The word Guatemala means “land of trees” in Maya-Toltec dialect. It is also called “land of eternal spring” where the average temperature remains twenty-two degrees all across Guatemala. The locals are famous for being the most polite and civil in Central America.
The capital of Guatemala, Guatemala City, houses some of the top museums and has a fast and highly efficient bus transport system. Guatemala, although small, has a wide variety of beautiful landscapes and ancient architecture which is a major attraction for visitors.
Guatemala Travel Info
Language: Spanish is the official language of Guatemala spoken by 93% of the population. Besides Spanish, other languages spoken here include English, French and Chinese.
Currency: Guatemalan Quetzal.
Visa: Visitors coming from the European Union, United States of America, Canada, Australia, and Britain do not require a visa and can enjoy a stay in Guatemala for up to 90 days. Other nationalities will require a tourist visa to enter the country. To get a tourist visa for Guatemala make sure you have a valid passport, recent photo, completed application form, proof of financial stability and a return ticket.
Electricity: Guatemala operates on 110 volts, but many modern hotels use 220 volts. The power sockets are usually two-pronged and round. I recommend bringing a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each country you visit.
Guatemala Festivals & Celebrations
Independence Day: Dia de la Independencia is celebrated every year on the 15th September to mark the independence of five countries including Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. Each year runners, also called antorcheros, pass on a lit torch starting from Guatemala City to Costa Rica to honor this day.
Day of the Dead: Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead gets celebrated in Santiago and Sumpango Sacatepequez every year on 1st and 2nd November where locals make giant kites and erect in the local cemetery. The locals believe that these kites communicate with deceased and remove wicked spirits from graves.
Coban Folkloric Festival: Celebrated every year in the last week of July, the Coban Folkloric Festival is full of parades, traditional art forms; the main event of this festival is the “daughter of the king” competition. Every year Mayan girls dressed in their traditional skirt and blouse descend in Coban to participate for the award of Mayan Princess.
Safety In Guatemala
Just like most countries in Central America, Guatemala is a relatively safe place to travel to. Thefts, bag snatching and scams are prevalent in all big cities so be mindful of this. Based on my own travel experiences in Central America I wouldn’t leave home without travel insurance no matter how safe the destination is considered. You can still miss flights, lose your luggage or break a leg, especially if you’re as accident prone as I am. For this reason I recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks or months before you plan to visit Guatemala.
Top Things To Do In Guatemala
Explore the Mayan remains of Tikal
It is one of the best archeological sites of Central America and lies in the forest of Northern Guatemala. The people have exceptionally preserved the remains of the ancient city of Tikal and had inhabitation from 600 BC to 900 AD. The highlights of the town were about 3000 structures that included plazas, pyramids, temples, and Acropolis. It was the most significant Mayan center for thousands of years and is now the most prominent Mayan archeological site in existence.
Unwind at the Xetulul Theme Park
Xutulu is Latin America’s third largest theme park and inaugurated in 2002. The park gets segregated into some plazas, each designed to represent a country that has in some way or the other impacted the culture of Guatemala. The park has rides apt for guests of all ages, but the best of all is the steel roller coaster having eight inversions, a train that takes guests through the park and a double-decker carousel.
Lose yourself in the beauty of Antigua
Antigua is among the most beautiful cities of not only Guatemala but all of Central America as well. It was formerly the capital of Guatemala and has a location amid volcanoes offering a glimpse of a city that is undeterred by the modern architecture and high rise buildings. Beautiful, old colonial buildings line the cobbled streets, and convents and grand churches surround the city center. The city even has some fascinating museums to explore.
Experience the Auto Safari Chapin
Auto Safari Chapin is the largest animal park in Guatemala founded in 1980. The park houses a large number of animal species like jaguars, giraffes, and crocodiles. There are two different areas inside the reserve where animals are kept. The first one is a walk-through zoo and the second is a drive-through preserve. The same ticket is valid for both the areas along with a complimentary boat ride across the lagoon and free access to the park’s pool.
Go boating in Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is believed to be the world’s most beautiful lake. It is located at a two-hour drive from Guatemala City at 1538 meters above sea level. It is surrounded by hills and volcanoes on all sides and is within the crater of a volcano. Water taxis and boats are available to take visitors on an excursion to the villages and private hotels. Every town is unique and rich in local craftwork.
Go bird-watching at Cayala Ecological park
Cayala Ecological Park is a lush space safely hidden in the Guatemala city and is home to rabbits, butterflies, squirrels, and many other animals. You will come across many of them while taking a stroll across the park or relaxing on one of its squares. The park is a well-known spot for bird watchers with more than 105 species of birds that can be spotted here.
