Guatemala has a rich and distinctive culture from the extended mixing of elements from Spain and the Maya people who are native to Central America. This diverse history and the natural beauty of the land have created a destination rich in interesting and scenic sites. Guatemala is very tough land—you can experience volcanic activity, seismic activity (earthquakes, mudslides), and hurricanes.
|Central Highlands |
This region is home to the capital of Guatemala city and at least one active volcano
|Western Highlands |
By far the most beautiful part of Guatemala, this region includes many indigenous Mayan villages. Lake Atitlan is also in this region, along with at least 2 active volcanoes.
|Eastern Guatemala |
A dry region on the routes to Honduras and El Salvador, with a mostly Hispanic population, and dedicated to cattle ranching.
|Caribbean Coast |
This coast is home to many beaches.
|Northern Lowlands |
This region has very dense jungled rainforest, and some amazing Mayan ruins, including Tikal.
|Pacific Lowlands |
This consists of the rolling foothills of the Sierra Madre, extending across the wide Pacific plain to beautiful beaches.
- 1 Guatemala City — Capital and largest city with many amenities
- 2 Antigua Guatemala — Colonial Spanish capital of Central America, a World Heritage site, and the most popular among tourists
- 3 Flores — Island city capital of Petén, good starting point to access Mayan ruins of Tikal.
- 4 Melchor de Mencos — Border city which is the main crossing point to Belize
- 5 Panajachel — Gateway to Lake Atitlán, a beautiful and busy tourist area
- 6 Puerto Barrios — Caribbean seaport with speedboats to and from Belize
- 7 Puerto San José — Pacific seaport
- 8 Quetzaltenango — Second largest city, in the western highlands. Commonly called "Xela".
- 9 Sayaxché — River gateway in Petén
- 1 Aguateca — visit some of the best-preserved Mayan ruins in Guatemala, where you're more likely to encounter archaeologists than tourists
- 2 El Mirador — still being uncovered, the adventurous few who visit this massive early Maya site will discover a cradle of Mayan civilization
- 3 Iximché — these Mayan ruins in the Central Highlands are an easy day trip from Guatemala City or Antigua
- 4 Lake Atitlán — a stunningly beautiful volcanic lake surrounded by picturesque Mayan villages, visitors may find themselves staying longer than anticipated
- 5 Monterrico — located on the Pacific coast, Monterrico is known for its volcanic black sand beaches and annual influx of sea turtles
- 6 Nakúm — an impressive Classic Maya site
- 7 Rio Dulce — surrounded by National Parks, Rio Dulce checks a variety of boxes for the outdoor adventurer: jungles to trek, rivers to swim, and ruins to explore
- 8 Semuc Champey — a swimmers paradise; this series of stepped, turquoise pools is perfectly situated atop a natural limestone bridge
- 9 Tikal — long considered the largest of Maya ruins, this impressive site is often the reason folks choose to add Guatemala to their itineraries
|Population||17.2 million (2018)|
|Electricity||120 volt / 60 hertz (NEMA 1-15, NEMA 5-15)|
|Time zone||UTC−06:00, America/Guatemala|
|Emergencies||123 (fire department), 128 (emergency medical services), 110 (police), 120 (police)|
|edit on Wikidata|
- See also: Indigenous cultures of North America
The first evidence of human settlers in Guatemala goes back to at least 12,000 BC. Sites dating back to 6500 BC have been found in Quiché in the Central Highlands and Sipacate, Escuintla on the central Pacific coast. Archaeologists divide the pre-Columbian history of Mesoamerica into the Pre-Classic period (2000 BC to 250 AD).
El Mirador was by far the most populated city in pre-Columbian America. The El Tigre and Monos pyramids each have a volume greater than 250,000 cubic meters. Mirador was the first politically organized state in America.
The Classic period of Mesoamerican civilization corresponds to the height of the Maya civilization, and is represented by countless sites throughout Guatemala, although the largest concentration is in Petén in the Northern Lowlands. This period is characterized by heavy city-building, the development of independent city-states, and contact with other Mesoamerican cultures. This lasted until around 900 AD, when the Classic Maya civilization collapsed. The Maya abandoned many of the cities of the central lowlands or were killed off by a drought-induced famine. The Post-Classic period is represented by regional kingdoms such as the Itza' and Ko'woj in the lakes area in Petén, and the Mam, K'iche', Kaqchikel, Tz'utujil, Poqomchi', Q'eqchi' and Ch'orti' in the Highlands. These cities preserved many aspects of Mayan culture, but would never equal the size or power of the Classic cities.
