Getting to Guatemala
The easiest way to get to Guatemala is by air. The country has remodeled its two international airports and is catering to carriers from the U.S. and Asia. Guatemala can also be entered by land or sea.
Guatemala sees a fair share of travelers each year, so it’s a good idea to make travel arrangements as early as possible. The high tourist season lasts from December to Holy Week (typically in April). Planes and buses can fill up quickly during this time of year. Travelers are required to show tickets documenting onward or return travel before they are allowed to enter Guatemala.
Guatemala and the United States have an open-skies agreement. This means that any airline carrier can fly to any destination in the other country. It’s possible to fly nonstop to Guatemala from some U.S. cities, as well as from San José, Costa Rica and San Salvador, El Salvador.
Most international travelers fly into Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport (GUA). La Aurora is located within the urban environment of Guatemala City and is easily accessible. La Aurora’s massive expansion and renovation in 2007 really smoothed out the travel process here.
Most nonstop flights from the U.S. come from Miami, New York/Newark, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Dallas/Fort Worth, Charlotte, and Los Angeles. Madrid is the only European city with nonstop flights to Guatemala. Panama City and San Salvador are important connecting points for South American flights.
The Mundo Maya International Airport (FRS), also known as Flores/Tikal International Airport, serves the department of Petén and Tikal. It’s located outside the town of Santa Elena, which borders Lake Petén Itzá. Flights to this airport mainly arrive from Guatemala City, Cacún, and Belize City.
Many people enter Guatemala by bus or car from neighboring Central American countries. If you do this, it’s best to try and cross the border early in the day and catch an onward bus shortly thereafter, as some crossings can be sketchy.
The border crossing with Belize is in the border town of Melchor de Mencos. The border crossing with El Salvador is at the quiet town of Ciudad Pedro de Alvarado. The border crossing with Honduras is at El Florido. The border crossings with Mexico are at La Mesilla, Gracias a Dios, El Carmen, and Ciudad Tecún Umán.
In 2006, Guatemala made an agreement with Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua that allows citizens of the four countries to travel freely across the borders without undergoing formalities at the Immigration checkpoints. U.S. citizens who legally enter any of these countries may also travel within these countries without obtaining additional visas or tourist entry permits for the other three countries.
If you want to bring a car into Guatemala, you’ll need the following documents:
• Current and valid driver’s license or International Driving Permit (IDP).
• Current and valid registration.
• Proof of vehicle ownership (or a letter from the owner authorizing you to be driving it).
• Temporary import permit, which are available for free at the border. These are valid for a maximum of 30 days.
• Insurance. Guatemala does not recognize foreign insurance, so drivers must buy a local policy. This can usually be done at the border.
Cruise ships dock at the Pacific coast port of Puerto Quetzal and at the Caribbean coast port of Puerto Santo Tomás de Castilla. The cruise ships usually arrange inland activities for passengers, including visits to beaches and trips to Antigua, Tikal, and Lake Atitlán.
There isn’t much to do at either of these ports, although there is usually an assortment of locals selling food, handicrafts and Guatemalan coffee.