How cheap is Guatemala? What are the prices like for travelers?
Well, that depends a lot on how you travel. As a backpacker eating at market stalls and taking the gussied-up school buses that ply the back roads, sharing your sleeping quarters with strangers, you could probably get by for $15-$20 a person traveling through Guatemala if you didn’t move around very much and avoided spending a lot of time in the main tourist areas.
There are usually at least three parallel travel paths going on in any destination though. The backpacker path, the mid-range vacation and family path, and the luxury vacation path. I’ll assume you’re not in the latter camp and will cover the other two ranges here.
If you are traveling as a family, like I was when I first visited for two weeks, forget the shoestring option unless you really are a glutton for punishment. Unless you have the world’s easiest kid—one that sleeps in late, eats anything you put on his or her plate, and doesn’t mind being crowded and sweaty half the time—the cheap hotels and sidewalk stall meals route isn’t going to cut it in Guatemala. More likely, your sanity will dissolve and someone might end up coming to blows before the first week is up.
I have also found that people with a bit more money in the bank are more than willing to step up a level or two in the name of comfort. Some of the places I stayed in my early 30s I would pay double or triple to avoid as I’ve gotten a little creakier.
So here’s a rundown on Guatemala travel prices for backpackers, but also for someone who is either traveling on a vacation budget or spending more in the name of family harmony. From a currency standpoint Guatemala should be cheaper than it is. Their currency, the Quetzal, is artificially tied to the greenback, the same as it is in Costa Rica and Belize. Unlike in those countries though, the tourism numbers haven’t warped the economic system so the price of travel in Guatemala is still reasonable.
Backpacking Guatemala Travel Budget
If you’re a true budget traveler who doesn’t mind eating where the locals eat, cooking sometimes, and staying in the cheapest hotels, travel prices in Guatemala are quite low. You could get by in this country for as little as $20 a day. That’s assuming you’re not moving around too much though and that you’re spending a good amount of time away from where tour buses tend to park.
There are plenty of people barely eking out a living in this country for a buck or two a day, so that budget is actually fairly extravagant in local terms. If you hang out in Antigua, however, the Guatemalans you interact with will be fairly well-off. Around the smaller towns of Lake Atitlan and more remote villages, however, you’ll be loaded just by the fact you have enough money to get yourself there. Be patient and move slowly and you’ll find this to be one of the cheapest places to travel in the Americas.
Guatemala Vacation Travel Budget
If you’re just coming to Guatemala for a week or two, you’re probably going to hit the main sites, take a least one domestic flight, and spend a lot of time in transit. If you’re not trying to stretch every dollar, then your traveling budget for Guatemala is going to be much higher than for someone spending months in Central America.
So assuming you’re on the move every few days, you’re staying in decent (but not luxurious) hotels, and you’re booking a good number of adventure tours, you’re probably looking at $80 to $150 per day for a couple or family of three. If you’re eating at tourist restaurants all the time and doing a lot of sightseeing tours, your Guatemala travel prices could be higher. If, on the other hand, you decide to chill out in Lake Atitlan for half the time, you could get by on a whole lot less.
I spent more than $120 a day (for 3) when I wasn’t in Spanish class the first time I visited the country and it’s actually a tad pricier now in Antigua, despite the slump in tourism they had after the last volcanic eruption. I’ve met a few flashpacker type people who visited on Guatemala holidays from Europe and they were generally spending €70 to €150 per day depending on activities and how much they were on the move. If you go on an organized tour with G Adventures or Intrepid, you can expect to spend between $74 and $255 a day to have everything taken care of for you. But you’ll have a blast!
Guatemala Hotel Prices and Other Lodging Options
It’s pretty cheap to sleep in Guatemala, especially when you get outside the main tourist centers. There are a few exceptions, however, like the very few jungle lodges walking distance to Tikal and the real hotels in the center of Antigua. These are the two main tourist draws in the country and are priced accordingly. Stay in Flores (for Tikal) and walk 10-15 minutes from the center in Antigua.
At the budget level, you can generally find a basic double room with shared bath for $7 to $10, or $8 to $20 with a private bath. Singles and dorm beds range anywhere from $4 for a dark cell (or an especially great find), to $12 for one with a hot shower, breakfast, and sheets in Antigua. The best deals are in the off-season, or in spots where there is plenty of backpacker competition. In general, Booking.com has the best selection, though I found a much better deal several times just by walking around and asking since that gets rid of the commission for the hotel owner.
Residents in some towns offer home stays for around $50 per week, when they’re not all set aside for Spanish language course students. There are plenty of long-term rental options around Lake Atitlan for a couple hundred dollars a month. That area is one of the best values in the Americas, period.
For a step up, mid-range travelers will find plenty to choose from in the popular tourist areas. If there’s enough competition, you can get a nice double room in a proper hotel with a hot shower, maid service, and cable TV for $14 to $35, so you don’t have to spend much more to get a bump up in quality. In this country, a regular hotel room double is a much better deal than a private room in a hostel. In most areas, $40 to $60 will get you a suite that sleeps 3 or 4 people and has a pool outside.
In all tourist areas, Guatemala travel prices tend to be a bit higher in July and August. The weather is not ideal then, but it’s when more North Americans are on vacation and more college students are taking Spanish classes.
There are plenty of places to rent here from Airbnb and the Homeaway brands, especially around Lake Atitlan and in Antigua. It’s not always cheaper than a hotel, but will often give you more space and a place to cook and refrigerate the beers.
