A woman packing a small carry-on backpack for travelling in Guatemala

What to Wear & Carry-On Packing List for Guatemala

When I started travelling at the beginning of this year, I tried to pack for just about every climate. I started my trip in Guatemala but planned to visit a total of eight countries throughout Central America and South America, so diversity was key! 

With my first country being Guatemala, however, my mind was filled with thoughts of visiting Lake Atitlan and climbing Acatenango Volcano. I had a bit of a suck it and see approach to the rest of my trip and my wardrobe was definitely a bit too Guatemala-focussed. (Confirmed by the amount of clothes I ended up buying when I got to South America… but more on that another time).

I landed in Guatemala City Airport to mild weather. I kind of poked my head out of the door, but that was about it until I went to get in my taxi from Guatemala Airport to Antigua. (Recommended, Guatemala City is not the place to be right now. Although Guatemala Airport is quite safe, the city is not…) When I arrived in Antigua, by which time it was getting dark, it wasn’t as warm as I expected. Antigua has an altitude of around 1,500 metres, making its climate temperate compared to the steaming hot coast or cool mountainous areas. 

Here’s everything you need to know before you go to Guatemala!

The Weather in Guatemala

You’ll find this in Guatemala: there are distinct climates that change more on where you are than what time of year you go. 

There’s the climate of the coastal regions like the Costa del Sur and its principal beach destination, Monterrico, which are famous for sweeping coastlines and black sand beaches. The climate here is hot all year round thanks to the country’s proximity to the equator. 

It’s for the same reason that the temperatures in the cities like Antigua and Guatemala City are similar all year round; Central America doesn’t experience seasons in the same way that we do. The temperatures do fluctuate throughout the year, but not like we’re used to in Europe or North America. It generally gets to around twenty five to thirty degrees during the day but the temperatures drop quickly at night and can get as low as ten to fifteen degrees. 

Further north in the tropical regions of Flores and Tikal, the temperatures can soar well above thirty degrees during the day. It tends to be hot and humid year round, but more so during the rainy season.

And, lastly, the further up you go, the colder it gets! There are some regions of Guatemala that are at higher altitudes, like the towns above Lake Atitlan and Quetzaltenango. 

So, that’s for the temperature. But what about rain? 

Rather than the typical seasons that we know and love in Europe, in Central America they see a rainy season and a dry season alongside their steady year-round temperatures. The rainy season in Guatemala runs from May to October, whilst the dry season runs from November to April. If you’re travelling to Guatemala in the rainy season, packing appropriately is absolutely essential! Although I didn’t see any rain when I visited in January, I met a couple of unlucky travellers that had bumped into torrential rain in the dry season (up Acatenango Volcano, on Boxing Day, the poor souls). So, even if you’re travelling in the dry season, be sure to have some emergency provisions for wet weather!

What to Wear in Guatemala

Okay, now that you’re well acquainted with the different climates in different areas of Guatemala, you can start to plan your wardrobe. If you’re not the kind of person that sees yourself scaling a volcano, no worries; that’s less to pack for you! If you see yourself doing a bit of everything, you might find it a challenge to cover so many bases with one suitcase (but don’t worry, it’s completely possible). 

If you’re planning to do the Acatenango Volcano trek, here’s what to pack.

When you’re dreaming of your trip to Guatemala, it’s tempting to think of the warm weather, the beach and the sun shining on the Mayan Ruins. Yep, I remember it fondly! But it is important to pack well for the different areas of Guatemala, and it’s especially important to pack warm layers for those cold nights. 

I’ve put together this Guatemala packing list below as a guide, but it really does cover all bases. If you want to stick to warm weather and just plan a few short day trips, you might not need everything.

Read more about Guatemala: Where to Stay in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Essentials to Pack for Travelling in Guatemala

Every time I write about packing, I talk about packing cubes, so if you read all of my articles you will be SICK of this by now. But I have to mention them again, because they’re truly life-saving. When I was in Guatemala I had one packing cube for all of my clothes, and a separate one for underwear and accessories. Ellie and I didn’t necessarily plan our first week in the best way and we ended up staying in a new hostel every. single. night. So, yeah, the packing cubes really helped on all of that packing and unpacking!

Here’s my list of absolute essentials to take with you to Guatemala:

A “personal item” whatever that means to you, whether it’s a small rucksack, a day pack, or even just a tote bag to sling over your shoulder. Some travellers I know use a dry bag for this, which is a great way to save space if you want to take a dry back with you, too! Although, I wouldn’t say it’s an essential in Guatemala. (It definitely is further along a trip in Central America, though!).

