Backpacking in Guatemala: All You Need To Know Before You Go

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Semuc Champey, as seen from the viewpoint while backpacking in Guatemala
Semuc Champey is just one of the many wonders you can see if you visit Guatemala

Guatemala! Where towering ancient temples emerge from the jungle and toucans and spider monkeys play in the tangled treetops. Where smiling locals in rainbow-coloured clothes gather in bustling markets, offering delicate handicrafts for sale, and smoking volcanos loom over pastel-painted colonial towns. With so much to see and do, it’s no surprise that backpacking in Guatemala is right at the top of many travellers’ bucket lists.

But of course, for the most enjoyable trip, it’s best to do your research and be fully prepared before you go. It’s what I did, and that’s how I was able to spend three months travelling around Guatemala without any dramas or worries at all.

And now I’m back, here’s my complete Guatemala backpacking guide, to help you plan and have the best experience you possibly can!

Backpacking in Guatemala Pinterest Pin
Everything you need to know about visiting Guatemala before you go

Guatemala travel: Things to know before you go

What language is spoken in Guatemala?

The official language of Guatemala is Spanish. If you speak some Spanish (and it’s always good to learn a few words to make your journey easier), you will find that the Spanish spoken in Guatemala is much clearer, slower and easier to understand than in other places like Spain or Argentina.

In Guatemala around 42% of the population is Indigenous Maya. Between them they speak 23 Maya languages. Most of them also speak at least some Spanish, but if you travel in rural areas you will come across people who speak little to no Spanish at all.

If you don’t know any Spanish, don’t worry. In tourist areas, and especially in hotels, restaurants, and tour companies, English is widely spoken.

A Spanish school in Xela, one of the best places to learn Spanish while travelling in Guatemala
There are loads of Spanish schools, for anyone who wants to learn Spanish while travelling in Guatemala

Money in Guatemala

What is the currency in Guatemala?

The currency of Guatemala is called the quetzal (GTQ) – the word is pronounced KET-zal, and it’s named after the national bird, the resplendent quetzal.

Notes come in denominations of 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5, plus small coins (1 quetzal, and 50, 25, 10 and 5 centavos).

When I visited in 2022, there were roughly 10 quetzals to the pound, making the conversion very easy to do in my head! At the time of writing the pound has weakened, so Q10 is now about £1.08 or USD 1.29.

Read more: How To See The Resplendent Quetzal Bird In Guatemala

Guatemalan currency notes in denominations of 5 quetzales, 10 quetzales, 20 quetzales, 50 quetzales, and 100 quetzals
The currency of Guatemala is the quetzal

Can you use USD in Guatemala?

It can be useful to have some dollars in case of emergency, and dollars are the most widely accepted foreign currency, but in general everyone uses quetzals. I carried $200 of emergency cash around with me and never used it. If you try to use USD they may be accepted, but you will get a worse rate.

Credit cards and cash

Credit cards are accepted in larger businesses like supermarkets, big hotels and restaurant chains, but Guatemala is still very much a cash economy. Even where credit cards are accepted, many places will charge you a fee for using your credit card. Sometimes it can be as much as 8% of your total bill, so always make sure you check, and carry enough cash if you can.

Mucha Arte Hostal in Quetzaltenango Xela Guatemala
My lovely hostel in Xela did not accept credit cards, so I had to pay with cash

Are there ATMs in Guatemala?

There are three main brands of ATM in Guatemala. You will see the yellow ‘5B’ cashpoints and the blue ‘Banco Industrial’ (BI) machines all over the place, but both will charge a fee per transaction (usually about $4). There is also a maximum withdrawal of Q2000 (roughly £215 or $258) which means taking out money can soon get pretty expensive.

In addition, your bank may also charge you for international cash withdrawals, so if you have time before you travel, apply for a fee-free debit or credit card.

