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Guatemala’s rich culture, diverse history, natural beauty and charming cities have been attracting visitors since the end of the civil war in 1996. There are small museums in every city, town and village, some fantastic local artists and a great music scene. By car, visitors can explore the beaches along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, twist around the hills and valleys in the highlands, and discover the Mayan ruins tucked away in the jungle.
The Pan-American Highway is well-maintained, while most other main routes throughout Guatemala are in good condition and offer a great way to whiz around the country. Smaller routes often suffer from potholes and poor signage.
Driving licences: UK drivers can use their UK driver’s licence to drive here for up to 30 days. After 30 days, an International Driving Permit is needed.
Which side does Guatemala drive on: the right.
Motorways: 68mph (110kph)
Rural areas: 37-55mph (60-90kph)
Built-up areas: varies depending on road conditions
Alcohol limits: 0.08 per cent, as in the UK; hefty fines for offenders.
Driving age: 18 years.
Seatbelts: mandatory for all passengers; there are no laws governing the use of child seats.
Mobile phones and GPS: using a mobile phone while driving is illegal without a hands-free kit. GPS is allowed but most visitors find a road map more useful.
Cost of fuel in Guatemala: significantly cheaper than in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: most petrol stations do not accept credit cards for payment so be sure to carry small denominations of cash at all times. Major car hire suppliers, however, have credit card facilities.
Insurance: included with car hire but it is recommended to purchase additional insurance.
Traffic and parking: parking rules are not always observed by locals and traffic congestion in major cities can be heavy. Visitors are advised to park in hotel or paid car parks.
There is a network of railroads but unfortunately, all train service was suspended in 2007. Visit the Railroad Development Corporation for more information or updates on the current railway situation.
Taxis are readily available in all main cities and come in two varieties, yellow ones that are metered and white ones that are not metered. Yellow metered taxis must be called ahead of time, while white taxis can be hailed on the street. Before getting into a white taxi, be sure to negotiate a price. There are also cheap three-wheeled taxis in some cities. Taxis from the airport in Guatemala City to Zona 10 cost around £7.50.
Long-distance buses arrive from Belize, Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador, and usually terminate in Flores or Guatemala City. The colourful chicken buses (camionetas) are hard to miss and a fun and cheap way to get around the country. First-class buses cost more but are much more comfortable and run from most tourist destinations to Guatemala City. Most cities have inner-city bus services, such services in Guatemala City start at just £0.10 for a single fare, but rates can be triple in other locations such as Puerto Barrios.
The Caribbean port at Puerto Barrios receives ferries from Punta Gorda (Belize) and is a major cruise ship terminal. It also has ferries to popular Guatemala beaches along the east coast. On the Atlantic coast, the port at Puerto Quetzal receives numerous cruise ships. Puerto Barrios is accessible from the capital by bus.
La Aurora International Airport serves Guatemala City and the rest of the country with flights from mostly North and Central American destinations. There is a secondary airport at Flores which receives domestic flights from Guatemala City. Flying into Mexico and taking a low-cost flight or bus is also possible, with airfares from Mexico City starting at around £60.
Guatemala City is the main port of entry and where most visitors start their Guatemala exploration. It is the largest city in the country and a great place to get a feel for the culture and history of Guatemala. Home to sites such as Kaminal Juyú, Palacio Nacional de la Cultura (National Palace of Culture) and Parque Zoológico La Aurora (Aurora Zoo), the city has plenty to offer visitors alongside magnificent architecture.
To the west is the popular Antigua, which is a World Heritage site that is filled with historical buildings, fountains, ruins and monuments. Hike up the Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross) for phenomenal views of the picturesque city.
The Pacific Highlands is home to the active Pacaya Volcano and the volcanic sandy beach of Monterrico. It is a great place to relax and is less busy than the beaches along the Caribbean coast.
Izabel makes up the Caribbean coastal region, which is where most of Guatemala’s most picturesque beaches are located. It is also home to the famous crystalline Las Escobas River, the magical Finca Paraiso hot springs and the beautiful Los Siete Altares Waterfall.
Petén is the largest department in the country and home to its best Mayan ruins. Tikal is the most famous archaeological site here, followed by Uaxactún, Aguateca and Seibal.
May to October is the wet season, which is prone to hurricanes, while November to April is the dry season. The Central and Western Highlands have a mild climate, while Petén and the Caribbean coastal region (Izabel) are generally hot and humid. The Pacific coast is the hottest part of the country, with March and April being exceptionally hot. Guatemala City, which is at the south edge of the Central Highlands, has an average annual temperature of between 15°C and 25°C.