Guatemala is known for its beautiful nature, the volcanoes, the Maya culture and its steep climbs. It is a very tough country to cycle through, especially if you leave the busy main roads. However, the reward is great because it is a beautiful country and highly recommended by bicycle. We went through the country in just ten days, far too little to see everything. Nevertheless, we collected enough tips to help you further.
In Guatemala they use the Quetzal, named after the national bird. In December 2019 the exchange rate was € 1 = 8.5 Quetzal. The prices in Guatemala are comparable to Mexico and a lot cheaper than Belize.
We entered Guatemala via the border with Belize in the northeast and left it in the west via the Mexican border. The north is subtropical and relatively flat. In the southern half lie the mountains and the volcanoes with steep climbs, very steep climbs. The route we took was so steep that we had to push the bike for six hours to cover a distance of 15 kilometers. You better train a little bit before you go through Guatemala and you will definitely come back super fit.
The roads in the north were relatively quiet, certainly in comparison with busy Belize. There was hardly any traffic on our route through the mountains. The route was also so steep and in poor condition that a lot of car traffic cannot climb the roads. A set of disc brakes and a very light gear is a must.
There are a few warmshower hosts in Guatemala, but we almost always camped with our tent. There are many beautiful places on iOverlander, sometimes free, but usually paid. For example, you pay 25 quetzal for a campsite in a natural park.
In Melchor de Mencos, on the border with Belize, you can sleep at the fire department.
In a hotel or hostel you can find a room starting from 70 Quetzal, although that is at least 100 Quetzal in the touristic places
The north of Guatemala is subtropical with extensive rain forests. On average, there is more rainfall than in the rest of the country and the difference between the dry and wet season is less present. In the mountains there is clearly a dry and wet season. The dry season runs from October to May, what they call the summer in Guatemala. At the end of the dry season there are very few mosquitoes, while the beginning of the summer (up to January) can be hell.
The food in Guatemala is very similar to Mexico. Almost all dishes are with rice, beans and tortillas. You will find tacos and burritos, lots of avocados and fresh fruit.
For lunch we often ate in a small comedor, a small restaurant. For 15 to 20 Quetzal you get a simple meal with egg, rice, beans and a basket of tortillas. You can always ask more tortillas, so even as a cyclist you will have enough.
We always asked for water at the door and usually got water from a large jar. In the mountains we occasionally received tap water or we filtered it ourselves from a river with our Care Plus waterfilter.
Night sleep in hostal: from 70 quetzal for a double room
Bread: we found no salted bread. You pay 1 quetzal for 4 to 5 tortillas.
Milk: 5 quetzal for one liter
Lunch or dinner: 15 to 20 quetzal
Border crossing Gracias a Dios (Chiapas - Guatemala). We took the border crossing to Mexico in Gracias a Dios. It is a very small border where not many people pass. Leaving Guatemala was no problem, but to enter Mexico, we had to pay a fee of 550 pesos to get our 90 day visum. The problem is that you cannot pay at this border because you are supposed to get the receipt for the visum in a bank and there is no bank in the border. The only option is to take a seven-day visa and hope that this will not cause any problems if you leave Mexico. The other option is to cycle to the other border, one extra day on the bike.
We took the seven day visum and also took a picture from the law that was printed on the wall in the border. There was written that ‘in case you overstay your seven day visum, you will pay the full amount of 550 pesos when leaving the country’. This was our backup in case we would had problems. In the end there was no control when we left Mexico to the US and so, maybe a little bit illegally, avoided some problems.