When it comes to the weather, there’s no bad time to go to Guatemala. The country has one of the most pleasant climates on earth – the tourist board refers to it as the “land of the eternal spring” – with much of the country enjoying warm days and mild evenings year-round.
Guatemala’s rainy season between May and October may put some travellers off, but with downpours mostly limited to late afternoon, it won’t ruin your plans.
The busiest times for tourism in Guatemala are between December and March, avoiding the rainy season, and again in July and August. Language schools and hotels are fullest during these periods, and many of them hike their prices correspondingly.
Here’s our season by season guide to visiting Guatemala, with a breakdown of the weather, sightseeing highlights, the best outdoor activities and our pick of the season’s best fiestas and festivals.
Guatemala’s weather is a big draw for many visitors, with plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures most of the year.
The climate in Guatemala is largely determined by altitude. In areas between 1300 and 1600m, which includes Guatemala City, Antigua, Lago de Atitlán and Cobán, the air is almost always fresh and the nights mild and, despite the heat of the midday sun, humidity is never a problem.
Parts of Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango and El Quiché are above this height, so have a cooler, damper climate with distinctly chilly nights between early December and late February.
The rainy season runs roughly from May to October, with the worst of the rain falling in September and October. In Petén, however, the season can extend into December. Visiting Petén’s more remote ruins is best attempted between February and May, as the mud can be thigh-deep during the height of the rains.
The best month to go to Guatemala largely depends on what you want to experience while you’re there. The country has different fiestas and festivals all year round — once a year every village, however small, indulges in a celebration in honour of its patron saint — while some tours, sights and activities are best experienced at certain times of the year. Here’s our guide to visiting Guatemala in winter, spring, summer and autumn.
Visiting Guatemala in winter is ideal, as most of the country emerges from the rainy season. Note that air fares are high at this time of year, when northern hemisphere travellers take advantage of the winter break and escape the cold weather back home. While the days will be pleasantly warm, temperatures can drop to freezing at night in some areas, so pack your cosy pyjamas.
You’ll find plenty to marvel at during winter in Guatemala. The Christmas season brings lots of fiestas, with the Caribbean town of Lívingston holding a big carnival from Christmas Eve through to New Year’s Eve.
Head to the western highlands in December to experience the festival of Santo Tomás in Chichicastenango from December 14 to 21. It’s a spectacular occasion, with plenty of drinking and dancing, live bands, a big procession and attractions including the Palo Volador, best likened to a Maya-style bungee jump in which men throw themselves from a 30m pole with a rope tied around their legs (often blind-drunk — it’s as dangerous as it sounds).
Christmas Eve from noon, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve from noon and New Year’s Day are all public holidays in Guatemala, and nearly all businesses close down. If you’re planning on travelling around these days, plan and book transport and accommodation ahead.
There’s no dry January in Guatemala: the fiestas are in full force. The Rabinal fiesta, which runs from January 19 to 24 in Cobán and the Verapaces, is famed for its many dances and one — the Rabinal Achi dance — has even been bestowed UNESCO world heritage recognition.
January also sees the biggest pilgrimage in Central America to Esquipulas in Oriente and Izabel. The town is fit to bursting with thousands of devotees — a sight to behold (or avoid, if you hate crowds).
You’ll find another of the country’s largest pilgrimages in February, to the colonial church in the village of Chiantla in the western highlands. February is also the earliest in the year you should attempt to visit the remote ruins of Petén — any earlier and you’ll be thigh-deep in mud.
For surfers, the waves of the Pacific coast are most consistent from December to April, averaging 2 meters, though conditions are usually tough for beginners.
Spring just might be the perfect time of year to visit Guatemala. You won’t be hampered by the rainy season and if you fly outside of the Easter school holidays, you should be able to get a cheaper flight.
Thanks to the lack of rain, a trip between March and May is the ideal time to visit Tikal and the ruins of Petén. If you find yourself in the region in March, take the boat across the lake from Flores to San José, famous for its fiesta in honour of its patron saint. It’s held between March 10 and 19 and includes parades and fireworks, plus a costumed dance in which a girl and a horse skip through the village streets.
