For such a small country, Guatemala packs a big punch. From the colorful textiles to the mighty volcanoes, Guatemala’s many facades are inspiring. Take a refreshing swim in the turquoise waters of Semuc Champey, and engulf your senses with the smells, tastes and sights of local Guatemalan markets.
Like coffee? This fertile region produces some of the best. Savor the rich dark flavors unique to Guatemala while enjoying hot off the grill tortillas first thing in the morning. Explore the steamy jungles and you’ll find steep-sided remnants of the Maya past.
This emblematic culture proudly keeps their indigenous heritage alive today, with dialects, worship and traditions. The warmth and hospitality of Guatemalans coupled with the immensely diverse geography and long history help make Guatemala such an exceptional place to visit.
Read on for our Guatemala budget travel guide!
Region: Central America
Population: 17 000 000
Languages: Spanish, Maya
Feel the blast of an eruption as you camp near Volcan de Fuego.
Munch on tacos as you stroll by candy colored houses and ruins of cathedrals in the colonial town of Antigua.
Trek deep through the jungle to explore the unworldly Maya ruins of Tikal.
Feel the breeze through your hair as you relax on the shores of the volcano-fringed Lake Atitlan.
Guatemala is interesting in that sometimes costs are far below what you’re used to, and sometimes things costs as much or more as you would pay in your home country. You can buy a filling meal at a local comedor for $2, or a street food cart for as little as $1. Restaurants are pricier, charging $5-$10 for a tasty meal. You shouldn’t pay more than $1.2 for a 2L bottle of water. Dorm rooms generally range between $3-$7 per night, and budget hotel double rooms are between $6-$15. Uber, Lyft and taxis are the most expensive form of general transport, while camionetas or ‘chicken buses’ are the cheapest, favored by locals and smart travelers. Beer is surprisingly expensive, expect to pay 3$ for a Budweiser ripoff in a bar. Tiendas, little corner stores, sell a very watery beer called ICE for $0.65 though.
Flights to Guatemala aren’t complex because they all end up in one airport : La Aurora International (GUA). Located in Guatemala City, the capital, you won’t have trouble finding a bus, taxi or shuttle to your next destination. There are usually several options waiting just outside the airport doors, but the cheaper ones require you to walk a little bit, potentially saving you 97% of the total cost. Avoid doing so after dark. Flights are most costly around holidays like Easter and Christmas, but otherwise not insane. Some tourists opt to fly into neighboring Belize and travel south overland into Guatemala. There are many direct flights into Guatemala, but if you want to save a little and aren’t bothered by layovers, check out our guide to finding cheap flights.
Your biggest safety concern in Guatemala are the pick-pocketers who prey upon unsuspecting tourists. Violent robberies are also reported frequently and for once, this isn’t just the media playing things up. Locals are generally afraid of and avoid certain areas of Guatemala city. Elsewhere in the country, locals remain extremely careful of their valuables. Remain aware of your surroundings, and keep your money on you, preferably in a zippered pocket or money belt. Don’t carry everything in one pocket, spread it. Be wary of walking anywhere past 10pm. Avoid taking chicken buses at night, especially in sketchy areas but consider them mostly safe during the day. Pull money from ATM’s within grocery stores or banks, rather than ones in the open. In a country like Guatemala, a good travel insurance is a must.
When to go
In Guatemala, you have two seasons. Dry season runs from November to April and wet season is from Mid-April through October. At this point, there are daily showers, severely limiting your ability to summit volcanoes and decreasing your motivation to enjoy outdoor markets. High tourist season is December through March, and you’ll experience price hikes accordingly. The temperature is surprisingly diverse throughout the country. Antigua remains temperate reaching comfortable 20’s every day while the nearby Escuintla reaches the 40s. We recommend visiting Guatemala at any point during the dry season, and ideally timing your trip to include a Guatemalan holiday: their vibrant festivals are not to be missed!
Why we love Guatemala
We’re all about immersing ourselves in other cultures, and the warm-hearted Guatemalans are happy to share their methods of doing things. We traveled to Guatemala to find a peaceful, interesting place to live for several months while learning Spanish, and Guatemala fit the bill perfectly. Although their infrastructure is not entirely modern, we have little problem navigating the country on a small budget via local buses. We appreciate the mild climate of the highlands, and Guatemala’s diversity ensures things never get boring. As a bonus, Guatemala is much cheaper than its neighboring countries, making it the perfect Latin American country for budget travelers like us.