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Guatemala Travel Guide

A captivating country in Central America, Guatemala is incredibly rich in history and natural beauty. Explore the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal, where towering pyramids emerge from the dense jungle. Immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of indigenous communities, such as the bustling market of Chichicastenango. Trek through the lush landscapes of Lake Atitlán, surrounded by picturesque volcanoes and charming Mayan villages. Guatemala's colourful colonial cities, like Antigua, invite you to wander through cobblestone streets lined with beautiful architecture and vibrant street markets. From hiking active volcanoes to discovering hidden waterfalls, Guatemala offers a myriad of adventurous experiences for the intrepid traveller.

One of the highlights of travelling in Guatemala is the opportunity to connect with its rich Mayan heritage. Visit the ancient city of El Mirador, accessible only by a multi-day trek through the jungle, and witness the remnants of an ancient civilization. Discover the mystical rituals and traditional crafts of Mayan communities, and witness their vibrant ceremonies and festivals. Indulge in the flavours of traditional Guatemalan cuisine, savouring dishes like tamales and pepián. Guatemala's warm and welcoming people, coupled with its breathtaking landscapes and ancient wonders, create an unforgettable travel experience that will leave you enchanted and longing to return.

Key Facts

Time Zone

GMT-6

Money

Guatemalan Quetzal (GTQ)

Dialing Code

+502

The capital city of Guatemala is Guatemala City, known to the locals as ‘Guate’. The city is the largest urban centre in Central America, and offers a mixed experience, with poverty and crime a problem in some areas of the city. On the flip side, it’s the country’s cultural hub with great museums and a growing restaurant and bar scene.

  • Explore natural wonders off the beaten track
  • Visit ancient colonial cities and soak up the Central American charm
  • Discover amazing Mayan ruins and tap into the extraordinary history of Guatemala
  • Why not brush up on your Spanish skills with a few language lessons?
  • Try the spicy salsa and dance the night away!
  • It’s easy to hop across to other Central or South American countries or tie in a trip to the USA
  • Culture, beauty and stunning scenery await in this Central American country!

  • Visit Antigua, a charismatic colonial city nestled among 3 volcanoes. Try some spicy salsa dancing or learn Spanish in this stunning city, with ancient streets blooming with beautiful Bougainvilleas.
  • Marvel at the spectacular shores of Lake Atitlán and explore the Mayan villages scattered around the shoreline of this volcanic, highland lake.
  • Journey into the tropical rainforests to discover the amazing temples and palaces in the ruined Mayan city of Tikal. 
  • Wind through the cobbled streets of the charming village of Chichicastenango, affectionately called ‘Chichi’, famous for its incredible Sunday market.
  • Hike through the remote mountainous region around Nebaj and see colourful, traditional folk costumes worn by Mayan villagers en route.
  • Archaeology buffs should travel to Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa to see the strange stone heads scattered around the local fincas (plantations), the legacy of the ancient Pipil culture. 
  • Head to the tropical coast at Monterrico to see sea turtle projects, spot large loofahs drying in the sun, bask on black volcanic sand beaches and watch the wild seas. 

Guatemalan food has both Mayan and Spanish influences and is similar to Mexican food. Corn, beans, rice, cheese, tortillas, stews and soups are popular dishes and ingredients.  Tamales are a popular dish, which is a filled dough wrapped in a plantain or banana leaf. For breakfast, you can expect to have eggs, tortillas and beans with plenty of fresh tropical fruit such as mango or papaya. Don’t forget to try the famous Guatemalan coffee! 

Guatemala’s coastal and Northeastern regions are warm all year round, averaging around 20-25°C.  The central highlands see more rainfall, especially during the rainy season from May-September. Guatemala has such a temperate climate that it is known as the ‘Land of Eternal Spring’. 

Visas

Visas may be required in order to enter or transit through certain countries depending on your passport nationality, your reason for travel and how long you intend to stay.

Visa, passport and entry rules are subject to change and you should check the most up-to-date information from the relevant embassy or visa specialist.

To make things easier we have teamed up with The Travel Visa Company who are one of the UK’s leading travel visa specialists. You can use their website, alongside embassy websites,  to find out the specific entry requirements for the countries you intend to travel to.

For a fee, their dedicated team of experts can also apply for visas on your behalf, taking away the hassle and streamlining the process for you if you wish. For more details on the services they provide please click here – The Travel Visa Company

Passports

Passports must be kept in good condition. Travellers with damaged passports may be refused entry at immigration. It is the responsibility of the traveller to ensure that all travel documents are in good condition before they travel. Most countries will also require at least 6 months of validity on your passport from the time you finish your trip. 

Further Entry Requirements

Some countries will require proof of certain vaccines, such as yellow fever or covid, in order to gain entry. Please check with the relevant embassy or a visa specialist before travelling.

Spanish is the official language of Guatemala and is spoken by around 60% of the population. There are also many Mayan languages spoken by Guatemala’s Amerindian population.

The main plug socket in use in Guatemala is the two-pinned North American plug, so UK travellers will need to take a universal adaptor.

Drug trafficking incurs severe penalties (10-20 years) and drug use can result in detention for 8-15 years. Conditions in Guatemalan prisons are very poor.