Guatemala Food and Drink Prices for Travelers
As in much of Central America, expect to eat lots of corn tortillas, rice, beans, eggs, and chicken. There is very little food that is distinctive enough to set the country apart from its neighbors. The tourist influence in Antiqua has raised the bar much higher and you can find all kinds of inventive dishes there. Dishes with avocados and mole sauce are a nice treat here and there, and the coastal areas feature lots of fish, seafood, and coconut. Bakeries offer some substantial snack options, including inexpensive sausage and cheese rolls.
Food in Guatemala is not as cheap as it seems like it should be: it can be cheaper to eat out and drink beer in Mexico than it is in this poorer country. I’m guessing that they don’t grow as much in this mountainous country, but it’s a mystery. You can generally find a big breakfast or lunch set meal plate of local fare for $2.50 to $4 almost anywhere you find lots of local workers chowing down though. International food and a nice atmosphere will raise the meal price to the $5 to $20 level in tourist areas. It’s pretty difficult to spend more than $20 on a full meal with drinks at a regular restaurant unless you order wine, which must be imported. Street food snacks and fruit are available for cheap.
There are so many gringos in the country’s popular tourist haunts that you won’t have any trouble finding vegetarian food or good desserts. Unlike many other Latin American countries where all the good coffee gets exported, you can find a quality cup in restaurants and cafés in any sizable town.
The local beers—such as Gallo, Moza, and Dorado—are mostly routine lagers, but are easy to find and there is one malty dark beer version. At close to two bucks in a restaurant, they can double the price of your meal at the cheapest places. Wine is rare, but rum is not. Expect to pay as little as $3.50 for a bottle of cheap rum to $30 or so for some of the best stuff in the world—Ron Zacapa Centenario, aged 23 years. A rum and Coke is often the cheapest drink around, the same price as the Coke by itself.
If you’re doing your own cooking, find the local market or the ladies selling produce on the street. It will generally be half the price of what you see in the supermarket and better tasting too. Much of what you see there will be a buck or less for a pound.
But hey, look at what $7.50 gets you in a Guatemalan supermarket.
Guatemala Bus Travel Prices and Taxis
Roads in Guatemala are not exactly akin to motoring on the Autobahn. For most travelers, there’s no question about springing for at least one flight within the country—to get up to Flores (near Tikal). Otherwise it’s a long and winding overnight ride that’s not exactly plush. Figure on $125-$160 one way because there’s not much competition.
City to city transportation is no picnic here and the phrase “chicken bus” definitely applies. There are very few bus lines offering “luxury” bus trips outside the most popular routes. The local buses are cheap, but are merely converted school buses on their second life—often after living out their usefulness hauling U.S. school children. Combined with some rough mountain roads, it can be trying. But at least they’re cheap: expect to pay a buck to get from Guatemala City to Antiqua, or around $15 for the 13-hour trip from Guatemala City to Belize on a rattling chicken bus.
A much more comfortable 5-hour trip between Belize City and Flores (for Tikal) is around $25. A better bet for those not on a bare-bones budget is to join up with or directly hire a private tourist shuttle. A seat on one of these will be worth the premium. It’ll cost $12-$15 to get from Antigua to Lake Atitlán, for instance, sometimes more coming back. Overland buses to neighboring countries can take a while, but they’re easy to find. Tourist companies run some routes regularly, including from Flores to Belize and Mexico. You can get an express bus from Antigua to Copán, Honduras for around $25.
Thankfully, apart from Guatemala City, you can walk everywhere you need to go in the towns, including Antigua. In Guatemala City, you may pay up to $7 for a cab across town, but if you’re spending much more than that you’ve been ripped off. You can get across Antigua for a few bucks. The buses cost pocket change if you can figure out the route and squeeze on.
A ferryboat ride across Lake Atitlán will run $2 to $4 depending on distance. Yes, the locals will pay less. Get over it: what you’re carrying onto the boat is worth more than the ferry guy earns in a year.
Car rentals don’t make much sense in Guatemala. You’re better off hiring a driver for the day. Getting a van full of people from the Flores airport to the entrance of Tikal, or from Antigua to the Guatemala City airport, is generally $30 to $60. One persistent driver quoted me a price of $60 eventually for the Guatemala City airport all the way to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan. If I hadn’t been traveling alone, that would have been a great deal for a few people.
Guatemala Tours and Excursions
Since lodging, meals, and transportation are relatively cheap, why do so many travelers go over budget in Guatemala?
If I had to guess, I’d say that many get sick of the boring local food options and start spending more for better restaurants, or they see how many fun activities there are to do and they book a lot more adventures than they were planning. After all, this is not a country with a fascinating capital city to explore. Most of the best things to do are outside, whether it’s exploring ruins, hiking in the many mountains, scaling a live volcano, biking through the countryside, or visiting coffee farms.
If you pull up the Viator site, for instance, you can find tours like this for $30 to $100.
Cheap Flights to Guatemala
If you’re American or Canadian, it’s not going to cost you all that much to fly to Guatamala City. When I pulled up prices before this post went up, I found one-way flights in June on Skyscanner going for $176 (New York City), $209 (Chicago), $159 (Toronto), and $199 (San Francisco).
If you’re coming from Europe, it can be kind of pricey because there aren’t many direct flights. You’ll have to go through the USA or Mexico. You may be better off flying to Mexico, spending some time there, then either going overland or hopping a flight from Mexico City. If you’re going to be touring Chiapas, the sensible thing to do would be to go to San Cristobal de las Casas, Palenque, and Bonampak before heading across the border and down to Tikal.
Portions of this Guatemla travel prices article were excerpted from the 5th edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations.