Our recommendation to visit Guatemala and neighboring countries
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Guatemala Travel advice
Events and festivals in Guatemala
Keep the popular festivals in Guatemala in mind when you plan your travel. That way you will be able to experience the unique and the traditional first-hand. Festivities like the All Saints Day of Santiago de Sacatepéquez, or the indigenous folk festivals are well worth seeing.
Of all the events that take place in Guatemala, there are certain festivals that you should not miss. The tradition, the costumes, the music and the Guatemalan folklore will provide you with a different and unique experience. Take a look at the following festivities and, when planning your journey, choose the one you like the most.
January - New Year
In January, as in the rest of the world, Guatemalans celebrate the New Year. For the inhabitants of this country this date is a reason for family celebrations. The most curious thing about the New Year in Guatemala is the burning of dolls, which is a way of eliminating all the bad things from the year that is ending. The dolls symbolise everything that you want to leave behind in order to enter the new year on a good footing. Of course, there are also firework displays and celebrations with music and dancing throughout the country.
February - Huelga de Dolores
In February the popular festivals in Guatemala are divided into various dates: the 20th of February is Marimba Day, this musical instrument is the symbol of the country. The 26th of February is the day for celebrating the National Cultural Heritage. This day celebrates the first official government visit to Tikal, a Mayan city of great importance, which took place in 1848.
Another event in Guatemala which stands out because of its originality is the Huelga de Dolores (The Strike of Pain), which is a carnival parade. The carnival parades through the streets of the historic centre of Guatemala City and groups of hooded students shout protest songs against the government.
March and April - Holy week
Festivities in Guatemala for the months of March and April turn to Holy Week. Guatemalans celebrate this Christian event with a great deal of fervour. They cover the streets with flowers and bring their saints out on processions.
In Chichicastenango the processions are as impressive as those in Old Guatemala, but they stand out because the native inhabitants are dressed in their traditional costume. The mass is celebrated in the Quiché language, and is enveloped in Mayan incense and ancestral prayers.
May - Holy Cross
From the 1st to the 20th of May the festival in honour of the Holy Cross and the Child of Atocha is celebrated in Amatitlán. This festival has different social and cultural events, such as the folk dances. From the 17th to the 21st in Patzún and Chimaltenango there are various festivities, for example, the Festival in honour of San Bernardino de Sena and the Corpus Cristi.
June - Dance of the Giants
The dance of the Giants in Antigua is one of the Guatemalan festivals celebrated during the month of June. It consists of a folk dance performed by giants and figures with oversized heads who take over the cathedral square in Antigua Guatemala. According to tradition, the dance is announced to the inhabitants on the day of Corpus Christi.
July - National Indigenous Festival
One of the most traditional popular Guatemalan festivals is the National Indigenous Festival of Rabin Ajaw. Equally in Verapaces as in Cobán, the national indigenous queen of Rabin Ajaw is chosen and crowned. The whole country takes part in this traditional festival which is considered to be the most important Mayan festival in Guatemala.
Also in July the Baile del Palo Volador (the Dance of the Flying Stick) is celebrated in Cubulco, which coincides with the festival in honour of Saint James the Apostle. The dancers, dressed in black, dance around a stick which is 30 metres high, and hang from it upside down. This is a celebration that you really shouldn’t miss.
August - National Folklore Festival of El Paab’anc
In August, one of the events celebrated in Guatemala is the National Folklore Festival of El Paab’anc in Cobán. This traditional Q’eqchi festival is a religious celebration of the indigenous inhabitants of Alta Verapaz. It is a Mayan festival where candles are lit, offerings are made and traditional dances are performed.
September - Independence Day
On the 15th of September, Guatemala celebrates its Independence Day, which took place on this same day in 1821.
October - Saint Francis of Assisi
Within popular festivals in Guatemala, October welcomes the festivals in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi in Totonicapán. There are also various social, cultural and sporting events, as well as folk dances.
November - All Saints Day
But without a doubt, the month of November brings one of the most surprising Guatemalan festivals. On All Saints Day, the festival of the Giant Kites is celebrated in Sumpango. This festival is a mixture of tradition, music and colour, where the kites, or giant comets, chase away the bad spirits.
December - Quema del Diablo
Of all the popular festivals in Guatemala, the Quema del Diablo (Burning of the Devil) is a magic-religious event celebrated each year on the 7th of December. Its purpose is to perform a spiritual cleansing by burning paper effigies symbolising the devil.
