Guatemala Travel Guide, Gap Year Volunteering and Tours
Guatemala is located in Central America, it shares borders to the north and west with Mexico, to the southeast with El Salvador and Honduras, to the northeast with Belize and the Caribbean sea. Guatemala is beautiful country to explore where you will get to see volcanoes, ecosystems, scenic towns and ancient Mayan ruins.
Guatemala Travel Ideas, Gap Year Programs & Experiences
Find inspiration for the best things to do if you would like to go travelling, backpacking or take a gap year in Guatemala.
Guatemala Travel Guide
Get information, tips, itineraries and inspiration for visiting Guatemala.
- Population: 12,300,000 (approx)
- Currency: Quetzal (GTQ) although US dollar is accepted
- Capital: Guatemala City (population 1,100,000 approx)
- Language: Spanish + local languages
- International Country Code: +502
- Country Area: 108,900 km2
Top Reasons to Travel to Guatemala
Here are some of the top reasons why you will love visiting Guatemala:
- Great value for money destination
- Ancient ruins
- Beautiful cities like Antigua
- Realatively untouched by globalisation
- A lot safter than decades ago
- International tourism here is growing fast so you need to get here before the crowds arrive
- Good transport connections to other destinations in the region
If you are planning a trip to Guatemala you will be please to know you won't need to apply for a visa before hand if you are a British citizen. On arrival you will be granted a 90 day visa where you can travel anywhere you like. If you would like to stay longer you might need to do a border crossing and go back which is quite easy to do. Also unlike many countries no bank funds or proof of outbound tickets are required so the experience of getting into Guatemala is very easy.
Best Places to Visit in Guatemala
- If you travel to Lake Atitlan where there are two massive volcanoes over a lake, its really pretty and looks amazing in real life
- Antigua is a really scenic town with little cobbled streets and colourful houses and shops and is someone you need to add to your itinerary
- Guatemala city is huge and worth exploring if you like big cities
- Be sure to visit the ancient ruins of Tikal which are some of the best in the world and our top recommended thing to see in Guatemala
- Flores is a relaxing place to stay if you are going to visit Tikal, take bug spray though as its surrounded by water and there are mosquitoes
- Other must visit places include Lanquin and Livingstone
Travelling in Guatemala
Be intrigued and delighted in Guatemala - there's something for everyone here! Take the hassle out of your travels by booking through our website. The logistics are worked out for you - accommodation, transportation and an experienced leader to show you the best the country has to offer and to take the stress out of your trip. Travel operators can even pick you up and drop you back to the airport! Our packages are suitable for all - whether a short break or want an experience to form part of longer travels.
Guatemala is a highly recommended country to visit, it might not be as popular as Mexico and is a little bit off the beaten track but its well worth visiting. There are lots of things to do and we have put together some useful advice which you might find useful. Expect lots of culture, history and tradition in Guatamala - a country which has been plagued by war in the past but which is now very peaceful and open to tourists. We have some fantastic travel packages where you can mix with locals and see more than your average tourist.
Discover the highlights of Guatemala including the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal, Lake Atitlan, remote colonial towns and the pretty city of Antigua.
Gap Year in Guatemala
Guatemala is one of the most up and coming destinations in Latin America for backpackers and its easy to see why. Guatemala has some of the friendliest people in the whole continent and lots of places to visit including the ancient temple ruins of Tikal deep in the jungle. Guatemala will not disappoint. If you want to really make a difference on your gap year and travel with purpose then we recommend viewing our gap year programs, this gives you chance to explore this beautiful country and to help local people in places like Antigua.
Traveling in Guatemala can be a daunting but exciting prospect, don't let the countries last wars put you off now its a very safe country to travel in. Guatemala presents a great opportunity for you to make explore ancient ruins, help communities, improve your Spanish and see amazing places. A safe and recommended way to experience the highlights of Guatamala is to join an organised trip, you can book these on our website. There are lots of different trips and itineraries where you can explore Guatemala,or travel overland seeing more of this region or a neighbouring country. Transport is very easy to book, public transport in the form of funkily local busses are reliable and easy to use but sometimes very crowded. Try to get a lock and keep an eye on your belongings.
