Planning a trip to Guatemala? Great! To turn those thoughts into action and be better informed on how to plan for a trip to Guatemala, here are 5 steps to prepare your journey.
1. What is the best month to visit Guatemala?
To help you decide which months suit you best, here is the weather during the year:
December to February. It rarely rains and temperatures are very pleasant: 23 to 26 ℃ (73 to 79 °F). In the evenings it can be cool: 17 to 21 ℃ (63 to 70 °F).
March and April. It rains slightly more than in the previous period and temperatures are at their highest: 27 to 31 ℃ (81 to 88 °F).
May to July. It is warm, rainy, and humid. 25 to 28 ℃ (77 to 82 °F).
August to November. This is the low season. It rains a lot and hurricanes occur. Temperatures are the same as in May to July: 25 to 28 ℃ (77 to 82 °F).
I would recommend planning your trip either in December to February, or March to April, depending on whether you like milder or higher temperatures. If you plan your trip in low season to save money, you should keep in mind that although you can book cheaper tours, these can be canceled at the last minute. Traveling by road can be more dangerous. Not all highways are in good condition and in the rainy season they get worse.
The popular phrase “Guatemala, país de la eterna primavera” (Guatemala, country of eternal spring) is relatively true. As a resident I will tell you an undeniable fact: wind and rain can occur at any time of the year. So always bring your raincoat and a sweatshirt. Don’t worry, you will need them only for a couple of hours some afternoon. The next morning the sun will be so bright you will need your sunscreen.
2. Entry requirements to Guatemala
Planning a trip to Guatemala will be a success if you are informed about what documentation to bring. Fortunately, there are no major entry requirements.
- Your passport, valid for at least 6 months after departure.
- Your visa (in particular cases)
- An immigration form, handed out for free at the immigration checkpoint (air, land or sea). Starting in July 2023, you will need to fill out the form on your mobile phone. Here’s the link to do it: Declaración Jurada del Viajero. After you’ve filled it out, you’ll get a QR code to show at the immigration desk. No payment is necessary for any entry procedure. Even if they tell you, don’t believe it.
Visa: Most visitors do not need a visa to enter Guatemala. As a tourist you can stay for 90 days. To learn about your particular case, check the list of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, the Guatemalan ministry of foreign affairs.
Travel insurance: Upon entry in Guatemala, you do not need to show that you have travel insurance. But I highly recommend buying an insurance that covers medical assistance and extra expenses in case you contract COVID-19.
Vaccination: No vaccination is mandatory to enter Guatemala, not even the vaccine against COVID-19. Only if you arrive from a country where yellow fever is endemic, you will need to present a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Due to the diseases that are endemic in Guatemala, I recommend the following vaccinations: Hepatitis, typhoid fever, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).
3. How to you pay for things in Guatemala
When planning a trip to Guatemala you need to know what the best way is to pay in the country
The local currency in Guatemala is the Quetzal (GTQ). I start by giving you a piece of information: in most places, when converting the currency, they will round it up:
1.00 EUR = 9.00 GTQ
1.00 USD = 8.00 GTQ
I always recommend having cash. In many places in Guatemala, you will not be able to pay by card. In some places you will be surcharged 5% for paying by card. The best option is to withdraw money from ATMs. The two main ones in the country are: 5B ATMs and Bi ATMs. Keep in mind that you will not be able to withdraw more than 2.000 GTQ (250 USD) every 24 hours from most of them. Also, take note that Visa works better than Mastercard almost everywhere. Mastercard usually gives problems at ATMs.
I advise you to withdraw money only in crowded places and during the day, not in the afternoon or evening. In Guatemala City the ATMs inside the malls or shopping centers are the safest.
If you have to walk down the street in Guatemala City or use public transport there, use special socks to put money in so that you can carry the bills with you safely. If you don’t have these, the most practical option is to put the bills inside your shoe. The anti-theft money belts are not effective because when thieves mug you, they do a body search to see if you are hiding anything. Curiously, they forget to check the feet.
4. Transportation in Guatemala
The safest options for getting around Guatemala: renting a car or using Uber, followed by hiring a shuttle with certified tour operators for longer trips. Click here for more information about how Uber works in Guatemala.
I recommend you avoid taking white cabs and public buses. Many armed robberies occur in them. The fares are not regulated and they do not have insurance. Public buses are involved in most of the big traffic accidents.
I understand that you would like to take a chicken bus because you want to travel like a local, save a lot of money or live an adventure. But I must warn you: in most of the country it is not safe to take a chicken bus. Click here to read my post on how to ride Chicken Buses in Guatemala, you will find prices, routes and safety tips.
5. Safest areas to stay in Guatemala City and Antigua Guatemala
Planning a trip to Guatemala involves knowing the best areas to stay your first nights. When you arrive in Guatemala by air you will most likely stay in Guatemala City. The capital is divided into zones, from zone 1 to zone 25. The safe zones of Guatemala City are: 4, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16 / Ciudad Cayala. Be aware that in Guatemala City it is not safe to walk on the streets after dark, even in the safe zones I have mentioned.
Avoid the following zones:1, 2 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 17 to 25.
You can also stay in the nearest tourist town, Antigua Guatemala. It all depends on the time of your arrival.
Zone 4, Cuatro (4) Grados Norte is the hipster district of the capital, so you will have various options for food, drinks, and cultural events, especially in the high season. It is located 5 km (3 mi) from the airport. You can perfectly get there by Uber. I highlight its security and central location.
Zone 10 has several hotel options from 3 to 5 stars. Its hotel area is located 3.5 kilometers (2 miles) from La Aurora International Airport, the airport you will arrive at. An important advantage is that most of these hotels provide a shuttle service to and from the airport. In case your hotel doesn’t, you can get to zone 10 by Uber.
Zone 13 is the area where the airport is located. So, if you only need to spend the night and your trip starts the next day, the hotels in this area are a good option. The best way to reach them is by Uber. Most of the hotels are not big, but quite comfortable. This is a residential area so the streets are quiet. Take note that at night it is a bit deserted, so it is not a good idea to go for a walk.
Zone 14 is an exclusive residential and office area. It is located 4 km (2.5 mi) from the airport and easily reached by Uber. Some boutique hotels are located here, so you are sure to have a fancy stay. There are also some bars and restaurants of this type. If you want a bit of luxury in Guatemala, this is a good option.
Ciudad Cayala in zone 16 is the wealthy area of the capital. The complex is like a small city where you find stores, bars, restaurants, supermarkets, banks and whatever you can imagine. It is located 10 km (6 mi) from the international airport and best reached by Uber. It is the safest and most comfortable area. You will be able to walk without worries. The Airbnb options in the Shift building are the best. This building is the closest to the central point of the area. If you prefer a hotel, AC Hotels by Marriott offer a 4-star stay within the complex.
Antigua Guatemala is located 40 km (25 mi) from Guatemala City. You can book a shuttle van in advance to get there. This small colonial city is popular with tourists. It will be easy to find a place to stay. There are a huge number of options. My specific recommendation is to choose a hotel within 500 meters (0.3 mi) of the central square, especially if you enjoy walking around at night, because this is the safe area of the city. Here you find the best options of bars, restaurants, stores and travel agencies. For safety reasons avoid staying in the outskirts.
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