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Guatemala Vacation Costs for Travelers

I am flying out of Guatemala today after my fourth spin through the country, this time as we’re headed into 2024. My perspective this time was a little warped because I was definitely on the beaten path, but so are most others. Here’s a look at Guatemala vacation costs for travelers across the spectrum from backpacker level on up.

Antigua Guatemala vacation

How cheap is Guatemala? If you ask me for my general impression, I would say it’s way cheaper than Costa Rica or Belize, but a little more expensive than Mexico—even though Mexico is a richer country if you just look at average incomes. Part of that Mexico comparison is because the food is so much better up north unless you’re a vegan hanging out in Lake Atitlan at a yoga retreat and you don’t like spices.

I’d say there are better values in the Americas, including Argentina even for the moment, but Guatemala has a lot of unique attributes you won’t find anywhere else, which is part of the reason I keep coming back. 

Your backpacker daily budget or your Guatemala vacation costs will depend a whole 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 each night, you could probably get by for $25-$35 a person these days traveling through Guatemala if you didn’t move around very much and avoided spending a lot of time in the main tourist areas. You’d need to be a slow traveler taking your time. 

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, but if you are check out this site for the best hotels in Guatemala. I will cover the other two ranges here for this round-up on Guatemala travel prices.

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 or it will 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. A small increase in the lodging price in Guatemala can result in a much nicer room and more privacy. 

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.

Money in Guatemala

The money in Guatemala is the quetzal, just like the beautiful bird, and is often denominated and named as “Qs.” The exchange rate as I write this is a bit above 7 to the dollar, so if some thing is 35 Qs, that’s around US$7. You’ll get a better exchange rate from the ATM than a money changer usually and you’ll need cash for a lot of transactions on the spot. 

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. So for the past 20 years, the lowest it has been is 8.3 to the dollar and the highest it has been is 7.3. Right now it’s around 7.6, which doesn’t make the math easy when you’re shopping.

Unlike in Costa Rica and Belize though, the tourism numbers aren’t so dominant that they have completely warped the local economic system. So the price of travel in Guatemala is still reasonable, especially if you eat and shop away from where all the foreigners are congregating.

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 $30 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.

Guatemalaq tours

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.

You can generally find a hostel bed for $8 to $12 in most of the country and private rooms with a bath are often under $30 double if you’re a couple. So the rest depends on transportation, what you’re doing for fun, and where you’re eating. 

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.

Tikal, one of the great wonders of the world

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.

The first time I came to the country, I spent more than $120 a day (for 3) when I wasn’t in Spanish class and like anywhere, there’s been inflation, so it’s actually pricier now in Antigua especially. 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.

Again, if you just head to Lake Atitlan and chill out for a week, your daily budget will go down a lot. There’s a lot to see and do on a Guatemala vacation, however, and it would be kind of a shame to come all this way and not get into nature and explore the adventure options. 

If you go on an organized tour with G Adventures or Intrepid, you can expect to spend between $84 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 if you don’t mind bunking in a dorm, especially when you get outside the main tourist centers. You can spend a fair bit for a real hotel, however, especially for 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 to get a better rate.

I mentioned hostels earlier but at the budget level, prices have gone up a fair bit the past decade and a basic double room with shared bath will generally cost at least $14 now, or $15 to $30 with a private bath. Prices are more negotiable outside of December to April, however. The best deals are in the off-season, or in spots where there is plenty of backpacker competition. 

The good news is, the high end is not very high if you’re a traveler with the budget to splurge. The best Guatemala luxury hotels don’t even top $250 most of the year so you can upgrade to a suite and really splash out. 

Lake Atitlan hotel

In general, has the best selection, though I have 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 under $70 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 $20 to $45, 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, adding $20 or $30 more 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 when it’s freezing up north and then in July and August. The weather is not ideal in summer since that’s rainy season, 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 Vrbo, 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 Gallo beers or fresh-squeezed juice.

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. Much of what you eat in Guatemala will look a whole lot like what you’ve eaten elsewhere, but will be saltier and less spicy.

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. Some towns around Lake Atitlan, especially San Marcos, are heavenly for vegans and vegetarians. 

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 overall. You can generally find a big breakfast or lunch set meal plate of local fare for $3 to $6 almost anywhere you find lots of local workers chowing down though.

The local indigenous people don’t eat outside the home much though, so what you find for “local food” is mostly what’s sold on the street. It’s quite cheap, often to the point where two bucks will fill you up. Restaurants are geared to tourists mostly outside of the capital city.

