should be able to get your extension on the same day you apply. It can take as quick as one hour or as slow as the whole day to get your extension. Arrive when the office opens at 7:00 am.

Some people say the renewal begins the day you renew. Other people say it’s from the end of your first 90 days.

You need the following items:

Join the Living in Guatemala Expat Facebook group for more information on extending your stay in Guatemala beyond the initial 90 days.

5. What happens if I overstay the initial 90 days?

According to the U.S. Embassy website, if you exceed the period of authorized stay in Guatemala, a fine of Q15 Guatemalan quetzals (US$2) per day is imposed, and this fine must be paid to leave the country.

You need to pay the fine in cash.

If you’re flying out of Guatemala City, arrive at the airport early to pay your fine.

6. How can I find cheap tickets to Guatemala?

These are the 2 websites that I use to buy plane tickets:

  • Skyscanner – This is a great flight aggregate website that gives you flights for a particular route on major and minor carriers. When you find a flight you like, click on the website that you want to book the ticket from. This can be the airline’s website, Booking.com, Trip.com, etc. CHECK FLIGHTS TO GUATEMALA ON SKYSCANNER
  • Google Flights – I like Google Flights because it gives you the lowest price for all future dates. CHECK FLIGHTS TO GUATEMALA ON GOOGLE FLIGHTS

7. Can I fly directly into Antigua and skip Guatemala City?

No, you can not fly into Antigua. The city does not have an airport. The only international airport in Guatemala is in Guatemala City. The airport is called La Aurora International Airport (GUA).

However, Antigua is not far from the airport.

Here are the 2 best ways to get from the airport to Antigua:

  • A private shuttle can take you from the airport to your accommodations in Antigua (US$59)
  • A tourist shuttle that leaves at fixed times and drops you off at your accommodations in Antigua (US$19 – $23)

8. Where can I cross the land and sea borders into Guatemala?

You can cross the land borders into Guatemala from Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. You can also enter Guatemala by sea from Belize.

a street lined with shops, filled with people walking, and a sign saying Welcome to Guatemala
The Mexico-Guatemala border crossing at La Mesilla

Here are some of the common border crossings travelers often take:

Mexico Border Crossings:

  • Ciudad Cuauhtemoc (Mexico) – La Mesilla (Guatemala) – best crossing for traveling between San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico and Lake Atitlan and Antigua. I recommend doing it with a tourist shuttle and not on your own. The crossing has loads of sketchy people hanging around.
  • El Ceibo (Guatemala) – best crossing for traveling between Palenque, Mexico and Flores, Guatemala

Belize Border Crossings:

Honduras Border Crossings:

  • Corinto (Honduras / Guatemala) – the best crossing for traveling between Rio Dulce and La Ceiba (port for the Bay Islands of Roatan and Utila). I did this crossing but I did it with a tourist shuttle so it was easy.
  • El Florido (Honduras) – best crossing for traveling to and from Copan Ruinas, Honduras.

El Salvador Border Crossings:

9. What’s the best way to cross land borders: tourist shuttle or public transportation?

Sometimes it’s easier and safer to pay more to take a tourist shuttle rather than do it on your own with public transportation. The shuttles usually take you directly from your accommodation in one country to your accommodation in another country.

I took tourist shuttles when crossing the Guatemala/Belize border, the Mexico/Guatemala border, and the Guatemala/Honduras border.

white Mercedes shuttle van in parking lot
This is the shuttle that I took from San Cristobal, Mexico to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Guatemala – Belize: You can read about where I bought my ticket in this blog post on crossing the border.

Mexico – Guatemala: For crossing the border from San Cristobal, Mexico to Guatemala, I used the travel agency Viajes y Travel in San Cristobal, but I don’t think they handle the transfers anymore. My recommendation is to go to one of the travel agencies on Real de Guadalupe Street to buy your ticket.

Guatemala – Honduras: There are 2 places to book your shuttle in Rio Dulce. They use the same van and driver. The first one is Rio Dulce Travel (Google Maps) and Roneey Shuttle Service. I used both of them and they were great!

Other times the border crossing is fairly easy, and you can do it on your own with public transportation. I used public transportation when crossing from Belize to Guatemala.

10. Do I need to pay a tax when I exit Guatemala?

If you exit the country by plane, you need to pay a US$30 departure tax. However, it’s included in the price of the ticket.

There is no exit fee for departing Guatemala by land.

If you exit by sea at Livingston and Puerto Barrios, you need to pay a Q80 (US$10.35) exit fee.

San Pedro at the foot of a mountain
San Pedro is one of the most popular places to stay in Lake Atitlan

Check out my 2023-2024 Guatemala Travel Guide for more tips, tricks, ideas, and inspiration for visiting the land of eternal spring. You’ll find over 15 travel articles to help you explore the history, culture, food, and natural beauty of Guatemala.

Money and Currency in Guatemala

In this section, you’ll find answers to your questions about money such as ATMs, credit cards, tipping, and bargaining.

11. What currency do people use in Guatemala?

Guatemala uses the Quetzal. The plural form is quetzals.

The name of their currency is named after the bird, the quetzal.

I rarely paid in U.S. dollars.

As of February 1, 2024, it’s 7.82 Quetzal is equal to US$1.

12. Is it important to have small bills with you?

Yes, Guatemala has a bill shortage, so make sure you have small bills and coins with you to pay for things in shops and on the street.

13. Can I pay with my credit card or debit card in Guatemala?

You can usually use your credit or debit card (Visa or Mastercard) at medium-priced and luxury hotels, some more expensive restaurants, supermarkets, pharmacies, and travel agencies in Antigua.

However, many hostels, budget hotels, small shops, language schools, bus stations and transportation companies, travel agencies in Flores and Lake Atitlan, and tourist attractions like museums and parks do NOT accept credit cards.

It’s rare to find a business that will accept American Express.

14. Is there a fee for using a credit or debit card in Guatemala?

Even if hotels and other businesses do allow you to pay with a card, you will often be charged a transaction fee (recargo). This fee can be anywhere from 3% to 13%.

Always ask if there is a fee before using a credit or debit card.

15. Is it easy to find ATMs in Guatemala?

Yes, ATMs can be found all over Guatemala. It is the best way to get cash.

However, you need to be careful when using them.

ATM scams happen in the country. A thief installs a skimmer onto an ATM. When you put your card into the machine, the skimmer steals your data. Then they use your card information to purchase something online. Your credit card company shuts down your card.

16. Which ATMs should I use in Guatemala?

The safest ATMs are inside stores (pharmacies, convenience stores) and hotels.

Don’t use ATMs found on the street. It’s too easy for a scammer to stick a card skimmer on it and steal your data.

In Antigua, I always used the ATM at the Porta Hotel. It allowed me to withdraw Q3,000 at one time, whereas the other machines in Guatemala usually only allow a maximum of Q2,000 per transaction.

In Panajachel, I always used the ATM inside the Hotel Nakbe Atitlan.

When I was in Flores, I always withdrew money from the ATM at the Superfotomart store.

In Rio Dulce, there are ATMs outside the Supermercado La Torre.

The 3 most common bank ATMs I found in Guatemala were the following:

  • 5B
  • BI
  • BAM

You might be asked whether you want to use the ATM’s exchange rate. Reject the ATM rate. It’s usually worse than what your bank will charge you.

17. Do foreigners pay more than locals in Guatemala?

Yes, foreigners often pay more than locals. Often 5 times as much.

You will pay more for tourist attractions at museums and parks. In Antigua, one museum costs locals Q5 and it will cost you Q50. To see the church ruins, locals pay Q20, and you pay Q40.

At Lake Atitlan, locals pay Q5 to ride the boat between villages and foreigners pay Q15 to Q25.

In the market and at souvenir stalls, you’ll also pay more than locals.

The only times I experienced paying the same price as locals were at the food stalls in Antigua and in stores with prices listed on things.

18. Do I need to tip in Guatemala?

Yes, you need to tip in Guatemala. You should tip at least 10% in restaurants. However, the tip is often included in the bill. Check your bill to see if a “propina” charge is on it. If there is, there is no need to tip more unless you think the service was superb.

When you pay for your food beforehand, you don’t need to tip.

Should I tip my guide?

It’s always recommended that you tip your guides and porters if you enjoyed your tour.

If you do the El Mirador tour or Acatenango tour, definitely tip your guide(s) and porter.

There were 4 times when I didn’t tip my guide because the guide wasn’t very good: a tour in Rio Dulce, the Tikal tour, a tour in Antigua, and another tour to Yaxha in Flores. The guides were just not very good for safety reasons, not speaking much, spending too much time flirting with the younger tourists and not providing life jackets in unsafe conditions in Rio Dulce.

19. Should I bargain in Guatemala?

In Guatemala, prices are not fixed. Bargaining is expected in markets and souvenir stalls and sometimes shops.

If someone comes up to you offering to be your guide, you should bargain. This happens around Lake Atitlan and Chichicastenango.

Don’t bargain at the street food stalls next to La Merced Church in Antigua. Check out this travel guide to Antigua on where these wonderful street food stalls are.

What should be your initial counteroffer?

I usually try with half of what they say, expecting to come somewhere in between their first price and my initial offering.

You ask how much something is, “Cuanto cuesta?” They reply, “Q100.” You should respond with, “Q50.” In the end, you’ll probably pay something like “Q75.”

However, I also like to ask locals what they pay for something, and if they say Q5 or whatever, then I try to shoot for that amount. 

aerial view of the Semuc Champey cascades
Semuc Champey

Budgeting for Guatemala

A lot of travelers have questions about how much it costs to travel in Guatemala. These are my answers based on my 3 months in the country traveling on a budget.

20. Is Guatemala cheaper than Mexico?

When I visited Guatemala and Mexico in 2021, Guatemala was more expensive than Mexico.

