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 or whether you need a COVID test to enter. 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.
Let’s get started!
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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.
To be honest, this list was originally going to be 50 questions, but as I was writing it, more and more things about the country popped into my mind and the list ended up doubling in size to 99 questions. I hope I’ve answered all your questions. If not, let me know in the comments section below and I’ll add it to this monster of a list.
Check out my 2022-2023 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.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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. 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, 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.
3. What are the COVID entry requirements for Guatemala
As of August 13, 2022, foreign visitors are no longer required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter Guatemala.
Visit the Guatemalan Institute of Immigration website for the most up-to-date and official information on entry requirements.
4. Are there other requirements for entry into Guatemala I should know about?
If you’re flying into Guatemala, your airline may ask you for proof of a return ticket.
You probably won’t be asked for it when entering Guatemala, however.
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.
5. Can I renew my visa or get another 90 days?
Yes, you can extend your stay in Guatemala for another 90 days. As of July 25, 2022, 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 your passport, a copy of your passport, a copy of your credit card, and the application form.
Join the Living in Guatemala Expat Facebook group for more information on extending your stay in Guatemala beyond the initial 90 days.
6. 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 in order 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.
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 driver can take you from the airport to your accommodations in Antigua (US$55)
- 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.
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:
- Benque Viejo del Carmen (Belize) – Melchor de Mencos (Guatemala) – best crossing for traveling between Flores, Guatemala and San Ignacio, Belize. You can get detailed instructions here on how to cross the border from Belize to Guatemala as well as from Guatemala to Belize. Very safe border crossing. I’ve done it twice.
- Take a boat from Punta Gorda, Belize to Livingston and Puerto Barrios, Guatemala.
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:
- San Cristobal (El Salvador / Guatemala)
- La Hachadura (El Salvador) – Ciudad Pedro de Alavarado (Guatemala)
- Las Chinamas (El Salvador) – Valle Nuevo (Guatemala)
9. What’s the best way to cross land borders: tourist shuttle or public transportation?
Sometimes it’s better to take a tourist shuttle that takes 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.
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 via a land border or by flying out of the country, you do not need to pay an exit tax as you do in other Central American countries.
However, if you exit by sea at Livingston and Puerto Barrios, you need to pay a Q80 (US$10.35) exit fee.
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.
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 mid-range and luxury hotels, some more expensive restaurants, large 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 machine. 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 ATM machines are inside stores (pharmacies, convenience stores) and hotels.
Don’t use ATM machines found outside of banks.
In Antigua, I always used the ATM machine 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 machine 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:
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, an ATV 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.
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 Questa?” 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.
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?
No, Guatemala is not cheaper than Mexico. It’s cheaper than Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama, but more expensive than Mexico, 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.
- Dorm room: US$10 – $15
- Private room at a cheap hotel or guesthouse: US$22 – $30
- A meal in an inexpensive restaurant (comedor): US$5
- Street food: US$2 – $3 (Q20)
- Chicken bus: US$2 – $3 (Q20)
- Acatenango hike: US$75 + tips
- Coffee tour: $20
- Walking tour: free + tip
- Private room at a charming hotel in Antigua: US$40 – $60
- Dinner in a nice restaurant: US$10 – $20
- Tourist shuttle to Lake Atitlan: US$20
- Acatenango hike with the best tour operator: US$89 + tips
- ATV tour: $60
- Food tour: $50
- Walking tour: US$20
- 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 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 cellphone 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.
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.
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, 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 the website Central America, Guatemala has the worst internet service in Central America.
- Mobile download speed: 16.16
- Mobile upload speed: 13.07
- Fixed Broadband download speed: 24.88
- Fixed Broadband upload speed: 8.38
Guatemala ranks 112th in the world for mobile internet speed and 110th 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 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.
I stayed for a month at hotels and hostels and at the Ixchel Spanish School 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 I didn’t find the internet to be any better than at my accommodations.
Antigua has some co-working spaces, which, unfortunately, I didn’t use:
- Selena Hostel
- Impact Hub
- I Work Antigua
You don’t need to stay at the Selena Hostel in order to use their co-working space. In fact, even if you stay there, you still need to pay extra to use their co-working facilities.
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.
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. I could ask and answer basic travel questions.
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 learned 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, Lake Atitlan, and Quetzaltenango.
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 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.
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.
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. Check the U.S. embassy website. They have a lovely page listing where you can get a COVID test in Guatemala City, Antigua, Panajachel, and various locations throughout the country. It also has information on the cost of tests.
I also recommend joining 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:
- Vital Med (Google Maps)
- Laboratorio Juan Pablo (Google Maps)
- Blue Medical has a testing center inside the Hotel Camino Real
- Centro de Salud (Google Maps)
I got a COVID test done in Flores at Laboratorio Clinico Bio Ixcha.
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.
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?
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 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. 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 is common in Guatemala.
