Costs of Budget Travel in Guatemala
Guatemala is one of the least expensive countries in Central America. It also offers a great diversity of destinations, nature, culture and exciting activities.
Visitors can climb volcanoes, hang out at one of the world’s most beautiful lakes (Atitlan), tour coffee plantations, experience black sand beaches with crashing surf, visit some of the world’s best Mayan ruins (Tikal for one) and explore a well-preserved historic Spanish city (Antigua), to name just a few.
Not surprisingly then, Guatemala is a magnet for budget travelers in the region. I, for one, started my Central American journey by flying directly to Guatemala and exploring the country for two full months – November & December, 2015.
I found the costs of traveling around Guatemala quite comparable to budget travel in SE Asian countries. I paid just about the same rates for accommodation, food and transportation as I normally do in Thailand or Malaysia. And my overall monthly total expenses were pretty much the same, too.
In this post I detail my costs, giving price ranges and overall averages for accommodation, food and transportation. I also discuss other costs and expenses involved in my two month explorations.
My $US figures are based on an exchange rate of $1 US = 7.6 Q
Total Monthly Costs:
November, 2015: $590 US
December, 2015: $495 US
Monthly average over 2 months: $ 542 US
Total including my flight to Guatemala and exit stamp, dividing the costs equally over 2 months:
OW Flight from Ft Lauderdale, FL to Guatemala City: $157 US
Guatemalan exit stamp at Livingston: 80 Q / $10.50 US
Total: $167.50 / 2 = $84 US per month
November, 2015: $674 US
December, 2015: $579 US
Total monthly average over 2 months: $626.50 US
Price range I paid for dorm beds & rooms: 35Q-80Q / $4.60-10.50 US
Most common prices: 45-60 Q / $6-8 US
Average nightly cost over 2 months: 58 Q / $7.65 US
* I stayed at a variety of accommodation, including hostels, family guest houses, a beach-side resort, small hotels and one campground. I slept in dorms, private rooms and a tent.
* I was very lucky with dorms – I was generally the only one in the room! A few times I shared a dorm with 1 or 2 other quiet travelers and only two nights did I sleep with a room full of people.
* I also stayed in many private rooms at small hotels and guest houses, for nearly the same price as the dorms. In fact, my least expensive room was just 45 Q in ChiChi, which is less than the cost of most dorm beds around the country. Other private rooms cost me 42 Q in Coban, 67 Q in Nebaj and 80 Q in Flores (where dorm beds at hostels also cost 80 Q!).
* So if you’re traveling on a budget in Guatemala, don’t think you must confine yourself to dorms. Be sure to check out rates for private rooms, too.
* Almost all accommodation in Guatemala includes free wifi, bottled drinking water, nice sitting spaces in gardens or patios. A few older style hotels don’t have wifi or drinking water.
* Every place I stayed was very clean. Most places were very quiet as well, though you can easily find party hostels in most locations if that’s your preference.
* The more expensive hostels – with beds costing 75-80 Q / $10-10.50 US – also include a hefty breakfast, so at least you’re getting more for the higher rate.
All in all, Guatemalan accommodations are good value for money.
Price range I paid for meals at local restaurants/comedors/steet stalls: 15-30 Q / $2-4 US
Most common prices: 18-20 Q for breakfasts / 20-25 Q for lunches and dinners / $2.35-3.30 US
Average food cost over 2 months: 64 Q per day / $8.40 US per day
* In Guatemala my average daily food expense was higher than my accommodation! That’s reverse from costs in SE Asia, where rooms usually cost a bit more than eating.
* As it turns out, it’s a bit more expensive to eat in Guatemala than in most SE Asian countries. But meal costs are still well within the budget of most backpacker’s food budgets.
* I should also point out that I never skimp on meals. I eat three solid meals a day as well as some snacks, coca colas, fruit and other tidbits.
* Budget travelers can easily spend a lot less on food in Guatemala than I did, if they are light eaters, skimp on meals or use hostel kitchens to cook, when available (though I didn’t stay any place that actually had a kitchen to use!).
I met one British guy who was spending just 25 Q per day on food by living off fresh fruit from the markets and cheap grocery foods like bread, lunch-meats and peanut butter. So, as usual, the cost of food in any given country very much depends on your eating habits.
