Why? Guatemala doesn’t just have archaeological ruins, rainforests, volcanoes, and colonial charm; it has some of the best in the entire region. A decades-long civil war kept Guatemala off the tourist map for most people up until fairly recently, which means that many areas retain their colonial charm and haven’t succumbed to modernization yet. I’d recommend getting here before everyone else finds out how awesome and cheap the country is.
Where? If you’re interested in Mayan ruins or rainforest hikes, Tikal should not be missed. Take fewer crowds than Chichen Itza, Tulum, or Palenque and add in the sounds of howler monkey as they swing through the tress, and you’ve got a modern Indiana Jones feeling. Antigua was the capital of New Spain (Spain’s colony in the Americas) for hundreds of years and the Spanish spared no expense in their capital. Despite many major earthquakes the city has withstood the test of time. The Mayan tribal regions and Lake/Volcano Atitlan provide a fascinating look into modern tribal life. Guatemala isn’t known for its beaches, but that just means you won’t have to compete with any international resorts, and you can pick from the Pacific or Caribbean coat. Guatemala City is one of the few Latin American capital cities that travelers frequently skip, and rightfully so with the stunning Antigua so close by.
When? The temperature remains fairly constant and warm all year throughout Guatemala so that shouldn’t factor into your decision. May through October brings most of the rain for the year, which can make travel a bit muddier and less pleasant. Hurricanes are a possibility from June through October.
How much? Guatemala is dirt-cheap for tourists. Budget backpackers can get around on less than $20 USD a day (if you speak some Spanish you can easily use local transport and food markets to save money). Nice mid-range options for a hotel plus sit down meals and you’re still only looking at about $50 USD per day. High-end hotels are few and far between, and even the nicest ones are rarely over $100 USD a night. Beautiful rooms in restored colonial buildings are a great deal considering they’re still cheaper than most highway motels in the US!
How long? You could squeeze in just the top few highlights in a week, but 10 days to 2 weeks would give you enough time to spend a couple of days in each of the different areas. Guatemala isn’t too large (about the size of Colorado), but roads aren’t great and Tikal is in a far off corner of a strangely shaped country. Overnight buses and local tourist flights make the site more accessible.