Some kind of bumbag or money belt, which is an absolute essential for things like markets and public transportation where things can get stolen easily. See my article on taking the chicken bus in Guatemala if you want to hear about how I (almost) got pickpocketed on a bus.

All of your money and credit cards! Click here to read more about money in Guatemala – you probably don’t need to pick up local currency until you get there but you will need some eventually.

A power bank. Having a portable charger for your phone is really important, even if it’s just a small one that carries half a charge. You never know when you’re going to get stuck in a pinch with no phone battery…

A refillable water bottle. Basically every hostel in Guatemala will provide free drinking water, so you won’t need to buy it in the shop. Save some cash and the planet by bringing a reusable water bottle.

A travel towel or quick-dry towel. You know the ones I mean, made of microfibre. I hate the way they feel on my body but they’re so compact that it’s worth putting up with!

A first aid kit. Some things you’ll probably want to throw in:

  • any medication you’re taking (and don’t forget birth control, if you use it)
  • blister plasters, if you’re planning on doing any hiking
  • motion sickness tablets if you use them (get ready for some bumpy bus rides!)
  • altitude sickness tablets (if you need them – you can also buy these at any pharmacy in Guatemala)
  • insect repellent (dengue fever is a real risk in Guatemala, especially at the moment)
  • insect bite cream
  • immodium (for emergencies)
  • painkillers (like paracetamol and ibuprofen – they can be more expensive or come in higher doses abroad)
  • rehydration sachets (I’d recommend to bring these from home because the ones you can buy out there are bulkier and don’t taste as good!)

Your toiletry bag. Now, obviously this is going to be different for everyone, but here are my tips: you will never use all of the skincare you use, I promise, take less than you think you’ll need! Shampoo bars are great at home but they will just melt and dissolve if you try and take them backpacking. Yes, it is worth taking a different sunscreen for your face (I ALWAYS break out if I put regular sunscreen on my face, especially if I then start sweating). I like to take one for liquids and one for anything that’s not liquid, because that makes it so much easier to get through security at the airport.

Underwear. Again, this is different for everyone, but take twice as many underpants and socks as you think you’ll need. You’ll end up doing washing less often than you think (and washing your clothes in the shower sounds great but you’ll hardly ever get round to it).

Swimwear/a bathing suit, or two, depending on how long you’re going for and what kind of things you plan to get up to!

Take one pair of hiking shoes, one pair of trainers, and either crocs or flip flops! If you’re really short on space and you’re not going for long, you could even drop the trainers. But beware that if your hiking shoes get wet you might end up spending the day in flip flops (yep, this happened to me…).

When it comes to pants, it’ll depend on your activity as to whether you will need more trousers or shorts. If you’re doing a fairly long trip, I’d recommend to take two of each and then more of one, depending on the climates you’re expecting. Hiking trousers that you can zip the bottom off are not sexy (at least not for women), but they are so practical! I always keep a pair of athletic shorts for wash days, too, because they take up next to no room in your suitcase.

For tops, I try to take a range, because even in the hottest climates sometimes you just don’t feel like wearing a tank top. I’d go for mostly short-sleeved shirts or t-shirts, but take one or two long-sleeved for cold nights and hikes.

In terms of layers: take at least one jumper and one waterproof jacket, preferably a fairly warm one! Warm clothes are a pain to pack because they take up so much space, but you’ll be grateful to have them on those cooler nights.

I’d also recommend a hat and something to keep your neck warm if you’re heading to Quetzaltenango or anywhere else above 1,500m.

Read more about Guatemala: A Full Guide to the Guatemala Tourist Trail

Extras to Pack for Hiking in Guatemala

If you’re planning to do any hiking in Guatemala, chances are you’ll be heading up to higher altitudes (although not necessarily, so if you’re only hikes are going to be up in the northern flatlands then maybe you can ignore most of this section!).

Walking poles – you don’t necessarily need to pack these, as they can almost always be rented on any hike where you might need them. I just take them with me to save a little money if I know I’m going to use them a lot. 

Layers – I basically covered this already, but the more layers you can take on a hike the better, even if it’s just one t-shirt on top of another.

Gloves – as well as your hat and scarf, you’ll want to take gloves with you if you’re heading up to high altitudes. 

A head torch – this is something I always see missed off packing lists! But they’re so small and can seriously save your life when you’re scrambling about a mountain after dark.

Extras to Pack for Guatemala’s Wet Season

A rain jacket – of course, you should take one with you anyway, but make sure it’s especially made for the rain if you’re going in wet season.

A rain poncho or packable cagoule – these are great, really compact, and you can put them on over all of your clothes and backpack to save your things getting wet if you end up walking in the rain.

A cap – a lifesaver to put on underneath your raincoat or poncho when it’s raining to keep the rain off of your face.

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