Guatemala is a tropical country with distinct wet and dry seasons, but the generally pleasant climate has seen it dubbed by the tourism board as the “land of eternal spring”. While much of the country does experience warm days and mild nights throughout the year, temperatures vary widely depending on elevation and this should be kept in mind when determining the best time to visit Guatemala.
The coastal areas tend to be hot throughout the year, while the mountainous highlands can get very chilly at night and in the early mornings, even during the summer months. Cities such as Antigua, Guatemala City and Coban which lie between 1,000-2,000 meters/3,300-6,500 feet experience a temperate climate, while above this elevation temperatures can drop to freezing. At Guatemala’s highest elevations of around 3,500-4,000 meters/11,500-13,120 feet, frost is not uncommon.
Wet season (winter) – May to October
Guatemala’s rainy season (or winter) stretches from May through to October (extending into November in Petén), with the majority of rain falling in September and October. However, rain usually appears as late afternoon downpours, rather than all day showers, and is interspersed with warm and sunny periods.
Muddy conditions during the rainy season can make trekking more precarious and access to the ruins of Petén (such as Tikal) might be more difficult. May can be particularly hot and uncomfortable in this region and far less pleasant for sightseeing, while some dirt roads may also be closed due to landslides and heavy flooding. The Caribbean coastline tends to experience less rain during July and August than other parts of the country, making this region a good alternative option.
While the rainy season is quieter than the dry season, there is a peak of tourists in July and August due to the long summer holidays in North America and Europe. Expect accommodation and language schools to be busier during this period and bigger crowds at Guatemala’s major sights.
If you’re visiting in July, then head to Coban where the National Indigenous Festival of Guatemala is celebrated over two weeks. Traditional Mayan dress is worn during dances and musical concerts, accompanied by food and markets which celebrate their rich heritage. Or head to the capital in mid-August when the Festival of the Virgin of the Assumption is marked by religious parades and great feasts to honor Guatemala City’s patron saint.
Patriotic events take place across the country on September 15 to mark Guatemala’s independence from Spain in 1821, with parades up and down the streets. The revolution and overthrow of military dictator Jorge Ubico y Castaneda is remembered on 20th October, accompanied by protests about the hundreds of thousands who “vanished” during Guatemala’s civil war.
The Best Time to Visit Guatemala: Dry season (summer) – November to April
The dry season (or summer) is considered by many to be the best time to visit Guatemala. It extends from November through to April across most of the country, with the Pacific Coast experiencing a slightly longer summer season. Clear, blue skies are ideal for trekking in the mountains and exploring the ancient Mayan ruins, although the air becomes hazy and incredibly hot by mid-March in the lead up to the rainy season, with the volcanoes almost invisible.
Sticky, humid conditions can be expected along the low-lying coastlines, with the Caribbean Coast experiencing rain year-round (albeit not as heavy as the Pacific Coast). But despite the hot, steamy days, sea breezes can be relied upon to bring a welcome relief in the evenings.
Due to the altitude of Guatemala City, Antigua, Lago de Atitlan and Chichicastenango, the air remains fresh and relatively free from humidity through the summer season, with warm-to-hot days and mild nights. Higher elevation cities such as Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango and El Quiché see cooler days and chilly nights even during the height of summer, so be sure to bring warm clothes.
The dry season is the peak tourism period in Guatemala, with December through to March seeing the majority of visitors from North America and Europe as they escape the cold winter back home. Many hotels and language schools inflate their prices to reflect this demand and can become booked out well in advance of the Christmas/New Year period.
If you’re visiting in November, be sure to coincide your travel plans with the Day of the Dead festival at the start of the month when Guatemalans celebrate the lives of their loved ones who have passed away. Graves are adorned in flowers and sugar skulls, people dress up in elaborate costumes and the traditional Day of the Dead dish of fiambre is served throughout the country.
Then travel to Livingston on the Caribbean Coast at the end of November when the Garinagu Festival is celebrated to mark National Garifuna Day. It honors the traditional culture of the region’s Garifuna people, with lively street parties, religious ceremonies, dancing and feasting.
Head to the mountain town of Chichicastenango at the start of December when the local Mayan people celebrate the Festival of Saint Thomas in honor of their patron saint. Brightly colored traditional costumes are worn during folk dances and musical performances, coupled with big feasts and fireworks displays.
La Quema del Diablo (Burning of the Devil) is held across the country shortly after, with unwanted goods and possessions being burned in great big bonfires to cleanse houses of the devil. This is accompanied by live music, fireworks and the parade of devil effigies, with the biggest celebrations in Antigua.
The end of the dry season also sees what is perhaps the biggest celebration in Guatemala – Holy Week or Semana Santa. Spectacular processions of religious icons are carried through the streets by costumed participants and “paintings” of colored sawdust depicting flowers and religious scenes adorn the way. Keep in mind that government offices and banks will be closed over much of this holiday period and transportation services are heavily reduced. Accommodation also gets booked out well in advance in cities such as Antigua which host large-scale processions popular with tourists.