Cost of (budget) travel for a month in Guatemala

For a lot of people, budget destinations are often the only destinations. As much as people like to say that travel is affordable (and it’s a lot more true than most people think), it’s still not even close to free. So when I was looking for a cheap summer getaway, budget concerns were quite a priority.

Central and South America loomed large. The flight would be a lot cheaper for me than prancing off to a more distant continent, and daily costs in many of those countries can be quite minimal. I had already been to a few of the cheaper places in South America, so I started looking at Central America, with one country in particular making a whole lot of sense.

Guatemalan Masks
Not that much sense.

Guatemala seemed to offer a great mix of activities in a tiny package: Jungle walks, volcano hikes, Mayan ruins, lazy beach days, small town living, colonial architecture, and big cities. Mexico could do this too, but Guatemala would be a smaller, shorter, more easily manageable trip, and that’s exactly what I needed.

I’m happy to say it all worked out great. Here’s how it went:

Cost of travel for a month in Guatemala

It worked out to $828.81 for 28 days of travel, though the flight was extra.

That’s $29.60 per day. All in all a pretty good budget destination, if I do say so myself.

Antigua Streets and Volcano
Pretty good for a cheap destination, isn’t it?

For the whole time I was doing relatively low budget travel. I’m a backpacker, after all (this is what I brought), so for me that means dorm rooms in hostels or cheap hotels, standard meals at local restaurants, cheap public transportation options, and occasional guided activities. This is pretty much all I do anyway, as I find it comfortable enough, and still affordable. I’d keep an eye on prices, but I didn’t really feel like I was missing out on anything worthwhile.

Day-to-day cost breakdown

Accommodation: $5-15 a night gets you a dorm room in a hostel, or a budget hotel room to yourself.

Meals: $3-4 gets you a standard meal at a cheap restaurant, which consists of eggs, rice, beans, plantains, a salad, tortillas, and maybe a drink. $1-2 gets you some street food, or a bag full of bread or fruit. You could get a steak or a pizza for maybe $10, but I was generally quite happy eating local food.

Drinks: $1-2 gets you a beer, soda, water, coffee, tea, or a shot of rum (go for Botrán if you’re on a budget, or Zacapa if you want to get a little spendy). $2-3 also gets you an amazingly awesome fresh smooth with the fruit(s) of your choice.

Transportation: Guatemala has lots of different transportation options. Chicken buses, which are just old American school buses repainted in crazy colors, cost maybe $1 per hour. Local shuttles offer similar prices. Tourist shuttles, which aren’t any more comfortable than the others, might be more like $3-4 per hour, but they can be booked from hostels and offer door-to-door service. “Real” buses with good seats and air conditioning might be around $3-4 per hour as well, but they’ll drop you off at a bus station, which might require taking a local bus into town. Transportation was my least favorite thing, though. Bumpy rides on poorly-cushioned seats for 6 hours on “roads” of gravel is not a fun time.

Chicken Bus in Guatemala
It’s like an angry Transformer.

Ticket prices: Small museums might be free, or cost a few dollars each. Smaller Mayan sites might cost $10, though Tikal will be pricier (discussed below).

Guided day tours: Depending on what sorts of activities you’re looking for, a day tour could be $10-20. I visited a coffee plantation close to a city for $10, and hiked up a volcano, with a few hours of transportation and a guide, for $20.

Tikal: This wasn’t cheap. Between the ticket price and transportation to and from the site, you might spend $35, and it goes up to maybe $45 if you want to wake up for the sunrise tour at 3am, which requires a guide. There might be cheaper ways to do this, but it’s probably the only pricey activity you’ll do.

Tikal, Guatemala
It’s like the cost of a few movies, except those movies are probably terrible anyway.

Could it have been cheaper?

Maybe a little. I usually picked relatively cheap hostels, but occasionally chose one with a higher rating than another, for a few dollars more. Some of these included breakfast (sometimes a huge one), so that was worth factoring in. But I could have opted to stay only in the cheapest of places.

I generally tried to get the cheapest transportation available, which meant chicken buses or local shuttles. A few times I took pricier tourist shuttles, simply because the pickup location was so much closer to the hostel, and didn’t require an extra bus to get to the station. I suppose I could have done this a little more cheaply, though not by a significant margin. Some of the routes didn’t have many cheap options anyway. And I only took a single taxi the whole time, which was to the airport at 5am on the way out.

A couple times I had a meal that wasn’t just typical Guatemala food, just for variety, which cost a bit more. Most meals were from cheap restaurants for a few dollars each. I didn’t find street food to be significantly cheaper, as the meals were usually a lot smaller, and I’d get hungry again anyway. I never bought bottled water, as I was making use of this water filter, though I did get soda, coffee, and tea, and had some rum on occasion.

But all in all, it was a good trip, and I’ll be posting more about it soon enough (check out a list of favorite activities). Relatively cheap, comfy enough for a backpacker, and with plenty of great food, ancient architectural marvels, natural wonders, modern cities, old towns, and monkey-filled jungles to provide a good time. If you’re looking for someplace cheap, Guatemala’s definitely worth a look.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

View all posts by SnarkyNomad

20 Comments on “Cost of (budget) travel for a month in Guatemala”

  1. I’ve been wanting to get to Guatemala for some time! You would think I would have been already considering it is so much cheaper than say…all of Europe! Love to find out the costs of things…muchos gracias!