However, when I returned to both countries in 2023 and 2024, Mexico became more expensive than Guatemala. Prices for tours, transport, food, and accommodations in Mexico doubled from what they were before.

In Guatemala, prices for tours and transport stayed the same. Food increased by only a little. For example, a meal at Rincon Antigueño in Antigua went from Q35 to Q40. Prices for accommodations increased by around 10 – 20%.

Guatemala is cheaper than Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama, but more expensive than Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

21. How much should I budget per day for Guatemala?

Your budget depends on your style of travel. For backpackers on a shoestring budget, expect to spend US$25 on days without tours and between US$50 – $100 on days with tours. For flashpackers, budget for between US$50 and $150 a day depending on whether you do a tour or not.

I’ll use Antigua as an example as it is the most popular tourist destination in Guatemala.

Budget travelers

  • Dorm room: US$10 – $15
  • Private room at a cheap hotel or guesthouse: US$30 – $40
  • A meal in an inexpensive restaurant (comedor): US$6
  • Street food: US$2 – $3 (Q20)
  • Chicken bus: US$2 – $3 (Q20)
  • Acatenango hike: US$90 + tips
  • Coffee tour: $20
  • Walking tour: free + tip

Mid-range travelers

  • Private room at a charming hotel in Antigua: US$60 – $80
  • Dinner in a nice restaurant: US$10 – $20
  • Tourist shuttle to Lake Atitlan: US$20
  • Acatenango hike with the best tour operator: US$99 – $120 + tips
  • ATV tour: $63 – $69
  • Food tour: $90
  • Walking tour: US$28
  • Museums: $5 – $7

Internet and SIM cards in Guatemala

Nowadays, no one can travel without access to the Internet or without using one’s smartphone. One of the first things I do when I arrive in a new country is to get a SIM card for my phone. When I arrive at my hotel, the first thing I ask for is the WiFi password.

Here are all your pressing questions regarding using the internet and your phone in Guatemala:

22. How do I get a SIM card for Guatemala?

You have 2 options for using the internet on your phone in Guatemala when you don’t have WiFi:

  • Get an eSIM before you arrive in Guatemala. An eSIM is a digital SIM.  Airalo has eSIMs for many countries around the world. Their SIM cards have been known to be very reliable. This is what I use.
  • Get a local physical SIM card in Guatemala. The problem with this is that you need to swap out your regular SIM card for a Guatemalan one. That means you can’t use your home country’s phone number when the Guatemala SIM card is in your phone.

Getting a physical SIM card in Guatemala

You can buy a SIM card in phone shops, pharmacies, and convenience stores. SIM cards are also sold at the airport in Guatemala City.

I always buy mine from a phone shop as the employees there have more time to install the card for me and help me if there is a problem. People who work at convenience stores and pharmacies are too busy to help.

There are 2 main mobile companies in Guatemala that you can buy SIM cards from:

Movistar no longer exists in Guatemala.

I used Tigo when I was in Guatemala because the Tigo store was the only one I saw on the street in Panajachel during my first full day in Guatemala. I paid Q120 (US$17) for 12GB of data for 30 days. That was a really good deal at the time. Presently, I’m not sure the price as I use Airalo eSIMs.

You need to bring your passport to get a SIM card.

Make sure to write down your phone number somewhere or store your phone number in your phone.

Also, ask the person who sold you the card how to check your available data.

Don’t leave the store without making sure you’re able to use the internet.

an outdoor market with stalls covered in white tarp at Chichicastenango, Guatemala
Chichicastenango Market

23. How can I get MORE data for my SIM card in Guatemala?

When you run out of data or your 30 days are up, you can recharge at a phone shop, convenience store, or pharmacy.

If you have Tigo, you can add more data through their website. However, when you go to the Tigo website, choose the option of paying from another country so that you can use your foreign credit card. I think this option is for Guatemalans who live in the U.S. to pay for a family member’s mobile phone plan in Guatemala.

Another thing to keep in mind is that SIM cards are only good for 90 days. Once the 90 days are up, you need to purchase a brand-new one.

24. How’s the internet in Guatemala?

I work online teaching and blogging, so the internet was one of my biggest worries about Guatemala.  It turned out that the situation was better than I expected. For tourism like booking hotels or checking your bank, the internet works well enough. If you’re working online, the internet is not great, but it’s doable.

Here are the facts about the internet in Guatemala:

According to this article on internet speeds in Central America, Guatemala has the second worst internet service in Central America. BUT it is better than it was when I first visited in 2021.

  • Mobile download speed: 32.59
  • Mobile upload speed: 16.77
  • Fixed Broadband download speed: 48.65
  • Fixed Broadband upload speed: 15.29

Guatemala ranks 92nd in the world for mobile internet speed and 113th for fixed broadband speed.

If you’re not working online like I was, then the internet is probably good enough for what you.

However, here’s my experience working online in Guatemala:

I worked online in Lake Atitlan, Antigua, Flores, and Rio Dulce.

Working online in Lake Atitlan

The quality of the internet depends on where you stay in Lake Atitlan. Some villages have better internet than others.

I stayed in 5 different villages around Lake Atitlan: Panajachel, Santa Cruz, Jaibalito, San Marcos, and San Pedro in 2021.

In Panajachel and Jaibalito, I stayed in hotels, and the internet was decent enough to blog and teach my online classes. My screen never froze up while on Zoom.

You can also find a coworking space at the Selena Hostel in Panajachel. Selena usually has fast and reliable internet. Even if you’re not staying there, you can use their space for a fee.

In San Marcos and San Pedro, I stayed in an Airbnb for a week at each place, and the internet was the fastest and most reliable on the Lake.

However, in Santa Cruz, I stayed at La Iguana Perdito hostel. They had no internet in the rooms and it was really slow in the public areas. It was so slow that I could not even open up a webpage. Plus, I could barely get the internet using the network on my phone. I ended up canceling my classes and getting no work done for the week I was there. Unfortunately, I booked for a whole week in advance because accommodations fill up fast at the lake.

Working online in Antigua:

I stayed for a month at the Ixchel Spanish School and hotels and hostels in Antigua. For the most part, the speed and reliability of the internet in Antigua were similar to that at the Lake.

 It was the best at the hostels but the slowest and least reliable at the hotels. At the Spanish school, the internet was unreliable. Sometimes it worked well, while other times my screen kept on freezing up while teaching online.

I tried working at some cafes, but the internet wasn’t any better than at my accommodations.

Antigua has some co-working spaces, which, unfortunately, I didn’t use:

You don’t need to stay at the Selena Hostel ito use their co-working space. In fact, even if you stay there, you still need to pay extra to use their co-working facilities.

Working online in Flores

The other place I spent working online was in Flores. I stayed at Hotel Petenchel, an inexpensive and clean hotel with air conditioning. I had pretty good luck with the WiFi there. It was reliable and worked at about the same speed as everywhere else in Guatemala.

Santa Catalina Arch at night in Antigua, Guatemala in Central America
Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua

Languages in Guatemala

The main language in Guatemala is Spanish. But what if you don’t know Spanish at all? Can you still travel? In this section, we’re going to look at how much Spanish you need to know to travel around Guatemala and where you can study Spanish in the country.

25. Do I need to know Spanish to travel to Guatemala?

You can get by with only English or minimal Spanish if you stick to tourist destinations like Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and Flores, get around by tourist shuttle AND stay in hostels or expensive hotels.

You will need to know Spanish if you travel off the beaten path, stay in budget hotels and some mid-range hotels, eat in local restaurants, or really try to get to know the Guatemalan people.

You’ll find that most tour guides know English, and travel agencies will have someone working there who knows English.

If you plan to get around by local transport like a chicken bus, you’ll need to know Spanish.

However, even if people in Guatemala know English, you will have an easier and more enjoyable time in Guatemala if you can speak some Spanish. Knowing at least some basic words and phrases is also a polite thing to do when in a foreign country.

I traveled around Guatemala with just beginner-level Spanish. Although I could ask and answer basic travel questions, my level wasn’t high enough to get to know the local people very well.

Here’s my recommendation for doing a crash self-study course in Spanish before you leave:

  • Spanish with Paul – Start here! There are 10 FREE YouTube lessons on the basic words you need to know. His lessons will give you confidence.
  • Duolingo – I met an Israeli guy who learned his Spanish through Duolingo and his Spanish was decent.
  • Dreaming Spanish – I love this website. You’ll learn Spanish by watching interesting videos at a slow speed.

26. Is Guatemalan Spanish similar to Mexican Spanish?

Yes, Guatemalan Spanish and Mexican Spanish are very similar. You will have no trouble in Guatemala if you speak Mexican Spanish.

There are several differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain and that in Guatemala, however. You will still be able to communicate if you learn your Spanish from Spain.

27. Where can I study Spanish in Guatemala?

That’s easy! There are so many places to study Spanish in Guatemala. The 3 most popular are…

  • Antigua – more expensive; quality varies
  • Lake Atitlan – cheaper but still good
  • Quetzaltenango – interesting courses

I recommend doing 2 weeks of Spanish classes.

Spanish Schools in Antigua:

There are lots of Spanish schools here offering courses at different rates. Shop around. You can sign up for your course before you arrive in Guatemala or do it while you are there. The summer is the peak season for Americans and Canadians to study in the country, and as a result, the better or cheaper schools might be booked up.

I studied Spanish for 3 weeks in Antigua, but I didn’t like my school. One of the teachers I had would show me photos of her past students and laugh at how ugly they were. OMG! I also found her method to be outdated – always grammar, grammar, grammar!

Spanish Schools at Lake Atitlan:

You’ll find loads of schools at Lake Atitlan as well. There are schools in the villages of Panajachel, Santa Cruz, San Marcos, and San Pedro. Prices vary. From my boots-on-the-ground research, schools around Lake Atitlan were cheaper than those in Antigua on average.