After arriving in what was named the New World, the Spanish mounted several expeditions to Guatemala, beginning in 1519. Before long, Spanish contact resulted in an epidemic that devastated native populations. During the colonial period, Guatemala was an Audiencia and a Captaincy General of Spain, and a part of New Spain (Mexico). It extended from the modern Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas to Costa Rica. This region was not as rich in minerals (gold and silver) as Mexico and Peru, and was therefore not considered to be as important. Its main products were sugarcane, cocoa, blue añil dye, red dye from cochineal insects, and precious woods used in artwork for churches and palaces in Spain.
On September 15, 1821, the Captaincy-general of Guatemala (formed by Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras) proclaimed its independence from Spain and its incorporation into the Mexican Empire, which was dissolved two years later. After the collapse of the first Mexican Empire Guatemala formed part of the short-lived United Provinces of Central America. Guatemala's "Liberal Revolution" came in 1871 under the leadership of Justo Rufino Barrios, who worked to modernize the country, improve trade, and introduce new crops and manufacturing. During this era coffee became an important crop for Guatemala. Barrios had ambitions of reuniting Central America and took the country to war in an unsuccessful attempt to attain this, losing his life on the battlefield in 1885 against forces in El Salvador. From 1898 to 1920, Guatemala was ruled by the dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera, whose access to the presidency was helped by the United Fruit Company.
On July 4, 1944, Dictator Jorge Ubico Castañeda was forced to resign his office in response to a wave of protests and a general strike, and from then until the end of a murderous civil war in 1996, Guatemala was subject to a series of coups with massive attendant civil rights abuses. State-sponsored murders of students, human rights activists and the ethnic Mayan peoples, gained Guatemala a terrible reputation around the world. In 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton stated that the United States was wrong to have provided support to Guatemalan military forces that took part in the brutal civilian killings.
Since the peace accords in 1996, Guatemala has witnessed successive democratic elections.
Guatemala's climate is diverse and varies according to the country's geography. In the lowlands, the climate is tropical and hot, with afternoon thunderstorms that usually reduce the heat a little. In Puerto Barrios, on the Caribbean coast, average temperatures range from 20.1 °C (68.3 °F) in January to 29.5 °C in March, reaching 3,075 mm (121.1 inches) of rain per year. In the mountains, the climate is generally slightly cooler and tends to be less rainy, reaching just 802.1 mm (31.59 inches) in Quetzaltenango. In Guatemala City, the average maximum temperatures is 27 ºC (80.6 ºF) in the months of April and May and lows of 13.2 ºC (55.8 ºF) in January and 2.3 ºC (36.1 ºF) in Quetzaltenango. In the highlands, the rainy season runs from May to October. Due to Guatemala's location between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, the country is vulnerable to hurricanes.
The following nationalities do not need a visa to visit Guatemala: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United States, United Kingdom, Vatican City, Venezuela.
Valid passports are required of everyone except citizens of the following Central American countries: Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador. There is a treaty of free movement between those countries, similar to the Schengen agreement in Europe.
Proof of onward travel is often required by airlines however rarely checked by officials to gain a visa when flying into Guatemala.
Guatemala's main airport, La Aurora International Airport (GUA IATA), is in Guatemala City. International flights arrive mostly from the other Central American countries, United States, Mexico, Colombia and Spain. The airport is a glass-and-concrete edifice with modern shops and duty-free shops that you might expect in any large city. Food options may be somewhat still limited, however. American Airlines, Avianca, Copa, Delta, and United all offer service to Guatemala, albeit at high prices. Iberia also serves Guatemala City.
- From Belize. Multiple companies have express buses from Belize City to Flores (Guatemala), passing through San Ignacio and Xunantunich, with connections to Guatemala City. A cheaper alternative is a local Belizean bus to the border town of Benque Viejo, a taxi to the border and onward from Melchor de Mencos to Flores by colectivo, or taxi to Tikal.
