This post is part of a series about cheap travel to a variety of destinations. Check out my other cheap travel posts:
I loooove Guatemala. I first visited in 2003, then lived there from 2004 to 2006, and have lived there since 2012.
Cheap flights to Guatemala
I think I have entered Guatemala through every border open to foreigners. In bus, pickup, by air, motorbike, car, via Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico or Belize. From Europe I would often fly cheaper to Cancún and then come overland. You need a couple of days but the trip through Yucatán is very nice. I did it via Mexico City and Chiapas once too, much longer, but lots of interesting stops on the way.
You can also fly for cheap with Spirit Airline to San Pedro Sula in Honduras and San Salvador in El Salvador. Guatemalan flights are sometimes cheaper to Chicago or NYC than to Miami, even though the distance is bigger. Look around and maybe get the NY flight and a cheap domestic ticket to NY instead of going through the obvious Miami.
On Kayak, I found a very good deal to go from Europe to San Francisco, LA, then Mexico City, then overland to Guatemala and fly back to Europe from Guatemala. I had to tweak around quite a bit and change dates and destinations but it was really a wonderful trip and the ticket was a bargain.
My friends have come to visit from Europe for under $600 with Iberia, they have a promo once or twice a year at that rate.
Cheap hotels and lodging in Guatemala
There are a few hotels in Guatemala that can rival with the very best in the world, and reach some 400+ dollars a night. The cheapest nights run for around 2 dollars in lake Atitlán and 5 dollars in Antigua. That is a huge gap.
If you really want to save money, you can of course try Couchsurfing and HospitalityClub. The community is pretty strong in the capital and Antigua, it gets scarce elsewhere. Another good option to stay with a local family or even get a full apartment to yourself is Airbnb (click the link for a free $20 voucher). You can get a self-catering unit, very convenient if you are planning on staying for a few weeks, and save on meals.
You can also rent apartments for 2-3 months in Antigua, if you get a hotel for the first couple of nights and ask around, or get the Revue, an English-speaking magazine with lots of adds. A nice townhouse with colonial furniture and two bedrooms cost about $700 per month, you can find lovely one bed apartments for $500. Always negociate and make sure everything is included (condo fees, trash collection, electric, gas, wifi…) or ask for an estimate.
This was my place for a few months in Antigua.
Cheap eats in Guatemala
The streets of Guatemala are a giant foodcourt. Go for it! I have a preference for the most popular, since the owner usually closes business early in the afternoon when all the food is sold and comes back in the morning with the freshest ingredients from the market.
A few of my favorite eats are
shucos, the Guatemalan version of a hot dog, complete with guacamole, for around $1
pupusas, a Salvadorian corn tortilla filled with cheese and topped with cabbage
chiles rellenos, bell peppers filled with meat and onions
tamales, a corn paste filled with meat and red sauce
pollo frito, fried chicken, you can get a piece for under a dollar, and a meal with drink and chips for $2
fruta fresca y licuados, simply fresh fruits and shakes, they are delicious and dirt cheap!
If you want to sit down, head to the comedores, usually inside or around the market, for $2 you get a piece of meat, rice, and a glass of homemade juice to wash it down.
I sometimes splurge and go to a fancy restaurant, but I don’t really like mid-range tourist restaurants, since they don’t fill up daily, and the food stays there and is sometimes not refrigerated properly.
If you want a really nice dinner, you can eat for $80 to $100 a wonderful dinner for two with wine and top-notch waiters in a lovely colonial settings. Places that come to mind are Panza Verde in Antigua or Jean-Francois, Tamarindos and Jake’s in Guatemala City.
Cheap traveling around
If you plan on renting a car, you get the best deals at the airport, at about $25 a day. In Antigua prices are higher. Since Guatemalan tourist attractions are concentrated around Antigua, Lake Atitlán and Tikal, if you don’t plan on moving around much you can also get a shuttle, for $20 per person per transfer in average, you can get from a point to another and not have the car sitting there for days.
I love chicken buses, those colorful schoolbuses packed with people and animals that go almost everywhere for $1 per hour traveled roughly. And where they don’t go, pickups go, and you can easily get a ride for a small fee. Outside the capital city they are pretty safe, I have had one incident in the capital though.
Museums, culture, entrance fees in Guatemala
Most of the interesting places in Guatemala are free! There are a few museums in the City and in Antigua, and convents, but don’t expect to pay more than $2 or $3 for each of them. I like mapa en relieve in the city where you can see Guatemala on a 3D map, it’s old and basic, but I like it!
The most expensive item will be entrance at Tikal ruins, that cost $20!! It is very expensive and has tripled since my first visit 9 years ago. Good thing I perfected my Spanish to a point where I pay Guatemalan price 🙂
There is no bargaining unless you arrive late and maybe the guards will sneak you in, in exchange for a small fee. Tikal IS worth it. You can get a guide tour for Q250 including your Q150 entrance fee, for the additional Q100 (or $12) you get return transport from your hotel and a guide who speaks English.
Yaxhá, where Survivor Guatemala was set, is worth a visit too, and was $10 the last time I went.
Guatemala travel money tips
- Keep your money safe! My credit card was cloned two years ago. I was able to stop the transaction and get a refund but had to wait for another card…now I follow the waiter everytime he gets away with it.
- Use a little cash, and have cash in several locations, in case your wallet gets stolen. I usually have enough for a ride home in my socks… or bra…or jeans pocket…
- Bargain! Usually for food the menus are set, but fruit and veggies at the market need to be negociated, so do souvenirs, and most of your purchases.
- Have a few dollars hidden for emergencies. The currency is widely accepted, at around $1=7.50 GTQ.