Guatemala’s landscape inspired Maya legends, and it continues to make an indelible impression. You’ll see why when you visit Lake Atitlán, coffee plantations, and volcanoes. Rainforests here contain the remains of powerful Maya cities, as well as lively populations of monkeys and exotic birds. Guatemalans have been tested by numerous political upheavals, but they maintain a welcoming culture as well Maya religious practices and festivals.
Guatemala is located in northern Central America, and it borders Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. It’s fairly large for this region — at 42,042 square miles (108,889 km²), Guatemala is approximately the same size as Tennessee.
On your travels you’ll see dramatic changes in the landscape. The central and western regions of the country are home to volcanoes and mountains. There are several large lakes – including Lake Izabal, Lake Petén Itzá, and Lake Atitlán – that are lovely and surrounded by small Mayan villages. The northern region of Petén has dense tropical jungles, while the Pacific coastline is punctuated by mangrove swamps.
Mayan city-states were once scattered across the country, and many of their structures have survived. From the massive temples at Tikal to the intricately carved stelae at Quiriguá, it feels like you can’t go more than a few miles without running into a thousand-year-old ruin. For this reason, Guatemala is a popular destination among amateur archeologists and history buffs.
Guatemala also has a great deal of tradition alive today — many towns still hold onto the beliefs and practices of their ancestors. This is most evident in the towns along the shores of Lake Atitlán and Lake Petén Itzá and in places like Todos Santos Cuchumatán.
Guatemala is extremely accessible to travelers, especially those coming from North America, where flights are quick and fairly cheap. The country’s tourism infrastructure is sound, which makes it easy to get around and explore all sorts of places. Guatemalans are a friendly and welcoming bunch.
The landscape here varies greatly and includes everything from jungles to volcanoes to mangroves. The elevation also fluctuates significantly from one part of the country to another — you can start your day at sea level and end up at over 14,000 feet (4,200 m) by the afternoon.
Coastal areas tend to be warm and tropical, while mountainous areas are cool and alpine. Indeed, climate is largely determined by location in Guatemala, especially as it pertains to elevation. Simply put, the higher up you go the lower the temperature be. Rain often varies depending on what side of a mountain chain you’re on. Guatemala does, however, have a rainy and dry season — the dry season usually lasts from November to May, while the wet season lasts from May to November. During the rainy season, the mornings are usually dry and sunny, with rain coming down during the afternoon.
The volcanic highlands spread across Guatemala, all the way from El Salvador to Mexico. There are 33 volcanoes in total, many of which can be climbed and some of which are active. The most frequently climbed volcanoes include Acatenango, Pacaya, and Agua. Volcán Tajumulco, at 13,845 ft (4,220 m), is the highest spot in Central America. Guatemala’s non-volcanic ranges include the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, which is Central America’s highest mountain chain.
Guatemala’s northern region of Petén is vast and covered almost entirely in tropical forests. This Ohio-sized area has large swaths of forest, especially in its northern third; the southern sections are, however, suffering from deforestation. This is also home to the Maya Biosphere, the largest protected tropical forest in North America.
Agriculture is big in Guatemala, especially in places along the Pacific Coast flatlands — this area is home to huge coffee and sugarcane plantations. The Pacific Coast also has large mangroves and wetlands, as well as beaches with dark sand — a result of the nearby volcanoes. The Caribbean Coast of Guatemala is small, but it does have dense tropical forests and a few white-sand beaches.
Guatemala’s history is plagued with civil wars, foreign conquests, and government coups. It was once home to powerful Mayan city-states, but since then its history has been largely a series of land grabs and internal conflicts. While some of this still exists today, Guatemala is undoubtedly moving in a peaceful direction.
The cultures you’ll encounter will largely depend on what part of the country you visit. The Spanish invaded Guatemala in the 16th century and their influence continues to dominate much of Guatemalan culture. Along the Caribbean Coast you’ll meet the Afro-Caribbean Garífuna, while along the shores of Lake Petén Itzá you’ll see traditional Mayan communities.
Despite a growing economy, there is a significant wealth gap in Guatemala. Many of the Guatemalan elite are direct descendants of Spanish colonial-era families, while some of the poorest Guatemalans are indigenous people. Indeed, race and social standing are intimately linked in Guatemala.
Guatemala has the largest economy in Central America. Since the peace accords of 1996, the Guatemalan economy has enjoyed a steady upswing. Moderate development has accompanied this growth, largely due to tourism. Tourism has played a big role in the Guatemalan economy, and currently employs around 35 percent of the population. The money from tourism often stays in communities and continues to help with local development projects.
Guatemala’s environmental resources are balanced precariously in the equation between development and sustainability. Guatemala’s population is increasing and putting more pressure on the environment. Unfortunately, development is taking precedence at the moment — it’s still common to clear forests with slash-and-burn agriculture to make way for big construction projects. There is a fledgling environmental movement in Guatemala, but it has a ways to go before it can efficiently protect the country’s vast resources.