There are several bus companies connecting Guatemala to neighboring countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Belize. Some of the companies continue onwards towards through the rest of the Central American isthmus towards Panama via San Jose and Managua from San Salvador and Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula. International buses are usually first class pullman services in newer Marcopolo, Mercedes or Volvo type of coaches and operate on limited schedules (usually early morning departures) with limited number of stops. Except Adrenalina Tours and Grupo ADO addresses given are in Guatemala City:
- Grupo ADO and OCC (Omnibus Cristobal Colon) (Autobuses De Oriente (ADO)), toll-free: (MX). Grupo ADO & OCC buses do not go into Guatemala from Mexico but they do provide onward connections to Mexico City, Cristobal Colon, Comitan and other places in Mexico from the Mexican side of the border. The nearest ADO/OCC bus stations from Guatemala are in Tapachula, Ciudad Cuauhtemoc and Palenque. There are also various travel agencies in Antigua, Panajachel and San Cristobal de las Casas that sell tickets for various shuttle companies for connections between Mexico and Guatemala in smaller mini-vans or mini-buses. Passengers usually transfer buses/vans at the border.
- Adrenalina Tours, 2a Calle Poniente, Casa No, 3, Antigua Guatemala 03001, ☏ . Operates shuttles between the popular tourist spots within Guatemala and to San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico; Leon, Nicaragua; Tunco, El Salvador; and La Ceiba, Honduras from Antigua.
- Comfort Lines, 4 Ave 13-60 Zona 10, ☏ . Operates mainly between the Guatemala city and San Salvador.
- Fuentes Del Norte (FDN), 17 Calle 8a. y 9a. Avenidas 8-46 Zona 1, ☏ , . Connect Santa Elena to Belize City via Melchor de Mencos and from Guatemala City to San Salvador and San Pedro Sula.
- Hedman Alas, 2a Ave 8-73 Zona 10, ☏ . Once daily departures to Tegucigalpa via Copan Ruinas, Tela, San Pedro Sula. Onward shuttle connections to Antigua for arrivals from Honduras.
- Linea Dorada, 16 Calle 10-03 Zona 1, ☏ . Goes up to the Mexican border in La Mesilla. There are taxis and tuk tuks from La Mesilla to the OCC and Mexican immigration in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc
- Platinum Centroamerica (King Quality), 4 Ave 13-60 Zona 10, ☏ . Serves Guatemala City, San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and Managua.
- Pullmantur, 1a Avenida 13-22 Zona 10 (Hotel Holiday Inn), ☏ . Operates buses between Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa and San Salvador.
- Ticabus (Transportes Internationales Centromaericanos), Calzada Aguilar Batres, 22-55 Zona 12, ☏ . departs 06:00 and 14:00. Major central bus company operating buses across the Central American isthmus between Panama City and Managua. From Managua one route goes to Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in Honduras while another continues along the Pan American Hwy to San Salvador, Guatemala City and Tapachula in Mexico. They also have another north-south route connecting El Salvador to Honduras..
- Trans Galgos Inter., 7a Avenida 19-44 Zona 1, ☏ , , . departs 13:00. International services to Tapachula from Guatemala City via Retalhuleau and Coatepeque on one route and twice daily to San Salvador on another. They also operate a third domestic route to Quetzaltenango from Guatemala City. US$17.
- Transportes del Sol, Avenida las Américas, adentro del Hotel Las Américas, zona 13 (Inside the Hotel Las Americas in Zona 13), ☏ , . Office hours M-F 08:00-18:00 and Sa-Su 08:00-16:00. Serves Guatemala City, San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, and Managua. US$28 (one-way).
If traveling by bus, there are two classes of buses. The pullman (first class) buses (pullman, expreso, especiales, primera clase), if available, are usually direct routes and are the best option for most. These buses vary in the quality of vehicles. They range from the older MC coaches (older Greyhound buses from the U.S.) to the newer single or double deck Marcopolo or Volvo coaches and anything similar in between. They are comfortable, have washrooms/toilets and will generally show movies, which may or may not be in English with Spanish subtitles (or vice versa) with reserved seating. Others may even offer a drink and a little snack. They may make limited scheduled stops (semi-directo) at specific places en route otherwise they make no stops en-route. They operate on limited schedules and usually from their own offices or terminals rather than from a central bus station in the cities they serve. The first class pullmans are more common on the route between Guatemala City and Flores and on to neighboring countries but also from Guatemala City to Coban, Huehuetenango, Chiquimula and Quetzaltenango (Xelaju) as well.