The only ATMs I found that didn’t charge are the red-and-white BAC Credomatic cashpoints. In Antigua there is one just off the Parque Central, and there’s one in Xela next to Paiz supermarket, but there aren’t any around Lake Atitlán or in Flores so I’d suggest getting some cash before you head there.

For security reasons almost all ATMs are inside shops or banks, meaning they are not accessible outside regular opening hours. Trying to get cash out on a Sunday, late in the evening or very early before your bus leaves is almost impossible, so make sure you plan ahead to avoid getting caught out.

The BAC Credomatic cashpoints are the best place to withdraw cash when backpacking Guatemala
The BAC Credomatic cashpoints are the best place to withdraw cash when backpacking Guatemala

Communication in Guatemala

Is there WiFi in Guatemala?

Wifi in Guatemala varies. Tourist hotels and most bars and restaurants in touristy places will offer it, but it’s not always very good. In many places I stayed, the WiFi only worked in the communal areas.

When there are power cuts the WiFi will cut out too. So if being connected is important to you, I strongly recommend taking an unlocked phone and buying a local SIM.

In addition, check reviews or ask the hotel specifically for their WiFi speed. WiFi networks are not secure, so if privacy is important to you, use a VPN when connecting to Guatemalan WiFi.

Laptop computer on my lap, working in the communal area of my hotel in Guatemala
In some hotels and hostels I had to sit in the communal areas to use the WiFi

Mobile phones and SIM cards

Guatemala does not feature on most mobile phone companies’ free roaming plans, so your phone provider is likely to charge you heavily to use your phone while you’re backpacking in Guatemala. If you want to do so, the best solution is to buy a local SIM.

The two most popular networks are Claro and Tigo. Coverage varies but they are pretty similar. However if you’re going to be somewhere remote, it’s best to check who has better coverage in your area before committing.

A man uses his phone in Antigua Guatemala
There is good mobile phone coverage in cities like Antigua Guatemala

I used Tigo and had very few problems. When I arrived, I bought a SIM card and 1-month data package in the airport for $50 which was a total rip-off, but that’s what you get if you’re forced to pay airport prices. If you can wait till you get out of the airport, you’ll pay a lot less.

Topping up is easy. Any tienda (corner store) with a Claro or Tigo sign outside will do it for you – you simply give them your number, tell them which plan you want, and they do the rest. I bought a plan for Q99 (£10.65 or $12.80) which got me 10GB of data and 200 minutes of calls to Guatemala and the USA. Although it was valid for 1 month, I usually burned through in about 3 weeks due to the amount of time I spend on Twitter and Instagram!

If you don’t think you need to make calls, you can get 13GB of data and no calls for the same price – though I did find being able to make phone calls was handy to have in case of emergencies.

Temple 1 at Tikal, Guatemala
There is no phone signal at all at Tikal in Guatemala

Keeping in touch

Guatemala is a very mobile-friendly country and communication is pretty easy. Many people have smartphones and most companies use WhatsApp. This means it can be easy to book tours and ask questions because even if you don’t speak Spanish, you can use Google Translate to help you and then copy and paste the results into your message.

If you’re not already on WhatsApp, I recommend you sign up before you go to Guatemala. You can even keep your home phone number for WhatsApp when you swap your SIM over, so that you can still also use it to keep in touch with people back home.

WhatsApp is a great way to plan your Guatemala travel
WhatsApp is a great way to plan your Guatemala travel

Electricity and power

Guatemala uses the same power sockets as the USA (the skinny two-pin plugs), making it easy to charge your devices.

However, the power supply in Guatemala can be dodgy. Especially during rainy season, remote places, as well as Xela, San Pedro, Panajachel and the other towns around Lake Atitlán, suffer from frequent power cuts. These usually last no more than a few hours, but occasionally can go on for a couple of days. I strongly recommend bringing a portable power bank and always keeping it charged, as a backup.

Many restaurants are used to this problem and have backup generators, so you can usually find somewhere to charge your phone or laptop while you wait for the power to come back. Be aware that some hotels use electricity to power their hot showers, meaning that if there’s a power cut you may not be able to have a shower either.

