17 Essential Guatemala Travel Tips for Digital Nomads
Want to visit the Heart of the Mayan World? Here are the best and most effective Guatemala travel tips you should practice as a digital nomad.
If you’re looking for a relaxed destination filled with architectural eye candy to stay and work in, Guatemala is the right place to visit. It’s also known as the Heart of the Mayan World, owing to the persisting traditions, handicrafts, and spectacular ruins in the country.
To ensure a hassle-free visit and make the most of your Guatemalan experience as a digital nomad, thorough preparation is crucial. In this post, I'll share 17 essential Guatemala travel tips, covering money-saving hacks, recommended places to visit, packing lists, and more.
Be as free as a quetzal with these traveling notes!
Top 17 Tips for Travel to Guatemala
1. Plan Your Trip Ahead
As a digital nomad, you already know the importance of self-discipline, organization, budgeting, and making contingency plans to maintain your lifestyle. Make sure to apply these skills when visiting Guatemala—plan ahead so you can ensure a smooth and stress-free experience in the country.
Here are some aspects that you should prepare for:
- Visa and entry requirements: Guatemala offers a 90-day visa-free visit for tourists. If you do need to stay there for longer, you need to process your visa and submit other necessary paperwork.
- Accommodation and workspace: Finding long-term accommodation with reliable internet and a comfortable workspace can be challenging, especially during peak seasons.
- Financial considerations: While Guatemala is relatively inexpensive compared to other countries in Central America, researching your potential expenses will help you budget effectively and avoid financial surprises.
- Logistics and infrastructure: You need to ensure that essential services like laundry or healthcare are near you. Finding out about the transportation options is also essential.
The most crucial thing about planning your trip to Guatemala is creating backup plans for unexpected situations. There can be flight cancellations, lost passports, sudden illnesses, and more issues midway.
With a Plan B (or more plans) ready, you can minimize disruptions to your work and travel. Consider having your Nomad insurance and emergency contact information readily available.
Below are other Guatemala travel tips to keep in mind.
2. Factor in Travel Costs to Guatemala
Guatemala is one of the most affordable destinations you can visit in Central America, except when you really want to splurge your money. Round-trip airfare tickets cost from $300 to $800 on average. Of course, this varies based on your departure and destination points, comfort (i.e., economy vs. business seats), and more.
For accommodation and food, most digital nomads like you spend $75 per day to have all of their necessities pretty much covered. This would be higher in tourist-hotspot regions like Antigua, though.
Aside from your primary spending, keep in mind that Guatemala charges two major kinds of taxes applicable to you as a tourist:
- The first one is the 10% INGUAT tax (Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo), which is a tax added to your lodging and other tourism activities.
- Most accommodations include a 12% sales tax on your total bill. However, it’s different for smart hotels, where the sales tax is not yet included.
Your lifestyle and spending habits will dictate how much you can spend while in Guatemala. But here are a few money-saving tips that you can apply:
- Go to Mercado Central to buy fresh produce and souvenirs. If you want to prepare your own food, you can buy some of the best produce here at low prices. Authentic Guatemalan handicrafts are available here, too.
- Dress casually. Avoid hanging a camera on your neck, donning sunglasses, and dressing like a typical tourist. This makes it more likely for you to receive the gringo price—higher fees than normal.
- Go for accommodation with a buffet. This way, it’s more convenient for you to get a great amount of food. You also get to save money on transportation.
- Exchange using your bank’s conversion rate. Decline conversion offers at ATMs to use the preference rates of your bank. Avoid exchanging cash at airports.
- Learn Spanish. You’ll be surprised to find most products offered at lower prices when you ask for them in their language. It’s also your key to haggling if you want to.
3. Pick the Best Time to Visit Guatemala
While many travelers would argue that it’s best to visit Guatemala in the dry season, it’s actually good to go there any time of the year. Guatemala has a pleasant climate that lends itself to year-round trips, with temperatures between 72°F and 90°F (22.2°C to 32.22°C).
The country has two seasons: the dry season, which lasts from November to April, and the rainy season, which goes from May to October. Of course, if you’re looking to explore the outdoors in Guatemala, it’s still better to choose the dry times.
Should you want to prioritize your budget, wait for the shoulder seasons, which are November, March, and April. These months are less crowded than the high seasons. Since there are fewer people, the prices tend to be lower, too.
Meanwhile, if you really want to experience the culture of Guatemala, you should go during their celebratory seasons. One example is Holy Week, where you get to watch religious processions and eat season-specific dishes. Do prepare for the traffic and a hard time getting accommodation.
4. Discover Guatemala’s Best Tourist Destinations
It takes genuine curiosity and effort to embark on an adventure and discover Guatemala's best places. Here are some areas that rarely disappoint.
