Guatemala is a country full of wonderful attractions, but visitors need to be smart to make the most of its tropical climate and see its most memorable festivals.
The best time to visit Guatemala will depend on what you want to see, so here are some tips on finding the perfect moment.
Weather affects the best time to visit Guatemala
Guatemala’s climate is mainly warm and tropical, which makes it a great place for a holiday to escape a chilly winter, but that creates some challenges as well.
The country does not have the sort of seasonal changes you might expect if you live in a more temperate climate. Instead it has just two distinct seasons: a dry season from November to April, and a wet season from May to October.
If you visit during the wet season you’re unlikely to be flooded out unless there’s an extreme weather event, and you might encounter the canicular, which is a short, dry period. You’re also more likely to pick up cheaper deals in the wet season, as this is when fewer people visit the country.
Generally speaking, the dry season is the best time to visit Guatemala because this makes it more likely that you can enjoy the many outdoor activities. However, if you want to go white-water rafting, check ahead to make sure the rivers are running high enough.
Avoid the hurricane season
Guatemala is a beautiful country but drew the short straw when it comes to natural disasters, as it is vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes.
You can’t do much to avoid ‘quakes and volcanoes, but you can do your best to avoid the hurricane season. These destructive weather events can strike either the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, although usually the damage is caused by flooding from the huge amounts of rainfall rather than the effects of high winds.
The hurricane season runs from May to November, and you can keep an eye out for building storms by visiting the excellent National Hurricane Centre.
Find a festival you like the look of
One of the great charms of visiting Guatemala is attending any of the marvellous festivals which dot the calendar. Some of these take place during the more unsettled weather, but they can be worth it.
Make sure you plan ahead and prepare, as some of the events might require a day’s travel and accommodation is not as easy to find when thousands of people are all flocking to the same place at the same time.
February: Coffee Harvest Festival
Coffee harvesting is a big part of the calendar, and the otherwise quiet town of Fraijanes, just outside Guatemala City, marks the event with a two-day festival of parades, dancing, feasting and – of course – coffee drinking.
The festival begins with the feast day of Virgen de Candelaria on February 2, andends with another religious event as people celebrate El Sagrado Corazon de Jesus.
March – April: Holy Week is an unmissable highlight
Easter is the main annual religious celebration for Guatemalans, and Holy Week events take place all over the country. By far the most spectacular events are the parades through the cobbled streets of Antigua.
Thousands of people parade through the streets in colourful traditional dress, carrying enormous shrines and icons of religious figures. In the days beforehand, the locals decorate the streets with intricate, colourful carpets known as alfombras. These are created from just about any material, including sawdust, sand and flowers.
July – October, March – May: Sea turtle hatching seasons
Guatemala has some spectacular natural attractions, but one of the most amazing is the chance to watch and help rare sea turtle eggs hatching on the Pacific Coast.
The best place to do this is Monterrico, where you can find a number of organisations which will guide you to the right spots. Critically endangered hawksbill turtles are among the species which nest in this area, as are the olive ridleyand leatherback, both of which are considered vulnerable.
Hunting and pollution have badly affected these endangered animals, and the government applies strict controls to protect the eggs.
September: Independence Day
Independence Day usually encourages Guatemalans to celebrate with parades and flag waving, as well as the spectacular Quema del Torito (Bull in Flames), in which alucky individual stands inside a fire-proofed bull model with fireworks attached. The fireworks are lit and the bull dances as onlookers urge them on or duck for cover.
You might also see caravans of vehicles following a runner with a torch, as part of a relay which starts in Guatemala and tracks right across Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. All five countries celebrate their independence from Spain on the same day, so the 240-mile relay connects their shared history and identity.
November: Dia de los Muertos and Procesion de la Calavera
If you are in Guatemala just the end of the hurricane season approaches, you will be able to take in some of the iconic celebrations for the Day of the Dead (Dio de los Muertos).
This celebration is a one of Guatemala’s best festivals, and perhaps the most spectacular demonstration of this comes in Sumpango. This town in the central highlands holds a magnificent kite display, with local people spending months on creating kites the size of houses.
Alternatively, the day before Dia de los Muertos, the town of San Jose in Peten holds a celebration known as the Procession of the Skulls (Procesion de la Calavera). Townsfolk parade three skulls, said to belong to the town’s founders, through the streets, touching and kissingthe relics as a mark of respect.
Another fun but occasionally dangerous event in November is the Carrera de Cintas in Huehuetenango, in which drunken horse riders in colourful ceremonial clothing dash down steep dirt roads killing chickens.
December: Feria de Santo Tomas and Burning the Devil
As the end of the year approaches you can find some fascinating events all over Guatemala.
At the Feria de Santo Tomás in Chichicastenango, you can see the Danza del Palo Volador, which is an ancient version of bungee-jumping. This ceremony features groups of people climbing a tall pole and then leaping off with ropes tied around their ankles.
December is also the start of the Christmas season, and on December 7 Guatemalans mark this with a tradition called Burning the Devil, which represents a symbolic cleansing of the home by burning rubbish. They will light bonfires, set off fireworks and burn effigies of the devil.
The best time to visit Guatemala will depend on your preferences and other travel plans, but these amazing festivals provide great opportunities to enjoy local culture all year around.
About Jürg Widmer Probst
Jürg Widmer is a busy blogger and resident of Guatemala who often shares all things about Guatemala, from the country’s hidden gems, article and culture to the best place for food and drink.