The most common option are the second class buses (chicken bus, camionetas, autobuses de parrillas, polleros, mini-bus, microbus); the more ubiquitous are the decommissioned U.S. school buses painted in all sorts of funky colors and patterns. Other second class buses exist in a Toyota Coaster mini-bus, a smaller Toyota "HiAce" van (referred to as "microbus" or "minibus") or a pick up truck (picop) or some similar type of vehicle that functions the same way as the "chicken bus". Second class bus routes are more frequent and reach more places for a cheaper fare than first class pullman but they also take considerably longer to travel over longer distances (such as from Todo los Santos to Guatemala City) with multiple stops and maybe multiple transfers. They are the most common way for most to travel in and they get crowded with everything and everyone crammed in. Large cargo and luggage usually get placed on and tied to the roof, including live chickens going to market, hence the term "chicken bus". To a visitor riding along, the bus may appear to be full but to the driver and his ayudante (helper or conductor) there's always room for another person even if the space is just a sliver between two people. If it's physically impossible to squeeze on more people there's always room up on the roof or cling on from the outside as the bus barrels down the road. The chicken buses operate from a central bus terminal (Terminal de Autobuses) which usually is nothing more than open lot next to an informal market with no ticket offices. You just walk into the lot, hop on and grab a seat. Once the bus is underway and start picking up others along the streets an ayudante will eventually come around to collect the fares (usually Q10 per hour) and he's usually very good at knowing who paid and giving change, which may not come right away. Check with fellow passengers on what the fare is to a particular destination as it may be more or less than Q10.
Robberies of the buses are frequent along the highway in the countryside and in the capital itself. Usually several people, one or more in the front, middle and back of the bus get up, take out their guns and announce a robbery or simply a group of people -or even children- surround you and demand your possessions from you. Sometimes this is part of the regular routine of the bus drivers, sometimes even the drivers organize these robberies.
A third option many travelers opt for is the tourist shuttle which costs 5 to 15x more than buses but they are more comfortable to ride in and quicker in getting there. They can be in a Toyota HiAce van, a larger Toyota Coaster minibus or some similar type of vehicle. They can make scheduled stops for bathroom and eating breaks at a restaurant en route but otherwise they run non-stop. They typically connect between different popular tourist destinations such as Antigua, Guatemala City, La Aurora Airport, Panajachel, Chichicastenango (on market days), Lanquin, San Cristobal de las Casas, Ruinas de Copan, etc. Tickets on these are available at the travel agencies in the tourist towns they serve. Pick-up and drop off may be at a their office where everybody meet at or is pre-arranged for pick-up and drop off at hotels and hostels.
See the By bus under Get in in the above and in the Guatemala City article for a list of available bus companies.
Regular domestic flights only operate between Guatemala City GUA IATA and Flores FRS IATA on Transportes Aéreos Guatemaltecos (TAG) and Avianca Guatemala (formerly Taca Regional and Aviateca). TAG also offer flights from Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios.
Road safety is poor, especially on highways. Roads are in relatively poor condition, except for main roads. During the rainy season, the condition of roads deteriorates considerably.
Driving at night should be avoided. When driving, doors should be locked and windows closed.
Buses and cars are also being robbed on busy main roads in the middle of the day. Criminals posing as police officers have also committed robberies and rapes.
Guatemalan Traffic Police[dead link] (in Spanish)
Guatemalan Traffic Police on Facebook (in Spanish)
- See also: Spanish phrasebook
Spanish is the official language of Guatemala and is spoken by almost everyone in the main tourist destinations. In villages more off the beaten track, most people may only speak a Maya language, perhaps with some broken Spanish. Doctors, teachers, lawyers, police and other professionals in such areas will speak Spanish.
The local vernacular is Guatemalan Spanish, which has extensive loanwords from Mayan languages and has different grammatical rules. The most familiar form of Spanish spoken among good friends is the "tú" and "vos" form, but varies between regions. It is considered rude and very informal if used with someone that you do not know. As a tourist, it is safer to stick with the "usted" form. However, don't be surprised if some homestay families and some language teachers jump right into using the "tú" or "vos" form. If they do, you may respond in kind.
Over twenty-one indigenous languages are spoken, especially in the rural corners of the country. The most commonly spoken indigenous languages are K'iche' (the second most widely spoken language in the country), Q'eqchi', and Kaqchikel.
Guatemala has a lot of volcanoes, many of them over 3,000 m high.
- Volcán de Pacaya (2500 m) - this is an active volcano about 30 minutes outside of Antigua. Some days it will not be accessible as the volcano may be too active to observe safely. Bring a jacket since it will be windy and cold at the top (although the ground will feel warm) and wear long pants as the volcanic rock can easily give you a nice cut. Tour guides can be organised from Antigua. Until a significant eruption in late May 2010, you were able to walk right up to see real lava and even roast hot dogs and marshmallows over it. Although trips are still common and travel agencies still boast this possibility with pictures of tourist doing so in the past, this is no longer possible.