People I met who’ve taken courses at Lake Atitlan spoke highly of their experience studying Spanish there.

Spanish Schools in Quetzaltenango:

Also known as Xela, Quetzaltenango is an excellent place to study Spanish. I have heard really good things about the schools there from students I met while visiting the city. Because it’s not as popular of a place to study, the schools try harder to attract students by having better courses.

When I was in Quetzaltenango, I met a group of students studying there. Their school took them on excursions nearly every afternoon. You won’t get that in Antigua!

Plus! Unlike in Antigua where so many locals speak English, in Quetzaltenango, you won’t find many locals who do, so you’ll be forced to speak Spanish, which is better for learning.

28. Besides Spanish, what other languages are spoken in Guatemala?

Spanish is spoken by 75% 93% of the population. However, 30% 41% of the population speak an indigenous language as their first language. The reason for the disparity in percentages is that different sources gave different information.

There are 21 Mayan languages and 2 non-Mayan languages (Garifuna spoken by the descendants of African slaves around Livingston and Xinca spoken by 200 people total and with unknown origins).

The most widely spoken Mayan language is K’iche’ (10%). spoken by the people from Chichicastenango and Lake Atitlan. The other commonly spoken Mayan languages are Q’eqchi’ (Peten), Kaqchikel (Lake Atitlan), Mam (Quetzaltenango), and Tz’utujil (Lake Atitlan).

Most Maya people you meet in tourist destinations will know some Spanish. Older Maya and those in very remote rural areas may not know Spanish, however.

a temple at Maya ruins of Tikal, Guatemala
Tikal is one of the top attractions in Flores.


In this section, you’ll find info on health insurance, getting sick, COVID, malaria, and other urgent questions.

29. Should I get health insurance for Guatemala?

Even though the cost of health care in Guatemala may be lower than in your country, you should still get travel insurance that covers medical care for Guatemala as well as repatriation.

According to ex-pats in Guatemala, health care at public hospitals is not the greatest. Private hospitals and clinics are pretty good, but they can also be pricey. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have some kind of insurance.

Some popular health insurance companies include World Nomads and Safety Wing.

30. What should I do if I get sick in Guatemala?

What you should do if you get sick in Guatemala depends on your illness. Based on my experience needing to see a doctor in Guatemala, here are your options:

Hotel or hostel – You can ask your hotel or hostel for advice on where to go to see a doctor or where to find a pharmacy. This is what I’ve done in other countries.

Pharmacy – You’ll find pharmacies all over the place in Guatemala. On Google Maps or Maps.Me, search for pharmacies or farmacia.

Private and public clinics – Private clinics will be more expensive than public ones, but the quality may be better. I visited a private clinic in Guatemala, The doctor there spoke English well. It cost me Q200 for the examination.

Public and private hospitals – There are also both public and private hospitals. Care is usually better but more expensive at the private hospital.

Expat Facebook Groups: When I needed a doctor in Guatemala, I asked for recommendations from someone on the Expats Living in Guatemala Facebook group. The people in the Guatemala group are a wealth of information.

31. Do pharmacies require prescriptions in Guatemala?

For most types of medicine, you do not need a prescription. However, you’re supposed to have one in order to get antibiotics. I’m not sure how strictly enforced this rule is.

32. Where can I get a COVID test in Guatemala?

The location of COVID testing centers changes frequently.

Join the Expats Living in Guatemala Facebook group for the latest information on COVID testing centers.

The latest information that I have for Antigua is the following:

I got a COVID test done in Flores at Laboratorio Clinico Bio Ixcha.

coronaviruses swirling around Earth

33. Can I drink the water from the faucet in Guatemala?

No, you can’t drink the water from the faucet/tap in Guatemala. Drink only bottled or filtered water. I wouldn’t even brush my teeth with water from the faucet.

Many hotels and hostels will have large water bottles from which you can refill your water bottle for free.

34. Is there malaria, dengue fever, or zika in Guatemala?

One of the main things travelers want to know before visiting Guatemala is whether they could get malaria or dengue fever. Let’s take a look at these 2 diseases as well as zika.

Malaria in Guatemala

Malaria does NOT exist in Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala City or areas above 1,500 meters (4,900 feet). According to the CDC, malaria has been primarily found in the departments of Alta Verapaz, Escuintla, Izabal, Petén, Quiché, and Suchitapéquez.

This research study shows how prevalent malaria is in Guatemala.

Dengue Fever in Guatemala

Dengue Fever Treatment and Symptoms

Dengue Fever is more common than malaria in Guatemala. There were around 50,432 cases of dengue fever in Guatemala in 2019.

Dengue fever is transmitted by a specific mosquito called the aedes aegypti mosquito. Check the mosquito’s legs. If they have black and white stripes, it’s an aedes aegypti mosquito. However, not all aedes aegypti mosquitoes have dengue. They only get dengue when they bite a human who has dengue. Only females carry the disease.

These mosquitos live in urban areas, bite during the day (especially early morning and early evening), and breed in standing clean water.

You usually have a 1% chance per month of getting dengue.

There are no effective vaccines or medicines for dengue, and if severe can result in hospitalization.

I know several people who’ve ended up in the hospital with dengue fever. One stayed for 3 months in a hospital in Vietnam.

Zika in Guatemala

Zika is common in Guatemala.

You can buy OFF brand mosquito repellant that has DEET in Guatemala, but it’s usually just the aerosol kind, which you can’t take on planes. You can buy mosquito repellant at pharmacies.

But if you want repellent without DEET, forget it. You most likely won’t find any.

35. Do I need to wear a face mask in Guatemala?

Wearing a mask to protect others from contracting COVID19 if you have the disease is optional.

2 people with masks on standing six feet from each other

Check this Guatemalan government’s website for the most up-to-date information on COVID regulations and the prevalence of the disease in Guatemala.

Safety and Security in Guatemala

One of the most common questions people have about Guatemala concerns safety. Here are my answers based on my experience in the country as well as other research I’ve done.

36. Is Guatemala safe?

If you look at crime statistics, Guatemala seems like an unsafe country. Most of these murders, though, happen involving the drug trade or in unsafe neighborhoods in Guatemala City. Places like Antigua and Flores have relatively low levels of crime.

From 2014 to 2020, violent crime such as homicides fell from 30 to 15 per 100,000. However, since 2020, there has been a slight uptick in homicides from 15.4 in 2020 to 17.4 in 2022.  

When it comes to travel, Guatemala is, in general, a safe country if you take some precautions.

Your biggest worry will be getting robbed on hiking trails or while walking around late at night after the bars close, getting pickpocketed on busses, in markets, and on crowded streets, or someone snatching your bag while you doze off on a bus.

Here are some precautions you can take to stay safe:

  • Don’t walk around late at night by yourself. Take a taxi or call an Uber. This is true around Lake Atitlan and even on unlit streets in Antigua, but especially in Guatemala City.
  • Don’t go out hiking by yourself. Go with a group or hire a guide. This is true along the paths between villages and on some of the volcanoes around Lake Atitlan
  • Some volcanoes are too dangerous to go even with a guide. It’s recommended that you don’t hike up Volcano Agua in Antigua because of the bandits that hang out there looking to rob people.
  • Avoid Zones 1, 3, 6, 18, and 21 in Guatemala City. These are well-known neighborhoods with high crime rates.
  • Get travel insurance that covers theft and loss of valuables.

37. What should I do if my passport is stolen in Guatemala?

If your passport is lost or stolen while you are in Guatemala, obtain a new passport at your embassy as soon as possible. To depart Guatemala, you will need to present the new passport together with a police or Ministerio Publico report regarding the loss/theft to the Guatemalan Immigration Agency.

38. Is it safe for solo female travelers to travel in Guatemala?

From my experience traveling solo in Guatemala for over 3 months, I felt completely safe. I experienced no harassment or unwanted attention from men.

However, bad things can happen to women in even the safest countries.

What precautions to take in Guatemala:

As a solo female traveler, you should always take precautions:

  • Don’t leave your drink unattended
  • Don’t get drunk
  • Don’t walk around late at night on streets that are not well-lit and not full of people
  • Take a taxi or Uber from the bar or club back to your hotel late at night
  • Trust your gut; if someone is making you feel uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to leave
  • Don’t go hiking alone

39. Are there any scams I should know about in Guatemala?

Here are the following scams that I have heard about and some that I have experienced:

Friend scam – A Guatemalan or a foreigner befriends you, often it is a travel guide or someone working at your hotel. They tell you a sad story about a relative, neighbor, or friend who stole their money and they need money for some kind of emergency. They promise to pay you back. THIS happened to me in Guatemala but the person was from Belize.

Uber driver scam – Uber drivers show up and then demand that you pay more or in cash or else they won’t take you.

No change scam – Taxi drivers say they have no change. This has happened to me!

Camera scam – Someone asks you to take their picture. When you give them their camera back, they drop it on purpose and blame you. Then they demand you pay to fix the camera.

Distraction scam – Someone distracts you by spilling something on your clothes. The other person then steals your wallet.

Donation scam – This scam might be the most common. Someone comes up to you asking you to donate to an orphanage or some organization to help young people. THIS has happened to me twice!

Police scam – Someone dresses up as a police officer and tries to extort money from you or assault you.

40. Are there earthquakes in Guatemala?

Yes, Guatemala experiences earthquakes often. The country sits in a major fault zone.

To help you understand how common they are in the past 24 hours (July 29, 2022), there have been 16 earthquakes in or off the coast of Guatemala, 7 of which were above magnitude 3.0, 6 quakes between 2.0 and 3.0. and 3 below 2.0, which people don’t generally feel. The highest magnitude is an 8.

ruins of a church in Antigua, Guatemala
the ruins of Convento la Recolecion were caused by the famous 1773 earthquake that destroyed Antigua

In February 2022, Guatemala was hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.2, causing the death of 2 people and several landslides. Another earthquake (magnitude 7.4) hit off the Pacific coast in 2012, causing the death of at least 48.

