published aug 8th, 2015
Guatemala travel is perhaps easier now than it has ever been, and yet there are still plenty of untouched destinations in the country. It’s no surprise that Guatemala travel is continuing to enjoy some popularity, either. The intersection of geographical and cultural diversity, ease of access (for North Americans and South Americans) and a very low cost of living go a long way to make Guatemala a favorite among budget vacationers, longterm travelers and backpackers alike.
Tortugal in Río Dulce ($56), Doña Magdalena in Acul ($3.35)
The opportunities for leisure and adventure travel in Guatemala are enormous. From upscale, all inclusive tropical resorts through $5 dorm beds in quirky hostels, Guatemala travel offers something for just about everyone. The country’s top destinations are about as diverse as its travelers. From the black, volcanic sand beaches of Monterrico, to the lush, jungled tropics of Río Dulce and Lanquín, to the cold, mountainous highlands of Quiché and Quetzaltenango — the range of climates and landscapes in Guatemala are mind boggling.
Guatemala travel is cheap. Most budget minded travelers will have no problem spending $30 USD or less per day, everything included. If you’re planning a short trip and will be paying for tours and private transit almost daily, you may want to think more along the lines of $50 per day.
Hotel San Antonio in San Pedro la Laguna, Q80 ($10.65)
Dorm beds generally run about Q50 ($6.65) to Q90 ($12), and private rooms generally start at around Q100 ($13.35). Cheaper rates are certainly available. Local hotels tend to have far cheaper rooms, although their standards of accommodation can be somewhat lower and the social scene is usually approaching nil. There are luxury hotels as well in many urban destinations.
Fried flour dough, refried beans, crumbled cheese and tomato sauce, Q6 ($0.80)
Cheap food is another thing that makes Guatemala travel so affordable. Local eateries (called comedores) often serve national dishes starting at Q15 ($2). You’d have a hard time finding local dishes that cost more than Q50 ($6.65) unless you start entering specialty territory like seafood or the like. If you want to spend more money on food, the option is definitely there. Most tourist destinations boast a variety of restaurants offering diverse foreign fare. Street food is the cheapest option. A few items that amount to a meal will often run Q10 ($1.35) or less.
Chicken bus, cheapest form of public transportation
The actual traveling part of Guatemala travel is cheap, too. Public transit often breaks down to about Q10 ($1.35) per hour, although granted that’s a pretty liberal generalization. Public transportation comes in the form of chicken buses (camionetas), micro-buses and pickups. A lot of backpackers get around via travel agencies that run shuttles, which can save a lot of hassle but often costs two to three times as much.
Here’s an example of transportation cost differences: A shuttle from Xela to Guatemala City (5.5 hours) with a popular agency costs Q300 ($40). Taking a local, air-conditioned bus runs Q65 ($8.65). Taking the chicken bus costs Q45 ($6).
One of the most appealing things about Guatemala travel is diversity. There are so many interesting destinations in Guatemala that it’s hard to see everything even in a couple months. Here’s a few of the most popular destinations.
Mayan ruins in Tikal, photo by Anna Sondergaard
Famous for Mayan ruins. Tikal is in the heart of the jungle of the northern region of Petén. Tourists visit to awe at the ancient Mayan pyramid-esque structures and experience the tropical wildlife. Site seeing, bird watching and jungle hikes.
Colonial Spanish ruins in Antigua, Gautemala
Well known for 16th century Spanish ruins and baroque architecture. Antigua hosts a considerable expat community and offers plenty of culture: museums, music, restaurants and nightlife. Also two volcanoes (Acatenango & Pacayo) are available to climb.
Lake Atitlán from nearby San Pedro Volcano
A huge lake in a volcanic crater. Plenty of small towns surround the lake. Atitlán is known for its picturesque beauty, indigenous culture and new age vibe. Meditation and yoga centers are a popular attraction. The San Pedro Volcano is a popular hike.
Domes of the central cathedral in Xela, Quetzaltenango
Second largest city in Guatemala. Most competitive metropolitan area for Spanish school students, with more than twenty schools offering live-in language immersion classes. Also the site of a large university, which adds to political activity, nightlife and youth culture. Santa Maria Volcano and Tajamulco (highest point in Central America) are popular hikes. Want more information? Check out our Xela travel guide.
Semuc Champey Natural Monument in Lanquín, Alta Verapaz
Natural limestone bridge with a river running under it and pools of lime green water collected on top of it. Stunningly beautiful and an excellent destination for relaxing, swimming and jumping into various bodies of water.
The Río Dulce in Izabal runs through a beautiful, jungled gorge
A beautiful, deep river running from Lake Izabal through a huge gorge into the Atlantic ocean. Eco-hostels along the river offer swimming and relaxing in a lazy tropical climate. Kayaking, caving and hiking are popular pastimes. Want more information? Check out our Río Dulce travel guide.
That’s really just the beginning. Guatemala travel is so diverse it’s hard to come up with a "top picks" list.
Getting around Guatemala is pretty easy. Spanish is fairly universal and English is a close second. Most people understand at least rudimentary English as it’s a mandatory language class in public schools. In remote regions English becomes rare and even Spanish gives way to indigenous Mayan languages (there are more than twenty), but most tourists won’t encounter these areas.
Transportation is a snap, too. A well established network of shuttle services make most Guatemala travel a matter of asking your hostel or hotel to book you to your next destination. Public transit is much cheaper, of course, but requires a lot more on the ground research. The information can be hard to come by without some Spanish speaking ability.
If you’re looking for a cheap, beautiful and diverse budget travel or backpacking experience, Guatemala might be your best bet. Have questions? Want to know more? Comment or contact us.