If you decide to travel to Pacaya alone the prices are quite reasonable. Approximately Q25 (US$3) entrance to the park. At the entrance to Pacaya National Park you will be required to have a local guide, licensed by the park to take you to the top of the volcano. There are two separate entrances to the park, the first located in the town of El Cedro and the second in the town of San Francisco. The El Cedro route is an easier climb, around 2 hours up & 1 hour down the volcano. The San Fracisco entrance is a few miles further past El Cedro. It's a bit of a steeper climb. The entire park is patrolled by local police and soldiers - it is quite safe. Locals also offer horses to bring you for around Q125 (US$15) which if you're not into hiking is a great alternative. These are offered to you when you begin your ascent. There are washrooms, snacks and drinks available for sale at both entrances as well. Secure parking is available for those traveling without a tour group.
Guatemala is rich in natural beauty and travel opportunities, it's a country that offers so much to those willing to step off the beaten track for a little while.
Antigua Guatemala is often regarded as the travellers' hub, a crumbling, picture-perfect Central American town ringed by volcanoes. From here you can take a hike up Volcano Pacaya, take a bus to the bustling market of Chichicastenango, or sip some coffee in a street-side cafe and watch the world go by.
Lake Atitlan (or Lago de Atitlán) is another frequent stop on any visitors itinerary. A volcano-rimmed lake with plenty of backpacker hostels and Mayan villages that dot the shores.
Flores in Guatemala's wild north is a tourist friendly island in the middle of Lake Petén Itzá. From here you can take a bus ride to one of the best preserved Mayan ruins in the world, Tikal. Howler monkeys and dense jungle make walking around the ruins an adventure.
- Semuc Champey, Lanquin, near Coban, Alta Verapaz. Semuc Champey is a cascade of turquoise limestone pools created by the river plunging below ground for a stretch before rushing back out through a spectacular waterfall. Definitely worth making the trip to Lanquin for, as are the beautiful lodges that have sprung up from the captivating hilly landscape.
Rio Dulce The Rio Dulce is a majestic emerald river, sandwiched between Belize & Honduras, which sweeps out to the Caribbean. The Rio Dulce area consists of two towns on either side of one of the largest bridges in Central America, Fronteras & El Relleno. Rio Dulce is a haven for sailors and backpackers, with plenty to do and to see. Finca Paraiso is a hot springs waterfall which is like having a spa day in the jungle; Castillo San Felipe de Lara is a historical fort site and an inexpensive way to spend the afternoon touring the castle and swimming in Lake Izabal. The many species of Birds & Animals (including manatees) makes Rio Dulce a great spot for birdwatchers, animal lovers & fishing fans.
Exchange rates for Guatemalan quetzales
As of January 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The local currency is the quetzal (Q, ISO code: GTQ) which is named after the national bird, which has ancient and mythic connotations even today. U.S. dollars are widely accepted and can be exchanged in most small towns. ATMs can be found in the major towns but do not expect to find them in every tourist spot. It is fairly easy to find your self in a town without an ATM or a place to change money.
Do not expect to be able to easily exchange travelers checks to Guatemala. You might find a few places willing to accept checks issued by American Express but all other types are universally turned down. Even major banks in Guatemala City do not accept Visa travelers checks.
It is common to use U.S. dollars in tourist areas. You will most likely have difficulties in changing other currencies than U.S. dollars, but euros are becoming increasingly common.
Coins of Guatemala are issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 centavos and 1 quetzal. Banknotes of Guatemala are issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 quetzales.
It is common to bargain for most purchases in the open air market. Though you may be able to bargain in other places, be aware that chain-owned shops have fixed prices (you are no more likely to bargain in a Guatemalan Radio Shack than an American one). These are some characteristically Guatemalan things you might consider buying here:
- Ron Zacapa Centenario — Guatemala's prize-winning rum
- Fabrics and traditional textiles — Traditional Mayan blouses are known as huipiles (whi-peel) and skirts as cortes. Be aware that these are almost always entirely handmade and prices for a high-end huipil may be as high as Q1000.
- Jade — there is large jade working factory in Antigua, but it is course a very stone.
- Coffee — touted as one of the best-tasting varieties in the world
- Cardamom — Guatemala is the largest exporter in the world and Coban is the main centre of this trade.
- Worry dolls — These are tiny, handcrafted dolls made by the indigenous Mayan artisans in the Guatemalan Highlands.