The most destructive earthquake in recent times happened in 1976, in which 23,000 people died (7.5 magnitude).

The capital of Guatemala was moved from Antigua to Guatemala City because an earthquake destroyed the city in 1773 (and in 1717 and 1751).

41. Should I worry about volcanoes erupting in Guatemala?

El Fuego Volcano errupting and lava flowing down its sides at night
El Fuego erupting

Guatemala has 30 volcanoes, 3 of which are still active. These include El Fuego (Antigua), Pacaya (Antigua), and Santiaguito (Quetzaltenango).

If you’re in Antigua, you can see El Fuego erupt every 20 minutes and at night see the lava spewing out of it sometimes at night. The climb up its neighbor, Acatenango, and then a jump over to El Fuego is one of the most popular things to do in Antigua.

El Fuego erupting next to Acatenango
A view of El Fuego erupting from the rooftop of The Purpose Hostel in Antigua

The last eruption of El Fuego in which people died happened in June 2018. It destroyed the village of San Miguel Los Lotes and killed 159 people. However, it seems like the Guatemalan government is becoming more cautious. In 2022, El Fuego became more active than usual and residents of the villages located at the base of the volcano were evacuated. Then again in May 2023, an eruption caused people in several communities to evacuate.

Pacaya is another active volcano you can hike up. It’s not too difficult and you can actually roast marshmallows on the hot volcanic rocks. It last erupted in May 2021.

Santiaguito (Santa Maria) is located near Quetzaltenango and is in a constant state of eruption. You can climb it as well. Its 1902 eruption is considered to be one of the 3 greatest eruptions of the twentieth century.

Are the volcanoes dangerous? Should I be worried?

Probably not. There are usually early warning signs that a volcano is going to erupt.

You can check out the activity of these volcanoes at the Smithsonian Institute’s Global Volcanism Program.

42. Does Guatemala experience hurricanes?

Yes, but not like you might. Guatemala’s coast is often protected from hurricanes. However. the country can get really heavy rain when the hurricane passes over land.

The rain then turns into floods and mudslides shutting down roads, destroying crops, and worse, burying homes, businesses, and people.

Guatemala experienced 2 devastating hurricanes in 2020: Eat and Iota.

43. Is there anything else I should worry about in Guatemala?

Yes, there is. You might encounter demonstrations, protests, or roadblocks.

In the fall of 2023, protests and road blockades erupted across the country when Attorney-General Consuelo Porras tried to prevent the winner of the presidential election Mr. Arévalo from becoming president. Porras claims that the party that Arévalo, an outsider and anti-corruption crusader, belonged did not properly register. However, in January 15, 2024, Arévalo was formally sworn in as president of Guatemala.

When I was in Guatemala, there was a country-wide transportation strike. Drivers of tuk-tuks, buses, and taxis were protesting the government’s requirement that all drivers have insurance. You could not travel between cities and within cities for 3 days. I got stuck in Flores during that time.

It would be horrible if you needed to fly out of the country during a transportation strike!

So how do you avoid getting into a situation like this?

I was lucky and I knew about the strike ahead of time. While I was in Belize, I was trying to decide between crossing the border back to Guatemala on Sunday or Monday. In the end, I decided on Sunday because I had learned about the transportation strike that was starting on Monday through 2 channels:

  • The U.S. embassy – I had signed up for their STEP program, which sends out email alerts about protests and strikes.
  • Guatemala Expat Facebook group

If I had left on Monday, I can’t imagine how much I would have ended up paying to get from the border to Flores.

Zoomorph P
Quirigua has some of the most beautiful works of Mayan art in the world

Weather and Best Time to Visit Guatemala

In this section, you’ll find info on the weather and ideal times to visit Guatemala.

44. When is the best time to visit Guatemala?

October – March: This is the BEST time to visit Guatemala. There’s little rainfall around the country and the temperatures are not so high around Flores, Tikal, and Rio Dulce. Expect the evenings to get really cold in Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and Quetzaltenango. Bring long-sleeved shirts and a fleece during this time. Plan to wear a lot of layers.

April – May: This is a good time to visit Lake Atitlan and Antigua as rainfall is low and temps are good. However, in Flores and Tikal, April and May are the hottest months of the year. Temperatures get up to 94 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (34 – 35 Celsius)

June – September: It rains the most from June to September all over the country. You’re more likely to have poor visibility when climbing Volcano Acatenango. It wouldn’t be fun walking around Tikal during a rainstorm or hiking through the mud and rain to El Mirador.

Holidays and Festivals in Guatemala

Guatemala is a country where the people take their religion seriously. Therefore, the 2 biggest holidays are #1 Easter and #2 Christmas. New Year’s is another big holiday.

45. What’s Easter Week Like in Guatemala?

Easter in Central America is called Semana Santa, and it is the biggest holiday in Guatemala. It lasts a week, beginning on Palm Sunday and ending on Easter Sunday. Book your hotel room weeks or for Antigua even months in advance.

colorful sawdust carpet on Semana Santa in Antigua
Sawdust carpet for the Good Friday procession during Holy Week in Antigua

Antigua is the place to be for Semana Santa as it has the grandest festival in Guatemala.

Guatemalans from all over the country flock to Antigua to celebrate. You need to book your hotel months way in advance. Arrive in Antigua a few days before the holy week begins to avoid the traffic jams entering the city.

There are religious processions, beautiful floats, and elaborately constructed carpets made of sawdust, pine needles, fruit, vegetables, and flowers.

Another place you might want to avoid is the beaches along the Pacific Coast as Guatemalans flock to the resorts, driving hotel prices up.

46. What’s Christmas & New Year’s like in Guatemala?

Christmas is the second biggest holiday in Guatemala, but it’s nowhere near as grand as Easter Week.

I was in Guatemala during Christmas, but because of COVID, many of the usual festival activities in Antigua were not held.

However, expect hotels and hostels to be booked up and for prices to be higher than usual. Book weeks in advance in Flores and Tikal, Rio Dulce, Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Semuc Champey, and along the Pacific Coast.

On New Year’s Day, buses and shuttles often don’t run. I got stuck in Semuc Champey because of this.

47. What are some other festivals in Guatemala?

Guatemala has several festivals throughout the country. Some are specific to a region or city while others occur all over the country. Here are 4 of the more interesting ones:

people walking down the street and carrying religious statues
A festival commemorating a saint in Panajachel

Rabin Ajau (Coban Folk Festival) – last week of July – Coban – people celebrate Maya culture; there’s a rodeo, parade, art exhibitions, and a contest where Maya women from across the region come to compete to be crowned the Maya Princess

Independence Day – September 15 – everywhere – people celebrate Guatemala’s independence from Spain in 1821

Dia de Todos los Santos – November 1 – Santiago – people celebrate by constructing huge kites and flying them in cemeteries.

Fiesta de Santo Tomas – December 14 – 21 – Chichicastenango – people celebrate with processions, nativity scenes, and Christmas ornaments; young men climb a pole and then swing back down to earth by attaching a cord around their foot.

Getting around Guatemala

After worrying about safety and the internet, my third biggest worry was getting around Guatemala. It turned out that getting around was not so straightforward and not so cheap. You can take a tourist shuttle, which is easy but expensive, or you can take a public bus, which is cheap but not so easy and perhaps not so safe.

48. What’s the safest and easiest way to get around Guatemala?

The safest and easiest way to get around the country is by tourist shuttle. These comfortable vans carry between 12 and 24 people and travel between major tourist destinations such as Antigua to Lake Atitlan.

people getting inside a grey shuttle van
A typical tourist shuttle that transports tourists between cities

The vans usually pick you up at your hotel and drop you off at your hotel when you arrive at your destination.

They normally cost between US$20 and $60, depending on where you’re going.

You can buy your tickets from your hotel or travel agencies in Guatemala.

For example, if you walk up and down the main drag in Panajachel at Lake Atitlan, you’ll see countless travel agencies advertising tourist shuttles to Antigua, Semuc Champey, or Flores.

shuttle time schedule for shuttles leaving from Panajachel
Time schedule for shuttles leaving from Panajachel

49. Are chicken buses in Guatemala safe to take?

Every time I asked a local whether it was safe to take a chicken bus, they would say no. I also heard the same from some ex-pats who’ve lived in Guatemala for a long time.

So, I never took a chicken bus until the very end of my stay in Guatemala. I took one from Rio Dulce to Quirigua and back. And I survived.

What are chicken buses?

Chicken buses are old American school buses. You know the ones that you or you saw in American movies take to school. The United States donated these old buses to Central American countries, where they were used as public buses.

a chicken bus on the streets of Antigua, Guatemala
A typical chicken bus on the streets of Antigua

In Guatemala, you will see yellow ones and you will see ones that have been painted in many colors and spruced up to look pretty funky. But you can still tell that they were at one-time yellow school buses.

Most of the time, the seats are the same ones that you sat on when you were going to school.

Why are they called chicken buses?

They’re called chicken buses because locals would take chickens and other live poultry on the bus to sell in the market. Somehow everyone just started calling them chicken buses.

Why are chicken buses unsafe in Guatemala?

  • The bus drivers drive fast and the roads in the Highlands have lots of twists and turns. As a result, there are a lot of accidents.
  • The bus companies store people’s luggage and things on the top of the bus. The bus gets top-heavy. As a result, it’s easier for the bus to tip over, especially if they take a turn too quickly.
  • Sometimes there are robberies on the busses as well as pickpockets.

However, I took chicken buses all the time in Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. I felt safe and the driving wasn’t any worse than what I experienced in Southeast Asia.

