Latin America is more popular than it’s ever been now, and a growing number of U.S. travelers are looking for cheaper yet just-as-incredible alternatives to their overpriced, overcrowded favorite holiday destinations.
From Brazil’s azure Atlantic Coast to the resort zones of the Colombian Caribbean, the subcontinent is experiencing a major increase in tourism, but one country in particular is making headlines due to its tropical nature and lower-than-average consumer prices.
This year, if it’s a sunny getaway that will not break the bank you’re after, maybe Guatemala could fit that criteria:
Why Should Guatemala Be On Your Travel Radar?
Guatemala may be one of the smallest nations in Latin America, located in the central isthmus that divides both the Northern and Southern parts of the New World, but it suffers from no shortage of manmade and natural wonders.
It is a country of vast jungle reserves, virgin beaches, vibrant cities, and well-preserved pre-Columbian heritage, including Mayan ruins.
Magnificent Mayan Ruins
Though Mexico is the best-known destination for Mayan archaeological sites, a little-known fact among travelers is that, in fact, it’s Guatemala that was at the heart of the lost civilization.
While important Mayan cities stretched as far as the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, the Mayan World was centered in Central America, roughly where Guatemala is, which is why some of the most historically significant and important Mayan cities are inside the country.
One of them is the world-famous Tikal, an ancient citadel first built in 200 AD, featuring the landmark Lost World Pyramid and the Temple of the Grand Jaguar, as well as the 70-meter Temple IV, the tallest non-European structure still standing anywhere in the Americas.
Overall, there are more than 1,500 Mayan cities that are part of Guatemala, one of the highest concentrations out of any Central American country, perhaps beaten only by the neighboring Honduras.
Other than its ancient heritage, Guatemala is the perfect winter escape as it boasts year-round warm weather. Lying along the Tropics line, it has overwhelmingly humid summers and hot, dry winters.
It’s no wonder tourists are flocking into the small Central American state for an off-season vacation, as the beaches are mostly development-free, unlike in the Mexican Caribbean, which has been overtaken by major hospitality brands, and overtourism is still some years ahead.
This year, Guatemala is expecting to host 2.45 million tourists, 96% of pre-pandemic levels, proving the country is regaining its popularity following two and a half years of enforcing strict entry controls.
Thanks to Guatemala, as well as the trendy hotspots of Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador, Central America is now among the fastest-recovering regions of the Americas, challenging North America and the Caribbean for the number one spot.
Some of the top beach destinations in Guatemala, where nature is yet to be ruined by mass urbanization, include Monterrico, on the Pacific Coast, known for its volcanic-sand beaches and marine life, colorful Livingston, the gateway to the Guatemalan Caribbean and rainforest, and Playa Tilapa, a paradisaical sandy stretch only 10 km from the Mexican border.
Guatemala may be underdeveloped, and beach towns are not as accessible as they are in Mexico or Costa Rica, but that’s precisely the beauty of it.
The country does not feel like a tourist trap, like many Mayan Riviera hotspots or Costa Rica: it is a Central-Latin American gem at its most authentic.
Who Is Guatemala For?
With that being said, it may not be everyone’s cuppa, and if you are expecting to find ultra-luxurious beachfront stays and you’re averse to adventure, long boat rides down meandering rivers across jungles, and challenging hikes, perhaps you shouldn’t venture too deep into Guatemala.
More precisely, away from the well-delineated tourist path, which includes the beautiful capital, Guatemala City, distinct for its colonial-era buildings and ornately decorated churches, Tikal, and other Mayan sites that are easy to reach.
That’s not to say some beach towns in Guatemala are not prepared to host big spenders or wellness seekers: all along the Pacific coast, you will find a plethora of bougie, boutique stays rather expensive for Guatemalan standards but that are worth every cent.
Among the top three spa resorts in Guatemala, TripAdvisor lists Camino Real Antigua, a serene, rustic relaxation retreat with overnight rates starting at US$259, Portal Hotel Antigua, renowned for its ‘outstanding’ massage therapies and high level of comfort (US$175 per night), and Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, specializing in holistic experiences (US$240).
All three are located in the UNESCO-protected colonial city of La Antigua, Guatemala, more commonly known as La Antigua, making it the country’s number one tourist destination.
Aside from the UNESCO classification, Guatemala’s Government has its own classification of heritage sites through the ‘Picturesque Cities’ program, seemingly modeled after Mexico’s trademark ‘Magical Towns‘.
This year, five new locations will be awarded the designation in recognition of their cultural or historical value. Among them, the quaint Isla de Flores (or Island of Flowers) is highlighted for its slow-paced lifestyle and tranquil atmosphere.
An Affordable Sunny Break
Guatemala is investing more in tourism, and its post-crisis success continues to reflect its laudable endeavors on this front.
Additionally, it is incredibly cheap by American standards and even much cheaper than its main competitor in Central America (that is, Costa Rica).
On average, tourists spend US$48 per day during their vacation in the country, against US$113 in Costa Rica and an eye-watering US$220 in Honduras.
This data is collected by BudgetYourTrip, which calculates average prices of vacations based on traveler expenses and may not reflect exact consumer prices depending on your traveling style and preferences.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com