* Flores is more expensive for accommodation, but offers the cheapest eating I came across in the whole country. Every evening along the lakeside several locals open big cooked-food stalls. Everything costs just 5 Q, including large glasses of fresh fruit juice. I was able to eat filling meals for just 10 Q. Giant slices of homemade cakes cost 10 Q.
My November Total: 266 Q + $10 US / $45 US
My December Total: 443 Q / $58 US
For local buses & minivans, count on paying 10-20 Q per hour’s trip / $1.25-$2.50 US
Tourist Shuttle Vans cost 75-125 Q / $10-16.50 US per trip
* In Guatemala travelers basically have two options for getting around the country: local buses & mini-vans or else tourist shuttles. Generally, public transportation is much cheaper than taking shuttles. However, getting between some destinations by public transport might entail taking 2-3 separate buses & mini-vans, whereas the shuttles might go direct.
* Also to keep in mind, many public buses & mini-vans are ridiculously jam-packed. It’s common for 12 seat vans to be squeezed with 20-24 people. It’s tight!
* Shuttles also generally only run between major tourist centers. For more remote destinations, public transport might be the only choice anyhow.
* I only took 4 tourist shuttles in Guatemala: Guatemala City to Atitlan, Atitlan to & from Monterrico, Coban to Flores. All were timely, fast & efficient except the Coban to Flores shuttle which ran 2 hours late, included some unnecessary delays and was a bit of a scam.
* Otherwise, I took local buses everywhere. I always felt safe, both my person and my possessions. I never had any even mildly suspicious incident occur.
Sample prices I paid for local buses:
Antigua to Lake Atitlan: 35 Q – 2 hours
Nebaj to Coban: 65 Q (I had to take 3 buses. 5 hours total. 65 Q was the total price)
Flores to Rio Dulce: 65 Q – 3 hours
Tours and Paid Activities:
As I mentioned in the intro, travelers can join all sorts of interesting and exciting activities & day / ½ day tours in Guatemala. They’re generally quite inexpensive, even within the budgets of backpackers. A common price is 100 Q / $13 US
Though I had planned on many fun activities during my trip, I ended up doing only two: visiting a coffee plantation near Antigua and exploring Tikal Mayan ruins.
Here are some sample tour costs:
Coffee plantation tour: 50 Q / $6.50 US
Guided ½ day climb of Pacaya, San Pedro or Akatenango Volcanoes: 100 Q / $13 US
Chocolate making at Chocolate Museum in Antigua: $25 US
Tikal: $20 US entry fee
Museums generally cost 30-50 Q / $4-6.50 US.
Others are free or cost just 5-10 Q / $0.65-1.30 US
My November Total: 206 Q / $27 US
My December Total: 209 Q / $27.50 US
My misc costs included laundry, personal supplies, a few repairs, mosquito coils & repellent, coffee supply, espressos at cafes and a few cocktails.
* Strangely, toiletry products are extremely expensive in Gautemala! Contact solution costs $10-25 US (when you can find it). A bar of soap costs nearly $1 US, compared to 10-25 cents in most SE Asian countries. I recommend taking all your toiletry supplies with you before entering Guatemala.
* On the other hand, alcohol is extremely cheap, especially rum. Cocktails at bars 7 restaurants, therefore, are super cheap. Buying your own bottle and mixers at a store makes them even cheaper. Guatemala is a great country for cocktail lovers!
Here are some sample prices on a variety of goods:
Sim card with some credit: 65-100 Q / $9-13 US
Load of laundry: 25 Q / $3.30 US
5 L of drinking water: 10-12 Q / $1.30-1.50 US
Bottle of coke: 4-5 Q / $0.50-0.65 US
Bananas or oranges: 1 or 2 for 1 Q / $0.13 US
Bag of gourmet coffee: 75 Q / $10 US
Espresso in cafe: 10-15 Q / $1.30-2 US
Cocktail: 10-25 Q / $1.30-3.30 US
Mosquito coils: 2 Q / $0.26 US
As you can see from my monthly totals and detailed costs for accommodation, food, transportation and miscellaneous expenses, Guatemala on a budget costs pretty much the same as most countries in SE Asia.
The low costs and Guatemala’s huge diversity of destinations and activities make it a wonderful country for budget travelers to explore. I hope you make it there one day!
I certainly enjoyed my 2 months roaming around and hope to get back there to check out a few destinations and activities I missed during my recent trip. I highly recommend it.
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