Guatemala Overview


Guatemala Overview

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Guatemala is a beautiful country; it's probably one of our favourites in Central America. The tourist police are helpful and can be trusted for once, the roads on the highway are good and the Guatemala people make it too (apart from the mechanics). We didn't feel unsafe here, but note the constant sites that require a police escort/guide. Carrying a machete is a good deterrence. We got no hassle anyway.

If we had more time? We'd probably have liked to do the epic hike to El Mirador, maybe visit some places along the coast and check the area around Quetzaltenan (Xela). In hindsight, we would've preferred 2 weeks here, but in 10 days, we have covered a lot of highlights. We both said we'd come back here.  NB That we actually spent over 2 weeks here, but the last 5 days we haven't counted due to being stuck in a mechanics.

Guatemala is not a non-touristy destination; we have seen more gringos here than Mexico and Belize. It's cheap for learning Spanish, which will probably account for this. It's also a 'gap YAR' mecca (can be a tad annoying at times). Expect a younger tourist crowd here.

Spanish is spoken widely, but most of the tourist places will have English speaking guides/ex-pat workers. Knowing basic spanish will help here, especially negotiating in the numerous markets. Although, we only seem to be competent in speaking in spanish about car problems! 


  • Good road network and generally quite good roads to major places.  See more here, on the not so brilliant patches.
  • The scenery - besides the obvious places, even the journeys between tourist attractions made for beautiful vistas eg along highway 13, through the Rio Dulce to Semuc mountains, the sugarcane fields of highway 2, etc. 

  • The food - good, varied and cheap.  They seem to have nailed other countries' cuisines too. 

  • Guatemalan people - interesting just to watch, especially the indigenous people around Semuc Champey, Chichicastenango and Lago de Atitlan, with their unfamiliar customs and colourful clothing. 

  • Tikal - goes without saying really. 

  • Antiqua - it's full of tourists, but for good reason.  One of our favourite colonial towns in Central America.

  • Livingston - if only for the food!

  • Lake Atitlan and surrounding towns.  We especially liked Santa Catarina Palopo. 

  • Chichicastenango market. 

  • Semuc Champey - we just had such a good laugh and the views, pools and caves were cool too.

  • Climate - we may have been lucky/good time of the year, but temperatures were fairly consistent and a comfortable late 20s Celsius.


  • The walk up San Pedro Volcano..although the view was worth it. 

  • Some of the sketchy roads off the highway, including the Rio Dulce to Semuc Champey and the San Pedro 'under construction' twisty road. 

  • Gaut city.  Absolutely waste of time going there and what can only be described as a hole.

  • Being stuck in shanty land because of Dougal's epic failure.  Gwyn was pretty close to cracking.

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Guatemala Overland

Guatemala Overland

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Importing your car into Guatemala from Belize. 

Belize Side

1) Pay departure tax $37.50pp.

2) Go to customs and cancel vehicle permit Cross to Guatemala.

Guatemala Side

You will need a photocopy of your vehicle registration/title and a photocopy of your passport and driver's licence.

1) Pay for pesticide spray - $13 Belize.

2) Go through immigration. They will try to ask for money. It's free! 

3) Go to custom's desk. They were not interested in the Passage de Carnet. 

4) Fill in the forms with your details and car details. 

5) Pay cashier 160 Guatemalan quetzals. They will only accept quetzals here. 

6) They give you a 90 day permit, a sticker for your window and a document to surrender when you leave. 

7) Drive to border. They will check your passport of the owner and the document you are to surrender on exit. No vehicle inspection.

8) we asked about insurance and were advised it was not required in Guatemala.

Driving in Guatemala

The majority of roads are smooth, nice roads. All the horror stories you hear about Guatemala roads are untrue. On a whole they have been some of the best roads we have encountered.

However, there are a few roads that are dodgy.  If you are planing to go to Semuc Champney, double if not triple your expected travel time. We averaged around 20km on this road for 120km. Expect terrain that only a 4X4 can handle. If it rains when you are at Semuc, or driving to Semuc, we would advise you to stop. The roads turn extremely slippery and 4X4s were struggling and stuck. With the sheer cliff drops and ditches either side of the road this may be a risk you are unwilling to take. Do not attempt this road at night. We managed 10km at night and had to stop as driving conditions were far to difficult.

Speed bumps may or may not be signed. 

Diesel is Q29 - 34 ($3.90USD or £2.30GBP per gallon) for a gallon. Many gas stations will accept US dollars for a poor exchange rate if you are desperate. 

We used the same GPS company as the system used in Belize. However the Guatemalan version is useless. Constantly freezes and is very innacurate in its locations. I would not recommend Caarte Data GPS for this country.

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Guatemala Gallery

Guatemala Gallery

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Here are our favourite images from the time we spent in Guatemala

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Guatemala Budget

Guatemala Budget

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All exchange rates are based on Q7 = $1USD or Q12 = £1GBP.  

Guatemala has been our cheapest country to date. Unfortunately due to mechanical failure with Dougal this has doubled our budget here. 

Diesel is Q29–35 per gallon (roughly $4USD or £2.50GBP per gallon) and there was no logic to where it is more expensive or cheaper. Car fluids are very cheap here - oils, coolants and lubricants are all at rock bottom prices, so stock up if you need some.

Buying food in markets is by far the cheapest was to shop in Guatemala. Supermarkets are few and far between and generally only in the big cities. Food in the supermarkets is also very cheap in comparison to more northerly countries. 

As stated above unfortunately our bad luck with the van blew our budget here out of the water. Having had to buy a new gear box for the pricly sum of $400USD plus labour costs we soon doubled our expected budget for the country. 

US Dollars are accepted in most places in Guatemala. If you intend on using them though, carry a calculator with you as the locals math isn’t very good and you will always end up worse off if you decide to let them work it out for you. 

Want a coke? Ask for it in a glass bottle, and although you will have to drink it in the shop and return the bottle, it is significantly cheaper than buying plastic.

Total Spends

  Total Per Day Per Person UK Total UK Per Day UK Per Person
Food Q 625.06 Q 62.51 Q 31.25 £52.09 £5.21 £2.60
Drinks Q 377.00 Q 37.70 Q 18.85 £31.42 £3.14 £1.57
Activities Q 1,220.00 Q 122.00 Q 61.00 £101.67 £10.17 £5.08
Toll Roads Q 5.00 Q 0.50 Q 0.25 £0.42 £0.04 £0.02
Fuel Q 1,325.00 Q 132.50 Q 66.25 £110.42 £11.04 £5.52
Souveniers Q 255.00 Q 25.50 Q 12.75 £21.25 £2.13 £1.06
van maintenance Q 7,638.00 Q 763.80 Q 381.90 £636.50 £63.65 £31.83
eating out Q 1,394.00 Q 139.40 Q 69.70 £116.17 £11.62 £5.81
accomodation Q 430.00 Q 43.00 Q 21.50 £35.83 £3.58 £1.79
Laundry Q 75.00 Q 7.50 Q 3.75 £6.25 £0.63 £0.31
Border Crossing Q 160.00 Q 16.00 Q 8.00 £13.33 £1.33 £0.67
Transport Q 500.00 Q 50.00 Q 25.00 £41.67 £4.17 £2.08
Parking Q 70.00 Q 7.00 Q 3.50 £5.83 £0.58 £0.29
Total Q 14,074.06 Q 1,407.41 Q 703.70 £1,172.84 £117.28 £58.64

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