Where other countries may specialize, Guatemala excels in its diversity. This Central American country is where Spanish colonial architecture meets ancient Mayan ruins, where volcanic peaks poke above the lush rainforest not far from utopian beaches. It's a country in which the biodiversity alone rivals the mix of living cultures that exist within its boundaries.
The charm of Guatemala has endeared the small country to travelers for decades, but the adrenaline and sense of adventure it inspires have made it increasingly known as an adventure travel destination. You can trek, swim, climb, walk, and even spelunk your way through it, and by joining an organized tour you can choose which activities appeal the most, or give them all a try. Pairing these adventurous activities with others that focus on food, culture, and history, makes Guatemala an incredibly dynamic destination.
Yes, these are a thing in Guatemala! With so many volcanoes throughout Guatemala, you'll quickly realize that there's so much to see, yet so little time (no matter how long you have). Tajamulco is Central America's largest volcano, and it's a good destination for an overnight trip. Breathtaking views from the top spread in all directions, from neighboring Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, and the many surrounding volcanoes.
Travelers looking for a physical challenge should make sure to visit Acatenango, which offers impressive views of active volcano Fuego nearby. For those looking for an easier (yet equally popular) volcano excursion, at active Pacaya you can sometimes lava flows!
Keep in mind that volcanoes must be visited with a tour guide for safety's sake, as most paths are unmarked.
Spelunking & Caving Tours
Hidden throughout Guatemala's jungles and mountains are countless caves waiting to be explored. Led by nothing more than a flickering candle (if you can keep it from going out), a guide will lead you through underground rivers and pools, past remarkable rock formations, and into the depths of a region where few are able to go. Explore caves in Kan'Ba (in Semuc Champay), or in San Augustin Lanquin.
History & Culture Tours
Guatemala is dotted with incredible Mayan ruins (nearly 1,500), which have now been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. The structures represent a sacred part of Guatemala's history, and are hidden within the natural environment, making for many mysterious and intriguing sites. Tikal, the 'place of voices', is one of the most impressive, with Mayan pyramids and temples spanning 222 square miles of land. Yaxha, set of the tv show Survivor in 2005, and the 'white city' of Zaculeu are also popular.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit Guatemala
Guatemala’s dry season is November through April, so visiting during this time will ensure the most favorable weather conditions, ideal for any trekking and climbing. Temperatures are hotter during the dry season, however. Plan your trip closer to the shoulder (beginning or end) of the season to avoid rain and the hottest days.
Visiting during the rainy season, which is around May until October, will make trekking a bit more difficult, but there will be fewer tourists and accommodation may be cheaper.
Typical Tour Costs
For an all-inclusive tour of around a week, expect to pay upwards of $1000. Such tours tend to start in Guatemala City, and visit numerous cultural and natural sites around the small country. Day tours that include transportation cost around $50-60..
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Pack for warm, humid weather during the dry season. During the rainy season, bring some warm clothes, a rain jacket, and rain boots. Always dress to respect the culture, and never wear anything too revealing.
Other Tips for Travel in Guatemala
- Currency: Guatemala uses the Guatemalan quetzal as their currency.
- Transportation & Accommodation If you want to travel as the locals do, take the public buses. Cheap and extremely crowded, they put the adventure into 'getting there'. By booking a multiple-destination tour that includes transportation, you can usually expect private transfers, which are fast and comfortable.
Health & Safety
There are no required vaccines for Guatemala, but it is recommended that you are up to date on your routine vaccinations. Make sure to discuss the regions in Guatemala that you plan on visiting, in case you will be in a malaria-prone region and will need to take malaria pills.
Drink only bottled water in Guatemala; make sure you stay hydrated, especially during dry season; and wear plenty of sun protection.
Because of Guatemala’s geographical location, it is prone to hurricanes. Try not to visit Guatemala during hurricane season, the peak of which is in October. It is also prone to earthquakes, so make sure you know what you’re supposed to do during an earthquake, and if there are marked safe houses nearby.
Although Guatemala is generally safe for solo female travelers, it is recommended to avoid traveling on local buses at night.
Just as you would in any other country, watch your belongings, especially on public transportation, and don’t walk around alone after dark. Main touristy areas usually have more guards and police, so sticking to them is a safe bet.