About Guatemala (GT)
The Central American country of Guatemala (GT) has a Pacific coastline to the southwest, and Caribbean coastline to east, while its land borders are Mexico to the north, Belize in the northeast, Honduras in the southeast, and El Salvador in the south. Once home to the ancient Mayan civilization, Guatemala has a rich diversity of culture and wealth of natural beauty amid the glorious Mayan ruins found in Tikal, El Mirador, and Peten. Its mountainous, often volcanic topography varies from coast-to-coast and results in a number of microclimates, with generally mild weather in the central and western highlands, and tropical conditions everywhere else. Many travelers come for the historic sites, but a growing number of visitors are taking advantage of nearly empty (for now) beaches. Meanwhile, the colonial Spanish capital of Antigua Guatemala is a World Heritage site and the most popular destination in the country.
With much of the country lacking substantial public transportation, most visitors will need to rent a car to reach most of the important attractions. With a serviceable network of roads, the most challenging aspect of driving in Guatemala will be finding road services in the remote areas. On top of that, many routes are impassable during the rainy season (May to October).
The important thing to remember is that this is Central America, and driving styles vary from relatively safe to sometimes dangerous. Road conditions are obviously going to pose some challenges, and roadside assistance may not be as efficient and capable as you’re accustomed to. But generally speaking, driving in Guatemala will require patience, road awareness, common sense, and some amount of experience in less-than-ideal conditions.
Choosing your car
All the major companies are providing cheap car rentals in Guatemala. Rent a car in Guatamala from Enterprise, Dollar, Budget, Thrifty, Avis, or Hertz. Select from the vehicle class that best suits your travel itinerary. Of course, all-wheel drive SUVs are the wise choice for reaching destinations outside of Guatemala City. But you’ll still get great deals on minicars, compact sedan, economy 3-door hatchbacks, estate wagons, premium and luxury vehicles, and 7-12 seater minivans.
Tips and advice
One of the most common warnings about renting a car in Central America is to be extra vigilant about inspecting your vehicle before signing the contract. Take photos and video of any existing damage to the car, and make sure the agent notes all scratches, dents, or other flaws such as cracked glass. Meanwhile, check the engine and test all the main components, e.g. brakes, turn signals, air conditioning, etc.
After you’ve completed the assessment, don’t sign the contract until you have a copy of the car hire vendor’s inspection.
Mobile wireless and telecom coverage is hit-or-miss in Guatemala. GPS is highly recommended, in addition to hardcopy maps. Note: maps are easily downloaded from the internet, too.
Inform your Guatemala car rental provider if you’re thinking about taking the car out of the country. There’s no clear consensus on restrictions or permissions.
The Mayan ruins in El Mirador can be accessed via the small communal village of Carmelita. It’s a 566 km (349 mi) drive from Guatemala City, and the 90 km of which is unpaved road. Consider staying in the town of Flores, on the shores of Lake Peten Itza, and arranging a tour from there. A 4x4 or SUV rental would be advisable for this trip.
Don’t drive at night, even in the cities.