For an architectural eye feast, Antigua will be your best destination. You can simply wander around its cobblestone streets and admire the vibrant homes in the metro. Take pictures of the view or pose for selfies. There are a lot of shops selling Mayan crafts that you can visit for souvenirs.
Antigua also has some of the best restaurants and cafes in the entirety of Guatemala. So, you can not only savor the local cuisines but also find suitable co-working spaces to fulfill your professional duties as a digital nomad.
Meanwhile, if you want to visit the outdoors, hiking the Pacaya volcano would be a great choice. You can also eat fresh produce by going to plantations like Caoba Farms.
Nestled among towering volcanoes, Lake Atitlán is a breathtaking sight. Here, you can try hiking the San Pedro Volcano to get a view of the lake and see various Mayan villages. Kayaking and boat riding are also popular activities in the area.
On the north shore of Lake Atitlán is the town of Panajachel. You can visit the Atitlán Archaeological Museum there to immerse yourself in the rich Mayan heritage. You can also visit the ruins of ancient settlements like Chuitinamit.
Tikal National Park
If you want to immerse yourself in the air of Mayan culture, this is the place to be. Tikal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Here, you can climb Temple IV for breathtaking views. You can also go on a sunrise tour.
It’s located in the heart of the Petén rainforest, which is home to diverse wildlife like howler monkeys, toucans, and iguanas. Hence, you might want to try hiking through the jungle trails, visit the Biotopo Cerro Cahuí nature reserve, or go birdwatching.
5. Pack Appropriately for Guatemala
You can always buy your necessities from local stores when you arrive in Guatemala. But being the digital nomad slash budget expert you are, packing the following would do your wallet and convenience better.
Pack for both hot and cold temperatures. During the day, you definitely want to wear lightweight clothing, especially if you’re going on a hike. For example, you can bring lightweight pants, jeans, and short-sleeved shirts. Hiking shoes are also key if you’re going for a lot of walks.
It might get pretty cold at night, though, in places like Antigua and Lake Atitlán. While there’s no need to go for snowwear, bringing a jacket or a sweatshirt to keep you warm would be great.
Keep in mind that Guatemala is somewhat conservative, so bring appropriate clothes. If you don’t know what to wear, it’s best you cover yourself up.
Medical and Hygiene Products
While you can buy most medicines from the local drugstores, bringing a set of your specific meds will be essential. Do this, especially when you’re doing outdoor activities or visiting off-the-beaten destinations in Guatemala.
Dengue, chikungunya, and malaria are pretty common in the country. If you like your bug spray to be free from DEET, a chemical associated with some skin problems, you should bring your own. DEET-free insect repellents produced in Guatemala can be ineffective.
For women, keep in mind that most shops in Guatemala stock sanitary pads only. If you prefer to use tampons or other feminine hygiene products, it’s better to bring them to your departure point. Of course, you might be able to see them in certain health stores—at higher prices.
Aside from your travel essentials, it’s also a great idea to bring a good amount of cash with you. Make sure to stash them away in several places on your body, like inside your shoes, underwear, deep pockets, and more.
Pickpocketing and other petty crimes are common in Guatemala (just like they are in other countries), especially in its major cities. So, if you ever lose your card or phone in an unfamiliar place, you can at least get your basic needs covered with cash at hand.
While USD is widely accepted, having money in Guatemalan Quetzales (GTQ) makes for security.
6. Stay Safe in Guatemala
As mentioned, Guatemala is pretty infamous when it comes to petty crimes. But as long as you know which areas to avoid in Guatemala and practice your due responsibility in keeping yourself safe, there’s no reason it’s bad for a digital nomad like you.
You’ll know such areas by asking the locals, who are very friendly and welcoming in general.
Here are some other Guatemala travel safety tips to keep in mind:
- Dress modestly. Flashy clothing makes you an eye candy for pickpockets. Plus, casual clothes make it easier for you to move around.
- Ask the hotel staff for directions. They’re usually aware of which places and neighborhoods to avoid, so make sure to inquire.
- Don’t stay outside late at night. You should be fine as long as there are other people on the roads. Still, avoid going out in the wee hours.
- Learn basic Spanish phrases. Communication can be crucial in navigating and understanding situations.
- Always get a tour guide when hiking. Safety incidents have been recorded in hiking areas around Lake Atitlan.
Most digital nomads flock to Antigua, Flores, El Paredón, and Lake Atitlán. These places are tourist-friendly, which can help you feel safe. Still, it’s essential that you maintain normal caution and be aware of your surroundings.
7. Know Guatemala Tourist Visa Requirements
If you’re an American or European citizen, you can visit Guatemala for up to 90 days visa-free. Meanwhile, Indian nationals and those staying for longer need to apply to enter the country.
