Guatemala is literally in the heart of the Americas. Bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean Sea to the east, Honduras to the southeast, and El Salvador and the Pacific Ocean to the south. It is the most populated country in Central America.
The most popular destinations in Guatemala are Tikal, Antigua, and Lake Atitlan.
To get to Tikal, you take a commuter flight from Guatemala City to Flores. Many of our guests visit Tikal before coming to the lake.
Antigua is a one-hour drive (depending on traffic) from the Guatemala City airport. If your flight arrives in the late afternoon or evening, you can take a shuttle to Antigua, which is much nicer than staying in Guatemala City. Antigua is known for it’s beautiful colonial architecture, ruins, restaurants, shopping, and night life.
Guatemala has many other wonderful destinations that are less visited. Some of these are:
- Semuc Champey
- Quetzaltenango (Xela)
- Fuentes Georginas (in Zunil, near Xela)
- Rio Dulce
- Pacific Coast
If you book your Lake Atitlan stay with us, we can offer suggestions for other places to visit and recommend resources for planning those parts of your trip.
Guatemala remains on Central Standard Time year round (daylight savings time is not observed).
The currency in Guatemala is the quetzal (named after the national bird). A site that can help you see the exchange rate with the US dollar and other currencies is Yahoo’s currency converter.
U.S. dollars are widely accepted in larger hotels and in many tourist area stores. However, they typically give terrible exchange rates. We recommend that you exchange money at banks where you will receive the best exchange rate.
Use caution with ATMs in Antigua and Guatemala City as tampering is not uncommon, and may result in cloning of your debit or credit card. ATMs in the Lake Atitlán area are considered safe from tampering. Not all ATM cards work here, or sometimes they work in one type of ATM but not another.
Credit cards are widely accepted in cities and tourist areas. In other places you’ll want to have cash (“efectivo” in Spanish). Most banks charge foreign transaction fees, making credit card purchases more expensive. If you plan to use debit or credit cards, it’s wise to notify your financial institution of your travel plans so that your transactions are not declined.
Spanish is the most widely used language, though Guatemala recognizes over 20, mostly Mayan, languages. Thousands of Maya speak no Spanish. In the communities around Lake Atitlan, the two most common Mayan languages are Kaqchikel and Tz’utujil.
English speakers will find that desk staff in large hotels speak English, as do some shuttle drivers and shopkeepers in cities such as Antigua and Panajachel. Guatemalans are generally helpful and patient when you attempt to communicate with them. A smile and pointing to maps or objects usually gets the communication across.
Guatemala is often called the “Land of Eternal Spring.” Lake Atitlan is in the Guatemalan Highlands, as are Antigua, and Guatemala City. Altitude has the largest impact on climate here, and these three areas range from about 4500-5000 feet. The climate in the highlands is temperate and is considered semi-tropical. The temperature in these areas rarely falls below 50 degrees (F) and rarely goes above the mid-80s. If you were to visit the northern tropical areas (such as Tikal), the Caribbean coast or the Pacific coast, you would find hot, humid conditions year round.
The following chart shows average temperatures and rainfall for Guatemala City. They are similar for Lake Atitlan.
The rainy season runs from May-October. Rain is uncommon in November-April.
In the rainy season, the mornings are typically sunny or partly cloudy, with the rain coming in the afternoon or evening. Occasional tropical storms or even hurricanes can come from either the Pacific side or the Caribbean side, though Guatemala is rarely hit directly by these storms. We typically have a dry period in July or August, called the “canícula.” This period usually lasts 2-4 weeks, though in drought years it can last for two months.
Lake Atitlan is at 14.6 degrees latitude, which means the sun is strong here. A hat and your preferred sun protection are recommended.
Standard outlets are 110v, and household plugs are the same as the two-prong (type A) plugs used in the USA and Canada. Grounded (three-prong, type B) plugs are not as common, so you might want to bring a 3-2 prong plug adapter. Guests traveling from other parts of the world should bring an adaptor for a type A plug.
Weights and Measures
Guatemala uses the metric system, though gasoline is sold by the gallon and food is sold in ounces and pounds.
Size and Population
Guatemala is approximately 42,000 square miles, roughly the same size as the state of Tennessee. The estimated population is about 14.7 million. About 1/2 of the country’s population lives in Guatemala City.
A Word About Crime
Guatemala became known for it’s violent crime during a brutal civil war, which ended in 1996. Guatemala City is known for high crime rates, especially in certain areas. Travelers who use caution and refrain from activities that could make them targets have little cause for concern. Crime rates around Lake Atitlán are low.
For more information about Guatemala, see the Guatemala Travel Guide on Wikitravel.