Using our phone torches and beer bottles to create lamps during a power cut in a bar
Using our phone torches and beer bottles to create lamps during a power cut in a bar

Getting around Guatemala

If you’re backpacking in Guatemala, chances are you’ll be using public transport. Here are the various ways to get around.

  • Taxis – for short distances, taxis are your best bet. Some towns and cities have taxi ranks, or you can ask your hotel to organise one for you. Uber is cheap, safe and reliable in Guatemala City, Antigua and Xela, but always double check that the car and driver that shows up matches the one listed in the app.
  • Tourist shuttles – for longer journeys, the safest and most popular mode of transport is tourist shuttles. These are small minibuses used by tourists only; they cover the main tourist routes, with 1-2 services a day, and pickup and drop-off at your hotel. You can book though your hostel or nearby tour agency, or try Monte Verde Tours or Adrenalina Tours for online bookings.
  • Pullmans – public coaches that run between the major cities. They’re cheaper than tourist shuttles and run regular services with published timetables. Some even have air-conditioning and toilets on board. For simple intercity journeys, they’re the best way to travel.
The Alamo intercity bus between Guatemala City and Xela
The Alamo intercity bus between Guatemala City and Xela
  • Chicken buses – these are the famous former American school buses that you see everywhere in Guatemala, decked out with chrome trims, flashing lights, and brightly-coloured paintwork. They travel between local towns and villages and are much cheaper (but also much less comfortable) than tourist shuttles, and journey times are longer as they make regular stops and you may need to make several changes. There are no published routes or timetables but you can find your way around by going to the nearest bus terminal and asking the helpful drivers which bus to take. You’ll save a lot of money travelling this way, but keep a close eye on your possessions as theft is common. If you’re travelling with lots of luggage, I’d still recommend taking tourist shuttles for safety and convenience.
  • Micros – small minibuses that travel within towns and cities. They can be hard to navigate because there are few fixed bus stops and no published routes. To use them, you’ll need to ask a local who will point you to where they pass by, and then you need to listen for the conductor shouting your destination. While they’re very cheap, they can also be extremely overcrowded and uncomfortable, and I found that for short journeys it was easier to use Uber.
Colourful 'chicken buses' are the cheapest way to travel in Guatemala
Colourful ‘chicken buses’ are the cheapest way to travel in Guatemala

Accommodation in Guatemala

Just like in any other country, there’s a huge range of accommodation in Guatemala, from very basic hostels and homestays to rustic jungle eco-lodges and luxury 5-star hotels.

  • Hostels – can be booked on or Hostelworld. Most hostels are pretty basic but there are some real gems out there, if you do your research. Hostels usually have shared dorms and some private rooms with private or shared bathrooms, plus a shared kitchen for doing your own cooking, and communal areas for chilling out or meeting other guests. In towns with lots of dining options breakfast is not usually included, but in more remote places it often is. Some remote hostels also offer communal ‘family-style’ dinners which can be a great way to meet fellow travellers. Plumbing can be an issue and showers can often be weak, or cold, or both.
  • Hotels – hotels in Guatemala can range from basic accommodation no different from a hostel but with fewer facilities, to gorgeous properties with swimming pools and 300-thread-count sheets like the gorgeous Villa Bokeh in Antigua. As a solo traveller I always preferred to get private rooms in hostels as it’s a much easier way to meet fellow travellers, but if that’s not a priority for you then check out the reviews on to find hotels to suit all tastes and budgets.
Basic hostel room in Semuc Champey
Most of the time I stayed in fairly basic hostels like this one in Semuc Champey

Health and wellbeing

If you get sick in Guatemala, there are pharmacies in all the towns and cities that should be able to sell you what you need over the counter. For anything more serious, it’s best to go to a private clinic. There are public medical facilities in Guatemala, but they are usually overcrowded and underfunded.

That’s why it’s essential to have comprehensive travel insurance before visiting Guatemala. Check out my travel resources page for more information.