So why do people always warn you against taking them in Guatemala?

It could be due to the nature of the roads. They were in worse shape than what I experienced in the rest of Central America (minus Nicaragua). Guatemala is also hillier than the other countries in Central America so there are a lot of winding roads that go up and down next to cliffs. If a vehicle went off the road, it would fall down a mountain and no one would survive.

The other problem with chicken buses is that they don’t do tourist routes. To get from Antigua to Flores would require transferring several times by chicken bus. Even taking a public bus from Lake Atitlan to Antigua requires changing buses.

50. Are there Ubers in Guatemala?

Yes, Uber is in Guatemala, but you’ll only find it in Antigua and Guatemala City.

Uber is very affordable in Guatemala. For example, a ride from Antigua to the Earth Lodge outside of the city cost me Q35 (US$5). The Earth Lodge is over 6 kilometers (4 miles) from the center of Antigua. It’s probably more expensive in 2024.

But Uber is not very reliable in Guatemala. You have to often wait a long time for someone to pick you up. Forget about finding an Uber if you’re only going a short way. the money they make isn’t that high especially with the price of gas nowadays. Several times I have experienced having to wait over an hour for an Uber or for Uber to agree to pick me up and then cancel as they got closer to me.

Drivers cancel on you before getting to you. After agreeing to pick you up, some will text you saying that they will only take you if you pay in cash and for Q10 more or pick you up and then refuse to move unless you pay in cash.

An alternative ride-share App is called InDriver, where drivers bid for your service. I’ve used it once in Mexico and it was fine.

51. Are there tuk-tuks in Guatemala?

a tuk tuk driving up a street in San Juan
A street in San Juan village near Lake Atitlan

Yes, there are tuk-tuks in Guatemala. You’ll find them around Lake Atitlan, Flores, Rio Dulce, and Antigua.

In case you don’t know what tuk-tuks are, they are little 3-wheeled motorized taxis. The driver sits up front and there is a seat for 2 to 3 passengers in the back. You’ll usually find a roof over your head to keep you dry and in the shade. There might be a space behind the back seat to put your backpack.

Ask the price before getting into a tuk-tuk and try bargaining.

52. Are taxis metered in Guatemala?

No, taxis are not metered in Guatemala. You need to ask the price before getting into a taxi.

Since you’re a foreigner, the driver will probably try to charge you higher than a local. Bargain.

I always ask my accommodations how much it usually costs to get from point A to point B.

Accommodations in Guatemala

In this section, you’ll find info on staying in hotels, hostels, and Airbnb.

53. How can I book my accommodations for Guatemala?

You can book your accommodations using typical booking sites. The one with the most options is Booking.com. You’ll see hotel and hostel listings on Agoda, but you won’t see many or even any rooms available.

For budget backpackers, try Hostel World as well. I’ve found that some hostels don’t advertise on Booking.com anymore and just do it on Hostel World.

For great ideas on where to stay in Guatemala, check out these Hotel Guides:

54. What is the difference between a “hostal” and “hostel”?

I was really confused about the difference between these 2 words when I got to Guatemala. In Mexico, “hostal” and “hostel” mean the same thing. However, in Guatemala, they do not.

Hostal – a family-run pension that is usually cheaper than a hotel. Sometimes you’ll have your own private bathrooms while other times you’ll have to share. They are great places for budget travelers. Expect to pay between US$20 and $40 a night.

Hostel – backpacker digs with dorm rooms as well as private rooms; you’ll often have a kitchen to prepare your own meals.

Hostal Antigua (US$15/night)
Hostal Antigua

55. What is a hospedaje?

Another word that you might come across when booking accommodations is a “hospedaje”. The direct translation is “lodging.” But it’s more like a guesthouse or like an inexpensive family-run hotel. They are great places to stay in for budget travelers.

a hotel room with 2 double beds
Hospedaje El Viajero in Panajachel (Lake Atitlan)

I often found hospedajes to have very rough and uncomfortable sheets and showers that rarely produced hot water.

56. Does Guatemala have Airbnb?

Yes, Guatemala has Airbnb.

You can find some good Airbnbs around Lake Atitlan.

However, the good places book up quickly on the weekend. Guatemalans love to travel around their country on the weekend.

If you’re a digital nomad and you want to book an Airbnb long-term for a month, you’ll need to book at least a month in advance.

If you’re planning to just try out Airbnb first before booking long-term, forget about it. It’ll probably be booked for the following week and beyond if the place is any good.

When I was in Lake Atitlan for a month, I ended up moving to a different Airbnb each week because the next week my place was full.

57. What are the hostels like in Guatemala?

You’ll find hostels all over the tourist centers in Guatemala. I found them to be a bit different from hostels in Southeast Asia and Europe.

For one thing, you’ll find more party hostels in Guatemala than in other parts of the world.

Casa Gitana Hostel in Antigua

The dorm rooms are pretty basic as well. You’ll get a bunk bed with an outlet nearby for you to recharge your phone and a locker to put your stuff in. Make sure to bring your own lock. It’s rare to find a boutique-style hostel with curtains for privacy and each bed has its own light, shelf, and outlets like you would in Asia.

You will also ONLY find mixed-gender dorm rooms. No only-female dorm rooms.

Luckily, most hostels will have a kitchen where you can prepare your own meals. Some will provide free breakfast. The Yellow Hostel in Antigua has an amazing breakfast!

Most of the time, there are no separate male and female showers and toilets.

Hostel dorm room prices range from US$10 – $20 with the average being US$12.

La Iguana Perdida Hostel, Santa Cruz Atitlan, is perfectly situated along shore of Lake Atitlan
The rooftop terrace of The Purpose Hostel in Antigua has great views of the volcanos

Probably the best parts of hostels in Guatemala are their locations and social areas. La Iguana Perdida is right on the shores of Lake Atitlan.

Hostels usually have a few private rooms. These can range from affordable such as around US$30 to unaffordable at US$60 – $80.

Check out my post on the best hostels in Antigua for a list of hostels that are not party ones.

58. How far in advance do I need to book accommodations?

If it’s the weekend, book a few weeks in advance. The weekend is a time when Guatemalans visit Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Rio Dulce, and the Pacific Coast. As a result, hotel prices rise and it’s harder to book the better hotels and Airbnbs. You’ll still find vacancies but it’ll just be harder to get the good spots.

crowded streets on a weekend in Antigua
Crowded streets during the weekend of the Flower Festival in Antigua

Visit Lake Atitlan and Antigua during the weekday instead. It’s easier to book a place at the last minute.

Another busy time is whenever Antigua has a city-wide festival. I was in Antigua during the Flower Festival in November, and the streets were so crowded with people that it was hard to move.

59. Can you recommend a good hotel or hostel in Guatemala?

I can recommend some good places to stay in Guatemala. Here are my favorites:


  • Meson de Maria – My favorite hotel in Antigua; beautiful, centrally located, and affordable. BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda
  • Hotel y Arte Antigua – Love this beautiful hotel with uber friendly owner and staff; great for budget and mid-range travelers. BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda
  • The Purpose Hostel – My favorite hostel in Guatemala; it’s got dorm rooms as well as comfy and clean private rooms; an excellent rooftop terrace with amazing views of the volcanoes. BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda

Lake Atitlan

  • Hotel Casa Palopo – A beautiful boutique hotel with 2 swimming pools and stunning lake and volcano views. BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda
  • Hotel La Casa del Mundo – A beautiful medium-priced hotel with views of 2 volcanos; it feels like you’re on the Riviera. BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda

Check out my complete list of the best places to stay at Lake Atitlan.

Flores and Tikal

  • Jungle Lodge Hostal – If you want to see Tikal for the sunrise tour, stay right in the park at this highly-rated hotel. BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda
  • Alice Guesthouse – A very popular and much-loved hostel and hotel in El Remate. BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda

Lanquin and Semuc Champey

Greengos – Both dorms and private rooms in a great location. And it has a swimming pool. BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda

Rio Dulce and Livingston

  • Boatique Hotel and Marina – () Excellent hotel with private rooms and dorm rooms; swimming pool and a kayak rental; I stayed here for 1 week! BOOK YOUR STAY HERE: Booking.com | Agoda
  • El Hotelito Perdito – A very popular and highly rated budget option on the lake. BOOK YOUR STAY HERE: Booking.com | Agoda

Check out this travel guide to Rio Dulce and Livingston with a longer list of the best places to stay.

El Paredon (Pacific Coast)

  • Mellow Hostel – Dorm rooms as well as private rooms: has a swimming pool. BOOK YOUR STAY HERE: Hostel World
  • Swell – A beautiful and stylish hotel; has a swimming pool and a 2-minute walk to the beach. BOOK YOUR STAY HERE: Booking.com | Agoda

Check out more hotels & hostels on Booking.com, Agoda or Hostel World.

Toilets and Showers in Guatemala

It probably never crossed your mind to have any questions about toilets and showers in Guatemala. But let me tell you, they are more complicated than you think. Can you put toilet paper in the toilet? Do showers have hot water?

60. Can I put toilet paper in the toilet?

No, you’re not supposed to put toilet paper in the toilet. You should put it in the waste basket next to the toilet.

Even if there is no sign, don’t put it in the toilet.

The plumbing system is not good enough in Guatemala to handle so much toilet paper.

61. Do public toilets have toilet paper in Guatemala?

Yes, public toilets usually have toilet paper. You have to pay around Q5 to use a public toilet. In exchange, you’ll get some toilet paper.

Restaurant bathrooms also usually have toilet paper.

So, you generally don’t have to walk around with a packet of tissue like you do in many Asian countries.

62. Do showers have hot water in Guatemala?

Whenever I stayed at a budget hotel, I rarely got hot water. The water was lukewarm at best. At hostels, the water was either lukewarm or hot.

