Updated on June 25, 2018 by Asher Fergusson
What should I bring on my Guatemala trip?
What to wear in general
Your wardrobe in Guatemala will vary depending on what your itinerary includes, but generally, casual clothing is in order.
Guatemala’s temperature averages about 70 degrees throughout the country, though it may be slightly cooler at high altitudes, and warmer along the coast. It can be quite humid, especially in the mountains, so lightweight clothing is ideal.
You won’t find much need for formal clothing in Guatemala, but there are high-end restaurants to be visited in some cities, like Antigua. A simple, composed outfit is perfectly suitable for dinner out. Think, chinos and a button down for men, and a maxi, or knee-length dress for women.
Remember, the temperature can drop at night, especially in the mountains, so be sure to pack a sweater and a pair of pants or leggings for the evenings.
Women in Guatemala typically wear casual, but conservative clothing. Dresses or slacks paired with a blouse are an everyday ensemble. Some women dress in traditional attire, which consists of a full-length skirt paired with a cotton blouse and a shawl if the weather is cool.
Because the standard dress is casual, packing for Guatemala is pretty easy. Visiting women should plan to bring layers, as it can be cool out in the evening. Leggings or sweats are ideal, paired with a long sleeve shirt or sweater. During the day it can be quite warm, so shorts or sundresses will be the most comfortable.
Guatemalan men typically wear slacks or jeans paired with a tee shirt or button-down shirt. Visiting men should feel comfortable doing the same. Though, visitors won’t be as acclimatized to the heat and humidity so shorts may be more comfortable than pants.
As for footwear, because the streets are mainly dirt or cobblestone, running shoes or sneakers are the best option. They’ll keep your feet clean and your footing sound. Sandals are just fine around town as well but probably aren’t as comfortable for long walks.
Dressing for the seasons:
Rainy Season (May – October) - Guatemala’s rainy season is also the colder season. During this time of year you can expect heavy rain showers, but usually, they don’t last the entire day. The temperatures are typically warm (around 70 degrees) during the day but can dip into the mid 60’s after dark, especially at high elevations. If you’re visiting Guatemala during the rainy season a rain jacket is essential. Also be sure to pack synthetic clothing that will quickly dry if you get caught in a shower. Waterproof trail shoes are a great footwear option for this time of year, as they’ll help protect your feet and keep your footing in the mud.
Dry Season (November – April) - The temperature in the dry season is slightly warmer than during the rainy season, and won’t drop as much when the sun goes down. If visiting Guatemala during this time of year, you can expect plenty of sunshine. Shorts, t-shirts, and dresses are comfortable during the day, and long sleeves help keep the bugs off in the evening. Rain showers can still occur during this time of year, so take a rain jacket just in case.
Dressing appropriately for the activity
Walking Around Town – When exploring Guatemala’s colorful towns and cities, casual but well-composed outfits are your best bet. The locals always dress nicely, so you should do your best to look put together as well. Comfortable shoes are ideal because the streets are often dirt or cobblestone. If you’re planning to visit religious sites, take care to dress conservatively — skirts to the knee for women, and shoulders covered. A pashmina comes in handy for transforming a sleeveless outfit into a conservative one.
Hikes & Ruins – Guatemala is famous for the Mayan ruin at Tikal. This extraordinary archaeological site features numerous ancient structures which jut out from the top of the jungle canopy. You will spend much of the day in the direct sunlight while visiting Tikal, and you will do lots of walking (and climbing of ruins). Be sure to wear lightweight clothing, and take a daypack equipped with a water bottle and extra sunscreen. Secure sandals or running shoes will keep your feet comfortable as you walk around all day. The same attire is fitting for volcano hikes.
Semuc Champey – This famous national park in Guatemala’s mountains consists of a renowned limestone bridge dotted with crystalline pools with delightfully refreshing water. Underneath the bridge is an underground river and plenty of caves to explore. You’ll want to wear water shoes, a swimsuit, and synthetic clothing for your day at Semuc Champey, as you’ll be in and out of the water a lot. A waterproof camera is ideal for helping you capture the experience.
Chichicastenango Market – Every Sunday and Thursday people from the surrounding area gather in the town of Chichicastenango and hold a massive market. You buy everything from textiles to leather goods, and, of course, food. When browsing the market women should carry a small, crossbody purse on the front of their body, as crowds are a feeding ground for pickpockets. Sensible shoes are also in order, to protect your feet from being trampled by strangers. If you take a daypack to carry your purchases home, be sure to keep your money in an inside pocket.
What NOT to bring
High Heels - Heels are simply unnecessary for Guatemala. Between the dirt roads and cobblestones, wearing them is just too much of a challenge. On top of that, the typical dress in Guatemala is quite casual; wearing heels will make you look out of place. Leave the heels and home and use the extra space in your suitcase for souvenirs.
A lot of jewelry – Petty crime isn’t unheard of in Guatemala, and excessive flashy jewelry will only make you more of a target. Additionally, it won’t fit in with the low-key, down-to-earth style for which the local Guatemalans are known.