- Kaq Ik
- Tortillas and tortillas de harina. Maize tortillas are served with most meals.
- Frijoles negros - stewed black beans
- Caldos - beef broths
- Tamales - steam-cooked corn meal, with a variety of fillings, wrapped in banana leaves
- Rice 'n beans (Garifunafood in Puerto Barrios)
- Tapado, ceviche and other fishmeals
A typical breakfast is frijoles and rice with coffee of course.
The type of food really depends on how much you want to spend and what type of place you want to spend it at. You can get almost any type of food at the main tourist locations. In the aldeas (small towns) your choices are mostly limited to those items listed above. Guatemalan food differs from Mexican food in that it is a lot less spicy, and chillies are generally served in a separate dish from the main course to be added as desired, rather than included in the food.
Popular Guatemalan beers are Gallo (lager, by far the most popular with Guatemalans), Victoria, Brahva (a light pilsner style), Moza (dark bock), Cabro, Monte Carlo (premium), and Dorada. Don't be surprised if you get salt and lemon with your beer. It's a custom to put some salt on the toes of the bottle, and screw out the lemon in the beer. Sometimes it is mixed with V8 vegetable juice, and the concoction is called michelada.
Guatemala produces a number of rums, including the superb Ron Zacapa Centenario which is aged up to 30 years.
Tequila is a very popular drink in Guatemala.
If you order a bottled drink, you will normally get a tissue to clean the bottle. Coca-Cola and Pepsi-type products are available, plus many from local soft drink manufacturers.
You will likely find cheap hotels (~US$10-15 a night) in every town or village in Guatemala. In the main tourist areas, there are also many high quality hotels (US$200 a night).
Hostels with shared rooms are available in more than 15 towns and villages throughout the country. Very good rated hostels cost about US$6-15 (March 2022).
Guatemala is a great place to learn Spanish. The prices are low, and Guatemalan Spanish is considered pleasing. Antigua has the most Spanish schools and is also the most popular place for tourists. But if studying Spanish is your main concern, you might be better off elsewhere, because you can actually go around in Antigua for a whole day without hearing anything but English.
Because of this, many language students head towards Quetzaltenango in the Western Highlands, where a wide range of language schools also offer Spanish language courses (some quite inexpensive). Another alternative is San Pedro la Laguna, seated by Lake Atitlan.
There are various volunteering opportunities around the country. If you want to be useful to the local community, it is always a better idea to spend some time understanding what are the real needs of said community, instead of paying to help. If an organization only wants your help if you pay them, then what they really want is your money, not your help. Find a grassroots organization, school or community hall that would like your time and help there instead, or leave a small donation in kind or money.
- Asociacion La Alianza Guatemala welcomes enquiries from potential volunteers who want to help provide care and assistance to, and protect the human rights of, the children and adolescents who live on the streets of Latin America.
- CARE is said to organise volunteer projects in Guatemala.
- Casa Guatemala (in Rio Dulce) Houses, cares for and educates over 250 abused, orphaned or impoverished children from the Rio Dulce and surrounding villages. A low-cost volunteer program working with the Children's Village or helping at one of the local businesses which supports the Orphanage is available. Spanish classes are also available. Please visit the website for an application.
- Entremundos is a registered non-profit organization that hosts a database of over 100 local opportunities, accessible for free on their website. They also offer various additional personalized volunteer services for a small donation which includes working with their volunteer coordinator to arrange possible opportunities for you. For more info email: [email protected]
- Global Vision International (GVI), run a number of volunteering programs around Guatemala with indigenous communities. They include home stay, Spanish language classes, and other services.
- Mayan Families Mayan Families is a small non-profit organization operating in the Highlands of Guatemala. Based in Panajachel, they operate a variety of programs to support and empower the Maya people of Lake Atitlan and the surrounding areas. The work of Mayan Families is supported completely through donations, which are tax deductible in the U.S.
- Partners In Development (PID) is a non-profit organization that works to help the extreme poor of Guatemala. They build houses for families, provide small business loans, and offer sponsorship programs for children in need
- Proyecto Mosaico Guatemala (PMG), will, for a fee of US$270, set you up with an organisation in Guatemala which needs a volunteer. They also can arrange a home stay, Spanish language classes, and other services.
- Safe Passage/Camino Seguro welcomes enquiries from potential volunteers who want to empower the poorest at risk children whose families make their living at Guatemala's garbage dump by creating opportunities for fostering dignity via the power of education.