Famous Maya site El Mirador is perfect to visit in March and April, when the route is driest. Getting there is a serious undertaking — either a two day jungle hike from Carmelita or a three to four day 4WD tour from Uaxactún — but it all adds to the experience. There’s also the option to skip the mud and jungle and take a helicopter ride, though you’ll only get a fleeting glimpse of the ruins.
If you’re a nature fan visiting Guatemala in spring, you’re in luck. The nesting season of the elusive quetzal starts in March and lasts until June. Pay a visit to the Biotopo del Quetzal in Cobán and the Verapaces for the chance to catch a glimpse of one. You’ll increase your chances if you head there at the start of the nesting season at sunrise.
Whether or not you see a quetzal, the forest itself is definitely worth a visit in spring: a beautiful explosion of flowers and plants spread out beneath a towering canopy of trees.
The summer months are not a cheap time to go to Guatemala: July and August is peak tourist season as Europeans and North Americans make the most of their summer vacations. If you’re planning on visiting the country during summer, book your accommodation ahead as hotels and hostels fill up fast.
Summer is a fantastic time to experience the Guatemalan outdoors. River tubing is great fun: visit Chisec in Coban and the Verapaces to combine a river trip with a jaunt to the impressive painted cave of Bombil Pek, 3 km north of Chisec. Many ceramics have been found here, and the cave is still used for Maya religious ceremonies.
If you’re visiting Guatemala in June, you’ll have your pick of fiestas, particularly in the western highlands where celebrations reign supreme during the latter half of the month. For a party that’s more modern-than-Maya, you can join in Guatemala City’s annual Pride march.
Travel to the ruins of Petén in June if it’s on your bucket list — the rainy season starts in July and will make venturing to the more remote sites very muddy.
The village of Cubulco in Cobán and the Verapaces is one to visit on July 25 for its annual fiesta. It’s a riotous event: be sure to taste the local chilate drink, made from corn and spices and served in fruit husks. Cobán also hosts the National Fiesta of Folklore in August, which is attended by indigenous groups from throughout the country.
Turtle nesting season starts in July in Monterrico on the Pacific coast. Pay the charming seaside town a visit and you’ll have the opportunity to spot two types of turtles as they come ashore to lay their eggs. If you’ve got the time, the turtle sanctuary in the tiny nearby village of Hawaii always needs volunteers, particularly between June and November.
Pack your umbrellas: the rainy season is heaviest between September and October in Guatemala. Braving the afternoon downpours is a compromise worth making for the cheaper air fares you’re sure to get by travelling in this shoulder season.
Guatemala celebrates its Independence Day on September 15 with a nationwide public holiday and lots of fiestas, particularly impressive in Guatemala City. Don some blue and white clothes and join in the fun.
November 1 is All Saint’s Day in Guatemala, commonly known as the Day of the Dead. The day itself is a public holiday, while the fiestas can span days. It’s celebrated all over the country, with the exact rituals varying from village to village.
The best Day of the Dead celebrations include the pagan skull-bearing procession in San José, Petén on October 31 and the kite-flying festival in Santiago on November 1, one of the nation’s most spectacular. Thousands of Guatemalans (and tourists) flock to watch the huge circular kites — early mornings are usually calmer, if you want to time your arrival accordingly.
The village of Todos Santos in the western highlands takes All Saints very seriously, honouring it with a three day fiesta which brings emigrants home from as far away as Canada. It kicks off with a drunken horse race on November 1, before a day of intense ritual amongst the graves in the cemetery on November 2, complete with drink stalls and marimba bands. If you want to visit during the fiesta, consider an organised tour or book your accommodation well in advance.
If you’re on the Caribbean coast in November, try to be in Lívingston on November 26 to celebrate Garífuna day. It’s the ideal time to see the town really celebrate, with different music and traditions to the rest of Guatemala. Be prepared to witness some of the best dancing you’ll ever see to the hypnotic drum patterns of Garífuna punta.