Electronics – It’s best to limit the number of expensive devices you carry with you on your trip to Guatemala. Not only do they put you at risk for theft, but, the wifi situation in Guatemala is spotty unless you’re staying within a major city. There’s no sense in porting around devices if you can’t even connect with a network to use them on! Keep your electronics to the bare minimum and save yourself the weight in your pack.
Rolling Suitcase – While there’s nothing wrong with bringing a rolling suitcase to Guatemala, it’s just not that practical. There aren’t very many places outside of the airport where you’ll actually be able to roll it. It will be much easier to port around a travel pack, which you can throw over your shoulder.
Jeans – With the humidity level, warm temperatures, and chance of showers, jeans just aren’t a practical clothing item for Guatemala. You’re unlikely to wear them outside of the airport, and they’re heavy to cart around. Lightweight travel pants or leggings are much lighter and will dry quicker if they get wet.
Makeup – Makeup isn’t essential in Guatemala. You won’t look out of place if you wear it, but you’ll blend in just fine with a bare face. It’s most likely going to sweat right off if you do attempt to wear it, especially if your itinerary involves hiking, or caving. If you do bring makeup, stick to the bare minimum.
What NOT to wear
Guatemala’s casual street style means that there’s no need to pack formal wear for your visit. You won’t look out of place in a button down shirt or a sundress, but leave high heels, slacks, and fancy jewelry at home. You won’t miss it.
You should also avoid bringing heavy cotton clothing, like jeans and sweatshirts. These items will perpetually feel damp in the humidity, and they’ll be far too warm to wear most of the time. Instead, stick to synthetic outer layers, and travel pants.
What is the best time of year to go? – The best time to visit Guatemala is between November and April, which is the dry season. The beginning of the wet season, which extends from May to October, can also be a pleasant time of year, as there aren’t as many tourists.
The temperature is quite comfortable all year round, but the heavy rain during the wet season may cause roads to be impassable, and make it generally challenging to get around within the country. September and October are the peak months for tropical storms which can ravage the country and cause mass destruction.
Do you need vaccinations to visit Guatemala? – It’s best to ask your doctor for their recommendation of which vaccines you should get before visiting Guatemala. That said, the Center For Disease Control recommends vaccinations for Hepatitis B, Malaria, and Rabies.
None of these vaccines are required, but they may be worth considering depending on the nature of your visit. If you’re planning to spend a lot of time outdoors in nature, Rabies and Malaria may be a good idea.
What is there to do in Guatemala? – Guatemala has many different types of activities to offer. It is a fantastic destination for
adventurous travelers who enjoy hiking and spending time in nature. Many travelers base in ecolodges in the mountains and spend their days exploring coffee plantations, hiking volcanoes, kayaking in lakes, swimming in rivers, or exploring Mayan ruins. There are also many colorful towns and cities to explore, from those surrounding Lake Atitlán to Antigua in central Guatemala. These towns are great places to base for weeks at a time. They draw visitors from all around the world who spend their days learning Spanish and immersing themselves in Guatemalan culture.
What is the best way to get around? – Guatemala is easily accessible by chicken bus (most commonly used by the locals), shuttle, or, if you’re willing to spend some extra money, you can hire a private driver.
Chicken buses are the cheapest mode of transportation, but, they aren’t necessarily the most comfortable. For journeys longer than a couple of hours you’ll probably be most comfortable in a shuttle. Shuttles are large vans that carry 15 to 20 passengers and often have air conditioning.
What type of food do they eat in Guatemala? – Most Guatemalan meals consist of meat served alongside rice and beans. A soup or stew usually precedes the main dish. Some dishes that you might recognize from Mexico such as tamales, and chiles rellenos, among others, can be found in Guatemala as well.
How much does it cost to travel in Guatemala? – A room in a mid-range hotel in Guatemala runs about $40 USD, while a bed in a hostel costs about $10. Of course, you can spend much more than that if you wish, but a mid-range hotel will provide a basic, but clean room.
When it comes to eating the cost will vary depending on where you eat. Comedores, which are small eateries where you pay a fixed price for a set menu, will cost about $5 for a full meal. If you eat in a proper restaurant, you can expect to spend about $10 for an entree.
Transportation costs in Guatemala are very low. A chicken bus will cost from $2 to $5 depending on the distance you are traveling, whereas a more comfortable shuttle bus will cost about $20.
Can I pay for things with a credit card in Guatemala? – Many large chains, hotels, and major restaurants will have the means to accept credit card payments, but your average independent store will not. In touristy areas, it is more common for businesses to accept card payments, but more often than not they will be cash only.
It’s not wise to carry a ton of cash with you in Guatemala because petty crime is relatively common, so try to plan out your daily expenses and carry only the amount of money you expect to need.
If your bank charges hefty ATM fees, withdraw a big lump of cash every week, and store it in various compartments throughout your luggage which you leave in your hotel. This way you can skip the ATM fees, and not have to be worried about carrying excessive cash on your person.