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Visit Guatemala

If you are reading this article you may be feeling called to visit Guatemala. If you read until the end, you might feel inspired to make your way here soon.

Guatemala is a relatively small country in comparison to its biggest neighbour: Mexico; but it’s still worth planning your trip to maximise your time here.

My Love story with Guatemala

I came to Guatemala for the 1st time 4 years ago when I was backpacking alone. I instantly fell in love with its mountainous landscape and friendly population. I promised myself I would come back and I have now been living here on and off for just over a year. I am more in love with this land than ever, which is why I feel inspired to write this article.

I will write about the following topics in the hope it will answer some of your questions, as these are the most common topics travelers ask me about:

  • Culture & Food

  • Weather & Seasons

  • Places you can visit

  • Transport options

  • Safety

  • Budget

  • General tips

Culture & Food

The culture in Guatemala differs depending on the area of the country, but the Mayan culture predominates overall - with 22 of the 25 'main ethnicities' present being of Mayan origin and the 3 others being 'Ladina' (a mix of mestizo or hispanicized peoples) 'Garifuna' (the descendants of the African people who were brought in as slaves by the Colons) and 'Xinka' (descendants of people who may have come from the Andes by boat).

In certain areas, the presence of Mayan culture is visible with the majority of women and some older men wearing the “traje tipico” - the traditional attire.

In the cities this custom is less common, but the ultra colourful ‘chicken buses’ and the fruit vendors everywhere brighten up the streets of Guatemalan towns.

The live marimbas in many city plazas and street artists contribute to the folkloric ambiance too.

In my opinion the markets are the best place to take part in local daily life. If you decide to check out a market, bring change (5, 10 and 20Q notes are best) and paper or tissue bags so you can fill up on exotic fruit, spices, herbs and ripe avocados for a few Quetzales, the local currency(in Dec 2021 Q10 = £1 = $1.32).

On that note, it is important to be aware that despite Guatemala's relatively high GDP, more than 75% of Guatemalans live below the poverty line due to the extreme unequal wealth distribution.

As a visitor, I believe we have a responsibility to contribute to the local economy in a conscious way. We can chose to buy from the street vendors, who tend to offer great and affordable products - from street food to jewellery and hand made souvenirs. And whenever you want a more comfortable 'dining' experience you can opt for simple Guatemalan restaurants - comedores over the chain restaurants that are present in the bigger towns.

The food you can find in the street is mostly good, filling and between 5 and 30 Quetzales ($0.65 and $3.88) - like the popular ‘Atol’, a corn drink that can be savoury or sweet. You can also find: corn on the cob, fresh fruit, Dobladas, Pupusas, Enchiladas (different to the ones in Mexico), Paches, Tamales, Chuchitos and many other simple dishes.

In restaurants, depending on where you are you can find: Kak ik, Fiambre, Pepian, Tapado and many others elaborate dishes.

If like me, you don't eat meat, you may find it a little harder to find food but don't worry there is always something - just make sure you say 'sin carne porfavor' (without meat please) when you order.

There is naturally a lot more to Guatemalan culture but I’ll leave it for you to discover when you visit.

Weather & Seasons

Guatemala is in the tropics so instead of having 4 seasons it has two: Wet and Dry.

The Wet season or Winter is from May to October and the Dry season or Summer is from November to April. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t rain during the dry season but it is less likely to rain all day every day like it sometimes does during the rainy season.

In terms of temperature, it varies depending on the season but also on altitude. In sea level areas like the Caribbean and the Pacific, it can get very hot (+35°); At higher altitude (Guatemala City is at 1500m, Antigua 1600m and Lake Atitlan 1562m) the temperature rarely rises above 27° most of the year and it rarely drops below 12° from what I have heard and experienced.

The only time you would need winter clothes is if you decide to partake in mountain or volcano hikes. Fortunately you can rent clothes from travel agencies; this is a great option if like me you don’t own thermals, but it does mean you may end up with a 90s style oversized jacket.

Places you can visit

I was planning on including a thorough description of all the wonderful places I have visited in Guatemala, but then I realised it would turn this article into a book, so instead I have decided to write separate brief blogs you can access by clicking on the names below:

*I am yet to write all the individual articles so please keep an eye out for when I do :)