Known as 'the land of eternal spring', Guatemala is blessed with balmy and stable temperatures year round. Most of the country enjoys warm or hot days with mild or cool evenings. The altitude determines local climate: the highlands (Guatemala City, Antigua, Atitlán) have a temperature range of 18-24C; temperatures in the lowlands (Peten) range from 22-34C, and it can be very humid.
December to March is the busiest time in terms of tourists. The rainy season starts in May and ends in November, but this mostly entails sunny mornings with rain late in the afternoon. However, June and July are often dry and clear and are also a popular time to visit. September and October are the wettest months.
Every town and village has at least one fiesta day or sometimes a week every year, usually dedicated to the local saint. In Ladino areas this could involve a fair, processions, marching bands and late-night salsa and merengue dancing. In the Maya highlands you'll see traditional dances and musicians with amazing costumes. The Caribbean fiestas are hedonistic carnivals as befits their different tradition. Huge quantities of alcohol are common to all, as is unbounded energy and enthusiasm.
The most important dates are:
January 1: New Year's Day, public holiday
January 12-15: Flores fiesta
1st Friday in Lent: Antigua fiesta
Semana Santa: Easter, or Holy Week, is huge throughout Guatemala, particularly in Antigua, and it's advisable to book travel and accommodation well in advance. Santiago de Atitlán is worth visiting at this time to see the cigar smoking saint Maximon paraded through the streets
May 1: Labour Day, marked in Guatemala City by marches and protests, public holiday
June: Corpus Christi celebrations
June 30: Army Day, anniversary of the 1871 revolution, public holiday
July 25: Santiago fiesta in Antigua and Santiago de Atitlán
August: Many fiestas in highland areas
August 15: Guatemala City fiesta
September 15: Independence Day, public holiday
October 2-6: Panajachel fiesta
October 12: Discovery of America, public holiday
October 20: Revolution Day, public holiday
November 1: All Saints Day, public holiday
November 26: Garifuna Day in Livingston
December 7: 'Burning of the Devil' sees men dressed up as devils chase around highland towns
December 13-21: Large Chichicastenango fiesta
December 25: Christmas Day, public holiday
December 31: New Year's Eve
NB, please do not rely solely on this information for your travel planning.
GUATEMALA: BY AIR:
From Europe: A direct flight to Guatemala from Europe is only available from Madrid on Iberia.
From the USA and Canada: Continental Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.
GUATEMALA: BY LAND
Some travellers will arrive overland. There are several routes through Mexico, the best being along the Carretera Interamericana (Pan-American Highway) through Oaxaca and San Cristóbal de las Casas to the border crossing at La Mesilla, and on to the western highlands and Huehuetenango. There are also several border crossings into Peten via Tenosique and El Naranjo, Frontera Corozal and Bethel. Alternatively, there are a number of entry and exit points south - the Carretera Interamericana exits towards Santa Ana in El Salvador and the point of entry into Honduras is via Esquipulas or Copan.
Tourists tend to travel most by shuttles and the odd internal flight, but it's worth taking a 'chicken bus' at least once for an authentic experience of Guatemala.
BY CAR: see our car rental recommendations.
BY BIKE: Chicken buses will carry bikes on the roof, most towns have a repair shop, and it's a great way to see the country if you have the energy to climb through the highlands. You can rent bikes in Antigua and Panajachel.
BY BOAT: Ferries operate between Puerto Barrios and Livingston on the Caribbean coast, and connect Puerto Barrios with Belize. Boats are useful in Peten along rivers, as well as on Lake Peten Itza between Flores and villages on the opposite shore. Unmissable boat trips include the Río Dulce gorge between Livingston and Río Dulce, and volcano-encircled Lake Atitlán.
Citizens of Europe, North America and Australasia only need a valid passport for a stay up to 3 months. Passport holders from a few countries, like South Africa, also need a tourist card available at the point of entry. Most African and Asian citizens need a visa.
There's no charge to enter the country, although some border officials have been known to ask for a fee of around 10Q. Asking for un recibo (receipt) usually prevents payment. To extend your 90-day visit, go to the immigration department in Inguat (tourist information) in Guatemala City, or simply cross the border and re-enter.
HEALTH & SAFETY
The vast majority of travellers leave Guatemala without experiencing any health problems at all. There are no obligatory inoculations unless you're arriving from a high-risk area, however it's recommended that you're up to date with your typhoid, hepatitis A, tetanus and polio vaccines. You could also consider diphtheria and tuberculosis jabs. Plan ahead for immunisations.
Malaria is a hazard in lowland areas (below 1,500m), so take your doctor's advice as to whether you require anti-malarial medication. Dengue fever can also occur in some lowland areas. Make sure you take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes. Antihistamines are well worth bringing along if you're susceptible to bite allergies.
The most likely complaint is diarrhoea, usually from a change of diet rather than encountering anything too unhygienic. The best cure is to drink plenty of bottled water and eat bland food. If symptoms persist over a few days you should seek medical advice - the local consulate or tourist office of the town you're in can usually recommend someone reliable (who will expect to be paid in cash). Most antibiotics can be bought over the counter at a chemist (make a note of any medication which you're allergic to).