Travel Guide to Guatemala – How, Where & Frequently Asked Questions

By Kach Umandap - Howe September 3rd, 2021 Posted in Central America Travel Blog, Travel Blog No comments

If you plan to visit this beautiful country, it is important to know the basics in case you need it. Check out this travel guide to Guatemala that we have for you!

The plan for traveling down to Guatemala was in our headlong before and on January 2, 2019, it became effective. The country is a mountain-rich state and blessed with all prominent urban centers located in the highlands. There are rivers but they’re shallow and brief. Due to its location in the center of the Caribbean Sea and also the Pacific Ocean, the country experiences several hurricanes. As a result of its distinctive geography, a distinctive mix of animal species and plants inhabits its lands.

Guatemala state is blessed with many attributes that are just ripe for exploration by the seasoned tourist. We loved the jungle provision within the area which is almost as rich as anything that would be found in the Savannah. I loved the exotic beaches that are available for the tourist are rather quiet and this suits many people that are just fed up with city life.

We explored the Mayan ruins that have been a focal point for the industry as well as the volcanoes that are said to be steaming. They had some amazing cities that are still part of the tourist heritage within the Guatemala State area. These ruins are located within the Petén region within the northern part of the area. From this location, it is possible for the tourist to arrange some trips to Tikal as well as El Mirador. The city of Flores has been specifically updated in order to cater to the tastes of the visitors that come to the area.

Questions and Answers about Guatemala

Where is Guatemala?

Boxed in by El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Mexico, the Caribbean, plus the Pacific Ocean, this beautiful country in Central America has about the most unique and abundant in the world. Its population is derived from White (German, Spanish, British, Italian, and Scandinavian) and Mestizo (Amerindian and Spanish).

Is it safe to travel to Guatemala?

Although, there is a high crime rate in the country, however, if you take precautionary measures, you can have a safe journey through Guatemala. Let me share my experience. Major parts of the country are quite safe in the daytime, but during the nighttime, there are fewer people on the streets, some sectors can get dangerous.

So it’s not recommended to go alone at night. Muggings, robberies, and even murder happen here. Law enforcement agencies are said to be less effective, and even filling out a crime report may be meaningless.

Take a taxi or bus only after you book a hotel room. There are several fake people running fake buses and cars to rob tourists. So be careful about such people.

Another issue is the demonstrations. Large demonstrations are common throughout the country and often occur with little or no notice. Such demonstrations can result in serious traffic disruptions, and though they are generally peaceful, they can on occasion become violent. It is advised to avoid such demonstration sites.

Before planning a visit to the country, you must prepare yourself and learn about the local culture and traditions. The local communities are said to take the law into their hands and the situation becomes out of control within a blink of an eye so be careful.

How to Change Money in Guatemala?

Guatemala‘s currency is the Quetzal (GTQ), divided into centavos. Since it’s indexed to USD, it fluctuates with the dollar. It is advised not to exchange USD at the airport exchange booths because they will offer you 20% less money in exchange which is not acceptable by any means. The ATMs give out quetzales at a good rate, so it’s possible to avoid changing at the airport if you like. I used ATMs to withdraw funds with my debit card. It is good to get the maximum amount possible (to limit ATM fees) which in Guatemala seemed to be Q2000. I used to keep my debit cards, money, and passports in a safe and secure money belt.

As far as banks are concerned, each bank imposes a maximum withdrawal amount per week: from 200 to 400 US $ depending on the bank. If you want to exchange large amounts of funds, you can use your payment card to an ATM or change bank at each withdrawal.

What is Unique about Guatemala?

All the adventures into a new civilization offer an opportunity to learn new things, and diving into this world full of life can be enjoyably overwhelming. What I found during my trip is that Guatemala is known for avocado, crazy bus rides, volcanoes, lakes, cheerful political protests, textiles, coffee, tortillas, Mayan ruins, Illicit Saints, and delightful varieties of corn.

What is the culture of Guatemala?

Guatemalan customs and Guatemalan culture are surprisingly influenced by the history of the country. The majority of locals are direct Maya descendants while other is a mixture of Maya and Spanish blood. These two groups are known as the indigenous Mayans and those of mixed or non-indigenous heritage, known as mestizos.

