Guatemala

Guatemala is a mystical land of volcanic landscapes, misty cloud forests and steamy jungles that hide remnants of the mighty Mayan civilisation. With enchanting towns full of cultural riches, isn’t it about time you got acquainted with the inviting people, exotic wildlife and spellbinding stories of Guatemala?

Guatemala Tours & Travel

Top deals in Guatemala

Departing Days Price AUD
24 Sep 2014 Antigua to Playa del Carmen 13 $1190
8 Nov 2014 Antigua to Playa del Carmen 13 $1215

All our Guatemala trips

guatelmala_weaver

Best of Guatemala & Mexico

13 days from
USD $1,130.00
CAD $1,140.00
AUD $1,190.00
EUR €870.00
GBP £715.00
NZD $1,410.00
ZAR R10,815.00
CHF FR1,070.00

Sun, fun, creatures and culture. This intoxicating adventure through the heart of Central America covers the best of...

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guatemala markets fabrics handmade rugs blankets

Mayan Encounter

17 days from
USD $1,085.00
CAD $1,095.00
AUD $1,140.00
EUR €795.00
GBP £680.00
NZD $1,350.00
ZAR R10,675.00
CHF FR975.00

Enjoy a liberal dose of sun, fun and history on this amazing Mayan Encounter tour. Visit beautiful Belize, the...

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mexico palenque ancient ruins stone structures

Explore Mexico & Guatemala

13 days from
USD $1,015.75
CAD $1,032.75
AUD $1,071.00
EUR €743.75
GBP £641.75
NZD $1,270.75
ZAR R9,749.50
CHF FR918.00

From the sandy playground of Mexico's Cancun to charismatic Antigua, this tour of Mexico and Guatemala is choc-full off...

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guatemala antigua parrot costa rica scarlet macaws sitting squark

Mayan Highlights

25 days from
USD $2,065.50
CAD $2,092.50
AUD $2,173.50
EUR €1,512.00
GBP £1,300.50
NZD $2,578.50
ZAR R19,782.00
CHF FR1,863.00

Discover the wonders of the Mayan ruins on a dramatic tour through Mexico; see the archaeological sites on the way to...

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costa rica arenal volcano mountain

Central American Adventure

32 days from
USD $2,190.00
CAD $2,330.00
AUD $2,425.00
EUR €1,685.00
GBP £1,455.00
NZD $2,870.00
ZAR R21,990.00
CHF FR2,080.00

Ruins, volcanoes and beachside playgrounds await on this awesome Central American adventure, journeying through Mexico...

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mexico tulum temple beach ocean tropical reef

Ultimate Central America

58 days from
USD $4,280.00
CAD $4,340.00
AUD $4,495.00
EUR €3,135.00
GBP £2,695.00
NZD $5,340.00
ZAR R41,000.00
CHF FR3,865.00

This captivating adventure through Central America travels through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua,...

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belize family swimming diving beach locals

Best of Central America

44 days from
USD $3,145.00
CAD $3,350.00
AUD $3,480.00
EUR €2,425.00
GBP £2,085.00
NZD $4,125.00
ZAR R29,235.00
CHF FR2,985.00

Have the ultimate Central American adventure on this classic tour from Mexico to Panama. Enjoy beaches, volcanoes,...

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Colourful Toucan

Central America Encompassed

31 days from
USD $2,065.00
CAD $2,090.00
AUD $2,175.00
EUR €1,495.00
GBP £1,295.00
NZD $2,575.00
ZAR R19,775.00
CHF FR1,865.00

An adventure tour through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala reveals the captivating history of Mayan civilisation and visits...

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mexico snorkelling beach snorkels ocean sand palm trees tropical tourist

Central America Explorer

46 days from
USD $3,195.00
CAD $3,250.00
AUD $3,375.00
EUR €2,350.00
GBP £2,020.00
NZD $3,995.00
ZAR R30,725.00
CHF FR2,895.00

Escape on a Central American odyssey through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica and marvel...

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belize caye caulker beach

Land of Belize

8 days from
USD $895.00
CAD $930.00
AUD $965.00
EUR €670.00
GBP £580.00
NZD $1,145.00
ZAR R8,785.00
CHF FR830.00

Escape to Belize on an adventure from San Ignacio to Tikal. Visit breathtaking Mayan sites in Belize before reaching...

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Man walking, Guatemala

Yucatan Explorer

9 days from
USD $1,875.00
CAD $1,895.00
AUD $1,950.00
EUR €1,335.00
GBP £1,180.00
NZD $2,340.00
ZAR R17,965.00
CHF FR1,645.00

Travel to Central America. Vibrant Mexico, Belize and Guatemala make the perfect getaway.

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Volcano view, Guatemala

Land of the Maya

23 days from
USD $3,920.00
CAD $4,170.00
AUD $4,330.00
EUR €3,010.00
GBP £2,590.00
NZD $5,135.00
ZAR R39,420.00
CHF FR3,715.00

Travel from Mexico to Guatemala via Belize for an essential education in Central American culture. Explore ancient Maya...

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Colourful textiles

Mexico City to Panama City

55 days from
USD $3,850.00
CAD $3,930.00
AUD $3,615.00
EUR €2,930.00
GBP £2,400.00
NZD $4,755.00
ZAR R36,505.00
CHF FR3,440.00

Jump onboard this exciting Central American trip that takes you from the vibrancy of Mexico City through the hearts of...

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Beach, Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

Anchorage to Ushuaia

207 days from
USD $14,465.00
CAD $14,770.00
AUD $13,570.00
EUR €11,015.00
GBP £9,020.00
NZD $17,870.00
ZAR R137,205.00
CHF FR12,925.00

Travel the length of the Americas from North through Central and to the very tip of the South. From Anchorage to...

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Guatemala trip reviews

Our Guatemala trips score an average of 4.47 out of 5 based on 173 reviews in the last year.

Way to San Jose, May 2014

Way to San Jose, June 2014

Articles on Guatemala

8 reasons to go to Guatemala now

8 reasons to go to Guatemala now

Posted on Fri, 11 Apr 2014 by Jacqueline Donaldson

Ok, so we know there’s a heap of amazing places to travel to, so why choose to explore Guatemala over all the others? 8. Really cool ruins If you’ve ever [...]

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5 of the best markets

5 of the best markets

Posted on Tue, 9 Apr 2013 by Sue Elliot

Here's a few of our favourite places to hone your haggling skills...

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grab a guatemala bargain

grab a guatemala bargain

Posted on Thu, 26 Jan 2012 by Sue Elliot

Rachael Harvey was bagging bargains before she knew it at Chichicastenango markets...

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a glimpse of guatemala

a glimpse of guatemala

Posted on Sun, 24 Jan 2010 by Sue Elliot

“Are you happy in your heart?” This typical Guatemalan greeting is a thought-provoking question for Intrepid Express reader Bobbie Jo Traut… “Tossed by turbulence and feeling a little queasy during [...]

Read more

Transport

Intrepid believes half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once there! Where possible, Intrepid uses local transport options and traditional modes of transport - which usually carry less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.

Depending on which trip you're on while in Guatemala, you may find yourself travelling by:

Accommodation

Travelling with Intrepid is a little bit different. We endeavour to provide travellers with an authentic experience to remember, so we try to keep accommodation as unique and traditional as possible.

When travelling with us in Guatemala you may find yourself staying in a:

About Guatemala

At a glance

Trips Available: 17
Capital city: Guatemala City (population 1.15 million)
Population: 13.8 million
Language: Spanish
Currency: GTQ
Time zone: (GMT-06:00) Central America
Electricity: Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin) Type B (American 3-pin)
Dialing code: +502

Best time to visit Guatemala

The dry season is from October to April, and this is generally considered to be the best time to visit as the weather is warm and sunny. However, this is also the busiest time to travel so expect more people about, especially around Christmas and Easter.

The wet season is from May to October. During this time, some activities and roads may be restricted; however, it usually only rains for around an hour or two in the afternoon. As this is the low season for travel, you can enjoy the sites with less people around.

Guatemala weather chart

Culture and customs

Happy market vendor
Guatemalan culture is a vibrant mix of Spanish, European and Mayan customs and languages. Although most of the population is Catholic, there are still groups of indigenous people who have links to ancient Mayan rituals and practice these alongside Christian worship. Although Guatemalan culture has recently been more exposed to foreign brands, media and pop culture, indigenous customs, dress, language and cuisine still persist, especially in villages where you can commonly see people dressed in colourful native garb, celebrating a variety of traditional festivals and creating indigenous handicrafts to sell at village markets.

The Guatemalan population is one of great contrasts, with daily life varying greatly depending on social status, ethnic identity and geography. City dwellers range from well-off business owners to cultured university students and humble street cart owners. Rural life also varies - many people that live in villages rely on subsistence farming or handicraft making, and typically have less access to electricity, plumbing, health care and education. To travel in Guatemala is to be exposed to a variety of people, with each group having unique customs and ways of life.

Eating and drinking

Spiced Mango

Intrepid believes that one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you're sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from wherever you are in the world.

The cuisine of Guatemala is among the best in Central America so hit the markets for some street food or a restaurant for a more formal meal.

Things to try in Guatemala

1. Tamales

Found throughout Latin America, this is one of the most popular comfort foods in Guatemala. Tamales are a corn-dough based dish, boiled or steamed and are served wrapped in a plantain leaf. Typical fillings include chicken, pork cheese and vegetables, as well as sweet, dessert fillings like fruit or almonds.

2. Spiced Mango

Most cities and markets in Guatemala will have street carts selling mango spiced with chilli and lime. The blend of sweet and bitter flavours is a treat for the tastebuds.

3. Lemonadia Con Soda

This zesty soft drink is made with real lemons and makes a refreshing drink on a hot and steamy day.

4. Elotes

The simplicity of this dish is what wins travellers over. Take a fresh ear of corn, roast it on a barbecue, add cheese, lime, butter and chilli, and serve it on a stick. Elotes will win you over as a delicious, cheap and easy-to-eat snack on the run!

Geography and environment

Volcano and colouful buildings of Antigua
Sharing borders with Belize, Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador, Guatemala is mainly mountainous, except for pockets of land on the south coast and northern lowlands. With large tracts of rainforest, cloud forest, woodlands and mangroves, Guatemala is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, providing a habitat for a huge range of birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. However, widespread logging and deforestation has dramatically reduced the forests that once occupied the area. The fertile valleys provide perfect conditions for the growth of coffee and other cash crops, but with volcanic eruptions and frequent floods and landslides, farming can be difficult. Despite this, many Guatemalans live a rural existence and visitors will be able to see many small villages and towns dotted throughout the country, as well as larger cities with more developed infrastructure.

History and government

Ancient ruins

Early History

Before the Spanish arrived, the Mayan civilisation had long inhabited Guatemala and surrounding countries. Visitors will be able to see traces of this once mighty civilisation all over the country as a remarkable amount of well-preserved ruins still exist in Guatemala. It is thought that the Mayan civilisation was already in a state of decline by the time the Spanish arrived, and between 1523 and 1524 the Mayans were defeated. A Spanish colony was soon established. The first Guatemalan capital was destroyed by an earthquake and flooding in 1542, resulting in Antigua being established as the new capital. Although later earthquakes in 1773 caused widespread damage, much of the colonial-style architecture has been preserved and can be seen if visiting today.

Recent History

Gaining independence in 1821, Guatemala entered into the Mexican Empire and, for a brief period of time, also belonged to the United Provinces of Central America. By the 1900s, Guatemala had been subjected to many changes in government and power, having changed hands between a variety of dictators and insurgents via coups and civil war. Between1960 and 1996, the country endured the effects of the Guatemalan Civil War, which included genocide, economic hardship, violence and displacement. A peace process was underway by the late 1980s, but it took many years to restore democratic rule and peace to the country. More recently, Guatemala’s economy has improved, mainly due to the strength of the local agriculture and tourism industries. Although there have been improvements in the economy of the country, unfortunately many Guatemalans still live in poverty.

Top Picks

Toucan

Top 10 Birds To Spot in Guatemala

1. Keel-Billed Toucan

This tropical feathered icon is synonymous with Central America. Often found in pairs or groups, keel-billed toucans love using their huge beaks to chomp on fruit and nuts. Abundant populations make them easy to find in the rainforests and jungles of Guatemala.

2. Guatemalan Screech Owl

In Guatemala, owls represent luck and prosperity so you’ll see plenty of owl trinkets, statues and jewellery in the shops and markets. Hopefully, you’ll also get to see a Guatemalan Screech Owl hiding in the tress of woodlands and forests. Listen for its faint but distinct call.

3. Resplendent Quetzal

Guatemala’s national bird is a colourful mix of emerald green, scarlet red and white. The males feature a very long tail, which makes launching into flight difficult, so they often jump backwards first – like a parachutist!

4. Wine-Throated Hummingbird

These tiny birds nestle in the cloud forests of highland Guatemala. Despite their size, they’re not impossible to spot – just look for its green head and stunning, magenta throat.

5. Pale-Billed Woodpecker

The distinct ‘rap rap rap’ of the woodpecker gives away its location every time. The black, white and red coloured pale-billed woodpecker is commonly found in Tikal so keep an eye out for them while visiting the Tikal ruins.

6. King Vulture

Revered in Mayan mythology and commonly represented in temples and artwork, majestic king vultures glide on thermal currents for hours, searching for food, so look up to see them soaring above.

7. Horned Guan

This endangered species can be found in the highland regions of Guatemala lurking in the cloud forests. With a bright red feathered horn on the top of their heads, it’s not hard to spot these magnificent creatures.

8. Scarlet Macaw

These vibrant and curiously beautiful birds are endangered but can still be found in some of Guatemala’s biosphere reserves. Poaching and habitat destruction has led to a decline in their populations, but conservation groups are currently helping to save the species. See them while you can!

9. Ringed Kingfisher

These noisy birds can be found near large bodies of water as their favourite food is fish, although they will also eat reptiles, insects and berries. Named for the wide, white collar that features on its neck, you won't have many problems finding this species as they are found in great numbers throughout Central and South America.

10. Blue-Crowned Motmot

This striking, multi-coloured bird has a green and yellow body with a turquoise-fringed face and deep-set red eyes. Motmots love humid conditions so can be found in forests, plantations and gardens throughout tropical Guatemala.

Shopping

Traditional Handicrafts

Although Guatemala does have a few modern malls, the most interesting shopping experiences will come via the many markets featured throughout the villages and cities.

Most importantly, have fun and don’t forget to haggle for a good price! It's also a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.

Things to buy in Guatemala

1. Traditional Handicrafts

Colourful blankets, shawls, scarves and clothing, wooden carvings, woven basketry and hand-made ceramics all make great souvenir options.

2. Art

Guatemalan paintings are typically colourful and uplifting. The galleries and markets of Antigua are one of the best spots to pick up unique art – from traditional paintings, to folk art and contemporary pieces by emerging local artists.

3. Coffee

Guatemala produces and exports some of the best coffee in the world. Coffee lovers should stock up here where the quality and price is good.

4. Chocolate

Guatemala also creates some of the finest chocolate in the world. Head to a chocolate shop and choose from bitter dark chocolate, spicy chilli and cinnamon chocolate or perhaps pick up some rich hot chocolate mix to take home.

Festivals and Events in Guatemala

Day of the Dead

This well-known holiday that honours the dead is celebrated all over the country. Guatemalans usually fly massive kites, visit the graves of ancestors and eat ‘fiambre’ (a giant mixed salad consisting of meat, cheese, olives, egg, corn and onion). Colourful altars decorated with flowers and skulls can also be found in homes, shops and streets during this time.

Fiesta de Santo Tomas

The highland town of Chichicastenango is home to one of the best outdoor markets in Central America, and also this extraordinary annual festival. Combining Catholic and Mayan traditions, expect to see lively processions of costumed dancers, firecracker explosions, exotic pageantry and kamikaze-style bungee jumping.

FAQs on Guatemala

It's customary to add 10% to restaurant bills (if this hasn’t already been included). Tipping elsewhere is optional, but leaving spare change at small cafes is a good idea as most Guatemalans typically earn little.
Internet cafes and Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming more prevalent in Guatemala’s cities, although the connection may be slower than what you’re used to. Remote areas will have little to no internet access.
Using your mobile phone while in the cities of Guatemala shouldn’t be problematic. Coverage may be less reliable in remote and mountainous areas. Ensure you have global roaming enabled before leaving your home country if you wish to use your mobile.
Many tourist sites and restaurants have flushable toilets, although some remote areas may have compostable or drop toilets. It’s a good idea to carry your own toilet paper and soap as these aren’t always provided.
Cup of coffee at a cafe = US$1.50
A bottle of beer = US$2
Basic meal = US$4
Dinner at an international restaurant = US$10-15
Drinking tap water isn't recommended in Guatemala. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water; ask your leader where filtered water can be found. It's also advisable to avoid ice in drinks and peel fruit and vegetables before eating.
Credit cards can be used at most large restaurants, shops and other tourist establishments. Expect to pay cash when dealing with smaller vendors, family-run restaurants and market stalls.
Internationally compatible ATMs can be found in most of Guatemala’s major cities. ATMs are far less common in rural areas and small villages so have enough cash to cover purchases when travelling away from the larger cities.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
Jan 1 New Year’s Day
Apr 6 Easter
May 1 Labour Day
Jun 30 Army Day
Aug 15 Assumption (Guatemala City only)
Sep 15 Independence Day
Oct 20 Revolution Day
Nov 1 All Saints’ Day
Dec 24 Christmas Eve
Dec 25 Christmas Day
Dec 31 New Year’s Eve (afternoon only)

Please note these dates are for 2013. For a current list of public holidays go to: http://www.worldtravelguide.net/Guatemala/public-holidays
GUATEMALA:
Australia: Not required
Belgium: Not required
Canada: Not required
Germany: Not required
Ireland: Not required
Netherlands: Not required
New Zealand: Not required
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Not required
United Kingdom: Not required
USA: Not required

Health and Safety

Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:

From Australia?

Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/

From New Zealand?

Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/

From Canada?

Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/

From US?

Go to: http://travel.state.gov/

From UK?

Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/

The World Health Organisation

also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/

Responsible Travel

Guatemala Travel Tips

Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.

Top responsible travel tips for Guatemala

1. Be considerate of Guatemala’s customs, traditions, religion and culture.

2. Dress modestly and respectfully. Shoulders to knees should be covered, especially when entering places of worship.

3. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead.

4. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.

5. When bargaining at markets, stay calm, be reasonable and keep a smile on your face. It's meant to be fun!

6. Learn some local language and don't be afraid to use it - simple greetings will help break the ice.

7. Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.

8. Refrain from supporting businesses that exploit or abuse endangered animals.

9. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.

10. When on community visits or homestays, refrain from giving gifts or money to locals.

The Intrepid Foundation

The Intrepid Foundation provides travellers with an opportunity to give something back to the many wonderful communities we travel to. By donating to The Intrepid Foundation you can make a difference in local communities - in health care, education, human rights, child welfare and the protection of wildlife and the environment.

CasaSito

Organisations and projects currently supported by The Intrepid Foundation in Guatemala include:
*CasaSito provides educational opportunities in rural areas of Guatemala for children living in poverty. Guatemala has a very high level of illiteracy, particularly in rural areas which lack schools and educational resources. Our support is for their scholarship program, helping keep children in school.

To learn more or donate, go to: www.theintrepidfoundation.org

Further reading

Recommended reading

Title Author
When the Ground Turns in its SleepSylvia Sellers Garcia
The Bruja’s TaleTimothy A Madden
The Heart of the SkyPeter Canby
The Long Night of White ChickensFrancisco Goldman
A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient MayaDavid Freidel