Guatemala has an impressive and varied landscape. A string of volcanoes extend down the center of the country, many of which are active. In fact, the Tajmulco Volcano, at 13,845 feet (4,200 m) is the highest peak in Central America. Many of these volcanoes, like the ones near Antigua and Guatemala City, can also be climbed.The highest mountain chain in Central America, the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, extends from Mexico into Guatemala. There's also another mountain chain, the Sierra de Las Minas, that's found in the eastern reaches of Guatemala. Petén is mostly lowland areas.
Rainforests are found in many places, particularly in Petén and the Central Highlands. Guatemala has a number of beautiful lakes, most notably Lake Petén Itzá and Lake Atitlán. And if you're a fan of the coast, you can find some nice beaches on both the Pacific Coast and Caribbean Coast.
Yes. Guatemalans love children and have a very family-focused culture. In fact, traveling with kids can make it easier to start talking with locals, as they're likely to be less guarded around young children.A family trip to Guatemala is educational and fun. While here, you'll experience Mayan culture and tropical rainforests firsthand. That kind of thing that can't be taught in the classroom.
Many Guatemalan hotels have accommodations fit for families, with multiple rooms and/or beds, and activities geared at the young and old alike.
If you're a U.S. citizen, all you'll need to visit Guatemala is a U.S. passport that's valid for at least six months beyond the intended length of stay and proof of onward or return travel. U.S. citizens can stay in Guatemala for up to 90 days without a visa.Other countries - including those in the EU, as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, and Switzerland - need a passport that's valid for at least three months beyond the intended length of stay and proof of onward or return travel.
Foreigners must carry their passport, or a copy of their passport, with them at all times while in Guatemala.
In 2006, Guatemala signed an agreement with Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua known as the CA-4 Border Control Agreement. The agreement allows citizens of these countries to travel freely across each other's land borders without undergoing immigration formalities. U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals who legally enter any of these countries can also travel witin the four countries without needing additional visas.
Officials in the first country determine the length of stay, which is usually up to 90 days. If you wish to stay in the four-country region beyond the initial time frame, you'll need to request an extention from local immigration officials. Alternatively, you can travel to another country outside the region and then return.
Entry requirements, however, can change, so it’s best to check with your embassy for current requirements.
Guatemala has a tropical climate, with weather that is largely determined by altitude. Put simply, the higher up you go the cooler it gets. Lowland jungles and areas along the coast are usually hot and tropical, while mountainous destinations can be downright chilly. Travelers will find nice springlike temperatures in cities like Antigua, Quetzaltenango, and Guatemala City.Guatemala has a rainy and dry season. The dry season (verano) lasts from around November until May, while the rainy season (invierno) lasts from May through November. The rainy season typically sees daily showers in the afternoon; the mornings are often sunny, which allows you to get out and do things even during this season. The Western Highlands and Pacific Slope tend to be the wettest parts of the country.
In July and/or August, there is usually a break in the rain for a week or two. Known as canícula, this period aligns with summer vacation in the U.S.
Guatemala has an area of 42,043 square miles (108,890 sq km), which is about the same size as the state of Tennessee. Guatemala's border with Mexico is 595 miles (958 km), the border with Belize is 165 miles (266 km), the border with Honduras is 152 miles (244 km), and the border with El Salvador is 123 miles (199 km).Guatemala meets the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and has a string of volcanoes running down its center. Geographically, it is a fascinating country.
Anytime is a great time to visit Guatemala! There are all kinds of places to explore and things to do any season — rain or shine.For starters, you can visit Mayan ruins and historic sites, or go hiking and bird watching — throughout the year.
Despite having access to adventure 365 days a year, many people do prefer to come during the dry season, which lasts from November until early May. During this time of year, it's mostly dry — except on the Caribbean coast, which can see rain throughout the year. The dry season is the best time of year for outdoor exploration. The coldest months are December through February.
The rainy season usually starts near the end of May and lasts until early November. During the rainy season, the days often begin with blue skies and turn to rain during the afternoon. September and October are the wettest months of the year. The rainy season can still be a great time to visit Guatemala, as there are fewer foreign visitors, and subsequently, less expensive hotels.
The high tourist season lasts from December to Holy Week (usually in April). During this time of year there are more travelers in Guatemala and rates go up accordingly.
Yes. There is a departure tax of US$30, but it is usually included in the price of a flight.
Guatemala is the northernmost country in Central America. It shares borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. It's also bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
Guatemala is in the Central Standard Time (CST) zone and is six hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT-6). There is no daylight savings in Guatemala, so the time difference with U.S. destinations changes by an hour during daylight savings time.
U.S. citizens are permitted to stay in Guatemala for 90 days without a visa. Citizens of other countries may be limited to 30 days. It's best to confirm with your country's embassy the length of time that you can stay in Guatemala, as it may change.Extensions are granted by the immigration office in Guatemala City. In order to be awarded a visa extension, you'll need to show proof of both an onward ticket and financial solvency.
Guatemala is bordered by two oceans and does occasionally experience the effects of tropical storms. However, hurricanes rarely hit Guatemala directly. They sometimes pass by the coast and bring heavy rains for a few days.Guatemala lies in a major fault zone and does have earthquakes. Travelers should be aware of the possibility of experiencing an earthquake, but they should not expect it. Earthquakes are still rare on a day-to-day basis.