If you can coincide your travel dates with any of these festivals, you are sure to enjoy both the culture and the traditions of Guatemala.GO TO EVENTS
Food in Guatemala
Knowing what to eat in Guatemala is essential when preparing for your trip. This multi-cultural country is full of different ethnic groups and it has gastronomy that is equally as varied and rich. You will want to try many of the traditional dishes of Guatemala.
If you don’t know what to eat in Guatemala, don’t worry, as we will go on a gastronomic journey of the country below. We will begin with the traditional Guatemalan dishes and then focus on their variety and unique gastronomy.
This typically Guatemalan dish comes from the Q’eqchi’ region and is truly delicious. It is a meat soup made from chunto or turkey, which is prepared with various spices such as coriander, chilli and annatto. Different vegetables are added to the soup and it is served accompanied by little tamales made with lard and rice.
This typical Guatemalan dish was declared a part of the intangible cultural heritage by the country’s Ministry for Culture and Sports in 2007. The ancestry of the dish is pre-hispanic and, before serving it, you drink cacao and sugar cane liquor.
Of all the things you will find to eat in Guatemala, the enchiladas will be the one you try the most. These toasts are filled with minced meat, cheese and beetroot and served with onion rings, to which are added tomato sauce with chopped parsley and two slices of hard-boiled egg.
Guatemalan enchiladas stand out because of the purple colour of the beetroot and the accompaniment of vegetables with which they are served. You will find them in every market, fair and restaurant in the country.
This traditional Guatemalan dish is prepared for All Saints Day. The dish is a very varied salad consisting of a mix of different cold meats and vegetables. It is also prepared by using different types of cheese and its flavour comes from the chicken sauce.
The history of this dish recounts that it emerged as an offering, or at least that is how it appears in 17th century chronicles. Its ingredients vary from one region to another, but throughout the country, it is the national dish for the 1st of November.
This typical Guatemalan dish is very like tamales, but these are made with potato dough. Paches are the star food for celebrations: birthdays, Christmas, Easter, New Year, etc. Its main ingredients are: Potatoes, garlic, onion, sesame, chilli, paprika, butter and chicken or beef.
They are served on banana leaves and you can find them at any market in the country. They are also known as potato tamales, the most famous of which are those made with potato, rice and the black-coloured ones.
Continuing with the food delights of Guatemala, we find this simple, yet tasty traditional dish. Chuchitos are made with a tortilla covered with layers of maize leaves. This tortilla is filled with chicken, pork or beef and is served with grated cheese and a tomato sauce.
There is a sweet version which is known as chuchito de cambray. This is a characteristic dish throughout the whole country and you can find it at any market.
This Guatemalan dish is the most famous stew in the country. Little wonder that it has survived as an inheritance from the Mayas.
To prepare it, place maize tortillas over a griddle, with tomatoes, sesame, chillies, garlic and coriander. To this mix, add carrots, meat and potatoes. Make a very fragrant soup with all these ingredients and serve it with rice.
Now that you know what to eat in Guatemala, don’t forget the importance of tortillas or tortitas. These delicious maize doughs are a substitute for bread and accompany most dishes.
Tortillas are not only served as an accompaniment to the mail meals, they can also be served on their own, with cheese or with beans.
Shucos are a variation of what we know as the sandwich, or what have become known as our tapas. They are a base of bread, which is served with avocado, cabbage and cold meats, and sometimes roast meats are added. You can add mayonnaise, mustard and tomato sauce with jalapeños according to taste.
Strolling through the streets, you will find vendors with barrows selling shucos. You will have the opportunity to try them on almost every street corner.
To complete our culinary journey through this beautiful country, what better than to end with one of its desserts. Don’t forget to try tamarind balls, pumpkin dessert or milk rings. The coconut or guava colochos (a confection made with sugar), along with figs in honey are other temptations that you won’t be able to resist.
This is just the beginning of what you need to know about things to eat in Guatemala and about its traditional dishes. This country will conquer you, not just visually, but also through its flavours.GO TO GASTRONOMY
Shopping in Guatemala
If you don’t know what to buy in Guatemala, don’t worry, we are going to summarise the most typical souvenirs of the country. From brightly coloured fabrics, to Arabian quality coffee and Guatemalan rum. Everything in this country is exotic and tasty, so you will definitely buy more than one gift as a souvenir.
Of everything you can buy in Guatemala, the best thing is to take some of the typical products home as a souvenir. Amongst these, there is one essential thing that everyone drinks and has made the leap to social networks: Zacapa rum.
This aged rum from Guatemala is one of the best known typical Guatemalan products, and all of its flavour is made at more than 2,300 metres of altitude in Quetzaltenango. In this region, more than four types of Zacapa rum are made, the most sought after and valued.