Guatemala’s standard visa lasts for three months, which should be enough for you as a digital nomad. But if you want to stay there for a year or two, you also need to apply for a temporary residence permit.
Regardless of the type, Guatemala's travel requirements are similar. Here are they:
- A valid passport with at least six months validity prior to your return date from Guatemala
- A passport-size colored headshot of yourself
- Filled-out Guatemala visa application form
- Enough travel health insurance
- Proof of accommodation in Guatemala
- A document outlining why you’re visiting the country
- Invitation letter from a Guatemala-based friend or relative
- Proof that you’re financially stable
- Criminal record document
- Your flight itinerary
Keep in mind that these are the general requirements only. You might be asked for further documentation based on your individual circumstances.
8. Consider All-Inclusive Vacation Deals
If you want to skip the logistics hassle for your Guatemalan visit, consider getting Guatemala all-inclusive packages with flights. Pre-planned travel bundles take care of your accommodation, meals, some activities, and even transportation, leaving you free to soak up the country’s culture.
While those who offer all-inclusive packages charge certain fees on top of your total costs, you might actually be in for more favorable travel expenses. You often get better deals when bundling flights, hotels, and activities compared to booking them separately.
You’ll find some of the best Guatemala vacation packages on Expedia, particularly for Hotel Soleil Pacifico in Puerto de San Jose, which costs around $130 per night. If you’re in for multi-city tours, consider visiting Tripmasters.
9. Maximize Your Guatemala Visit With a Great Itinerary
Guatemala offers a lot of places to visit and indulge yourself in. But if you’re having a hard time choosing where to go, here are some suggestions to keep in mind:
To immerse yourself in Guatemalan culture and rich architecture, explore Antigua. Here, you can go to charming cafes and take Instagram-worthy photos of various churches. To fulfill your digital nomad duties, you can also work from cozy co-working spaces on Plaza Mayor.
You can also go to Lake Atitlán to kayak to colorful villages like San Antonio Palopó. It’s also a great place to buy souvenirs, especially in the many local markets selling crafts from Mayan traditions.
If you want adventurous activities, consider going to Semuc Champey to hike to hidden waterfalls and explore the Lanquin River caves. Quetzaltenango is also a must-visit to watch Fuego’s eruptions (an active volcano). You can also go to the nearby Fuentes Georginas, a network of thermal hot springs, for ultimate relaxation.
10. Try the Local Food
To truly get the Guatemalan experience, make sure to try their local dishes. The country boasts a vibrant and diverse cuisine, reflecting its Mayan heritage and Spanish influences. Here are some dishes to try:
- Pepián: Considered the national dish, it’s a thick and flavorful stew that melds Mayan spices with Spanish ingredients like toasted sesame seeds and tomatoes
- Kak'ik: A unique turkey soup spiced with chiles, achiote, and cilantro
- Tamales: A sweet steamed corn masa pocket filled with either pork, chicken, vegetables, or even chocolate
- Tostadas: Deep-fried or oven-toasted corn tortillas topped with beans, guacamole, shredded meat, and salsa
- Chiles rellenos: Stuffed peppers with a mix of meat, vegetables, and cheese, coated in egg batter and fried
You’d have the best time enjoying these foods during Guatemala’s cultural events, like Holy Week and their corn harvest season. If you want to channel your inner chef, you can always go to Mercado Central to buy the ingredients and prepare them on your own.
11. Be an Eco-Conscious Nomad
To preserve its rich cultural heritage and breathtaking scenery, Guatemala is making strides in eco-tourism. They try to offer amazing experiences that minimize environmental impact and benefit local communities. Here are some ways you can participate:
- Stay longer at each itinerary stop: Minimize flying and pack reusable products. Try to immerse yourself in each place you visit in Guatemala.
- Support conservation movements: Choose reputable, conservation-minded tour operators and suppliers.
- Buy souvenirs from local artisans, not mass-produced goods. Invest in handcrafted textiles, pottery, or artwork.
- Get a tour guide: This not only helps you stay safe in unfamiliar places but also keeps local livelihoods alive.
Besides these tips, be sure to practice basic respect for the environment—not littering, being mindful of your trash, and similar things. As simple as they are, respecting the environment goes a long way toward being an eco-conscious nomad.
12. Ensure You’re Connected
Many hotels, cafes, and co-working spaces in Guatemala offer free Wi-Fi services, but they can only take you so far in terms of convenience and data security. It’s best for you to keep your cellular services functional.
If you want to stay in Guatemala for more than a month, consider getting a no-contract plan over prepaid SIM cards from a local provider. An eSIM is always an option if you have no extra card slots on your mobile. Don’t opt for roaming services—they can get very expensive for long use.
Guatemala offers only two phone companies: Claro and Tigo. If you’re looking for reliable phone services, Tigo is the better (but pricier) choice. Claro, on the other hand, is a convenient option, as you can also use it in other countries in Central America.
13. Learn Basic Spanish
If you’re planning to visit the urban areas and tourist hotspots in Guatemala, some shops and locals can communicate with you in basic English. Still, learning at least the basics of their language helps you get around more easily, especially when visiting remote villages in the country.
Here are some essential Spanish phrases to learn:
- ¿Cuánto cuesta? — How much does it cost?
- ¿Dónde está el baño? — Where is the bathroom?
- ¿Habla inglés? — Do you speak English?
- ¿Puedes ayudarme, por favor? — Can you help me, please?
- Gracias — Thank you
- ¿Qué me recomienda? — What do you recommend?
- ¿Puedo tener la cuenta, por favor? — Can I have the bill, please?
The good thing about Guatemalans is that they try not to use slang words in Spanish when communicating with tourists. They also have a relatively neutral accent compared to the rest of Central America. So, even if you only know the basics, you can still talk to them with ease.
14. Prepare for the Outdoors
Tikal National Park and the volcanoes around Lake Atitlan are famous hiking spots. If you decide to go on a hike, wear appropriate hiking shoes and light clothes, and apply sunscreen. Make sure to bring an insulated bottle of water and a change of clothes for your comfort.
Many travelers also like the Antigua ATV sunset tour experience. If you want to try it, wear clothing that you can wear for rugged rides—long pants, layers (against the sun), and comfortable shoes. Bring cash to enjoy the food and local handicrafts on the stopovers.
Whatever outdoor activity you do in Guatemala, make sure to always abide by sustainable practices. Follow the guidelines set forth by your tour guides, especially when visiting wildlife and natural reserves.
15. Don’t Forget Your Camera
Antigua’s architectural sights are really beautiful during the golden hour, so make sure to capture the moment with a camera. Guatemala's landscapes also offer a stunning contrast between lush rainforests and towering volcanoes, bustling markets, and tranquil lakes.
A DSLR would be your friend when strolling around. You can also get a 24-70mm or 70-300mm lens to capture a wide range of scenes, from landscapes and portraits to architectural details and wildlife. To reduce glare and enhance colors, consider getting polarizing filters.
For ATV rides, cave visits, and volcano hikes, a GoPro or any other rugged camera would be a better choice.
16. Sun Protection Is Key
Even in the rainy season, mornings are often sunny in Guatemala. If you’re going out during such times, make sure to wear SPF 30+ sunscreen. A wide-brimmed hat and a tinted umbrella would also be great accessories to bring with you. Remember to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
It’s best you do your hikes before the sun goes up to avoid getting scorched. Make sure to bring bottled water to avoid getting dehydrated.
17. Enjoy Freedom like a Quetzal
The quetzal thrives in the lush rainforests of Guatemala. To live a quetzal life, always keep in mind to respect the environment, live sustainably, and appreciate the interconnectedness of all living things.
Guatemala also uses the quetzal as its national symbol. It’s a bird that symbolizes freedom, which is one of the greatest pursuits of all digital nomads. By channeling your innate free persona in Guatemala, you’ve already achieved half the dream of other nomads around the world.
Get the Most Out of Guatemala
You can only say that you’ve been in and out of Guatemala by experiencing its hidden gems. But as a digital nomad, you might not have the time to fully explore the country before visiting another destination.
The great thing about this is that you can plan for a return trip. Guatemala will always embrace you back to its rich cultural heritage and stunning views after your trips to other countries. Make sure to apply these Guatemala travel tips, and to have a fallback in unfavorable situations, visit Nomad Insurance to explore your options.
People Also Ask
What are some things tourists should be careful about in Guatemala?
By any means, don’t get involved in drugs to avoid lengthy prison time in local jails. Tourists should also be careful against pickpockets since it’s a common thing in Guatemala. Do not ever participate in demonstrations and strikes, as they can easily get violent.
What do I need when traveling to Guatemala?
If you’re staying for more than 90 days in Guatemala, you need to apply for a standard visa. Ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months for a hassle-free stay. Meanwhile, your exact packing list would vary depending on your needs, but make sure to bring comfortable hiking shoes and sunscreen as you’d likely be staying outdoors a lot.
Do I need to tip in Guatemala?
Tips are always appreciated but not required in most cases. Some restaurants might add a 10% service charge to your total bill, though.
How can I avoid getting sick in Guatemala?
Never drink tap water in Guatemala. Also, bring your own DEET-free bug spray. While vaccines won’t completely protect you from diseases, it’s excellent to get all the essential shots before embarking on your journey.