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A Concise Guide to Exploring Guatemala

A small country in Central America, Guatemala has a rich and beautiful culture that blends vibrant Mayan history with Spanish colonial influences.

From the beautiful colonial city of Antigua to the enormous Lake Atitlan, there’s so much to discover. Ancient Mayan ruins emerge from the jungle at Tikal, vendors sell tasty street food in bustling Guatemala City, and smoking volcano cones dominate the skyline.

Here’s a mini guide to Guatemala to help plan your trip…

Best Time to Go

The tourist board call Guatemala “the land of eternal spring”, and with good reason. The country has a pleasant climate most of the year. Many of the country’s more popular destinations – including Lake Atitlan, Antigua, and Guatemala City – are between 1300m and 1600m above sea level, which means warm sunny days and mild evenings.

The peak tourist seasons are December to March, as well as July and August, so this is when prices spike. Rainy season is from roughly May to October, depending on the area. However it’s generally only rainy in the afternoons, with warm sunny mornings ideal for exploring, so it’s an ideal time to go if you want to save money.

Money and Costs

Guatemala is a fairly affordable country, making it a favourite with backpackers and long term travellers. It’s also ideal for visitors in search of something a bit fancier, because your money can go a long way here.

Basic double rooms in budget hotels can go for around £7.50 a night, while hostels are even less. If you want some affordable luxury, boutique hotels start from £30 – although prices can reach over £100 for very nice places in the touristy areas like Antigua.

Check out this guide to typical costs in Guatemala for some more information. What you spend will depend on how you travel, of course, but it’s good to have a rough gauge.

What to Eat in Guatemala

Guatemalan food is a unique mixture of traditional Spanish and Mayan recipes, with a few appropriated Mexican dishes thrown in for good measure. Have a read of this Guatemala food guide for all the must-try dishes and lots more information. Below are a few of the meals you can’t miss:

Pepián – Guatemala’s national dish is pepián, a spicy meat stew with a rich tomato sauce.

Kakik – A turkey stew made from tomatoes, garlic, onions, mint and coriander.

Chiles Rellenos – Different to the Mexican version, Guatemalan chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers) are usually served coated in egg batter and smothered in tomato sauce.

Getting Around Guatemala

Guatemala is a fairly easy country to get around in general, and distances are rarely huge. The longest journey is from Guatemala City to Tikal, which takes around 8 or 9 hours by bus – or you can fly there in 50 minutes.

If you’re on a budget, the most popular (and cheapest) way to get around Guatemala is by “chicken bus”. Overcrowded, fume-filled, and very cheap, chicken buses are ancient yellow schoolbuses from the US which have been repurposed and repainted with crazy colours and designs.

If you have a bit more cash to spend and prefer a more comfortable journey, there are plenty of bus companies. The ‘primera clase’ tend to be nicer, with A/C and maybe even a working toilet. Alternatively you can book tourist shuttles or private transfers.

Guatemala is also a great country for self-driving trips. Renting a car is affordable and relatively easy, although you need to be wary of rental companies claiming charges for “damage” that existed before you took the car.