Guatemala, meaning “land of trees” in Maya-Toltec dialect is also called “land of eternal spring” due to the average temperature of twenty-two degrees throughout the country. This Central American country, south of Mexico, is best known for its volcanic landscape, rainforests, and the colorful colonial city of Antigua. The capital, Guatemala City, features the National Palace of Culture and the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Lake Atitlán, with its hippie community in San Marcos, is one of the most popular places to visit here and famous for its natural beauty and colorful Mayan villages.
GUATEMALA TOP 5 THINGS TO DO
Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán is a lake in a massive volcanic crater in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range. Dubbed ‘the closest thing to Eden on Earth’. Surrounded by hills and volcanoes on all sides, Lake Atitlán is popular with travelers for its laidback hippie vibe, Mayan villages, traditional textile vendors and volcanoes. Located just a two-hour drive from Guatemala City, this is a top destination to explore while in Guatemala.
You might prefer to call this market ‘Chichi’ like the locals do! This is one of the largest and most famous markets in the whole of Central America and can be found in the small indigenous Mayan town of Chichicastenango, in the western highlands of Guatemala. The town itself is worth a visit but the main attraction is the huge market held here every Thursday and Sunday. Shop for traditional clothing, colorful handicrafts, fresh local produce and more at this vibrant local market.
Few cities in Central America can match Antigua Guatemala (usually called just ‘Antigua’) for postcard prettiness. Surrounded by volcanoes and nestled in the forested hills of south Guatemala, the small city of Antigua, once the capital of Guatemala, attracts flocks of tourists and backpackers. Known for its preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches such as the baroque La Merced church. Antigua is a must-visit destination for all travelers to Guatemala.
Located in north central Petén, Guatemala, about 50 miles northwest of the border with Belize, Tikal is the ruins of an ancient city found in a rainforest in Guatemala. One of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, the entire UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal is impressive. Perhaps the most spectacular attraction is the city’s Great Plaza, home to palaces, stelae, ceremonial buildings, carved altars and two giant pyramids known as Temple I and Temple II. This is a great place to tour if you want to see one of the most famous ruined cities of the Classic Period of the Maya.
Add hiking an active volcano to your Guatemala bucket list! Guatemala has 37 officially named volcanoes, three of which that are still active. Pacaya volcano near Guatemala City is one of Guatemala’s most active volcanoes, with frequent lava flows and Strombolian activity at the Mackenney crater. The frequent eruptions are sometimes visible from Guatemala City but adventurous travelers can get even closer on a guided tour which is actually an easy and fun hike.
Read more: Top 10 things to do in Guatemala
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GUATEMALA TOP 3 FESTIVALS
Cobán Folkloric Festival
The Cobán Folkloric Festival features rodeos, parades and lots of traditional art, but its most famous for the Rabin Ajau (meaning daughter of the king) competition. Mayan girls from across Guatemala arrive in Cobán wearing the traditional huipil and morga (blouse and skirt) of their hometown, ready to compete for the title of Mayan princess. To win this they must possess attributes such as spiritual beauty, grace, charm, intelligence and knowledge of history.
Semana Santa, or Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter Sunday. This Spanish tradition arrived with the Spaniards to Guatemala in 1524 and 500 years later, Guatemala holds one of the most elaborate celebrations in the world commemorating the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Feast of St. Thomas
The Feast of Saint Thomas draws international tourists with its colorful pageantry, dancing and fireworks, but at its heart is a religious celebration melding Catholic and indigenous traditions. This week-long celebration honors Saint Thomas, the patron saint of Chichicastenango, Guatemala.
Language: Spanish is the official language of Guatemala spoken by 93% of the population. 21 Mayan languages, one indigenous language, and one Arawakan language are also spoken.
Currency: Guatemalan Quetzal.
