The Pros And Cons Of Visiting Guatemala (Or Becoming An Expat)

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Guatemala is known for many things; volcanoes, the ancient citadel of Tikal, a modestly warm climate and colonial architecture of Antigua.

It also boasts a low cost of living, which attracts many expats to Guatemala looking to make their hard earned cash go further.

But Guatemala while Guatemala has its many fine qualities, it also has its drawbacks, which is why we’ve prepared this guide on the pros and cons of visiting Guatemala so that anyone thinking of visiting here can make an informed decision about whether it’s right for them.

Whether you’re looking to become an expat in Guatemala or you’re looking to travel here, we hope these pros and cons give you an idea of what it’s like to visit here.

View on Antigua and Volcano de Aguaby Cerro de la Cruz in Guatemala
View on Antigua and Volcano de Aguaby Cerro de la Cruz in Guatemala

Pros of Visiting Guatemala

Ever the optimists, let’s begin with the pros of Guatemala and some of the reasons you may want to visit.

1. Easy to get to from North America

Getting to Guatemala from the USA is reasonably easy and convenient, with various travel options available.

The easiest and most common way to reach Guatemala from the USA is by air, as Guatemala has refurbished its international airports to accommodate flights from the U.S. and other regions.

Various airlines fly to Guatemala, including United Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, and others, so you can find affordable flights as well as plenty of options.

You can also find reliable bus services like Ticabus, which you can take from neighboring countries such as Honduras and Belize. Read these tips on how to find cheap flights.

2. Lots of cultural attractions

ancient stone pyramid of Tikal

Guatemala has so many cultural attractions to explore. For one, the city of Antigua, a colonial city, is one of the main reasons to visit the country. It captivates anyone who visits here with its elegant ruins of conquistadors’ convents and cathedrals, offering a glimpse into the country’s history.

Then there are the Mayan ruins of Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which stand as a powerful testament to an ancient civilization that once dominated this land.

Another cultural experience you can have in Guatemala is a homestay. Many of the local families in rural areas open their homes to international tourists as a way for them to learn English, and also offer an immersive cultural experience to travelers.

Staying with a local family is a unique way to learn the culture, and also provide an income for those who can benefit from it.

3. Amazing nature

jetty in Lake Atitlan

Guatemala is a haven for nature enthusiasts. From the stunning turquoise pools of Semuc Champey to the majestic shores of Lake Atitlan nestled amidst volcanic peaks, Guatemala’s landscape is truly breathtaking.

The lush rainforests of El Peten are worthy of visiting if you love wildlife and bird watching, while the Lanquin Caves can rival those famously found in Belize.

Many of the towns in Guatemala are located next to a lake, which means you are never far away from nature. My favorites are San Marcos la Laguna, which sits next to Lake Atitlan, and Flores, which sits next to the Parque Nacional Laguna de Lachuá.

And let’s not forget the adventure of climbing an active volcano…but more on that later.

4. Good year round weather

Guatemala has decent weather all year round, with three microclimate zones dotted across the country. This means when it’s hot and humid in the coastal areas, you can escape to the highlands with a higher altitude to get less humidity.

The best time to visit Guatemala is during the dry season from November to March, offering pleasant weather. The shoulder season of October is also a good time to visit since there are fewer crowds this time of year, though it’s the end of the rainy season and boasts heavy rainfall.

The cool, dry months are from December to February, boasting clear skies and lush green landscapes.

Note that the summer holidays in July and August also draw tourists, so expect to see a lot of other tourists if you plan your trip for these months.

5. World class Spanish Schools

people in classroom learning spanish

Guatemala is one of the best countries in the world for learning Spanish due to many factors.

For one, the country’s Spanish schools offer immersive language experiences where students can practice what they learn in real-life settings, allowing students to get a deeper appreciation for Guatemala’s culture.

They are also cheap when compared to prices in Europe or America, and generally the Spanish teachers are highly qualified and experienced.

Not to mention the places you can visit to learn Spanish are some of the most atmospheric. From the historic charm of Antigua to the cultural hub of Quetzaltenango, students can choose from diverse locations to take on their Spanish learning journey.

Here are tips on finding a Spanish school in Guatemala.

6. Spiritual environment of Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlán is the place to be for a mystical ambiance. It seems to attract a community of spiritual seekers, looking for tranquility and harmony on its serene shores.

Renowned as a center for yoga and meditation, there are many yoga retreats and sanctuaries you can visit where you can pursue inner harmony.

San Marcos La Laguna, in particular, is hailed as a spiritual haven, attracting yogis, healers, and new-age philosophers.

This town hosts a plethora of workshops and classes, encompassing practices such as kirtan, shamanism, and cacao ceremonies.

The region’s strong ties to Mayan tradition contributes to the transformative energy surrounding the lake, making it an idyllic destination for those looking for spiritual and holistic exploration.