- Some schools organise social projects as well. See, for example, the Guate Spanish school's entry under Quetzaltenango.
If traveling from Mexico, be aware that Guatemala does not observe Daylight Savings Time. Because Guatemala is generally to the east of Mexico, this creates the quite unusual situation of turning the clock back instead of forward while traveling eastward. Both southern Mexico and Guatemala are on the same time when Daylight Savings is not in effect.
Newspapers and Magazines for tourists:
- Qué Pasa. Bilingual (English & Spanish) monthly magazine based in La Antigua, with tourism and feature articles, interviews, and calendars of events, cinema, and live music. Print edition is available for free in many places in La Antigua and select locations in Ciudad de Guatemala. Online edition is available at Qué Pasa's website.
- Revue Magazine, 6a calle poniente No. 2, La Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala, Central America. 08:00-17:00. Guatemala's English-language magazine
- The EntreMundos. Bilingual magazine about development and human rights issues in Guatemala and Central America, published bimonthly and distributed throughout Quetzaltenango, and other areas.
|“||Guatemala is a good place to commit a murder, because you will almost certainly get away with it.||”|
—A United Nations official
Guatemala has a reputation for being a dangerous country — a reputation that's not entirely unwarranted, but the average traveller should not be too overly concerned or cautious of their surroundings.
A lot of the crime is drug and gang related, which, to a significant extent, doesn't affect tourists that much. As long as you apply a modicum of common sense and blend in with the locals, your visit will be trouble-free.
Understand that Guatemala is still recovering from a brutal thirty-year civil war and the war has badly impacted Guatemalan society in many ways; many Guatemalans have been pushed into poverty, economic conditions are far from ideal, and the rule of law is still weak. It'll take some time for things to get back to normal.
- See also: Travel in developing countries
Guatemala is one of the most criminalised countries in the world; therefore the crime rate is high. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of violent crime in Latin America and reports of theft, carjackings, armed robberies, and sexual assault, are depressingly common.
As a visitor, you may instantly attract the attention of Guatemalan criminals because they normally assume that all foreign visitors are "wealthy". To deter the attention of Guatemalan criminals, don't display signs of affluence, don't flash electronic gadgets (cameras, mobile phones, laptops, and the like), and refrain from using electronic gadgets in public. Cell phone theft is the most common crime in Guatemala. Also, it is dangerous to travel at nightime. Doing so significantly increases your risk of being a crime victim.
In the unlikely event you have been threatened by a robber, do not feel tempted to resist or fight back. Cooperate with the robber and give them whatever they want from you. Tourists have been shot and killed for resisting criminals. You should know that many robbers are off-duty police officers.
While it may be tempting to experience a ride on a local bus, refrain from riding on public buses. Buses are routinely targeted by gangs and incidents of armed robbery are not uncommon on public buses. Some countries, such as the United States, forbid their diplomatic staff from using Guatemalan buses.
Express kidnappings are common in Guatemala. As obvious as it may sound, do not hail taxis on the street. Criminal taxi drivers may pick up their associates along the way and force you into doing something you're not comfortable with (e.g. forcing you to withdraw large sums of money from the ATM).
If you must get around a city, only use trusted, pre-arranged modes of transportation. Your hotel can help you out with this. You may also use radio-dispatched taxis (Taxi Amarillo) and Uber.
Do not travel to areas close to Guatemala's borders with Mexico, El Salvador, and Belize. Border areas see high levels of criminal and drug-trafficking activity and passing vehicles are routinely targeted by gangs who take people hostage, rob people at gunpoint, and demand ransom payments. You will immediately stick out like a sore thumb if you're driving a vehicle registered to a foreign country. There's very little law enforcement can do to help out; gangs operating in border areas far too powerful and influential to be dealt with.
Do not go to the most dangerous areas of Guatemala City (zones 3, 6, 12, 18, 19, and 21).
- See also: Corruption and bribery
Guatemala is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and the problem seems to be getting worse year by year. According to Transparency International, Guatemala is the third most corrupt country in Latin America. The country's rule of law is highly weak and corrupt.
The police are woefully ineffective and they are not to be trusted under any circumstances. Guatemalans themselves distrust the police force and often write off them off as inefficient, corrupt, and abusive.
Their response to crimes is severely limited by bureaucracy, inadequate training, corruption, and a lackluster justice system. Don't expect to be taken seriously if you're a crime victim and expect no help if you're not competent in Spanish.