Visa: Travelers arriving from the European Union, USA, Canada, Australia and the UK can get a visa upon arrival allowing them to stay in Guatemala for up to 90 days. Use these free online visa checker and calculator tools so you know if a visa for Guatemala is required (which may depend on the country you are from) and how long it will take to process your visa and the cost.
Electricity: Guatemala uses 110 volt, 60 cycle electricity, which is the same as the USA. Plugs are typically the 2 pronged flat type. Buy a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each new country you visit.
Lonely Planet Guatemala: Check price on Amazon
WHAT TO EAT IN GUATEMALA
Some traditional dishes that you must try in Guatemala are listed below.
Chicken pepian: Pepián is one of the oldest dishes in Guatemalan food heritage. This is a traditional Guatemalan spicy meat stew, and considered by most Guatemalans to be the national dish. Its meat and vegetables in a thick and rich sauce, with a combination of roasted spices and sesame seeds blended together.
Pupusas: These are everywhere in Guatemala and are a perfect snack for backpackers and budget travelers. Corn tortillas are stuffed with fillings such as refried beans, cheese or pork and then fried until the surface is crispy and the inside is soft.
Kak‘ik: This is a rustic turkey stew made with a turkey leg as the main ingredient. It also contains tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, bell peppers and spices such as achiote, chili peppers, and coriander.
Empanadas: Empanadas are buttery, crispy pastries that make a perfect on-the-go lunch. Usually in Central America, Empanadas have a meat filling, but in Guatemala they are filled with spinach and potato and topped with tomatoes, guacamole, onion, and parsley.
Rellenitos: This is a very popular dessert in Guatemala. Rellenitos de plátano has mashed plantains stuffed with a mixture of refried beans, chocolate, and cinnamon. The egg-shaped balls are the deep-fried and then served with powdered sugar or honey on top.
WHERE TO STAY IN GUATEMALA
Guatemala is a very affordable destination to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in Guatemala is super easy because there’s so many options whatever your budget.
Hostels and dormitories make travel to Guatemala affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget. Whether you’re a backpacker, flash-packer or a luxury vacationer, Guatemala will not disappoint you. A basic hotel room in Guatemala can cost less than $30.
If you’re looking for accommodation that includes luxury amenities and comforts then there will be endless options to choose from in the big cities and popular tourist hotspots like Antigua, Guatemala City and Lake Atitlán. Whatever month you choose to visit Guatemala, it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best places to stay have been snapped up already. Guatemala is an extremely popular year-round destination.
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Guatemala. However, if you are backpacking in Guatemala or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in Guatemala very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies where ever you go.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
BEST TIME TO VISIT GUATEMALA
Guatemala has a great climate that lends itself to year-round visits.
GUATEMALA TRAVEL BUDGET
Guatemala is generally an affordable destination for travelers on all budgets. The cost of your trip to Guatemala really depends on the level of comfort you want. If you are backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating fast food then budget between $35 to $50 per 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 at least $250 plus per day.
IS GUATEMALA SAFE FOR FEMALE TRAVELERS?
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 while here. 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 before your trip to Guatemala.
GUATEMALA VISA CHECKER
GUATEMALA FLIGHT DEALS
GUATEMALA TOURS & ACTIVITIES
GUATEMALA PACKING TIPS
Packing for a trip to Guatemala, like most other places in Central America, is a breeze. You really don’t need as much travel gear as you may think for a trip to Guatemala.
That said, the gear you do bring on your trip should be the very best option available for you and that doesn’t always mean the most expensive. Jetset Bunnies around the globe are always discovering the latest and the greatest in travel gear for women and this is where we share our awesome finds with you.
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, most importantly, 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. Read our related blog post with advice on how to choose the best backpacks for women travelers. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.
So if you’ve found your travel inspiration, figured out the practicalities and got the travel gear it’s time to stuff it all in a bag and go right? Well, no, hold your horses, you see there’s an art to packing which we have (almost) perfected. Hop to our Travel Packing Tips for all of the latest on this topic.