Here are 15 reasons to visit Guatemala! Includes the best time to visit Guatemala and things to know before you go.
All of my senses were heightened. I was bombarded by the bright colors of the stalls and their merchandise. The smell of smoke from a wood fire. The sound of women loudly selling their wares…
Bread! Fruits! Sandals! Chickens!
These are the precious memories that I have of going to the market with my grandmother. You see, I’ve been traveling to Guatemala since I was a baby. My family on my father’s side is Guatemalan, so as a kid I would spend my summers there.
As I got older, however, I wasn’t able to go as often. I missed those trips to the market. I longed to play with my cousins. And I wanted to spend time with my aunts and uncles.
Over the last few years I have been able to visit Guatemala more often and I have fallen in love with Guatemala all over again. I’ve spent time with family, but I’ve also done some exploring. That’s something I never had the chance to do before. Now, as an adult, I am able to appreciate my heritage and culture so much more.
I’ve traveled to different cities, admired amazing architecture, explored the Mayan ruins of Tikal, seen my first ceiba tree (a tree that is sacred to the Mayan people), relaxed on black sand beaches, crossed Lake Atitlán, and watched gorgeous sunsets. Plus, I’ve been there on September 15th, Guatemala’s Independence Day!
15 Reasons To Visit Guatemala
I think Guatemala is a country that is getting more and more popular, especially for people wanting to travel on a budget or volunteer, and for people wanting to get a more authentic travel experience. It’s still not over touristy like some other Central American countries.
But just in case you still need a little extra push, here are my (unbiased) reasons to visit Guatemala…
1. Lush Landscapes
It is widely believed that the word Guatemala came from the indigenous Nahuatl word “Quahtlemallan” which means “land of many trees.” And although deforestation is a huge issue, beautiful lush trees can still be found.
Guatemala is seriously one of the most beautiful countries I’ve traveled to. I’ve always loved how green it is. In fact, I often find myself comparing other mountains to the mountains I’ve seen in Guatemala. And I’m usually disappointed. I remember climbing two 14ers in Colorado and thinking, “Wow, this is just a pile of rocks!” Guatemala spoiled me with how lush its landscapes are.
One of the many reasons to visit Guatemala is its food. Guatemalan food is not Mexican food, although there are some dishes that are similar. A typical Guatemalan breakfast consists of scrambled eggs, refried beans, tortillas, and some fried plantains. Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day.
Guatemala is big on stews, with Pepian being one of Guatemala’s national dishes. Fiambre is another famous Guatemalan dish; it’s basically a salad on steroids. It can have as many as 50 ingredients! I could personally eat Guatemalan taquitos and tostadas all day.
You can thank Guatemala for chocolate! The word “chocolate” comes from the Maya word “xocoatl” which means bitter water. Research shows that chocolate was used in Mayan culture as early as the sixth century A.D.
If you’d like to know more about the history of chocolate and its nutritional values, we recommend visiting the ChocoMuseo in Antigua. Its a small museum that also offers chocolate making classes, and lots of chocolate products for you to buy.
Another reason to visit Guatemalan is for its delicious coffee. In fact, it’s so loved that it is consumed all over the world, making coffee the country’s biggest export and source of income.
5. UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Guatemala has three UNESCO World Heritage sites. The beautiful colonial town of Antigua and the ancient Maya archaeological site of Quirigua are both UNESCO sites. The third site, Tikal National Park, has an added distinction: it is the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was given this designation for its cultural and natural wonders.
There are over 30 volcanoes in Guatemala! Three of them are still active: Fuego, Pacaya and Santiaguito. Additionally, the volcano named Tajumulco is the tallest volcano in Central America. It rises 4,203 meters above sea level.
7. Lake Atitlán
Another popular reason to visit Guatemala is to see Lago Atitlán. At 340 meters deep, this beautiful lake is the deepest lake in Central America. It’s surrounded by three volcanoes and many small Mayan villages. Whether you spend the day on the water, or exploring the surrounding villages, you’re sure to have a good time.
I’ve always loved Guatemala’s black sand beaches. They’re so different from the Florida beaches I grew up going to. They’re usually not very crowded either, since most tourists tend to stay inland. I have a lot of happy memories visiting the town of Puerto de San Jose with my family. It’s on the Pacific Coast, about two hours south of Guatemala City.
Impressive architecture is another of the many reasons to visit Guatemala. Whether its Mayan architecture in Tikal, Spanish architecture in Antigua, or modern architecture in Guatemala City, enthusiasts will be fascinated.
10. Mayan Culture
The Mayan civilization spanned from around 1800 B.C. to around 900 A.D., when most of the great stone cities were abandoned. The cause of the Mayan civilization collapse is still unknown. By the time the Spanish invaders arrived, most Mayan descendants were living in agricultural villages.
At its height, the Maya civilization excelled in agriculture, pottery, hieroglyph writing, calendar-making, and mathematics. They also left behind impressive architecture and symbolic artwork.
Today, visitors to Guatemala will still find traces of Mayan culture. Colorful examples include the traditional dresses worn by Mayan women. They are made by hand and vary depending on the region the woman is from. They are very intricate and really beautiful.
It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, you’ll see some gorgeous sunsets…
12. Chicken Buses
It’s hard to miss these colorful buses! American school buses that are 10 years or older, or that have more than 150,000 miles, are often auctioned off and driven to Guatemala. Once there, they get a colorful makeover and are used for local transportation. We even saw a fancy chicken bus that was used as a restaurant in a food hall!
The quetzal is one of the most beautiful birds in the world and it is the national bird of Guatemala. It lives in the cloud forests of northern Guatemala and has always been an important part of the Mayan culture.
The Quetzal represents freedom, as it will die if it is caged. The bird is so important to the Guatemalan people that the country’s currency is named after it and it can be seen on the Guatemalan flag.
14. Practice Spanish
Another reason to visit Guatemala is to learn Spanish. It’s a very popular place to take lessons. Classes aren’t expensive and locals don’t speak fast, unlike some other Spanish-speaking countries. This makes it much easier to learn.
15. Independence Day
On September 15th, 1821, Guatemala gained its independence from Spain. This national holiday is celebrated with parades, festivals, fireworks, and food. It’s a lot of fun!
Best Time To Visit Guatemala
Guatemala is known as the “land of eternal spring” because of its pleasant year-round weather. However, Guatemala does have a rainy season from May through October. Really, the best time to visit Guatemala is from November to April. Keep in mind though, that December through March are the busiest times for tourism.
Additional Things To Know Before You Visit Guatemala
Ready to visit Guatemala? Here are some additional things to know before you go:
- Spanish is the official language, although there are 21 indigenous Mayan languages still used throughout the country.
- Using credit cards is common, although it doesn’t hurt to carry some cash with you. One US dollar is roughly 7.76 GTQ, but you can check current conversion rates here.
- La Aurora International Airport (GUA) is in Guatemala City.
- Driving in Guatemala can be stressful if you’re not used to it. We recommend using Uber.
- Guatemala is in Central Standard Time (GMT-6).
- The Guatemalan flag has two blue vertical stripes, which represent the sea on either side of the country. In the middle is a white vertical stripe that has the country’s coat of arms. The coat of arms includes the quetzal and a scroll that has the date of Guatemala’s independence.
Final Thoughts On Visiting Guatemala
Guatemala truly is an exquisite country. There is so much natural beauty and you’ll find some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. We hope that these reasons to visit Guatemala have inspired you to plan a trip. Maybe we’ll see you there!