If you are looking to travel on a budget check the Tika bus which operates buses both North and South in this continent. Knowing basic Spanish will improve your experience. There are also lots of mini buses designated just for backpackers which you can book in hostels and hotels and at travel agencies which are located everywhere. On our website you can also book organised trips which provide a great chance to explore this country is a safe fashion with others. Use common sense when travelling in Guatemala, it is very safe but try not to walk around flashing money or your phone, also try to travel with someone especially at night. You shouln't encounter or worry about anything that you wouldn't expect in other countries. This country is a very cheap destination and the local food is very tasty, we recommend you try a tamalitos which is like a tortilla.
Local people are very welcoming especially if you speak a little Spanish and there are a wide range of options where you can help. You could join a program to improve the lives of less fortunate communities in Guatemala and get a really rewarded experience, a lot of people travel to Antigua and join a teaching program helping to educate local children. You could also work at a day care centre, nursery, community centre or orphanage.
Don't worry if you don't have any previous experience doing something like this, most placements in Guatemala are non-skilled meaning you don't need previous experience. You will need to have a positive attitude and be open to living and working in a new culture though. It's not all work too, there will be free time at weekends to visit new places and explore the country. There are also lots of cultural homestay programs where you can live with a local family and teach them English. Teaching at schools in Guatemala is popular, whilst internships and medical projects are very worthwhile if you are looking to gain hands on work experience. You might also like to view our Costa Rica gap year trips.
Guatemala Travel Tips
- General: Guatemala is very cheap especially compared to other destinations nearby like Costa Rica and Mexico
- Accommodation: You can find lots of hotels and hostels in Guatemala if you book a program through our website accommodation is usually provided where you will stay in a shared house with other internationals, there are also homestays available for an authentic local experience. This is a very cheap country to visit in Latin America and the food is very varied and tasty. You can find cheap hotels, dorms and hostels throughout the country all at great prices among the lowest in Central America.
- Safety: Guatemala on the whole is a safe destination but be more cautious in the larger cities and at night
Top Reasons to Book a Tour in Guatemala
Guatamala is an increasingly popular country to visit where you can chill out in the idyllic beach town of Tilapita, do yoga in ancient forests, go surfing in Monterrico, see spectacular archaeological sites and hike to see Maya villages in Tikal and Nebaj. Guatemala is a small country in contrast to others like Mexico but there are so many places to see and visit.
On one of our great value tours you will get a really authentic exprience and also have a lot of fun, most tour groups have a size of around 8-12 people from all over the world. There are guaranteed departures all year round and you will be led by an experienced guide who will be able to tell you more about the places you visit and also take you to the very best local cafes and restraurants.
Some tours also include the option to volunteer in Guatamala which can be a rewarding experience. You might also want to consider searching Spanish language schools in Guatemala where you will be able to imrpove your language skills and chat more easily with locals.
Guatemala Small Group Tours
Typical group sizes are around 8-18 travellers with an average of 12 but this can vary between the tour and operator.
Guatemala Adventure & Overland Tours
Our tours are perfect if you are travelling solo and would like to meet other people and travel in a group. You will get to meet other international travellers and get taken to the best locations in the country with an experienced guide. Most trips specifically cater for the 18-35 age group and are a really popular option due to meeting other people, getting day-to-day activities, hotel check-ins, selected meals, accommodation and also transport/guides included in the price. Don't worry if you are slightly older, most tours accept all ages.
Guatemala Budget Tours
We have a selection of tours for all budgets, so whether you are looking to explore on the cheap or you have a bit more money to spend you will be able to find a trip to match your interests. Our website features lots of cheap tours allowing you to discover the highlights of the country and not break the bank.