You can buy OFF brand mosquito repellant that has DEET in Guatemala, but it’s usually just the aerosol kind.
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?
As of July 15, 2022, the Government of Guatemala declared that the use of masks throughout Guatemala is optional in most places. It is, however, mandatory in hospitals, medical clinics, vaccination centers, medical labs, nursing homes, prisons, and on public transportation.
Check this Guatemalan government’s website for the most up-to-date information on COVID regulations. The U.S. Embassy also has a lovely website devoted to COVID regulations and testing centers 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 the statistics, Guatemala seems like an unsafe country. Most of these murders, though, happen involving the drug trade or in unsafe neighborhoods in Guatemala City.
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, 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. In order to be permitted to depart Guatemala, you will 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 almost 4 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.
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 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
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 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.
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?
Guatemala has 30 volcanoes, 3 of which are still active. These include El Fuego, Pacaya, and Santiaguito.
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 very popular with travelers.
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.
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. For example, once 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 literally 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 American embassy – I had signed up for their STEP program, in which you get 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
47. What are some other festivals in Guatemala?
Guatemala has a number of 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:
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 poll 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.
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.
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.
Wait a second…
What are chicken buses?
Sorry. Let me back up a bit.
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.
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 drivers drive really 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 really 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 curvy 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.
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.
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.
However, there aren’t that many Ubers and it’s sometimes hard to get one to pick you up. Plus 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 Ubers to agree to pick me up and then cancel as they got closer to me.
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?
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.
Another option is to go straight to the hotel website.
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.
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.
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 really 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 say 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.
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!
Hostel dorm room prices range from US$10 – $20 with the average being US$12.
I never stayed in a hostel in Guatemala with separate showers and toilet stalls for each gender.
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.
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 hotels and hostels for budget and mid-range travelers in Guatemala. Here are my favorites:
Meson de Maria – (Booking.com) My favorite hotel in Antigua; beautiful, centrally located, and affordable
Hotel y Arte Antigua – (Booking.com) Love this beautiful hotel with uber friendly owner and staff; great for budget and mid-range travelers
The Purpose Hostel – (Booking.com) 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
I have a whole article dedicated to the best places to stay in Antigua, but the above 3 are my favorites.
Hotel La Casa del Mundo – (Booking.com) Beautiful hotel with views of 2 volcanos; it feels like you’re on the Riviera.
Casa Ahau – (Booking.com) Probably the best hostel on Lake Atitlan; has private rooms for a decent price
Check out my complete list of the best places to stay at Lake Atitlan.
Flores and Tikal
Alice Guesthouse – (Booking.com) Very popular and much-loved hostel and hotel in El Remate
Jungle Lodge Hostal – (Booking.com) If you want to see Tikal for the sunrise tour, stay right in the park at this highly rated hotel
Check out this complete list of the best places to stay in Flores and Tikal.
Lanquin and Semuc Champey
Greengos – (Booking.com) Both dorms and private rooms in a great location
Rio Dulce and Livingston
Boatique Hotel and Marina – (Booking.com) Excellent hotel with private rooms and dorm rooms; swimming pool and kayak rental; I stayed here for 1 week!
El Hotelito Perdito – (Booking.com) Very popular and highly rated budget option on the lake
Check out this travel guide to Rio Dulce and Livingston with a complete list of the best places to stay.
Swell – (Booking.com) Beautiful and stylish hotel; has a swimming pool and a 2-minute walk to the beach
Mellow Hostel – (Hostel World) Dorm rooms as well as private rooms: has a swimming pool
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 usually 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. I would be lucky if it was even lukewarm. At hostels, the water was either lukewarm or hot.
My experience at mid-priced hotels was much more positive, and I usually had hot water.
The school I studied Spanish at 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?
Sometimes you’ll see showers with a white plastic contraption shaped like an upside-down bulb.
This is known as the Suicide Shower.
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.
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).
This is the same type that is used in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the rest of Central America. If you are coming from the United States, you will NOT need an adapter. However, if you are from Europe 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 these 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 of time. 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? Here is a list of what clothes to bring and what other essential items not to leave at home.
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 4 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 really hot in Antigua and Lake Atitlan, so you maybe don’t 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.
Leave your heels at home.
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:
- Small flashlight
- Portable charger for phone
- Flip flops for the shower
- Water bottle
- Kindle Fire
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.
70. Which is better for Guatemala, a backpack or a suitcase?
If you are doing any of the long hikes like Acatenango, El Mirador, or the Quetzaltenango/Lake Atitlan hike, then you need a backpack. For those of you not doing any of the 3 hikes, either a backpack or a suitcase will work.
Food in Guatemala
Food is a big part of my travels, and I try to eat as much local food as I can. While in Guatemala for 3 months, I tried to experience as much of the food as I could. I did a food tour and a cooking class, ate at lots of local restaurants, and lived with a host family.