7. Volcanoes!

Fuego erupting in Guatemala, views from Acatenango
Fuego erupting in Guatemala, views from Acatenango

If you’re looking for more intrepid experiences, then consider a hike up one of the volcanoes of Guatemala!

Witness awe-inspiring natural phenomena of a volcano erupting, a spectacle you cannot see in many parts of the world.

Acatenango, standing at 13,041 ft, is a dormant volcano overlooking the very active Fuego. It’s a challenging hike but the captivating views of neighboring Fuego’s eruptions make it worth it.

Meanwhile, Pacaya’s relatively moderate hike is more for the less experienced trekkers, and allows you to witness molten lava fields and even toast marshmellows from hot spots in the ground.

8. Low cost of living

The biggest draw to Guatemala is the remarkably low cost of living, attracting budget-conscious individuals and expatriates seeking value and adventure.

Accommodation in Guatemala is notably reasonable, averaging around $2,450 per month for a family of four, but those inclined towards a more modest lifestyle can find an apartment in quiet towns like those around Lake Atitlan for less than $500 a month.

The average monthly expenses for a family of four are estimated to be around $2200 USD, with a single person’s monthly costs at $1,000. Most amenities such as water, electricity, gas and garbage collection are usually included in rents, so you only need to arrange WiFi.

Overall, the country’s low cost of living is an enticing reason to visit Guatemala if you want your money to go further.

9. Easy to connect with other foreigners

market in guatemala

Many people come to Guatemala to take advantage of the low cost of living and high quality of life, from retirees to backpackers.

If you stay in Antigua or other touristy towns along the shores of Lake Atitlan, then you are bound to meet fellow travelers and like-minded people to connect with.

Cons of Visiting Guatemala

And now, the downsides…here are some of the cons of Guatemala for international visitors…

1. Guatemala City is dangerous

building with flag in front guatemala city

Upon my arrival in Guatemala City, I was immediately concerned about my safety. Mostly because I had heard horror stories, but also because I met a local who helped me find my accommodation who told me stories that shook me to my core.

I also faced this danger head on when me and a friend of mine came face to face with two robbers on motorcycles one evening.

We escaped by heading into a restaurant diagonally across the street, who’s owners closed the gigantic metallic gate to protect us (and them) and called the police who showed up 5 minutes later.

The robber said to me “Buenes noches, dame tus chivas.” Well, to me Chivas is a brand of Scotch and a Mexican soccer/football team.

Apparently, in Guatemalan slang, chivas is the same as cosas, or things. So he was telling me to give him my things. It was pretty scary.

Aside from Guatemala City though, I didn’t feel unsafe. The main touristy areas are pretty safe for tourists and only petty crime like pickpocketing can happen if you let your guard down.

2. The healthcare system needs improvement

The healthcare system in Guatemala isn’t great. There are three main sectors; public hospitals, private hospitals, and private non-profit hospitals.

You can get health insurance as an expat in Guatemala, which will mean you can visit the private hospitals (which are much better equipped and cleaner) should you need any medical care.

However, if you need any surgeries or more serious medical illnesses treated, you’re probably better going back home…

Safety Wing is a great option for travel insurance for expats and nomads. Click here for options and prices.

3. English is not widely spoken

In Guatemala, they speak Spanish, and it’s Spanish with an accent so it’s different from other Spanish speaking countries.

Outside of touristy areas, that’s all they speak. In fact, in some rural areas, they have their own language and dialects, and speaking Spanish you’ve learned from your Guatemalan Spanish School may even be proven useless.

English is not widely spoken in the country and you’ll only find English speakers in the main cities such as Antigua. If you’re not planning to learn Spanish in Guatemala, this can be challenging.

4. Work permits required for long-term stay

Anyone can stay in Guatemala for up to 90 days on a tourist visa, but if you want to extend and stay longer, it can be a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare.

If you have a job in Guatemala, such as an English teacher job, the company will sort your visa for you.

However, if you’re a digital nomad or looking to take up residence for retirement, or don’t plan on finding work, then it can be difficult obtaining a visa.

Final Thoughts

people tending to crops Guatemala coffee plantation —
Guatemala coffee plantation | Deposit Photos

In the end, I had a great time in Guatemala and I would go back in a heartbeat. What happened to me could happen anywhere in the world.

I choose to remember Guatemala for its nice people, especially the nicest Guatemalan in the world who helped me find my way upon my arrival to Guatemala City.

It’s certainly one of my favorite destinations in Central America, and worth visiting if you are looking for somewhere to visit after Mexico or Belize. Or, perhaps Costa Rica? Here are pros and cons to living in Costa Rica and the best things to do in Costa Rica.

Bio: Adam Pervez left the 9-5 cubicle and took the plunge into a happier and healthier life and hasn’t looked back since. He blogs regularly at Happiness Plunge, a blog about finding happiness in a digital nomad lifestyle. You can follow his adventures via his Facebook page.

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