Guatemala is often pictured as hot and tropical, and in some places this is certainly the case — along the coasts and in lowland jungles, for example. However, in mountainous areas, the temperatures cool off. Elevation is the main determinant of climate and weather here. Put simply, the higher up you go, the colder it is likely to be. Precipitation is largely dependent on how close to the coast you are and what side of a mountain chain you are on.
Guatemala is bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. A string of volcanic peaks runs down the country’s center, extending east to west from El Salvador to Mexico. Near the border with El Salvador, the peaks tend to get lower in height. In total, there are 33 volcanoes, some of which are active. The Tajumulco Volcano, at 13,845 feet (4,200 m), is the highest peak in all of Central America. Many of the volcanoes, especially the ones near Guatemala City and Lake Atitlán, can be climbed.
The Sierra de los Cuchumatanes is a mountain range that extends from Mexico into Guatemala. This nonvolcanic mountain range is the highest mountain chain in Central America — its highest point is 12,588 feet (3,837 m). Another range, Sierra de Las Minas, is found in the eastern portion of Guatemala. Petén is mostly lowland areas, although there are a few smaller mountains here as well.
Temperatures in Guatemala vary largely based upon altitude. The hottest areas are near the coasts and in the lowlands. These tend to have an average annual temperature around 80°F (27°C). At elevations around 4,000–6,000 feet (1,200–1,800 m), which correspond to the mountainous valleys near Guatemala City and Antigua, the temperatures are fairly mild — year-round temperatures hover around 60–70°F (16–21°C). At higher elevations the temperature averages 40°F (4°C).
North American winters usually coincide with colder temperatures in Guatemala. From November–February, temperatures can dip below freezing in the highlands. If you’ll be in Guatemala during this time of year be sure to bring a sweater or jacket, especially if you plan on doing some hiking. March and April tend to be the warmest months of the year — along the Pacific coast and in the Petén lowlands, temperatures can hover around 100°F (38°C). Antigua and Guatemala City see cooler daily highs of around 85°F (29°C).
Similar to other Central American countries, Guatemala has a dry and rainy season. The dry season (verano) usually lasts from November until May, while the rainy season (invierno) typically runs from May through November. During the rainy season there are daily showers, which tend to fall in the afternoon. Mornings are often sunny, but eventually give way to clouds and rain. The latter months of the rainy season are usually the wettest.
The Western Highlands and Pacific Slope tend to be the wettest parts of the country, receiving an average of 30–60 inches of rain a year. The highland areas in eastern Guatemala usually see about 20–30 inches a year. This can, however, vary significantly based upon altitude and El Niño vs. La Niña years. El Niño usually means a longer dry season.
For a week or two in July and/or August, there can be breaks in the rain. Known as canícula, this period aligns well with summer vacation in the U.S., and offers travelers a good chance to enjoy nice weather during their vacation — making this one of the best times to visit Guatemala.