  2. That really is cheap, and those local meals actually sound really good. Sometimes I weirdly crave plantains, and I dont think they ever get imported into Russia, unless it’s for a specialty restaurant.

  3. Nice breakdown, all the important info without unnecessary filler.

    Looking to dodge Minnesota winter this year.. any spots in Guatemala that would be nice to rent an apt for a couple months? Thinking cheap rent, goodish wifi, either beach or nature close enough, access to good local markets, etc. THANKS

    1. A lot of people congregate around Lago de Atitlan, but I think it’s quite overrated and overly touristy. Xela is a fairly sizable city with easily accessible mountains, with very few tourists. It actually feels like a real place, instead of just a city built for tourism. Antigua is probably the best place to go, though. Spanish colonial architecture, an easily walkable city center, some fairly easy day trips, and even though it’s on the tourist trail, it didn’t feel too saturated to me.

        1. By the way, Xela is the nickname for Quetzaltenango, which makes absolutely no sense, but that’s how it is. So look for both on maps.

          1. It’s called Xelaju because that was the original native name. After the Spanish takeover of the city it was changed over to Quetzaltenango, but most locals know it as both and recognize Xelaju out of respect to the indigenous people. Also, it’s considered, by many, as the capital for the Mayan people.

    2. i second snarky’s comments. antigua is the crown jewel of central america (as far as colonial towns). you will find retirees and backpackers but it’s not unbearable (except during semana santa which is definitely worth experiencing despite the crowds).

      xela (quetzaltenango) is guatemala’s second city but the difference between it and the capital is drastic. like the difference between st. paul and new york. it’s sleepy and pleasant and would make a good base for short trips to volcanoes and hot springs and the lake. almost no foreigners so bring your spanish.

      i just realized you’ve probably already done this trip. hope someone else finds this info useful.

  4. My wife and I spent 5 weeks in Antigua this May-June and was by far the highlight of our 7 months in Central America.
    Check out cafe Santa Clara for fantastic local breakfasts, cheesy music and an owner who is a real character.
    Also bar Territos for Gallo the local beer available in light or dark (oscuro) varieties.

    1. Antigua was quite a nice place to be, and I can see why people end up staying there longer than expected. The colonial architecture is a lot more pleasant than some other places.

    2. I really liked Guatemala. And yes the owner of Cafe Santa Clara something else. That tiny man is a lot of fun. I also loved a little place on the other side of Antigua called Fernando’s.

  5. Guatemala is my absolute favorite – fascinating, infinitely varied, cheap as hell. One could spend 3 weeks of hard travel and not see it all. Antigua, Xela, Huehuetenango, Tikal, Livingston, Guate – that would be a fantastic itinerary.

    If you’ve got a bit longer, slip across the Mexican border into Chiapas or Oaxaca. Best part of the world.

    1. Yeah, that was pretty much what I did while I was there. There were plenty of places I was skipping, some of which would have been great, but that’s how it goes. But then there’s a reason to visit again sometime.

  6. Just curious, on a budget trip like this, do you carefully plan out everything ahead of time? Like specific locations, transport, and lodging down to the day, or just have a general idea and wing it? Is it a lot more expensive to be more spontaneous vs carefully plan out each step in advance?

    Thanks

    1. I generally do as much research as I can about how long it’ll take, taking into consideration the time needed for sightseeing in each city, transportation between them, taking random naps because I couldn’t sleep the night before, and some extra time here and there in case something goes wrong. Aside from that, I mostly just wing it, but I usually know which things I want to see, which cities I should visit, and so on. It’s not really more or less expensive this way, but I just prefer having the wiggle room in case you get stuck in a damn roadblock protest for hours like I did last time.

      1. Do you try to book lodging online before hand, or just show up and find a place? Have there been times when you haven’t been able to find lodging, and if so, where did you end up camping out?

        I assume for important transportation, like trains or buses to other cities, you can book those ahead of time after knowing a rough timeline of how long you’ll stay in each place. Is that more or less correct?

        1. I go back and forth between reservations and no reservations. Sometimes it’s completely unnecessary to reserve ahead, and sometimes it’ll be fully booked and you won’t be able to stay there, and they’ll try to recommend other hostels nearby. Usually what I like to do is book just the next city in advance, then go there, figure out how long I need to be there, and then book the following city in advance, and just keep going that way, one city ahead at any given time. It provides a balance between flexibility and predictability.

          Trains and buses are a completely different story, since every country will be totally different. Some countries, especially developing ones, seem to have no system in place at all, and you just show up at the bus station, and hope for the best. In Europe, you can buy in advance, but sometimes I just like to show up at the station, and if I have to wait a few hours to catch the next bus, I’ll just eat lunch or something as I wait.

  7. How would you recommend reserving the hostels? Is it at all possible to improvise with that or should I try to arrange them ahead of time?

    1. I use Hostel World, although you can also just check the phone numbers listed there and call ahead. I reserve maybe half the time, and sometimes it’s fine and they have plenty of room, and sometimes they don’t. They’re usually good about recommending another nearby hostel, though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.