International food and a nice atmosphere will raise the meal price to the $5 to $20 level in tourist areas. One woman I rode a shuttle with was complaining about how expensive the poke bowl she got at a hostel was, though of course it was more because they called it a poke bowl, for starters. International food is going to cost you more than the staples. 

Still, 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.

guatemalan food

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. I had lots of excellent coffee on this most recent trip, from little shops to hotels. 

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. Some craft beer is finally starting to show up and this time I spotted brewpubs in both Guatemala City and Antigua, plus one hotel I was at had five different brews in cans from one company. 

Wine is rare, but rum is not. Expect to pay as little as $3.50 for a bottle of cheap rum to $40 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. Cocktails are one of the best bargains in the country, running $4 to $10 depending on the atmosphere more than anything. 

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 two for a pound. I saw ladies selling limes by the side of the road: a bag of 30 was about $2. They grow a lot of fruit and vegetables here.

As with anywhere though, inflation has taken its toll and I’m going to have to update this post on what $7.50 gets you in a Guatemalan supermarket. I think the tab for that bundle would be more like $11 or $12 now. 

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 $120 – $160 one way because there’s not much competition.

travel budget guatemala prices

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 two bucks to get from Guatemala City to Antiqua, or less than $20 for the 13-hour trip from Guatemala City to Belize on a rattling chicken bus.

A much more comfortable 5.5-hour trip between Belize City and Flores (for Tikal) is as low as $30. 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. A regularly scheduled shuttle seat will be around $20 to get from Antigua to Lake Atitlán, for instance, or $35 from Guatemala City, with hotel pick-up.

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 or from Antigua to El Salvador. You can get an express bus from Antigua to Copán, Honduras from between $22 and $45.

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 $8 for a cab across town, but if you’re spending much more than that you’ve been ripped off. My Uber rides were under $5. 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 Atitlan will cost more than it used to as fuel is averaging $4 per gallon now in Guatemala. The rule of thumb is 5Q per public dock, so if you’re going 6 docks over it will cost you 30Q, around $4. You’ll get charged a bit more sometimes if you have a big suitcase or backpack, but in general they’re not going to completely soak you. (Though the spray might.)

gutemala vacation in lake atitlan

Yes, the locals will pay less. Get over it: what you’re carrying onto the boat might be worth more than the ferry captain 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 $40 to $70. 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 reasonably priced, 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.

tours in Guatemala excursion prices

If you pull up the Viator site, for instance, you can find tours like this:

Pacaya Volcano tour and hot springs with lunch ($35)

Bean to Bar Chocolate Workshop in Antigua ($25)

Antigua mountain adventure tour by motorcycle or ATV ($65)

Other Random Travel Prices in Guatemala

I met a few people on this trip who had purchased local SIM cards for their cell phone and those were quite inexpensive. You can get 10gb of data with free apps use for under $14 and that’s good for 30 days. 

I saw laundry services in several places for around 50 cents per pound. 

Atitlan woman

Massages, yoga classes, and the like are generally 1/2 to 1/4 what you would pay in the USA. I saw facials and massages offered for $30 or less in Lake Atitlan. One thing that’s hard to quantify is that you feel like you’re really helping the community when you’re in the countryside here. Your money is not going to some faceless corporation. 

This lovely woman who talked me into buying something else because she didn’t have change isn’t just wearing this pretty outfit because it’s her work uniform. That’s what most every woman she knows is wearing too–but with a more elaborate skirt. The streets may be drab and devoid of aesthetics, but then four women dressed like this walk down the street and the place is alive with color.

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 outside of high season on Skyscanner going for $186 (New York City), $209 (Chicago), $189 (Toronto), and $199 (San Francisco). You can fly from Mexico or Costa Rica on Volaris for as little as $100.

If you’re coming from Europe, it can be kind of pricey because there aren’t easy direct flights. You’ll probably 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 or Cancun. 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 Guatemala vacation travel prices article were excerpted from the 5th edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations book and then updated after a fresh trip in December of 2023.

Gipsy Dean

Friday 8th of December 2023

Nice article Tim, after reading this I may stay in SE Asia for a while longer now since it costs less than Latin America. Here in Vietnam a 24 pack of Saigon Lager only costs 270 Dong, that equals 46 cents usd a beer! cheers! Gipsy Dean

Tim Leffel

Saturday 9th of December 2023

It's hard to top SE Asia, though Argentina is temporarily pretty close for value.


Wednesday 27th of March 2019

Really enjoyed reading this article as I lived in Guatemala for 5 months in 2008. I was definitely on the slow travel backpacker budget. $500/mo roughly including food, basic hotel with private bath and 25 hour week of private Spanish lessons. Lago Atitlan and Xela. Being 11 years ago this looks about right.