My experience at medium-priced hotels was much more positive, and I usually had hot water.

The school I studied Spanish in Antigua had private rooms for students. I got 2 minutes of semi-hot water. After that, the water was cold.

63. What are Suicide Showers?

a shower head
You’ll find these types of showers all over Central America

Sometimes you’ll see showers with a white plastic contraption shaped like an upside-down bulb.

This is known as the Suicide Shower.

No lie!

Basically, the hot water system is run on electricity.

But can’t water and electricity be a fatal combination?

I guess it’s safe to use because you’ll find them all over the place in Central and South America. However, I’ve heard of people getting small shocks from using them.

On the white contraption is a switch that you need to turn on. Unfortunately, there is often no indication which setting is for hot water either, so it ends up being you flipping switches this way and that way until you get something resembling hot water.

The trick to getting the right temperature is to get the right amount of water coming out of the shower head. You’ll get boiling hot water when there’s little water streaming out. But as you increase the water pressure, the temperature goes down to the point that it becomes cold again. The key to finding the perfect temperature is to find the perfect amount of pressure.

Electricity in Guatemala

64. What kind of electric outlets (sockets) does Guatemala use?

Guatemala uses Type A and Type B electric outlets (sockets).

Different kinds of electric outlets

This is the same type that is used in the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America, and the rest of Central America. If you are coming from those countries and regions, you will NOT need an adapter. However, if you are from Europe, Asia, or Australia, you will need one.

65. What is the voltage in Guatemala?

The electric voltage is 120 V / 60 Hz. This is the same as in the United States and Canada. if you come from those countries, you can use your electric appliances.

However, Europe uses 220 Voltage and Australia 230 V, so Europeans and Australians will need to use a converter in Guatemala. Check your electronics to see if they say something like 110 – 240 V. This usually means that you can use them in Guatemala without a converter.

66. Do I need to worry about power outages in Guatemala?

Yes, there are power outages in Guatemala. When I lived in Antigua for a month, the power would go out about once a week. Sometimes for a few minutes, but other times for a few hours.

The other thing you might need to worry about is the water being turned off for extended periods. Once in Antigua, the water was off from the afternoon to the next morning.

Clothes and Packing for Guatemala

Wondering what to pack for your trip to Guatemala? I have a foolproof packing list for Guatemala here.

But below you’ll find answers to a few packing questions and some quick packing tips:

67. Can I wear shorts in Guatemala?

Yes, it’s ok for both men and women to wear shorts in Guatemala. I was there for 3 months, and I saw lots of foreigners and locals wearing shorts.

Guatemala is a modest and conservative country, but it’s not in the dark ages.

However, temperatures never get hot in Antigua and Lake Atitlan, so you may not want to even wear shorts at those locations. In Flores, Tikal, Rio Dulce, and Livingston, it’s hot all year round, so definitely bring shorts if you want to be comfortable.

68. What clothes should I wear in Guatemala?

If you’re visiting Guatemala from October to March, pack a few short-sleeved AND long-sleeved shirts. It gets cold in the evening around Lake Atitlan and in Quetzaltenango and Antigua. You should also pack a fleece and lightweight jacket.

In Flores, Tikal, and Rio Dulce, it’s always hot, so pack shorts and short-sleeved or sleeveless tops.

Bring a good pair of walking shoes that you can use for hiking as well as walking around the cobble-stoned streets of Antigua. My Brooks Adrenaline GTS22 shoes worked perfectly in Guatemala. Here are some more Brooks shoes that I recommend:

Brooks Women’s Adrenaline GTS 23 Supportive Running Shoe - Blue Glass/Nile Blue/Marina - 8 Wide
Brooks Adrenaline GTS23 for women

69. What else should I pack for Guatemala?

You can pretty much find everything you need in Guatemala. However, these are the 6 essential items you should pack:

If you’re going to Semuc Champey, bring a dry bag to keep your stuff from getting wet and water shoes so you won’t slip and fall.

I also think Air Tags or Smart Tags are a must nowadays when flying anywhere.

Check out my Guatemala packing list for more tips.

70. Which is better for Guatemala, a backpack or a suitcase?

I recommend getting a backpack for Guatemala for several reasons:

  • Cobblestoned streets
  • Lots of stairs and few elevators if you’re staying in budget or medium-priced hotels
  • Need a backpack if you’re doing multi-day hikes like Acatenango, El Mirador, or Quetzaltenango/Lake Atitlan.

The backpack I used before my knee replacement surgery in October 2023 was the Kelty Redwing backpack. They don’t have my version available. So, I recommend getting the following backpacks:

After having knee replacement surgery, I need to switch from a backpack to a suitcase with wheels. However, I know that it would be hard to travel around Guatemala with a suitcase. I’ve heard good things from other travelers that the latest version of the Osprey Sojourn Wheeled Travel Backpack is good. It’s first a wheeled suitcase and second a backpack. Perfect for when you need to climb stairs or move on rough surfaces.

Food in Guatemala

While in Guatemala for 3 months, I tried to experience as much of the food as I could. I did a fabulous food tour and an unforgettable cooking class, ate at lots of local restaurants, and lived with a host family.

71. What dishes should I try in Guatemala?

4 chuchitos in a bowl

Guatemalan food is nowhere near as famous as Mexican or Italian food. However, I do recommend that you take the time to experience the country’s cuisine. A mixture of Mayan and Spanish cuisine, the food is quite delicious, and the country has some unique and complex dishes.

Check out this list of 33 popular dishes and drinks in Guatemala including a list of inexpensive and tasty street food to try.

72. What drinks should I try in Guatemala?

3 bottles of Quetzalteca

Guatemala has drinks that you can find all over Central America; however, they also have a few that are special to the country.

Check out this list of the most popular drinks to try in Guatemala.

73. Is it safe to eat street food in Guatemala?

I ate the street food in Antigua and never got sick. That, of course, doesn’t mean you won’t get sick.

However, if you follow certain guidelines for eating from street vendors, you should be ok.

Here’s what I usually did in Guatemala:

I only ate street food from vendors who were serving lots of Guatemalans. Outside of the La Merced church in Antigua is a street food market that is very popular with locals and foreigners alike. I ate there a lot. My friend also ate street food all the time from the vendors at the park near Iglesia San Pedro Apostol.

a street vendor's table filled with food and with an umbrella
The street food near La Merced Church is inexpensive and delicious

I have heard from locals to avoid the street food vendors and stalls in the Central Market in Antigua as those are not very clean.

So even if I didn’t get sick, it doesn’t mean that you won’t get sick.

My rules when buying street food is this:

  • I never order fruit that is not peeled in front of me by someone wearing gloves or not touching the fruit.
  • I never eat vegetables that aren’t cooked.
  • I never order food that has been sitting out all day, especially if it’s meat.
  • I try to order food that is cooked in front of me.
  • I order food from vendors that have a lot of business, especially from locals.

Check out a list of the best street foods to eat in Guatemala.

74. What do Guatemalans eat for breakfast?

a plate of scrambled eggs, beans, fried plantains, cheese, and bread
Desayuno Chapin – a typical Guatemalan breakfast (tortillas usually in place of bread)

On restaurant menus, you’ll see a dish called Desayuno Chapin, which means Guatemalan breakfast. This dish includes eggs (scrambled or fried), tortillas, beans, a piece of cheese, fried plantains, and a cup of coffee. Sometimes you can substitute bread for tortillas. But just know that butter costs extra. The tortillas are generally better than the bread.

Desayuno Chapin is usually the best deal on the menu.

75. What do Guatemalans eat for lunch?

Lunch is the main meal of the day, so it is usually the biggest and most filling.

This is the best time to eat traditional Guatemalteco food at a restaurant. You can get a set menu for an affordable price (US$5) called almuerzo del dia. It usually consists of soup, meat, rice, potatoes, tortillas, and vegetables.

Lunch usually takes place between 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm with 1:00 pm being the peak time.

a plate of roasted chicken, potatoes, salad, and soup
From a popular restaurant called Rincon Tipico

76. What do Guatemalans eat for dinner?

Dinner takes place between 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm, and it is usually a lighter affair.

They eat street food such as the Guatemalan version of an enchilada, a sandwich called a Shuco, and another one called a Buffalo.

Shuco is a popular street food and evening meal in Antigua

Once a week, my host family in Antigua would serve ONLY Doritos with guacamole, cheese sauce, and salsa for dinner.

77. Is it easy to find vegetarian or vegan food in Guatemala?

It’s not as easy as it is in the U.S., Canada, Europe, the UK, or Australia. However, it’s not impossible.

Here are some typical vegetarian dishes:

  • Black beans – eaten at breakfast
  • Tortillas – smaller and thicker than ones in Mexico
  • Plantains – eaten at breakfast; plantains with mole is for dessert
  • Cheese – the same queso that you’ll find all over Central America
  • Empanadas filled with potatoes
  • Tostadas – a deep-fried tortilla topped with loads of vegetables
  • Guacamole – avocados can be super cheap when they’re in season (fall and winter)
  • Roasted potatoes
  • Elote – corn on the cob
  • Rellenitos – mashed plantains with chocolate
  • Fruit – you’ll find papayas, mangos, bananas, and lots of other exotic fruit that you’ve probably never seen before
A tostada from the street food market at La Merced Church in Antigua

That being said, I found restaurants that only served vegetarian food to be quite pricey.

Shipping and Mailing Packages and Letters in Guatemala

This teacher friend of mine asked me to mail postcards back to her for her students. I bought the postcards, but I never sent them because…

You’ll have to read further to find out.

78. Where can I mail letters and packages home?

The national post office has been closed for several years due to a conflict between the government and the post office and most likely the government can’t afford to run it.

I was never able to find a post office in Guatemala. Locals told me there are no post offices. This is the case in most of Latin America.

Most Guatemalans use private shipping companies like UPS and Fedex. However, it’s going to be expensive–maybe US$90 just to send a document.

A green valley surrounded by mountains
Guatemalan countryside near the border with Mexico

Etiquette in Guatemala

If you don’t want to make a faux pax, then read some etiquette rules.

79. What is the polite way to greet people in Guatemala?

When you enter a room or business, you should always first greet everyone with “Buenos dias” or “Buenos” or “Buenos tardes” or “Buenos noches.” If you don’t, people will think you’re rude. Don’t just start asking the person a question without greeting them first.

One etiquette custom I struggle with is the “Buen provecho” one. When you pass by someone’s table at a restaurant or you’re entering or leaving a room where people are eating, you should say, “Buen provecho“. This means “Bon appetit“. If someone says it to you, you can respond with, “gracias.”

80. Is it ok to take photos of people in Guatemala?

If you want to take a photo of a local, especially of the Maya women in their colorful clothes, you should always ask first. You can say, “Puedo tomar foto?”

You should also ask vendors in the market whether it’s ok to take photos of their goods.

Unfortunately, they will sometimes say, “no,” especially if it’s in touristy areas where they’re sick of tourists always taking photos of them. They might also ask for money even.

In addition, don’t take photos inside the indigenous churches like the ones in Chichicastenango. This is forbidden and will result in you being kicked out of the church and possibly fined.

male shaman with cigar in mouth and with dead chicken in front of fire
I asked this shaman at Chichicastenango before taking his photo

Laws in Guatemala

I’m not an expert on the legal system in Guatemala. But I did some research on a few basic laws in this country–on drinking, doing drugs, and flying drones.

81. Are drones allowed in Guatemala?

Drone use is allowed in Guatemala as of January 2024. However, you need to declare and possibly register your drone at customs when entering the country.

There are also other rules and regulations involving drone use that you can find on a Drone Laws website and through the government of Guatemala.

82. Can I smoke inside restaurants and bars in Guatemala?

Smoking is not allowed in workplaces, on public transportation, and in enclosed spaces. It is not illegal inside hotel rooms, however. This is up to the discretion of the hotel business.

83. Is marijuana legal in Guatemala?

Marijuana is illegal in Guatemala even for medical use.

84. Can I drink alcohol in Guatemala?

The legal drinking age in Guatemala is 18.

I would also avoid drinking alcohol on the street in public.

Sometimes Guatemala issues “Dry Laws” (Ley Seca) during national elections. This means you cannot buy or consume alcohol in stores, restaurants, or bars for a few days around election time. It’s a common custom around Mexico and Central America.

Guatemalan history, politics, religion, and culture

I’m really into reading about the history and culture of a country before visiting.

85. Are there any good books about Guatemala I can read before or during my trip?

You are talking to the world’s biggest bookworm! So, if there is one thing I know more than 99.9% of the people in this world it is books.

There are lots of good books on Guatemala, especially on the civil war. I have a blog post with a list of 15 books on Guatemala. They include books on the country’s history and culture as well as novels set in the country.

I also have a blog post with a list of 16 books on the ancient Maya.

86. Are there any good movies set in Guatemala?

1. Finding Oscar – (YouTube) This fantastic and unforgettable documentary is about the Dos Erres massacre that occurred during the Civil War. Over 250 people from the village of Dos Erres were killed by the military. Only a handful of people escaped. The crazy thing is that 2 young boys from the village were adopted by 2 of the soldiers who were involved in the killings. One of the boys is named Oscar. Only a small part of the film is about Oscar. An

An EXCELLENT documentary on the Civil War and on how much Ronald Reagan and the U.S. government knew about the massacre.

2. Living on One Dollar – (YouTube) – A short documentary about 4 college students who live in a small village in Guatemala for 2 months. They try to live on the same amount of money that a typical Guatemalan would live on (US$1 – $10/day).

It’s quite eye-opening and really makes you understand what it’s like to live with such unstable finances and without enough money for a proper diet or to deal with emergencies. It’s also a good look at the impact of microfinancing.

3. Breaking the Maya Code – (YouTube) – The perfect documentary for the archaeology and linguist nerds. This film tells the story of how the Maya writing system was deciphered. It’s a fascinating story involving a female Russian-American archaeologist, a Russian linguist who never stepped foot in the Americas, and a 12-year-old American boy.

4. When the Mountains Tremble – (YouTube) – This is a documentary on the Guatemalan Civil War. Roberta Menchu, the Nobel Prize Winner, narrates part of the story.  You can watch actual footage from that period.

87. Is Guatemala a democracy?

Officially, Guatemala is a constitutional democracy. The president and vice president are elected by the people.

Guatemala’s most recent presidential elections was in the fall of 2023. The people elected an outsider and anti-corruption crusader named Bernardo Arévalo in a landslide. However, after the elections, the people who had held power in Guatemala for decades tried to prevent Arévalo from becoming president. Guatemalans took to the streets to protest and blockaded roads throughout the country.

Luckily, on January 15, 2024, Arévalo was sworn in as president of Guatemala.

However, Guatemala’s democracy is on shaky ground. In 2022, Freedom House identified Guatemala as “partly free” with a score of 51/100 (Canada has a score of 98/100 and China a score of 9/100.

Corruption is a major problem in Guatemala. In 2019, the government’s anticorruption unit was closed. Those people working to end corruption have faced threats, physical attacks, malicious lawsuits, and defamation campaigns. 

Furthermore, according to some, democracy is weakening and Guatemala is swinging back to the past when a few elites ruled the country. Over 20 judges, journalists, and anti-corruption prosecutors have fled the country in 2022 as they fear becoming a target of the government’s backlash against their investigations into the president and his circle’s corruption. However, with the recent elections of anti-corruption crusader, Alvero, maybe there is hope in Guatemala.

88. What percentage of the population of Guatemala is indigenous?

Guatemala has one of the largest indigenous populations in the Americas. However, people don’t seem to agree on what percentage. I have heard 40% but also 60%.

In 2018, 43.75% of the population referred to themselves as indigenous, while 56% identified as non-indigenous. The ladder group, called Ladinos, consists of both Mestizos (mixed European and indigenous) and Europeans.

Of the indigenous population, 41.7% are Maya, 1.8% are Xinca, .2% are of African descent, .1% are Garifuna, and .2% are foreign.

As a result, Guatemala is the best place in the world to learn about Mayan indigenous culture and history. The best places to experience Mayan culture are at Lake Atitlan and Quetzaltenango.

89. What is the main religion of Guatemala?

Guatemala is a very religious country. Since the Spanish came, it’s traditionally been a Catholic country.

However, Evangelical Christianity has made deep inroads into the country. In fact, it’s estimated that 40% of Guatemalans are Evangelicals, probably the country with the highest percentage in Latin America.

Then there’s the folk Catholicism of the Maya, which blends their traditional shamanistic religion with Catholicism.

90. Where can I go to experience the authentic Mayan Catholic religion?

Probably two of the most FASCINATING cultural experiences I had in Guatemala were watching the shamans do their thing at the cemetery in Chichicastenango and visiting the shrine of Maximon in Santiago Atitlan at Lake Atitlan.

The shamans of Chichicastenango

female shaman conducting rituals with fire burning
A shaman performing some ritual at the cemetery in Chichicastenango.

Chichicastenango has the Santo Tomas Church and a cemetery where you’ll see the local people practicing their shamanistic Catholicism. You’ll also see shamans killing chickens, chanting, praying, and conducting other rituals. They generally don’t mind you coming to watch. They may allow you to take photos in exchange for money. Visit this Chichicastenango Guide to find out how to do it.

The shrine of Maximon at Santiago Atitlan

2 guys sitting around Maximon and with candles burning on the floor in front of them
The Maximon Shrine in Santiago Atitlan

The other easy way to see the Mayan religion up close is in the village of Santiago. This is one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan.

Maximon is a Maya god whose shrine is located resides in Santiago Atitlan. He wears a black hat, smokes a cigar, wears a tie, and many scarves over his shoulder. He isn’t you’re usual saint, though. He’s known as a womanizer who smokes, drinks, and plays dirty tricks on people. There’s sort of a cult of worship around him.

You can visit his shrine in Santiago. If you’re lucky you can watch the shaman conduct a ritual for someone asking Maximon for help. When I got off the boat in Santiago, a local guide approached me offering to take me to see Maximon. Read my travel guide on Lake Atitlan to find out how to visit Maximon. 

Lake Atitlan with 2 volcanoes
A view of Lake Atitlan from the village of Santa Cruz

Sightseeing in Guatemala

Guatemala is a small country, yet there are loads of things to do and see. It’s got volcanoes, lakes, beaches, tropical forests, ancient ruins, and beautiful colonial cities. For specific travel tips and guides, check out my Guatemala Travel Guide.

91. What are the best places to visit in Guatemala?

The 3 must-visit places are the following:

If you have more time, you can add these 3 places to your Guatemala itinerary:

For those with 3 or 4 weeks in Guatemala, these are additional destinations:

Check out this useful travel guide on of the BEST things to do in Guatemala.

92. How long should I spend in Guatemala?

You can do Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and Tikal in 7 days in Guatemala. This would just give you a taste of each place.

If you have 2 weeks in Guatemala, you could visit these places:

  • Chichicastenango
  • Semuc Champey
  • Antigua
  • Lake Atitlan
  • Flores and Tikal

If you have 1 month in Guatemala, you can visit these places:

  • Antigua
  • Lake Atitlan
  • Flores and Tikal
  • Chichicastenango
  • Semuc Champey
  • Rio Dulce and Livingston
  • Quetzaltenango
  • Quirigua
  • El Mirador
  • Monterico or El Paredon

One important thing to keep in mind when planning your trip to Guatemala is that it sometimes takes a day to travel between destinations.