71. What dishes should I try in Guatemala?
Guatemalan food is nowhere near as famous as Mexican or Italian food. However, I so recommend that you take the time to experience the country’s cuisine. A mixture of Mayan and Spanish cuisine, the food is really 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?
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.
I have heard from locals to avoid the street food vendors and stalls in the Local Market 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 rule of thumb 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 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?
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.
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.
My host family in Antigua would sometimes ONLY serve Doritos with guacamole, cheese sauce, and salsa for dipping 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
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 was or has been closed for a number of years due to a conflict between the government and the post office. I read that it might be open now but no one uses it.
I was never able to find a post office in Guatemala. Locals told me there weren’t any anymore.
Most Guatemalans use private shipping companies like UPS and Fedex.
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 greet everyone first 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.
Don’t just walk up to someone like a hotel employee and start asking them a question without greeting them. I’ve done it, and I can just see the look on their faces that I’ve done something wrong.
One etiquette custom I struggle with is the “Buen provecho” one. When you pass by someone’s table as you’re entering or leaving a restaurant, 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 absolutely forbidden and will result in you being kicked out of the church and possibly fined.
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 July 2022. 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.
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 time period.
87. Is Guatemala a democracy?
Officially, Guatemala is a constitutional democracy. The president and vice president are elected by the people.
The current president is Alejandro Giammattei, a socially conservative and strongly anti-communist politician. He was the first leader from Latin America to visit Ukraine since the Russian invasion.
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.
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.
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 2 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.
The shamans of 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
The other easy way to see the Mayan religion up close is in the village of Santiago around 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.
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 4 must-visit places are Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango, and Tikal in Flores.
If you have more time, you can add Semuc Champey and Rio Dulce to your itinerary. Then tack on the Quirigua and El Mirador ruins, Quetzaltenango, El Paredon, and Montericco.
92. How long should I spend in Guatemala?
You could visit Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and Tikal in 7 days. This would just give you a taste of each place.
If you have 2 weeks, you could add on Chichicastenango and Semuc Champey to Antigua, the Lake, and Tikal or you simply could spend more time at those first 3 places. In fact, you could spend a week in Antigua and not get bored.
To visit Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Flores and Tikal, Chichicastenango, Semuc Champey, Rio Dulce, Livingston, Quetzaltenango, the Quirigua ruins, El Mirador, Montericco, and El Paredon, you need 1 month. El Mirador is a 5 day hike with an sixth day to recover.
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.
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?
I am a HUGE archaeology nerd! I mean HUGE! 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: Peten, near the Mexican border, the Honduran border, and 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?
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 (1) the villages around Lake Atitlan (2) Quetzaltenango and its surrounding towns like Nebaj AND (3) 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 culture that is quite fascinating is the laid-back 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 hiking experiences in Guatemala. You’ve got to do at least 1 of these:
- Hiking up Volcano Acatenango
- Doing the 5-day 80-kilometer round-trip hike to the ruins of El Mirador
- Hiking from Quetzaltenango to Lake Atitlan
Here are some hikes that aren’t as epic but can be a fun experience:
- Volcano Pacaya near Antigua
- Hiking up Indian’s Nose to see the sunrise at Lake Atitlan
- Hiking up Volcano Santa Maria in Quetzaltenango
- Hike up Los Dos Miradores in Santa Cruz at Lake Atitlan
- Hike between the different villages along Lake Atitlan
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.
Montericco – turtles
Probably the best wildlife-watching experience is to see turtles laying their eggs on the beaches of Montericco. 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.
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?
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.
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?
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
Where to Next after Guatemala?
Guatemala borders 4 fascinating countries: Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.
If you’re thinking of crossing the land border to Mexico, the easiest and most fascinating destinatioms are Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas.
In Palenque, you’ll get to see some fabulous waterfalls like Roberto Barrios Cascades and some beautiful ruins like Yaxchilan and Palenque.
San Cristobal is just a charming and fascinating city with great weather, indigenous culture, and beautiful architecture.
You can easily cross the border into Belize and visit San Ignacio or Caye Caulker.
Honduras is a very underrated country with lots of see–ancient ruins, tropical islands, waterfalls, and nature.
If you’re heading to El Salvador, definitely check out the Route of Flowers and the Santa Ana Volcano.
For more travel ideas, check out this list of the top 20+ places to visit in Central America.
PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting travel insurance. During my travels over the past 3 years, I’ve been using SafetyWing for my insurance. They’re very affordable and digital nomads can use their insurance long-term.
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You might be interested in…
- Best Things to Do in Antigua: History, Culture, Food & Adventure
- Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting Guatemala
- Where to Stay in Antigua
- Chichicastenango Travel Guide
- Quirigua Travel Guide
- How to Cross the Border from Guatemala to Belize
- How to Cross the Border from Belize to Guatemala
- 15 Best Books About Guatemala
- 16 Best Books on the Ancient Maya
- Top 20 Things to Do in Flores
- Top 50 Things to Do at Lake Atitlan
- Top 35 Things to Do in Guatemala