Guatemala had been on our travel wishlist for a long time. So once we bought our tickets, the preparation and the anticipation started. Is it a safe country? How much travel budget would we need? What kind of clothing do you pack? To help you out with your travel planning, we made this overview with the most important things to know before you travel to Guatemala.
# 1 Guatemala is safe for travelers
Guatemala gets a positive travel advice from almost all governments. No domestic tensions, drug wars or other reasons to abandon your trip here! In the past only vulcanic eruptions have been reasons to temporarily avoid the country.
That doesn’t mean that you as a traveller have nothing to fear in Guatemala. Of course there are thieves and robbers active,as they are in all places where rich tourists come and the population is poorer. Notorious is the area around the San Pedro volcano at Lake Atitlan, for example. It is not advised to climb this volcano for this reason without a guide. The capital city of Guatemala City is also less safe, although that doesn’t apply to the neighborhoods where you would come as a traveller during the day. We will tell you more about this in our city guide for Guatemala City.
# 2 Bring your own water bottle
One of our biggest travel frustrations is all those disposable bottles. In the Netherlands the tap water is drinkable, so we never have to use them at home. We hate to use all this single use plastic bottles on our travels. But Guatemala is different! You can bring your own refillable water bottle with you, as you can refill it pretty much anywhere. In hotels, restaurants and even stores you’ll find filters from the Guatemalan brand Ecofiltro. The Ecofiltro system purifies the tap water with some sort of stone at the bottom of the barrel. So just refill your own bottle with the Ecofiltro’s to reduce plastic waste.
Extra tip: bring a LARQ bottle and purify your own water. It is quite an investment, but it will save you so much hassle and plastic bottles when travelling for the future.
# 3 Don’t forget your warm sweater
Guatemala is a tropical and warm country, but make no mistake. It can also get quite cold there. That of course applies to the tops of all the volcanoes that you might want to climb in Guatemala. But even in the cities it gets pretty cold in the evenings. So don’t forget to pack enough warm clothing. You will thank us later.
Reading tip: are you planning to climb a volcano and you don’t know what to pack for these hikes? Then read our extensive blogs about the Acatenango, Pacaya and Santiaguito. At the end we included a packing list.
# 4 Uber is one of the cheaper ways to get around
The prices for transport differ greatly from each other. How you travel and how long obviously matters a lot for the price. But we also found out how cheap it is to arrange private transport in Guatemala with the Uber app. In fact: it is one of the cheapest options to travel around. Especially when you’re travelling with three people or more. For some examples of our Uber expenses: our drive with Uber from Guatemala City to Antiqua costed us 155 quetzal (so less than 20 euros). The ride with Uber from Antiqua to Panajachel, the largest city on Lake Atitlan, costed us 370 quetzal. A direct shuttle for the same trip would have costed almost the same for two people.
Tip: you don’t have an Uber account yet? Via this link you can easily register and receive a discount on your first ride.
Extra tip: make sure to buy a local SIM card with internet for your phone. For only 25 quetzal (€ 3) you can already buy a SIM card for 15 days including 7 GB + 150 minutes.
# 5 Guatemala is quite cheap anyway
During the preparations for a new trip, the same question always comes up when budgeting: how expensive is it there? Let us answer that question right away: Guatemala is quite cheap. It is not as cheap as in many Asian countries, but the price level is much lower than in Europe. To give you an overview of the prices, we have written an extensive blog about the costs of travelling in Guatemala.
# 6 Stay longer and learn Spanish
As Guatemala is relatively cheap, it is also a popular destination for Spanish lessons. Many travellers who travel through the Spanish-speaking countries of Central and South America for a few months, start with a longer stay in Guatemala to improve their Spanish. Both the costs for Spanish lessons and for daily life are lower than in many other countries. Also, cities such as Antigua and Quetzaltenango with their relaxed vibe, nice coffee bars, great restaurants and popular sights are great places to linger for a bit longer.
# 7 No visa is required
You don’t need a visa for your Guatemala trip if you stay for less than 90 days. You do, of course, need a valid passport. As is the case in more countries, your passport must be valid for at least another six months upon arrival. You must also be able to show an official proof of exit, so for example your return ticket. However, we were not asked for it and we didn’t have one ourselves, as we were planning to continue our trip by land to Belize and Mexico.
# 8 Combine Guatemala with a visit to Belize
If you want to add some Caribbean beach time to your Guatemala trip, consider visiting Belize! Combining the two makes a lot of sense, as these two are very much intertwined. There is even a debate going on as to whether the country actually belongs to Guatemala. Belize itself does not entirely agree, but the discussion is still not settled. On many maps therefore, the border between Belize and Guatemala is also indicated with a dotted line.
Reading tip: in our travel itinerary for Guatemala we give tips to combine your trip with a week of jungle and beach hopping in Belize. San Ignacio, the beaches of Caye Caulker or Hopkins and Punta Gorda fit in perfectly with this route.
# 9 Guatemala has the largest Maya sites
The ancient Mayan culture has a fascinating history, of which countless Mayan temples are now proof. These temples can be found in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. You can visit some of the largest ancient cities in Guatemala. Famous Tikal is one of the highlights of Central America. But you can also join a multi-day jungle hike to the impressive El Mirador or head to the Yaxha temples for a magical sunset.
Viewing tip: prepare for your trip to Guatemala with the documentary The Lost Treasures of the Maya Snake Kings to learn more about Tikal and the Maya. You can watch it on Disney Plus (a trial subscription is free).
# 10 You can see and climb active volcanoes
This is perhaps the most important thing to know when preparing your Guatemala trip! Guatemala is the ultimate destination for hikes to and on huge volcanoes, three of which are even active. The three active volcanoes are the Santiaguito, the Pacaya and – opposite the Acatenango – the Fuego. We visited all three of them and even camped on top of volcanoes. So make sure you pack the right clothes (warm) and good hiking shoes (good grip), because you don’t want to miss out on this opportunity.
Tip: plan enough time for a multi-day volcano hike. If necessary, check in advance when these hikes are being organised, so you can adjust your travel planning accordingly. You can read more in our blogs about the Acatenango, Pacaya and Santiaguito.