Explore the market of Chichicastenango
Locally called ‘Chichi,’ this is a beautiful town with valleys and mountains on all sides. On Sundays and Thursdays, the cobbled streets acquire an air of vibrancy when the largest market of Guatemala comes into existence. In this market everyday goods, food items, and unique textiles get sold, and it is exceptionally famous for the latter. Vendors travel miles to come to this market and sell their goods, making it the best place for people watching.
Be awed by Museo Popol Vuh
Museo Popol Vuh is among the most exciting places at a few hours from Guatemala City. It is the best Mayan art museum that has in store an extensive and precious collection of colonial as well as Mayan art. It has a display of a vast array of pottery, masks, gems, sculptures, and tools in the various exhibits.
Hike the Pacaya Volcano
Pakaya Volcano is about 2550 meters high and provides an excellent opportunity to observe volcanic activities in person. The volcano is located near Antigua and has been active since 1975. The explosion of lava keeps on altering the shape of the volcano there are guided tours that take visitors on a hiking expedition on the volcano. Since the volcano is an active one, the activity is not entirely risk-free.
Explore the Lanquin Caves
The Lanquin caves are deep limestone caves located towards the northeast of Coban. The caves have a distinctive rock formation, an underground river, and some lagoons. A portion of the cave with its uneven walkway and some amount of light is open for visitors. The caves are home to bats, and when these nocturnals leave the cave in thousands at night to look for food, the scene is worth a watch.
Other than these top things to do in Guatemala, there is so much more to see and experience in this amazing country. Be prepared to be flexible because sometimes other travelers that you meet on your travels will have the best suggestions for things to do in Guatemala that are off the beaten path.
What To Eat In Guatemala
Some would say that Guatemala has the most delicious cuisine in all of Central America. As it’s Mayan culture has merged with Spanish traditions, you can see the effect on the local cuisine that is much more flavorsome than any of the neighboring country’s.
Some must-try dishes are:
Chicken pepian: Although Guatemala has no national dish, chicken pepian is closest to being one. It is a spicy stew that is the result of the fusion of Mayan and Spanish cultures. The stew can also be made of pork or beef, contains fruits and vegetables and is rich in spices.
Pupusas: It is a low-budget dish that can be found everywhere in Guatemala. Thick tortillas made of corn are stuffed with refried beans and cheese or pork and then deep fried till it becomes crisp. The locals usually served with some cabbage and salsa on the side.
Kal’ik: It is another traditional preparation which is a Maya Turkey soup rich in spices including coriander, chilies, and achiote. You can trace the origin back to the Q’eqchi ethnicity who still prepare the soup in the manner they did about hundred years back.
Empanadas: Empanadas are buttery, crispy pastries that make a perfect on-the-go lunch. Everywhere in Central America, Empanadas have a meat stuffing, but in Guatemala, they are filled with spinach and potato and topped with tomatoes, guacamole, onion, and parsley.
Rellenitos: For all the sweet lovers, this is a must try. These are Guatemalan version of doughnuts and are made of cooked plantains that are mashed along with bean paste, cinnamon, and sugar and then deep fried. Rellenitos have a delightful and unique taste.
Where To Stay In Guatemala
Guatemala is a very affordable place to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in Guatemala is easy even if you’re on a tight budget. Guatemala hostels and dormitories make travel here very affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget.
Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best accommodation options have already been snapped up. Guatemala is a very popular year-round destination.
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Guatemala.
If you’re backpacking in Guatemala or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in Central America very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
Guatemala Trip Planner
Best Time to Visit Guatemala
The best time to visit Guatemala is in the dry season which is from November to April. This peak tourist season boasts plenty of sunshine making it an ideal time for exploring Guatemala. That said, the dry season is the most popular (and expensive) time to visit.
Guatemala Travel Budget
Guatemala is generally an affordable destination for travelers on a tight budget. The cost of your trip to Guatemala really depends on the level of comfort you will want while here. If you’re backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating fast food then budget between $35 to $50 a day. If you prefer to stay in 3-4 star hotel rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $50 to $100 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants then budget about $250 plus a day.
- Budget: $15 – $35
- Mid-range: $35 – $100
- Splurge: $100 +
Meal For One
- Budget: $8 – $25
- Mid-range: $25 – $60
- Splurge: $60 +
Guatemala Packing Guide
Packing for a trip to Guatemala, like most places in central America is easy, just remember to pack lightweight and breathable clothing for dry season and warm, waterproof clothing for trips during the rainy season.
Be prepared for the weather to get extremely hot during the summer so pack a high factor sunscreen and a sun hat. If you forget to pack something you can buy anything you need while you’re in Guatemala. Prices are generally higher in smaller boutiques (aimed at tourists) than they would be online so expect to pay a premium if you don’t have the option of shopping around due to time restraints on your central America trip.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to Guatemala include a good quality travel backpack. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.
For the full list of everything you need to pack for a trip to Guatemala check out the Jetset Bunny Ultimate Central America Packing List For Female Travelers.