Guatemala is an incredible country to visit with its stunning natural landscapes, ancient Mayan ruins, colonial architecture, and rich indigenous culture. As you plan your trip, keep these tips in mind to make the most of your time exploring this beautiful Central American destination.
1. Book Flights Well in Advance
If you’re traveling to Guatemala from abroad, book your flights several months in advance to get the best fares. The major gateway airports are in Guatemala City and Flores. From the US, you can find direct flights or connections through major hubs like Houston, Miami, and Atlanta.
2. Learn Some Spanish
While you’ll encounter some English speakers in tourist areas, knowing basic Spanish phrases will help you get around and interact with locals. Learn words for directions, ordering food, making purchases, and other common travel situations. Even just mastering “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you” can go a long way.
3. Get Vaccinations
Visit your doctor 4-6 weeks before your trip for recommended vaccinations. This may include Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and rabies. Malaria medication is needed when visiting rural areas under 1500 meters elevation. Yellow fever vaccine is required if you are coming from certain countries.
4. Pack Light Layers and Rain Gear
Guatemala’s climate varies by region, so packing versatile layers and waterproof gear is key. The highlands can get quite cold while the coast stays tropical. Be prepared with light jackets, pants, hiking boots, umbrellas, and quick-dry travel clothes.
5. Arrange Shuttles or Guides for Long Distances
While Guatemala has public transportation options, tourist shuttles can be far more convenient and comfortable for longer routes. Or you can hire a private driver or guide to show you around. This is often worth the extra cost for the time savings, language help, and insider knowledge.
6. Bring Cash in Small Bills
In Guatemala, cash is still king. Get some quetzales from ATMs when you arrive, but also bring $1, $5, and $10 USD bills for tipping, taxis, markets, and other everyday uses. Small bills come in handy for minor purchases.
Stay In Antigua for Culture and History
If you plan on going to Guatemala, Antigua is a must-visit. Take a walking tour of its ruins, museums, and churches for a primer on Guatemalan history and culture. This former capital is also a great home base with plentiful lodgings, restaurants, and cafes.
Climb Pacaya Volcano
For an adventurous hike unlike anywhere else, climb this active volcano near Antigua. You’ll trek through lava fields before arriving at the smoking crater with panoramic vistas. Local guides can arrange transportation and permits for this incredible yet safely accessible experience.
Explore Tikal’s Ancient Ruins
One of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Tikal offers an awe-inspiring look into the Maya Golden Age. Walk amid soaring pyramids and temples, imagining this vast ceremonial center at its peak between 200-900 AD. Time your visit for sunrise or sunset when the jungle sounds and scenery are most magical.
Hike to Semuc Champey
This natural limestone bridge formation in the country’s northern jungles features turquoise pools and cascading waterfalls that you can swim under and through. Take a day to hike the lush river valley and marvel at this stunning natural wonder. Semuc Champey offers an experience combining jungle adventures, swimming, and Guatemala’s unique natural beauty that will make it a highlight of any trip.
From bustling Guatemala City to the lakeside villages of Atitlán and the Caribbean beaches along the Río Dulce, Guatemala’s diverse landscapes provide the backdrop for an unforgettable visit. Follow these essential trip-planning tips and make time for the country’s top highlights to have a safe, relaxing, and culturally enriching experience. The warm hospitality of the Guatemalan people paired with the rich history and natural beauty will leave you eager to return to this incredible destination.