93. What are the best beaches in Guatemala?

To be honest, Guatemala’s beaches can’t beat the ones in the Philippines or Mexico. However, if you’re dying for a swim in the ocean or want to go surfing, then you have some options on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

The 2 best beach destinations on the Pacific Coast are El Paredon and Monterrico. However, they are better for surfing than swimming.

Don’t expect white sandy beaches either. It’s dark, volcanic sand.

Monterrico is also good for wildlife spotting as it has a wildlife reserve called Biotopo Monterrico-Hawaii. The beach here is also where the endangered leatherback and ridley turtles lay their eggs.

Playa Blanca beach near Livingston
Playa Blanca Beach near Livingston during a rainstorm

On the Atlantic Coast, there is one remote beach near Livingston called Playa Blanca with white sand. It’s hard for me to give you a complete review of the beach since when I visited, it was rainy, windy, and cold and I was miserable.

94. Where can I see Mayan ruins in Guatemala?

a temple at Maya ruins of Tikal, Guatemala
The famous Jaguar Temple at Tikal

I am a HUGE archaeology nerd! I NEVER get tired of looking at ancient ruins. One reason I LOVE Guatemala so much is that it is full of Maya ruins. There’s even one set of ruins that is over 2,000 years old and takes 2 days to hike to and 2 days to hike back. And it’s in this remote jungle near the Mexican border. I sort of felt like Indian Jones!

So, where can you see all these ancient temples and pyramids?

There are 4 main areas of the country where you can find ancient Maya ruins:

  • El Peten region
  • Near the Mexican border
  • Near Rio Dulce
  • The Highlands

El Peten Ruins:

The BEST ruins in Guatemala are found in the Peten region. Here are just a few you can explore:

  • Tikal – check out this guide to Flores on how to get to Tikal
  • Uaxactun – check out this guide to Flores on how to get to Uaxacctun
  • Ceibal – visit from Sayaxche
  • Aguateca – visit from Sayaxche
  • Dos Pilas – visit from Sayaxche
  • Yaxha – check my guide to Flores on how to get to Yaxha
  • El Zotz – arrange for a private tour
  • San Bartolo – arrange for a private tour

Ruins near the Mexican Border:

  • El Mirador – check out this guide to Flores on how to see El Mirador
  • Piedras Negra – arrange for a private tour

Ruins near the border with Honduras

  • Quirigua – check out my guide for how to visit the ruins on your own
  • Copan – these ruins are in Honduras but they’re so close to the border that you could easily visit them on a trip to Guatemala

Ruins in the Highlands

The ruins here are not nearly as spectacular as the ones in other parts of Guatemala. They were built during the post-classic period after the collapse of Tikal and the other Classic period city-states.

  • Iximche – an important city at the time of the Spanish invasion – check my guide to Antigua for info on how to get to Iximche
  • K’umarcaaj – former K’iche capital
  • Takalik Abaj – important pre-classic site
  • Kaminaljuyu – near Guatemala City

95. Where can I experience indigenous culture in Guatemala?

people sitting on steps in front of Santo Tomas Church in Chichicastenango
Santa Tomas Church in Chichicastenango

Another one of my ABSOLUTE favorite things about Guatemala is that it’s so rich in indigenous culture and this culture is so accessible (probably on a superficial level) to travelers.

Guatemala has 23 indigenous groups. In fact, 40% of the population identifies themselves as indigenous. The largest group is the Mayan people.

The EASIEST places for tourists to experience the Mayan culture and people are

  • the villages around Lake Atitlan
  • Quetzaltenango and its surrounding towns like Nebaj AND
  • Chichicastenango.

Check out this guide to visiting the market in Chichicastenango.

There are other places, of course, but they have less of a tourist infrastructure or are harder to get to. These places include Quiche in the Highlands and Huehuetenango near the Mexican border.

Another quite fascinating culture is the Afro-indigenous Garifuna people, originally from the Caribbean islands. You’ll find Garifuna people residing along the eastern coast of Central America from Belize to Costa Rica. The best place to experience Garifuna culture is in Livingston.

96. Where are the best hiking experiences in Guatemala?

I think one of the highlights of Guatemala is all the opportunities to go on epic hikes. There are 3 ultimate multi-day hiking experiences in Guatemala. You’ve got to do at least one of these:

Here are some hikes that aren’t as epic but can be a fun experience:

Some volcanoes that I was told were dangerous because of bandits are San Pedro at Lake Atitlan and Agua in Antigua.

97. Where can I see wildlife in Guatemala?

Sadly, Guatemala is no Costa Rica. There just isn’t that much wildlife left in the country. It doesn’t even have the colorful bird that the country’s currency is named after–the Quetzal.

Monterrico & El Paredon

Probably the best wildlife-watching experience is to see turtles laying their eggs on the beaches of Monterrico. If you’ve never seen mama turtles lay their eggs or baby turtles hatch and paddle their cute little flippers out to the ocean, you are TRULY missing out on one of nature’s most amazing wonders.

The leatherback and olive ridley turtles come ashore to lay their eggs from June to November with August and September being the peak times.

The Tortugario Montericco also runs a program whereby they collect buried eggs on the beach and then rebury them in protected areas. After they hatch, they are let go so they can waddle back to the ocean.

Another wildlife experience along the Pacific Coast is to go birdwatching through the mangroves of El Paredon.

El Peten – howler and spider monkeys

Another place to see wildlife is in the Peten region around Tikal. Walking around the ruins in the morning, you can see agoutis, oscillates, and monkeys.

98. Where can I get the best Guatemalan coffee?

red coffee fruit on a tree

The BIGGEST surprise I had in Guatemala was how hard it was to find really good Guatemalan coffee. The stuff you see in stores and restaurants is just not very good quality.

You would think that since Guatemala is one of the biggest producers of coffee, you could find good coffee everywhere.

Not true.

The reason is that the highly-quality beans are grown for export. They’re shipped to Europe and the U.S.

If you REALLY want the good stuff you need to visit a coffee plantation called a finca that has a cafe or shop or offers coffee tours. I visited one in Antigua and had probably, and this is no exaggeration, the best cup of coffee of my life. You can read my list of things to do in Antigua to find out all about the tour.

99. What souvenirs can I buy in Guatemala?

pillows and shalls
One of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan is to visit the handicraft stores in San Juan

I needed superhuman willpower not to buy any souvenirs while I was in Guatemala. There are so many beautiful handicrafts to buy that I, who does not like shopping at all, could still wander from shop to shop and not get bored.

My ABSOLUTE favorite local works of art were the bird’s eye view paintings of vegetable markets. You can find them in San Juan Atitlan. I also loved the textiles in the shops in San Juan.

If I weren’t traveling long-term, I would have bought one of the wooden masks from the market in Chichicastenango.

Here is a list of what souvenirs you can buy and where you can buy them:

  • Wooden Masks – Chichicastenango
  • Textiles – Chichicastenango Market or San Juan or Panajachel villages around Lake Atitlan
  • Art – San Juan village
  • Rum – Antigua
  • Chocolate – Antigua’s Ek Chuah Chocolateria
  • Coffee – Antigua or San Juan village
  • Jade jewelry – Antigua’s Jade Museum
religious statues at a souvenir shop in Antigua
A great place to buy souvenirs in Antigua is at a store called Nim P’ot

Final Thoughts

That’s everything you need to know before visiting Guatemala! I hope I haven’t left anything out. If you have any questions I did not answer in this post, leave your question in the Comment Section below, and I’d be happy to answer them.

Once you get to Guatemala, you’ll realize how easy it is to travel there. The country is used to foreign tourists and has a pretty decent tourism infrastructure set up to serve foreign travelers. People in the tourism industry are willing to speak English with you and won’t hold it against you if you don’t speak Spanish. I think it’s a lot easier traveling in Guatemala than in Mexico.

If you’ve found this info helpful, please feel free to share it on social media!

Enjoy your trip!

Best Resources for Planning Your Trip to Guatemala

Book Your Flight:

Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights. They will turn up results for all airlines including major ones and local airlines. You’re guaranteed to find EVERYTHING that’s available and thus get the cheapest price.

Book Your Accommodations:

The best hotel booking site is Booking.com. They have the most choices and they consistently churn out hotels and hostels with the lowest prices. Another site for backpackers and budget travelers is Hostel World – they’re a great site for finding hostels.

Book Your Tours

Viator has the most tour choices of any site in Guatemala. They’re reliable and trustworthy. Plus! If you have trouble with your tour operator like they don’t show up, you can contact Viator.  If your guide isn’t responsible, patient, friendly, or enthusiastic, you can leave a negative review.

More Guatemala Travel Info

Check out my COMPLETE list of over 15 travel guides for Guatemala. 

Are you on Pinterest?

Hey! How about saving one of these pins to Pinterest to read for later?

And feel free to follow me on Pinterest, where you’ll find lots of travel articles for everywhere around the world.

99 Things you should know before visiting Guatemala
99 Things to know before traveling to Guatemala and photo of Semuc Champey from the Sky


  1. Another fantastic post! I’ve pretty much been reading your blog posts and checking out the links all day. : D PS Just a heads up your Air Tag link leads to a keychain that isn’t an air tag and the comments have a lot of people who says they thought it was an air tag but it’s not.

    • I’m so glad you like my blog posts on! And thanks for the heads of up on the Air Tag link.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

About the Bamboo Traveler

The Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel blog dedicated to helping those travelers who want to dig deeply into the history, heritage, and culture of a place. Whether it’s through the pages of your passport or the pages of a book, I’ll help you travel the world and uncover the history, culture, food, architecture, and natural beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating places.

Get Your FREE Japan Itinerary Guide Here!

Subscribe to my newsletter to receive the latest travel tips for Asia and get a free 4-page PDF version of my 3-Week Japan Itinerary.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest