Guatemala is the tropical holy grail of archaeological travel sites, luring in eco-travelers and history fanatics interested in the country’s rich Mayan culture. As a relatively inexpensive country, Guatemala offers clean hotel rooms and cheap meals – perfect for a student’s travel budget. This country has a distinctive and unique culture from the Spanish acquisition and the native Mayan people. Spanning a mountainous slice of Central America, Guatemala offers a great supply of scenic, natural, and historical sites waiting to be discovered.
Photo Credits: Rémi.
The capital of Guatemala, Guatemala City is the largest and most modern city in the country. It has many attractions and restaurants but few tourists. It’s easy to get from place to place within the city with a the bus or taxi. Once here, you can visit antique churches and archaeological sites that show the rich historic architecture of the country. There are numerous museums to visit, featuring traditional woven costumes, archaeological Mayan items, and modern art. Outdoor recreational activities are recommended, from climbing volcanoes to participating in water sports on the lake.
Flores is an island connected to Guatemala by a causeway and many travelers choose to come here because of its proximity to Tikal, the most famous Mayan ruins in Guatemala. The city itself, however, is absolutely charming, dense with colonial red-roofed buildings, cobblestone streets, and a Spanish plaza. Study abroad students who choose Flores see it as less of a “take-off” point than a fascinating experience in itself. A quiet and peaceful place, Flores is one of the safest cities you can visit in Guatemala.
If you want the typical and fantastic Guatemalan experience, make sure to visit the city of Panajachel. A small town on the north shore of Lake Atitlan, Panajachel is one of the major tourism sites in Guatemala. Study abroad students have the chance to volunteer at the LIFE school, the only English speaking non-profit school in Guatemala, whose mission is to provide quality multicultural education to all children. For recreation, many choose to go scuba diving in the fresh water lake, kayaking through the lake, and biking around the village to volcanoes and hotspots.
Planning Your Trip
How to Choose a Program
- Academics: Studying abroad in Guatemala emphasizes immersion, showing students in the rich culture and improving their Spanish skills. Many the curriculums are conversation based, and many offer an introductory spanish courses in reading, writing, and grammar. Archaeology programs are also available, and many programs encourage on-site learning and will take field trips to the Mayan ruins as part of classroom activities.
- Language: Most universities teach in English, but strongly encourage students to learn and get comfortable with speaking Spanish. Alongside language instruction, programs in Guatemala also teach the literature and cultures of Spanish-speaking regions. Teachers are qualified to teach Spanish beginner and advanced students alike.
- Housing: Many programs arrange for students to stay with host families while in Guatemala, providing the students with maximum immersion in culture and Spanish language. The families provide three meals a day for the students. There is also limited housing available for students who wish to have private bathrooms. The host families have been carefully selected. A willingness to adapt to, and be respectful of, local customs and traditions is encouraged and expected.
Studying in Guatemala requires a student visa, to be completed online and be submitted to the Guatemala Immigration Department. Visa fees will vary depending on where you apply, but after submitting materials the Embassy of Guatemala will give you a new Guatemala visa. Be sure to also complete all your vaccinations.
What to Pack
Our guide on what to pack for study abroad in Central America will help you decide what to bring and what to leave behind.
Social Life and Student Culture
Modern day Guatemala is a blend of Mayan colonial traditions with the influences of 21st century Latin and North American culture. Students deciding to come here to study abroad can choose to visit Baroque churches dating back to the Spanish Conquest, pagan temples, highland street markets, or vast modernized shopping malls. Even pre-Columbian festival dances are remixed and performed by teenage hip hop fans. Most Guatemalans are friendly and very courteous to travelers.
For a post-apocalyptic experience, students can visit the nuclear disaster area of Chernobyl. Tour companies drive groups into the plant, where they pass through deserted villages and an eerie overgrown landscape.
Maya ruins are the key attractions in Guatemala,but the country also has many volcanoes and natural parks as well. Highlights for students include Lake Atitlan, rimmed with volcanoes and hot spots, Rio Dulce, the majestic “Emerald river” between Belize and Honduras, and open air Sunday markets.
Be careful, however, because Guatemala has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world, and students should take extra precautions while abroad. Avoid traveling alone between cities after dark, pay attention to pickpocketing, and do not use buses at night. Always drink purified water, and be sure to use mosquito repellents when you go outdoors
Don't let the cost of studying abroad deter you- many scholarships are available to help you make your dream of studying abroad into a reality. Be sure to check with your university for other funding opportunities!
- The Gilman Scholarship Program distributes additional scholarships to students receiving Pell Grants, and gives an average award of $4000. They have a preference for students with disabilities and students from ethnic minorities to increase diversity amongst study abroad students.
- More Study Abroad Grants and Scholarships