Guatemalan cuisine has flavors of the country’s Spanish and Mayan, Caribbean, and African cultures. The country has a predominantly Roman Catholic religion coupled with indigenous Maya religious rites to form a stunning and different syncretic religion being practiced throughout Guatemala.

What is the Geography of Guatemala?

Travel Guide to Guatemala – How, Where & Frequently Asked Questions
Photo by María Renée Batlle Castillo CC BY-ND 2.0

Guatemala is slightly smaller than Tennessee. But it is the third-largest country in Central America. Honduras, El Salvador, and Belize are in the east and Mexico are in the north and west of Guatemala. The country is heavily backed by mountains and thick forests. There are also humid low lands among the rainforests, coffee, and banana plantations. On the southern highlands along the Pacific Ocean, there are several volcanoes. Four volcanoes are still active. One-third of the country’s area is covered by the forests and rivers flow both through the Caribbean and Pacific.

The country can be divided into three major regions:

  • Narrow Pacific coastal plain
  • Highlands
  • Northern part

There are around 20 rivers, and over 20 big and 120 small lakes and lagoons in Guatemala.

How to travel to Guatemala?

If you are planning to travel to Venezuela, here are some of the airlines that will take you to Guatemala.

  • From London: Airlines like American Airlines, Delta, Aeromexico, KLM, Air France, and British Airways offer direct flights from London to Guatemala.
  • From the USA: You can get direct flights from Miami to Guatemala. These include British Airways, American Airlines, and Delta.
  • From Dubai: Several airlines including Air France, Air Canada, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, KLM, Avianca, and United offer flights from Dubai to Guatemala.
  • From Singapore: Several airlines including Delta, China Airlines and KLM provide flights from Singapore to Guatemala.

How to travel to Guatemala – Transport in Guatemala?

  • Public buses: You’ll surely come across the brightly colored, old American school buses during a Guatemala visit. These chicken buses are known for extreme starts and spots. If you’re inside the city, you should avoid buses after the dark and when they are overly crowded.
  • Trains: There is no concept of passenger or freight trains. You can only expect steam engines with rare tourists trips.
  • Taxis: Yellow taxis are readily available in Guatemala City, Antigua Guatemala, and Flores. You can hail them in the street or call for a pickup in advance. Some are metered, but most are not, so it is a good idea to ask the price before departing.
  • Private transfers: Like any other country, you can expect great private transfer companies in the country. However, you must check them online and read customers’ reviews before making a final decision.

What’s the food like in Guatemala?

If you’re visiting Guatemala, try three special local dishes. These include Chile’s Rellenos, Chicken Pepian, and Kak’ik. I’m sure, you’ll love them all. On a general level, almost all dishes include some form of black beans, white rice, and corn tortillas. Guatemala does not have a single standout national dish, but several foods feature in everyday diets. Other traditional dishes include Pupusas, Empanadas, hilachas, and rellenitos.

What is the weather like in Guatemala?

Guatemala is dubbed the “Land of Eternal Spring,” since most of the country is a temperate climate where temperatures rarely exceed 85°F. Along the shore, the temperature is low, and also the same is true for highlands. If you travel to the beach, you will experience the tropical zone, where daytime highs can reach 100°F, only dropping to 70°F at night.

Important things to pack for a trip to Guatemala

Looking to pack stuff for the next Guatemala tour, consider the following items:

  • Dry shampoo: There is a shortage of water so consider bringing dry shampoo with you.
  • Camera: Expensive smartphones can make you a target for pickpockets, so consider this inexpensive point-and-shoot camera instead.
  • Bug repellent: Since there are thick forests so you must bring this to prevent insects from interrupting your trip.
  • Money belt: Bring a money belt or some other discreet storage devices to stay protected from thieves.
  • Quick-dry towel: It is a must due to high levels of humidity in major parts of the country.

10 Amazing places to see and things to do in Guatemala

1. Visit Lake Atitlán

Photo by Christopher William Adach CC BY-SA 2.0

According to the stats, it was created more than 100,000 years ago, and among the most beautiful lakes in the world. You can also visit the surrounding villages to learn about the local culture and civilization.

Suggested Tour: Lake Atitlán Sightseeing Cruise with Transport from Guatemala City

2. Enjoy colonial Antigua

Antigua is one of the most amazing colonial cities in Guatemala. You can move around the city on foot to enjoy the gorgeous Spanish colonial architecture. There are several attractions such as busy street markets, welcoming plazas, cheap restaurants, and expat-friendly bars.