Zacapa rum 23 is a mix of various 6 to 23 year old rums whose main ingredient is caramel. As well as this touch of caramel, it also contains various spices and fruits which help to give it flavour in its ageing process.
The Zacapa Edición Negra is another variant, this time with rums aged up to 24 years, which gives a smoky flavour. Chocolate and dried fruits are added to this characteristic flavour. If you like rum, this could be the perfect gift to buy in Guatemala.
The Zacapa Xo, a mix of different rums aged between 6 and 25 years in French oak barrels. It is a gourmet rum with a spicy and fruity flavour. Its age is perfect, and its aroma is unforgettable to the most discerning palate.
The last example is the Zacapa Royal, made with a mix of rums aged up to 30 years. The King of rums, aged in exclusive barrels and distilled with citric and caramel notes. A delicate and perfect rum for connoisseurs of this drink.
Another of the typical Guatemalan products is Quetzalteca, an aguardiente (fire water) of different flavours. It can be tamarind or hibiscus flavour and has started to be sold in all of the country’s shops and around the world. It is also available in its original version without added flavours, in any case, it is a symbol of the country.
This liquor has been made since 1937 and has also been linked to daily life and customs of the locals. It is so popular that it is sold in a pocket sized bottle, although there are also other sizes. You will recognise it by the indigenous woman who decorates the label, which is why it’s called Indita.
If you are still unsure of what to buy in Guatemala, or you're not into liquors, coffee is the perfect choice. This coffee is considered one of the best in the world and has been made since 1760. Is aroma, acidity and body are due to the fact it is grown at high altitude and dried in the sun.
Guatemalan coffee requires a lot of time to process it, everything is done manually. One of the most famous varieties is the Volcán de Oro Coffee, grown at 1600 metres, which has a very high quality.
Other known brands include Café León, Café Isabel and Café Capeuleu, these three are exported around the world. The second is dedicated to the high quality Arabian variety, and the last is a gourmet coffee.
Now you have the perfect souvenir from Guatemala to take home or to surprise one of your friends as a gift. But leaving to one side the products that can be drunk, there are more things to buy in Guatemala.
The most exotic thing to buy in Guatemala are ceremonial masks made by indigenous people. These masks are usually used in rituals, dances and religious ceremonies. They are made of bright colours and show different expressions of animals or humans. In general, they are made of pine and are a great lure for tourists.
Guatemalan masks, far from disguising the person wearing them, have the task of transforming their wearer into the character they are wearing. Whether it’s a goddess, angel or animal, the person wearing the mask takes on the role it represents. This way they fully enter a new world that they want to get to know and/or express.
The jade mines of Guatemala supply the country's jewellers to make extremely beautiful necklaces and rings. There are many companies who export jade to the rest of the world from Guatemala.
This green coloured precious stone is highly valued in jewellery for its beauty and durability. Jade is resistant to knocks, and the most widely sold in Guatemala is a type of jade known as jadeite. This jade is characterised for not being as shiny as nephrite jade, but it has a wider variety of shades.
In addition, for the Mayas, jade was always very valuable, even more so than gold. Its extreme hardness was a symbol of immortality for them. They also attributed special powers of fertility and life to it as well as therapeutic powers.
You can buy a necklace, ring, or a figure made of jade with a special meaning to give someone as a gift. This is undoubtedly one of the best souvenirs of Guatemala that you can find as s souvenir of your trip.
In addition to all of the things that you can buy in Guatemala mentioned above, you also have multicoloured fabrics that can be used to make scarves, cushion covers, rugs, quilts and much more. Leave space in your suitcase and fill it with memorable souvenirs form this beautiful South American country.GO TO SHOPPING
Guatemala tourist attractions
More information about Guatemala
A small Central American country with a huge Maya legacy, Guatemala is a bucket-list travel destination which encompasses biodiverse rainforests, volcanoes, highland lakes, beaches and mysterious jungle ruins. Travellers often choose a tour of Guatemala to walk amongst the relics of the lost city of Tikal, where astrologically designed Maya pyramids reveal the secrets of an ancient civilisation.
Although cities of the classical Maya period have long laid abandoned, on a trip to Guatemala you can meet authentic Maya communities in the remote hillside villages of the highlands, for a cultural experience like no other. Take a tranquil cruise on the scenic Dulce River and spot birdlife from heavenly Lake Atitlan for a taste of the pure, virgin wilderness that Guatemala possesses in abundance. With coastlines on both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Guatemala shares land borders with Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico.