City & Day Tours
Short for time? Want to see the highlights as quick as possible? There are day tours available to book throughout the country. Popular options include city tours where a local guide will usually show you the sights. These types of tours can be booked as part of a group or you can spend a little extra and get a private tour. Some city tours are totally free but you might be expected to give a tip.
Best Places to Visit on a Tour in Guatemala
- Visiting the little town of Flores and then going to see Tikal is a must, hidden in the jungle there are lots of ruins which are up there with the best in the world
- Lake of Atitlán is a highly recommended place to visit in Guatemala and has to be one of the best lakes to see in the world. Locals still where the traditional dress which is a great sight to see. Lake Atitlan has two large volcanoes overshadowing it which looks spectacular
- Antigua is a really scenic city
Mayan Ruin Tours
Explore ancient Mayan ruins on explorer tours where you might also get to hop across the border into Belize and Mexico. Trips usally start in the pretty town of Antigua which has pebbled streets and bight colourful houses, this is a good introduction to Guatemala where you will get to meet the other people on your tour group.
The main highlight is visiting some of the best ruins in the world - Tikal but you will also get to visit remote communities and relax on beautiful beaches. You will visit the spectacular Carribean laid back island of Caye Culker where you can go snorkelling in some of the most clear waters in the world. From Belize you will travel to the east coast of Mexico and finish the tour in Playa del Carmen which has a white sandy beach and lots of nightlife.
- Accommodation: Usually travellers of the same sex will share a twin room, but there is also the option to pay a little extra and get a private room. Accommodation can vary depending on the tour and location.
- Transport: On most tours you will travel overland in a private small tour van. For day trips and excursions sometimes you will use public transport.
How to Book
Thinking about making an enquiry or booking? Search our featured trips above or contact us for specific advice.
Guatemala Tour Reviews
If you have ever joined a tour in Guatemala and would like to review or share your experience please contact us.
A Guide to Volunteering in Guatemala
Guatemala is often seen as a very un-safe destination to visit but we wouldn't let this put you off, most of the country is very safe and they need all the international help they can get especially if you have any specific skills or experience. Around 50% of the population live below the poverty line which is quite a shocking statistic but there are local organisations on the ground trying to help and this is a country very much looking forward.
You can find free and low cost volunteering programs in Guatemala, we also list organisations and large sending agencies who offer inspirational projects and volunteer holidays where you can help children and communities. Placements are really fun, you'll meet people from all over the world and be able to interact and socialise with locals. This is also a great way to improve your Spanish skills. You can find programs in places like Antigua and in rural villages and towns like San Miguel Duenas and Quetzaltenango (Xela) where you can give service and experience the culture of the country.
There are a wide selection of opportunities available where you can give back and make a difference in this naturally beautiful country, Summer and group programs are popular and are a great way to travel and give back. You can choose how long you participate for, some placements can last a week or over 6 months and don't worry you won't need any previous experience. Accommodation is usually basic including house shares with other participants and also home stays where you will get to live with a local family.
How You Can Help
You can find rewarding opportunities with animals, childcare, community development, conservation, environment, construction, renovation, education, teaching, sports, medical, health & more.
NGO & Community Development Volunteering in Guatemala
Some local organisations recognise the barriers to success, meaningful employment and quality educational experiences faced by low income individuals and their families. In Guatemala, opportunities are not being seized, chances are not being taken, and people are unable to move forward.
They strongly believe that all people have the right and should be offered the chance to participate in a sucessful life, become citizens for international change, and most importantly be allowed to make a positive impact whether big or small, near or far. You can work to improve life and living conditions in Guatemala, there are lots of community based initiatives available where you can help local people improve skills on business and education programs.
