Travel Guide: Guatemala

The ultimate guide for your next trip to Guatemala.
The beautiful country of Guatemala is located in Central America, nestled between Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. With a rich history, rainforests, volcanoes and Mayan sites, it's a country worth visiting. In this guide we'll discuss the top sights to see, the tastiest food to eat, and the best way to prep for an amazing adventure!

How to Get There

Guatemala City has it's own airport called, La Aurora International Airport (GUA). This would be the main airport to book flights to if you are traveling internationally.
If you are flying from Southern California, rule of thumb is to book flights out of the Tijuana airport to save money. Cross over from San Diego to Tijuana using the Cross Border Xpress.

"Cross Border Xpress (CBX) is a pedestrian bridge exclusively for passengers of the Tijuana International Airport that allows passengers to cross the border between Mexico and the United States."

The Cross Border Xpress is the only one of its kind in the world and helps alleviate travel congestion at the closest ports of entry between the U.S. and Mexico.

Before You Go

Before traveling to Guatemala you'll want to have these three questions answered:

1. What is Guatemala's history?

Guatemala has a rich history that is important to research and learn about before traveling there. Out of respect for the locals in any country, historical context is key to gaining more understanding.

Check out the video below to learn more about Guatemala's history:
2. What language is broadly spoken in Guatemala and what is their slang?

Guatemalans broadly speak Spanish, but there are actually over 25 different languages spoken in Guatemala. 22 of them being Mayan and the two others being indigenous languages. Although Spanish is one of the top three most spoken languages in the world, each Spanish speaking country has their own localized slang, and accent including Guatemala.
3. What are the cultural customs and traditions in Guatemala?

Cultural communication can give way for better interactions with locals, so it's important to understand what is considered polite and rude in Guatemala. For example, pointing with one finger rather than your whole hand is considered rude.

Between learning how to best communicate be sure to learn about any holidays that may be happening during your trip, since these can impact your travel plans. Along with holidays, discovering unique traditions in Guatemala can create a more fulfilling experience, as you embrace the authenticity of Guatemalan culture.

Top 5 Sights to See in Guatemala

Guatemala has a lot to see, and we've listed the top sights below. These are great for a first trip to Guatemala, as they will allow you to learn more about the country. To reach each of these sites you can take public transportation, hire a driver or rent a car.

1. Lake Atitlan

Long ago, Lake Atitlan was a massive volcano called Los Chocoyos. An eruption occurred that created a crater so large that it made the mouth of the volcano collapse. This collapse allowed for water to enter, and create what we now know today as Lake Atitlan.

Surrounding Lake Atitlan are colorful towns, like Panajachel with local Mayan communities. The turquoise water will make you want to take a dip. Some areas are okay to swim in, and others are not so be sure to check with your local guide.

2. The City of Antigua

The city of Antigua dates back to the 16th century and is considered an UNESCO World Heritage Site due to it's original city planning grid withstanding time, and traces of Spanish influence in the architecture. Antigua was the original capital of Guatemala, but after many earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions the Spaniards moved the capital to what is now Guatemala City.

Antigua is a beautiful city known for it's architecture, and stunning walkways. A walking tour is a great way to meet a local, and gain more perspective on the city as a whole. Shop at the local markets, and eat the amazing street food!

3. Acatenango Volcano

The Acatenango Volcano formed between 70,000 and 43,000 years ago, and is still an active volcano. It is most known for its panoramic views, and high-altitude overnight hiking excursions. It is recommended to plan to hike at the summit at night or before dawn for the best views.

4. Beach Town Monterrico

Located 2.5 hours from Guatemala City is the beach town Monterrico. Laced with black sanded beaches (due to its volcanic origins), laid back hostels and boutique hotels it's the perfect coastal getaway. Spend your time relaxing, swimming or spotting wildlife while exploring the mangroves with a local boat guide.

5. Mayan Ruins

A trip to Guatemala is not complete with out a visit to Mayan ruins. There are numerous sites to see, but the most well known ruins are a far trip from the cities, and sights listed above. Any traveler hoping to visit Mayan ruins will have to plan ahead.

If the Mayan ruins are the main interest on a trip to Guatemala we recommend flying into Mundo Maya International Airport, located in the city of Flores. A flight from Guatemala City to Flores is an hour, while the drive can be 9-10 hours.

With numerous Mayan sites and limited time it can be overwhelming to choose which ones to explore. To help we've listed our top three Mayan ruins located in the Northern part of Guatemala:
If you are wanting to stay south visit, Iximche.
When visiting Mayan ruins be sure to respect the signs, and boundaries in place to help maintain these sites.
Learn More

Guatemalan Food

Don't forget about the food! Guatemalan food has Spanish and Mayan influence. Maize, tamales, chocolate, tortillas, and a stew called pepián are the most prominent dishes in Guatemala. Antigua and Guatemala City have impressive lists of restaurants to choose from.

Learn more about Guatemalan food below:

Guatemala is a beautiful country with a lot to explore. The adventure begins the moment you land!

For a tour guide we recommend Tours by Locals.

SANDMARC Gear Packing List

We've curated a list of our best gear to ensure a memorable experience.
Perfect for hiking the Acatenango Volcano before sunrise.
Whether it be for spotting a distant Mayan ruin, or wild animal the Monocular is essential.
Capture Guatemalan architecture or distant volcanic peaks with 6x zoom.
A backpack meant for a Guatemalan adventure.