One of the best things about Guatemala is the abundance of natural beauty and numerous treks. Some of these are notorious for robberies (Volcan de Agua, trails around Lago de Atitlán, Volcán de Pacaya). Always ask around about the situation before embarking blindly. Inguat, locals, and fellow travelers are safe bets for information. Traveling in groups during daylight sometimes decreases the risk, but not always.
Traffic can be dangerous. You will encounter many one-lane roads (one lane each way) and drivers are apt to swerve back and forth, avoiding potholes and bumps along the way. There are also various multiple lane highways. Traffic in Guatemala City and surrounding metropolitan areas during rush hour is very slow, but general driving everywhere is usually very fast (average speeds of up to 100 km/h (60 mph) in some city roads).
Demonstrations and other forms of political protest frequently turn violent.
Drink only purified water (Agua Pura Salvavidas is recommended by most of hospitals and hotels).
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control states that malaria risk exists in rural areas at altitudes lower than 1,500 m, with no risk in Antigua or Lake Atitlán. Preventative anti-malarial medication can and should be purchased ahead of visiting malaria-endemic areas.
Dengue fever is endemic throughout Guatemala.
Hepatitis A&B vaccinations are recommended.
Much of what is considered good manners in Latin and South America is applicable to Guatemala. The various tips found in the respect section of the Latin America article will come in handy when you visit the country.
Address people you don't know in a formal manner (Señor, Señora, Usted), and greet people in the following way:
- day - "buenos dias", "feliz dia"
- night - "feliz noche", "buenas noches"
You'll encounter this in more suburban, rural areas. Native Guatemalans are raised to greet strangers formally.
Do not take photographs of children and/or women without explicit permission, especially if you're visiting indigenous communities. Doing so would get many Guatemalans to (incorrectly) think that you are either a kidnapper or a rapist. People have been attacked for doing this. In Guatemala, many children have been kidnapped and exploited on the black market, and sexual assault continues to be a heartbreaking social problem in the country.
In major cities, people are somewhat more open towards being photographed, but still, be cautious. If in doubt, always ask and respect the wishes of the person you wish to photograph.
Internet access is widely available. Even most of the more remote areas have some type of internet access available. Many larger areas also have WiFi. All of the Camperos chicken/pizza restaurants (which are numerous) offer free WiFi, as well as many other restaurants and cafes. Some hotels may also offer computer banks with internet access. Just ask and you eventually will find some sort of free access.
Mobile internet access
Use the local SIM cards (roughly Q25) and the prepaid access plans, which generally come in lots of data and include a number of minutes for domestic (and US) calls. There are only two mobile carriers in Guatemala: Tigo and Claro.
Tigo offers as of March 2022:
• 1 week including 3.3GB for Q30
• 15 days including 5GB for Q50
Tigo Website with more options.
Claro has as of March 2022:
• 1 week including 4GB for Q30
• 15 days including 6GB for Q50
• 30 days including 4GB for Q50 (without included domestic calls)
Claro website[dead link] for other rates.
Here is a table for the settings and activation options for the providers.
|Provider||Configuration details||Activation instructions|
|TIGO Guatemala||APN: internet.tigo.gt |
user: any (or blank) pass: any (or blank)
|SMS "WAP" to 805|
|Claro||APN: internet.ideasclaro||SMS "7 dias" to 313 for 7 days. SMS "internet basico" to 313, should give you the settings. Overall, incredibly easy to set up and use.|
Guatemala's international calling code is 502. There are no area codes. Phone numbers all have eight digits.
The phone system isn't great, but it works. Tourists can call abroad from call centers, where you pay by the minute. It is also easy to purchase a calling card to use at public pay phones. The phones there do not accept money, so to use a public phone on the street you must purchase a telephone card. Typically, the cost is around Q8 for a 10 min call to North America. Cell phones are quite cheap and calling to the U.S. through one can get as low as US$0.08 a min. If you are planning to stay for a while and plan to use the phone, you should consider buying a cheap prepaid phone. Wireless nation-wide internet access for laptops is also available as a service from some companies. Telefónica has good coverage with their PCMCIA EV-DO cards.
The postal system is traditionally not reliable and suspended accepting and delivering of almost all mail starting in 2017. This suspension of mail reportedly ended in April 2019.
As of November 2019, the post office still does not accept international bound mail. The post office does have an arrangement with DHL in which normal sized letters and post cards can be mailed from DHL offices for 20Q (a note from the post office may be required for DHL to honour this price). This mail is handled as regular mail once it leaves the country and is handed off to other countries' post offices.