Childcare & Orphanage Volunteer Programs in Guatemala
You could apply to teach English in Guatemala at schools or help at outreach centres. When working at schools local children will really love having you there and its great to see the positive effect you will have on them. Usually these teaching placements start early at around 8am and you will assist a local teacher in daily routines which include drawing pictures and writing on chalk boards. Schools usually finish in the early afternoon and then you are free to relax or explore the local area. Participants will need to be pro-active in organizing activities and leading daily activities, you might be helping with maths, science or sporting lessons.
You can get involved with community life in a Guatemalan village, you can make a big difference by helping out with a range of tasks from teaching the children English, maths, computing or crafts to assisting with healthcare. As a volunteer teacher you will be able to help out where you are needed most and in the areas you are most interested in, the areas you will be able to help with include: You can opt to assist with a number of projects; the main focus will be on educating and supporting the children teaching subjects such as English, computing, mathematics, physical education and handicraft. These types of projects are popular with people on gap years in Guatemala.
Volunteer with Animals in Guatemala
Beauty spots and nature is under threat in Guatemala due to de-forestation and new building projects. This as a result has had a very negative effect on wildlife. There are also problems with the illegal wildlife trade and poaching. Places you can help include the Laguna del Tigre Park and at wildlife rescue centres, if you have a background in veterinary this is beneficial but there are normal placements available where you can help working hands on rehabilitating and caring for animals. There are also sea turtle research and release projects available on the coast which are a really amazing way to help this species.
Building & Construction Volunteer Projects in Guatemala
You could join structured construction and building programs which always need help, some communities don't even have schools and lack even the most basic facilities like chalk, chairs and tables. These types of programs are usually very structured where there will be a set itinerary and group efforts where you can help build new structures and make a difference to the lives of people in villages. There are also projects helping with farming, agriculture and local businesses.
Some trips allow you to stay with a local family in Antigua, you’ll get an insider’s view of life in Latin America and assist with really hands-on with building work. Each house takes around 6 days to complete; starting with digging footings and laying foundations, the spending around 3 days on the fabric of the building and a couple of days finishing your masterpiece before you get to see the finished results and hand over the keys to a very happy family!
Medical Volunteer Progras in Guatemala
Work hands on helping people who really need assistance. There are skilled and non-skilled programs available so if you are in this profession or not, you can apply. Types of projects include dentistry, nursing, working as a doctor, joining awareness efforts or providing general assistance with daily life making sure the right people get help. Sometimes you might be working as part of an outreach team travelling to remote areas working with remote communities and raising healthcare standards.
You can help give children and their families a better standard of care and access to essential vitamins and food. You’ll help to ensure that children receive nutritious food and drinks, such as carrot juice and fruit every day, clean their teeth and take their vitamins. You may be needed to help with social work with the families of the children and increase awareness within the community of the importance of healthcare and education. There are also care projects available where you can work with elderly and vulnerable members of society.
How to Apply
Generally everyone over 17 can apply as long as you qualify for a tourist visa which is granted on arrival. You will not need to know Spanish to apply but it is highy recommended you learn to make the most of the experience. Sometimes you might need to have a interview either over Skype of in person.
There are structured, free & low cost volunteer opportunities in Guatemala and placements usually need to be booked in advance. By applying through a sending agency you will need to pay a fee but they provide everything from placements, transfers, accommodation, meals and in-country support. View our Central America volunteering programs for more options.
Volunteer in Guatemala for Free
There are also free local non-profits and NGO projects available where you might need to pay a small donation or just give your time. Recommended organisations which offer free (and low cost) volunteer programs in Guatemala to international participants include Animal AWARE, Maya Pedal, Ninos de Guatemala, Mayan Families, Safe Passage, Trama Textiles and Quetzal Trekkers If you would like to recommend a free volunteer organisations in Guatemala get in touch.
Guatemala Volunteer Reviews
Have you ever been to help in Guatemala? Would you like to review an organisation or project? Get in touch and give us your feedback!
"I went to volunteer with animals in Guatemala for 2 weeks which was an amazing experience. I applied through IVHQ who offer safe and affordable programs which are very organized. You will love Guatemala!" - Laura, Canada