Read more: A Perfect Guatemala Itinerary In 10 Days, 2 Weeks Or 3 Weeks

Can you drink the tap water in Guatemala?

It is not safe to drink the tap water in Guatemala, but most hostels, hotels and decent restaurants provide filtered water which is safe to drink. I drank the free filtered water the entire time I was there, and also brushed my teeth with tap water, and had no issues.

If you’re concerned, only eat fruit and vegetables which have been peeled or thoroughly cooked, avoid meat that is pink in the middle, and don’t eat salads except in higher-end establishments.

A street vendor selling snacks in Flores Guatemala
I ate snacks from street vendors and was fine, but avoid them if in doubt

Illnesses in Guatemala

Guatemala is not a high-risk malarial area but dengue fever is endemic so try to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes if you can (easier said than done of course!). Use maximum strength insect repellent, cover your arms and legs in the evenings, and don’t leave windows and doors open at night.

Guatemala has a serious street dog problem – packs of stray dogs roam everywhere and the streets are full of dog shit – so watch where you’re walking! These dogs may look cute and friendly, but they are strays and unpredictable so do not pet them. Rabies is widespread, so if you get bitten, seek medical attention and get a course of rabies shots immediately.

Street dog in Guatemala
There are a lot of street dogs in Guatemala but petting them is not advised

Hygiene in Guatemala

In Guatemala, as in all Central America, you must not put toilet paper (or any other man-made object) down the toilet, or you will block it. Bathrooms always have a bin for you to chuck your toilet paper into instead. It feels weird and gross at first, but you’ll soon get into the habit.

Women may be dismayed to discover that tampons are not widely used in Guatemala and can be extremely difficult to get hold of. Even if you can find them (which is hard), they will be very expensive. If you’re wedded to tampons as opposed to pads (which are widely available), it’s better to bring all the supplies you need with you.

Always put your toilet paper in the bin and not the toilet in Guatemala (and Central America)
Always put your toilet paper in the bin and not the toilet in Guatemala (and Central America)

What vaccinations do you need for Guatemala?

It’s advisable to make sure you are up to date with your typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis A shots before coming to Guatemala. Travellers arriving from some high-risk yellow fever destinations will also be asked to show evidence of yellow fever vaccination before entering the country.

For more information about health before you travel, consult your doctor or local travel clinic.

Coronavirus / Covid-19

At the time of writing, as of August 2022, it was no longer necessary to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter Guatemala.

Mask-wearing is currently optional in most places, except for hospitals, other medical facilities, nursing homes, prisons, and on public transport (though this last one is rarely enforced). This can change though, so check before you travel and bring some masks with you in case it changes while you’re there.

Wearing a Covid mask on a bus while backpacking in Guatemala
At the time of writing, masks were still required on public transport in Guatemala

Do you need a visa to enter Guatemala?

Visitors from the UK, USA, Canada and Australia do not need a visa to enter Guatemala. When you arrive, your passport will usually be stamped with a 90-day tourist visa. However, I have heard some reports of people not being given the full 90 days, so if you need that long, make sure you ask.

If you want to stay longer, you can either leave the country and come back again or go to the Departamento de Extranjeria (Immigration Office) in Guatemala City to buy an extension.

Note that if you are leaving the country for visa purposes, Guatemala is part of the CA-4 group of Central American countries which also includes El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. This means you can travel around all these countries under the same 90-day visa, but it also means that leaving to one of these other countries does not reset the clock, so if you want to get a new visa, you will need to go to Mexico, Belize, or Costa Rica and stay there for 72 hours before coming back in.

It’s also really important to bear this in mind if you’re planning to travel on after Guatemala to any of the other CA-4 countries. Your 90-day visa covers all of them, so you cannot, for example, spend 3 months in Guatemala and then go on to El Salvador without leaving the CA-4 zone for a couple of days first.

Read more: The Expert Guide To Xela Guatemala: Things To See And Do

Beach at Samara, Costa Rica
If you need more than 3 months in Guatemala, you could hop to Costa Rica and come back

Customs and Etiquette

Guatemala is quite a conservative country. For the most part people are quiet, polite, and respectful. Apart from in the major cities, Guatemala does not have a big party scene – nightlife is low-key and relaxed and most bars and restaurants shut by 10 pm at the latest.


People dress casually but fairly conservatively. You will rarely see Guatemalans with a lot of skin on show, so it’s a good idea to consider this when packing. Tourists do wear shorts and vest tops in the touristy areas, but if you turn up in tiny hot pants and cropped tops you may feel a bit naked. Longer shorts or skirts, and t-shirts or vests that cover a bit more, are a better idea and are more respectful.

A couple on a park bench wearing jeans and t-shirts
Dress in Guatemala is casual but fairly conservative

Street hassle

There is very little street hassle in Guatemala, at least, not compared with many other countries. In touristy areas vendors will offer you souvenirs, tours or transport, but a polite ‘no gracias’ is usually enough to get them to leave you alone.

You may find that people say hello to you on the street as you walk past – though almost always I found it was men saying hello to me as a white woman. You might find this annoying or offensive, but it is easier just to assume they are being polite and either ignore them or say hello back and keep walking.


Tipping is not widespread in Guatemala, but I would encourage you to do so if you can afford it. In touristy areas restaurants add 10% onto your bill automatically, but if it’s not added then it’s good to add 10% anyway. You might also want to tip your tour guides, though it’s not expected.

Read more: Guatemala People: 30 Portraits Of Guatemalans That Show Their Rich Culture

Breakfast table spread at Casa Palopo in Lake Atitlan
In most restaurants 10% service charge will be added to your bill

Taking photos in Guatemala

People are not keen on having their photo taken in Guatemala and you will find that if you point a camera at someone, at best they will turn away and cover their face, or at worse they will get upset. It’s better to either take your photos from a distance or ask permission first.

If you look at my other Guatemala posts, you will see that I did take a lot of photos of people, but to get the close-up portraits I had to take the time to chat to them and ask permission.

Never take photos of children without their parents’ consent, and even then, be very careful. Some locals believe that westerners who take photos of children are actually there to kidnap them, so if someone thinks this is what you’re up to, you could get into serious trouble.

Read more: 30 Beautiful Pictures Of Guatemala And The Stories Behind Them

Market trader in Solola market, Guatemala
I was able to get portraits like this by taking my time and asking permission

Weather and climate

Guatemala is sometimes called the ‘Land of Eternal Spring’, thanks to its year-round temperate climate. That’s not to say it’s always sunny, though!

In the northern part of the country, the Petén region, the weather is tropical, with temperatures ranging between about 25-35 degrees C (77 to 95F) and high humidity. Around Antigua and Lake Atitlán it’s more pleasant and less humid, typically 20-30 degrees C (68 to 86F), and in the highlands, around the city of Xela, it can even be chilly, dropping down to as low as 10 degrees C (50F) at night.

Cloud and fog at Laguna Chicabal in Guatemala
It wasn’t always sunny during my time backpacking in Guatemala

When is the best time to visit Guatemala?

Guatemala has two seasons, the rainy season and the dry season. Rainy season is between May and October and is typically characterised by warmer temperatures with dry and overcast mornings, and heavy rain in the afternoons. In the peak of rainy season, rain can cause landslides that block roads, so travelling can be harder, especially in more remote areas.

During the dry season, between November and April, temperatures are cooler and more pleasant, and there is little to no rain. So the best time to visit is definitely during the dry season, though note that everything is more expensive and crowded during that time, so be sure to book ahead.

A particularly popular time to visit is during Easter or Holy Week, when vast crowds descend on cities like Antigua to see the world-famous sawdust carpets (alfombras) and the vivid Semana Santa processions.

Read more: A Colourful Guide To Flores Guatemala: Gateway To The Maya World

Sunset over the ruins at Yaxha while travelling in Guatemala
When I began my Guatemala travels in April we had good weather and some lovely sunsets

How many days do you need in Guatemala?

If you’re pushed for time, you can see the main highlights of Guatemala in a packed 10 days. For a more relaxed trip, aim for two weeks, or three if you want to get a bit off the main tourist trail and be less rushed.

Check out my Guatemala backpacking itinerary for more information about where to go and the top things to see and do in Guatemala.

Is Guatemala safe?

If you google ‘safety in Guatemala’, you’ll find loads of terrifying articles warning you about street scams, armed robberies, pickpockets, road accidents, sexual assaults and worse. I did exactly this before I went, and then spent the next few weeks tormented by fear that something terrible was going to happen to me.

And in three months of living and travelling in Guatemala, nothing did.

Solo traveller at Tikal in Guatemala
I travelled around Guatemala for 3 months and had no problems

The fact is, lots of places are dangerous. I live in London, and there were two stabbings in my borough just in the past two weeks. If you let these kinds of stories scare you, you’d never leave the house.

Yes, Guatemala isn’t the safest country in Latin America, and can be dangerous. It suffers from high rates of poverty and inequality and has significant problems with drugs and guns. But for the most part, these issues are confined to certain areas, and the vast majority of Guatemalans are kind, respectful and welcoming to visitors. So just by being a bit sensible, you can avoid any issues.

Workers at Minerva bus station in Xela pose for a photo
The workers in the bus station in Xela were fun and friendly when I went to take photos there

The usual rules apply:

  • Don’t bring expensive jewellery or flash expensive possessions around (though I walked around with my iPhone and DSLR camera out during the day and had no issues).
  • Stay in reputable hotels or hostels in central locations.
  • Don’t hike alone in remote areas.
  • Avoid known crime hotspots or dodgy areas.
  • Watch your drink in bars.
  • Don’t get falling-down drunk or do drugs.
  • Don’t walk home alone at night, especially if you’re a woman.
  • Put a padlock on your backpack and lock away your valuables.
  • Take taxis where necessary (Uber is best if possible).
  • If you’re travelling alone, it’s better to take tours or go hiking with a guide.

If you’re sensible and keep your wits about you, there’s no reason why you can’t have a safe and trouble-free trip to Guatemala, just like I did.

Tour of Tikal, Guatemala
Taking tours is a great way to meet people and stay safe in Guatemala

Can you travel solo in Guatemala?

Lots of people worry about travelling solo in Guatemala, especially if they’re female. And yes, there are always risks. But as you know by now, I travelled solo around Guatemala and had no trouble at all.

I also met loads of other solo travellers when I was backpacking in Guatemala. Travelling solo can be great because it’s easier to meet other fellow travellers, and you have the freedom to do what you want, when you want.

Solo traveller with new friends while travelling in Guatemala
Even though I was a solo traveller in Guatemala, I found nice people to hang out with in hostels and on tours

The only issue I found with travelling solo is that sometimes I wanted to do something and wasn’t always able to do it independently. That meant that either I had to pay a private guide or private transport (more expensive, obviously), or not do the thing I wanted to do. Occasionally I’d have to wait a day or two because the tour or transport required a minimum number of people to run. Or if I needed to get back to my hostel, I’d have to pay for a taxi by myself, because it’s not safe to walk alone after dark.

So yes, I’d say it is easier to travel round Guatemala in a pair, and if you’re on your own it may cost you a bit more. But for me, paying extra for taxis, guides, and tours was worth it to be safe (and to have company!).

Sitting in the front of the bus while backpacking in Guatemala
One advantage of solo travel is that sometimes you get to sit in the front seat on the bus

Backpacking Guatemala: shopping

In cities like Guatemala City, Antigua and Xela, there are several big malls as well as plenty of pharmacies and supermarkets where you should be able to buy most things you need. Supermarkets like LaTorre, Paiz and Walmart stock imported international products.

Everywhere you go, you will see small ‘tiendas’ (convenience stores) – these sell snacks, drinks, mobile phone credit, and some household essentials like toiletries and batteries.

Backpacking in Guatemala: All You Need To Know Before You Go
Little tiendas like this one sell snacks, phone credit and other essentials

However, if you have specific brands or items that you need, bring them with you as it may be very difficult to get them in Guatemala (and Amazon doesn’t deliver).

If you’re into collecting souvenirs from your travels, make sure you save some space in your luggage! Guatemala has a huge range of gorgeous handicrafts on offer from beaded or jade jewellery and beautiful hand-woven textiles, to carved wooden masks and toys, leather belts and more.

Read more: Santa Catarina Palopo: The Colourful Painted Town In Guatemala

Colourful jewellery on sale in Chichicastenango market, Guatemala
Colourful jewellery on sale in Chichicastenango market, Guatemala

What to pack for backpacking in Guatemala

If you’re visiting in the dry season, pack comfortable, lightweight clothes like shorts and t-shirts, lightweight trousers or long skirts and dresses. Dress in Guatemala is casual, so you don’t need to bring anything smart unless you have plans that require it.

If your Guatemala travel itinerary includes the highlands or hiking any volcanos, it can get cold, so pack at least one long-sleeved base layer, lightweight down jacket, gloves and beanie.

A couple in warm jackets and hats looking at Volcan de Fuego erupting in Guatemala
You’ll need warm layers for hiking volcanos in Guatemala

To protect you from the weather, don’t forget a sunhat, waterproof jacket, and suncream. An umbrella can be handy too.

A set of swimwear is useful if you’re visiting the beach or Semuc Champey.

I’ll post a full packing list soon, so don’t forget to subscribe to get notifications when new posts are published.

And if you’re looking for the perfect luggage for backpacking in Guatemala, check out the one I took with me here: The Best Wheeled Backpack: Osprey Farpoint Wheels 65 Review.

I got everything I needed for my Guatemala trip into this 65 litre backpack
I got everything I needed for my Guatemala trip into this 65 litre backpack

Guatemala budget: how expensive is Guatemala?

Compared with nearby countries like Belize and Costa Rica, travel in Guatemala is relatively cheap. Here are some examples of roughly what things cost at the time I travelled around Guatemala.

 Price in GTQGBP (£)USD ($)
Hostel dorm bed1001113
Hostel private room200-30022-3226-39
Mid-range hotel double room300-50032-5439-65
Tourist shuttle200-30022-3226-39
Chicken bus10-251-2.601.20-3.20
15-minute Uber journey10-251-2.601.20-3.20
Main course in a tourist restaurant50-805.40-8.606.50-10.30
Street food snack5-250.50-2.600.60-3.20
Bottle of local beer252.603.20
Glass of South American wine505.406.50
American chocolate bar (eg Twix or M&Ms)1011.20
Bottle of water1011.20
Box of 12 eggs252.603.20
6 bananas50.500.60
10 GB phone credit1001113
Day trip175-30018.80-3222.60-39

If you stay in hostel dorms, eat in cheap local comedores or cook in the hostel kitchen, and travel by chicken bus, you could get around Guatemala for as little as Q300 (£30 or $40) a day. I stayed in private rooms in hostels, cooked for myself or ate in moderately-priced restaurants, didn’t drink much, and used taxis, tourist shuttles and tours. I estimate I averaged about £60 (USD72) a day.

On board a water taxi boat from Rio Dulce to Livingston
This boat taxi from Rio Dulce town to my hotel near Livingston cost Q50 (£5)

Top 5 things I loved about backpacking Guatemala

Here are the top 5 things I loved about my time in Guatemala:

  • Landscapes – from the majestic volcanoes around Lake Atitlan to the steamy jungles of the Petén to the turquoise pools at Semuc Champey and the Crater Azul, Guatemala has a wide variety of gorgeous landscapes to thrill your senses.
  • Hiking volcanos – Guatemala has 37 volcanos offering dozens of thrilling hikes. My favourites were hiking Acatenango to see Fuego erupting, and the sunrise hike up Volcán Santa María.
  • Ancient Mayan ruins – Guatemala was once the heart of the Maya civilisation, and their fascinating ruined cities – like Tikal and Yaxha – still dot the landscape and tower out of the jungle. If you’re a fan of history and ancient sites like me, you’ll love Guatemala!
Ruined temples at Yaxha, Guatemala
When you travel in Guatemala you cannot miss the amazing ancient Maya ruins
  • Maya culture – even though the Ancient Maya civilisation collapsed, Maya culture is strong and vibrant in Guatemala. From visiting traditional weavers, to exploring colourful markets, to tasting local foods, Guatemala has a rich cultural heritage that it’s a joy to explore.
  • Colonial architecture – when the Spanish conquistadors arrived, they sadly destroyed many of the Maya buildings. But what they built in their place were beautiful churches, monasteries and palaces that still stand to this day. Antigua in particular is a joy to walk around – every corner you turn you find another gorgeous building.  

Read more: 28 Tried And Tested Things To Do In Antigua Guatemala

A Guatemalan woman in colourful dress poses in front of a blue wall
I loved how colourful Guatemala is and how friendly the people are

Top 5 things I didn’t love about backpacking in Guatemala

Nowhere is perfect – so just so you’re prepared, here are five things I did not love about Guatemala.

  • Dog shit – Guatemala has a serious street dog problem, and with so many stray dogs roaming around, you get a lot of dog shit. Make sure you watch where you’re walking at all times!
  • Rain – I visited in rainy season, and there was a LOT of rain. It tends to follow a regular pattern – dry in the morning, rainy in the afternoon – so it didn’t disrupt my plans too much, but even when it wasn’t raining it was grey and overcast a lot of the time, and I found that quite depressing. Especially since the rainy season coincides with European summer, so all my friends back home were enjoying the sunshine!
  • Rubbish – Sadly, Guatemalans do not have a culture of taking their litter home with them, and many people just drop it on the street or chuck it out of the car window. And the public trash collection services seem to be unreliable at best. Wherever you go, you will see litter everywhere, even on hiking trails and at the tops of volcanos. Please, even if you see it, don’t be tempted to add to it. Respect your environment, even if others clearly don’t, and take your litter home.
'The sea is not a rubbish bin'. There are signs everywhere, but trash is a big issue in Guatemala
‘The sea is not a rubbish bin’. There are signs everywhere, but trash is a big issue in Guatemala
  • Plastic use – In the same vein, Guatemala has still not woken up to the issue of plastic pollution. Everything is distributed in plastic bags, you’ll still be given plastic straws, plastic cutlery and so on. It’s unavoidable at times, but you can mitigate it by bringing your own refillable water bottle, carrying your own travel cutlery, and keeping and reusing carrier bags.
  • Street hassle – as a solo female traveller, I did get a bit annoyed with men trying to speak to me on the street. I never felt threatened, but it was clear they were only trying to talk to me because I am a white woman. I tried to ignore it, but it did get annoying. Don’t worry, though, it was pretty minor, especially compared with other places I’ve visited like Morocco or Egypt. Compared with those countries, street hassle in Guatemala is almost non-existent.
Street vendor selling hats in Antigua Guatemala
In Antigua Guatemala, street vendors will try to sell you stuff, but it’s not aggressive at all

Where can I find more information to help plan my Guatemala vacation?

If you’re on Facebook, there are a couple of useful Facebook groups, such as Expats Living in Guatemala and Xela Expat and Travellers Community. It’s worth joining them so you can ask questions or even make travel buddies.

I hope this post has helped answer all your questions about travel in Guatemala. If you still have doubts, or you think I’ve missed something, feel free to contact me!

Where to next?

If you’re planning a trip to Guatemala, why not check out some of my other posts to help you plan your journey?

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