Do not take photographs without permission in Guatemala, especially photos of children and particularly in remote areas such as Quiche, Peten, San Marcos and Chiquimula provinces. Photography can provoke local fears of child kidnapping or organ theft and can result in violence. You may be asked to pay a small fee if do are given permission to take photographs.

Attitudes to homosexuality in Guatemala City are tolerant but local people may be less accepting in other areas of Guatemala, so public displays of affection should be avoided.

We have selected what we believe to be the key points that you should be aware of when travelling in Guatemala.

Gap 360 follows advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and we recommend that you frequently check the FCDO for updated travel advice. You can find the website here: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-development-office

Crime

Most visits to Guatemala are trouble-free, but travellers should be aware that Guatemala has one of Latin America’s highest rates of violent crime, mostly involving local gangs. All areas of Guatemala City are at risk from crime, including popular tourist areas such as the historical centre (zone 1) or Zona Viva (zone 10). Do not carry, wear or display cash or valuables and, if possible, leave valuables in a hotel safe. Take particular care around ATMs, petrol stations, and at the airport, bus stations and shopping malls.

Take radio or hotel taxis, even for short trips. You can buy pre-paid taxi vouchers from the tourist office at the airport arrivals terminal.

Only change money in hotels, banks or foreign exchange offices whenever possible. Don’t withdraw too much money at once and avoid money exchange or withdrawals at night.

Avoid lone travel, particularly at night, and take special care at border crossings or in isolated or remote areas. Car-jackings and armed robberies have been reported on the ‘Carretera Salvador’, the main road between Guatemala City and the border with El Salvador. Crossroads at Fraijanes, San Jose Pinula and Las Luces are also focal points for ‘express kidnappings’ and sexual assaults. Avoid involvement in any demonstrations while in Guatemala.

Armed attacks on tourists climbing mountains have been reported so it is advisable to go with a reputable tour guide or company.

You should carry a photocopy of your passport for identification purposes, except in San Pedro La Laguna, Sololá, where local authorities may fine or detain you if you don’t show your original passport.

Typical Scams

There have been reports of travellers being targeted by bogus police officers and becoming victims of theft, extortion or sexual assault. Another typical scam asks you to transfer funds to people you supposedly know (such as family or friends) who are in Guatemala.

When crossing into Guatemala by land border, the customs or immigration official may try to charge you an illegal “entry fee”. If you ask for an official receipt the “fee” is usually dropped.

Transport/Travel

Armed attacks have been reported for road travel routes to/from major tourist sites like Antigua, Tikal, Peten and Lake Atitlan and boat services may offer a safer alternative. The Godinez by-pass via Patzun between Guatemala City and Panajachel should be avoided, as should the road between Cocales (Suchitepequez) and San Lucas Toliman (Atitlan). Main roads are generally safer than quieter or more remote routes.

Recent landslides and flooding have destroyed many roads and bridges, causing some disruptions to road travel.

It is illegal in Guatemala to have more than 1 person riding a motorcycle at one time, and a black vest and helmet with the registration number must be worn at all times, otherwise, you may incur a fine of around £80.

Avoid travel on public buses (which are repainted US School buses), as local gangs have staged armed attacks, muggings, rape and sexual assault on these buses. As a result, some inter-city buses are banned from entering the city centres. Private inter-city buses generally have a better safety record although they have also been subject to attacks.

We do not recommend hiring motorbikes, scooters, ATV vehicles, quad bikes or other types of motorised vehicles whilst abroad. Safety and quality of vehicles vary considerably and the traffic conditions can be much more dangerous than what UK travellers are used to. Should you wish to go against this advice, you should ensure you are hiring from a reputable company and that your travel insurance covers you for such activities.

Money

Credit cards and travellers’ cheques are the recommended form of exchange as debit cards are sometimes rejected by ATMs. You should only change or withdraw money in hotels, at banks or at foreign exchange offices. There have been reports of credit and debit cards being cloned after use in ATMs. If your credit card is lost or stolen you may have trouble getting a replacement as major international courier services from the UK are not delivering to Guatemala.

Natural Disasters

Guatemala has four active volcanoes, so listen out for local alerts and warnings when travelling in these areas. If climbing Fuego and Santiaguito, avoid areas around craters and don’t climb volcanoes at night. Take care when climbing the Tajumulco volcano. Land disputes among local communities have led to some unrest.

Guatemala experiences minor earth tremors and occasional earthquakes. Guatemala’s rainy season runs from June to November, and this is also hurricane season in the Caribbean. Heavy rains can cause flooding and landslides and collapse roads and bridges.

Health

You should be in touch with your GP around 8 weeks before you travel for vaccination or health advice. Diarrhoea can be caused by contaminated food or water so we advise you to drink bottled water.

You should carry evidence of your insurance coverage at all times in case you need medical treatment.

Dengue fever is present throughout the year in Guatemala. It is not safe to drink the water in Lake Atitlan and some areas are not safe for swimming.

Take precautions to avoid exposure to HIV and AIDS during your visit.

A Yellow Fever vaccination is required for travellers arriving from countries with a risk of yellow fever.

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