Suggested Tour: Antigua Guatemala City Tour

3. Exploring the history at Tikal

Photo by travel_doc CC BY 2.0

You can visit the Mayan pyramids extending high up in the skin in the middle of a dense forest. Be sure to climb one of the pyramids to get spectacular views across the site. It also takes the tourists in history.

Suggested Tour: Tikal by Bus from Guatemala 3 days / 2 Nights without Hotel

4. Visit the Mayan market in Chichicastenango

Photo by TausP. CC BY-ND 2.0

Guided tours of the site are available. You can also visit the site by chicken bus. You can typically arrange for a roundtrip shuttle on Thursdays or Sundays, or you can take local transportation. It will help you to learn about the local culture.

Suggested Tour: Chichicastenango Market and Lake Atitlan from Antigua

5. Viewing volcano eruption and climbing Acatenango

Travel Guide to Guatemala – How, Where & Frequently Asked Questions
Photo by Nicolas Rénac CC BY-NC 2.0

You can climb the Acatenango and view the live eruption of Fuego. It is a different kind of adventure that you couldn’t experience on any other site. However, climbing Acatenango is not for the faint of heart.

Suggested Tour: Overnight Volcano Acatenango Hiking Adventure

6. Tour a coffee plantation

The coffee industry is the backbone of the economy of the country. Most of the best coffee is exported, so it can be hard to get a good cup of coffee in much of Guatemala. However, at a coffee plantation, you can enjoy this best coffee.

Suggested Tour: Coffee Tour & Local Villages Tour in Antigua Guatemala

7. Plunge into the pools of Semuc Champey

Travel Guide to Guatemala – How, Where & Frequently Asked Questions
Photo by Matt Stabile CC BY 2.0

The turquoise-colored water surrounded by forest and towering granite cliffs make this site mesmerizing. You’ll have to take a long bus journey to reach the site but it’s worth visiting. I recommend hiring a 4×4 or taking an organized excursion.

Suggested Tour: Day Trip: Kanba Cave and Semuc Champey Natural Pools from San Agustín Lanquín

8. Guatemala City visit

Photo by Ralf Steinberger CC BY 2.0

It is not a good idea to visit Antigua and skip the Guatemala City. Here you can enjoy the vibrant nightlife, some excellent museums, fine parks, historic ruins, and local markets. You won’t regret spending a few days in this fascinating city, which is rarely visited by gringos.

Suggested Tour: Guatemala City Half Day Private Tour

9. Kayaking in Lake Atitlan

Photo by Seann McAuliffe CC BY 2.0

It is a stunning lake and you’ll surely enjoy kayaking here. Weather is rainy and cloudy and it enhances the overall charm of the site. You can enjoy a day trip of the site and also explore surrounding volcanoes and forests.

Suggested Tour: Enjoy LAKE ATITLAN , from Guatemala City or Antigua Guatemala.

10. Visit the mountaineer’s paradise of Xela

Photo by Christopher William Adach CC BY-SA 2.0

Xela, which is also popular for its rarely-used official name of Quetzaltenango, is an ideal destination for hot spring relaxation trips, multi-day mountain excursions, and volcano hikes. Here you also get a chance to experience the nightlife and local culture.

Suggested Tour: Quetzaltenango Experience Tour

Final thoughts on Guatemala

While visiting the country, you can expect spellbinding stories, inviting people, rich culture, and exotic wildlife. However, before the trip, it is advised to update all the information about the country especially the political situation. As I already mentioned there are several demonstrations going on so you must stay vigilant about them. From the ruins of Tikal to the crater lakes, it’s a miracle that Guatemala is still off the radar for so many. However, it is the best place in Latin America to be explored.

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Written by Kach Umandap - Howe

Founder of Two Monkeys Travel Group. Since 2013, Kach has visited all the 7 continents (including Antarctica) and 146 countries using her Philippines Passport. In 2016, she bought a sailboat and went on sailing adventures with her two cats - Captain Ahab & Little Zissou in the Caribbean for 2 years. She now lives in Herceg Novi, Montenegro where she's enjoying her expat life and living on a gorgeous Stonehouse. She writes about her experiences traveling as a Filipina traveler with a PHL Passport. Also tips on backpacking trips, luxury hotel experiences, product reviews, sailing & adventure travel.

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