The capital, Guatemala City is home to a mish-mash of charming colonial architecture and modern skyscrapers, whilst the nearby city of the colonial city of Antigua Guatemala retains more of its Spanish-era charms and is famed for its avant-garde Easter week celebrations. Prepare for a trip through wildlife-rich rainforests, picture-perfect highlands and the kind of ancient ruins which leave you with goosebumps, on a Guatemala holiday package.
History of Guatemala
Once the heartland of the century-spanning Maya civilisation, Guatemala is bursting with fascinating historical sites. Countless ruins across the country, such as the magnificent ruins of Tikal, whisk visitors back across the centuries.
In the year 900 AD, classical Maya civilisation collapsed, and many of these ancient cities, which today are the highlight of a Guatemala vacation package, were mysteriously abandoned. Regional kingdoms filled the void of the all-encompassing Maya civilisation, with kingdoms such as Itza, Kejache and Q’eqchi among the most famous. The Spanish influence in Guatemala began in the early 16th-century, with contact among the Europeans and indigenous populations resulting in fatal epidemics among the native population.
Under Spanish rule, Guatemala was incorporated into the kingdom of New Spain and suffered a number of devastating earthquakes in the 18th-century. Independence came to Guatemala in 1821, along with much of Central America. The later 19th-century was characterised by persistent instability, resulting in a dictatorship which would endure throughout a long list of successive leaders.
A pro-democracy military coup in 1944 marked the beginning of a decade-long revolution and the 60s saw widespread civil war and the devastation of Maya communities. In 1996, a peace accord between the government and guerilla forces brought harmony at last, and since then, Guatemala has seen good economic growth and has remained a thriving democracy.
Nature in Guatemala
Guatemala has it all: mountains, beaches, coastal enclaves and the lush tropical rainforests of the leafy Petén region. The giant Tamjulco volcano is the highest point in the whole of Central America at 4,220 metres high. Volcanoes and glistening lakes typify the highlands of Guatemala, with magical Lake Atitlan among the most popular natural attractions. Situated in a huge volcanic crater in the southwest highlands, Lake Atitlan is simply breathtaking.
The dramatic scenery of volcanoes, hills and quaint Maya villages surround the shoreline and a nearby nature reserve and a butterfly garden offer plenty of outdoor activities for visitors on holiday in Guatemala. Visitors to Lake Atitlan can also swim and kayak in the crystalline waters, in the shadow of the San Pedro Volcano.
Filled with abundant natural beauty, a few icons stand out as must-visit sights on a Guatemala tour. Semuc Champey is an impressive limestone pool system, formed into tiered aqua-blue pools, surrounded by lush forests. You can’t get a more picture-perfect sight than this!
Furthermore, no Guatemala tour package is complete without a cruise on the calm waters of the Rio Dulce, where you can enjoy laid-back sailboat rides or energetic kayak excursions to get closer to the wildlife and sheer natural beauty of the environment.
Culture in Guatemala
If you take a trip to Guatemala you’re sure to fall for the diverse and colourful national culture. Guatemalan culture, generally speaking, is heavily influenced by the two largest ethnic groups, the indigenous Maya and the ancestors of the Spanish conquistadors, often known as mestizos.
Although Spanish is the official language, a plethora of Maya languages are widely spoken, such as quiche. Christianity, and most predominantly, Roman Catholicism, plays a huge role in everyday Guatemalan life and culture. Traditional Maya religions are still prevalent too, and in some parts of the country, both religious traditions have become intertwined, resulting in very unique religious practices, such as the worship of Maximón.
Within the long-abandoned ancient Mayan ruins, offerings, both modern and more traditional, are still left upon altars in honour of the gods. Guatemala City is filled with museums, libraries and galleries in which to delve into the past and present of Guatemalan culture.
Traditional arts and crafts in Guatemala include basketry, blanket weaving, embroidery and wood carving and the most popular sport is Futsal, a form of football similar to 5-a-side. Guatemala’s national team is one of the best in the world!
Travel to Guatemala, a natural paradise, where untouched rainforest seems to go on forever and ancient civilisations remain intact in idyllic hillside villages and awe-inspiring Maya ruins. A treasure of Latin America, Guatemala possesses the kind of uncompromising charm that’s hard to find in the modern world.
Guatemala travel information
Passport with a minimum of six months validity.
No visa is required for stays of up to 30 days.
UTC - 06:00.
Tourist Office websiteVisit website
120V, 60 Hz.
Other useful information
Inches are used to measure small objects in Guatemala. One inch equals 2.54cm
Please consult your doctor regarding malaria prophylaxis.
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