With its extraordinary tangle of indigenous traditions, Spanish culture and Mayan history, Guatemala is one of our favourite countries in Central America.
As well as an in-depth knowledge of the main highlights of Antigua, Tikal and Lake Atitlán, we have also researched equally rewarding areas off the beaten track such as Cobán and Livingston.
Travelling around is relatively straightforward though the roads can be unpredictable, and we know some are tough, long and winding so we use comfortable 4x4s where necessary.
Combining Guatemala with other destinations
We have found wonderful guides and skilled drivers and can also recommend land routes across to Mexico, Belize and Honduras for those wanting to explore further, or seeking a beach on which to relax and reflect.
The official language is Spanish although there are still 23 widely spoken indigenous languages found in various areas of the country. English is spoken only in the main tourist areas.
Food and drink
Food is not one of the main reasons to visit Guatemala. It can be simple but it is tasty. The local people survive generally on a diet of rice, beans, and tortilla, although you can get delicious fresh seafood on the Caribbean coast, usually cooked in coconut milk as a soup. There are plenty of lovely restaurants however in the larger cities such as Guatemala City and Antigua. The coffee in Guatemala is very good, especially that grown around Antigua in the highlands. Beer is often drunk at mealtimes and for those preferring spirits, rum is fairly commonplace.
The local currency is the quetzal, named after Guatemala's National bird. Dollars are accepted and changed in all banks. Major credit cards are accepted in some hotels and shops although sometimes carry up to a 7% surcharge. Many ATMs will give cash on Visa, Mastercard, Plus or Cirrus. Always try to get small bills or change as in many smaller towns and local markets people often don't have change.
Tipping as a general culture in Guatemala isn't that common, but always highly appreciated. In restaurants, a 10% tip is usual where service is not already included in the bill.
The traditional dress of the indigenous people in Guatemala is beautiful, however, please be sensitive and ask people if they do not mind having their picture taken. You should avoid approaching or taking pictures of Guatemalan children without permission from the child’s parent or guardian. When entering religious establishments, we recommend that you dress respectfully. Generally, the Guatemalan people are very humble so dressing on the conservative side will attract less unwanted attention for female travellers.
Our country specialists can advise on any safety concerns you may have. For current information, please refer to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website.
When to go to Guatemala
You’ll find temperature and rainfall information, together with a month-by-month guide on visiting, on our guide for when to go to Guatemala.