The similarities and differences between Guatemala vs. Mexico Culture
I find culture one of the most interesting things while travelling. It’s amazing how crossing a border can quickly bring a change in customs, attire, and cuisine. This is also the case when comparing Guatemala vs Mexico.
Culture can be hard to define. What makes a culture? And is everything that happens in a country part of their culture, or do we limit the definition to food, customs, and attire? I have seen many more chicken buses and tuk-tuks in Guatemala than in Mexico. But to say that it’s a cultural thing, I don’t know. Maybe.
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Guatemala Vs. Mexico Culture
Treating a whole country as one culture is quite challenging, especially in Central America. The Spanish, Indigenous Peoples, and even tourists and ex-pats influence each part of the country.
How can you tell the difference between Guatemalan and Mexican culture?
Guatemalan Culture is far more indigenous. Around 43% of the Guatemalan people are indigenous, as opposed to 19,5% of Mexican people. You can tell by their customs and the way they dress. You’ll see many women wearing traditional clothing. Men, not so much.
In this case, it’s not easy to name the differences. Mexico is a more culturally and ethnically different country. With cultural differences in each state. Treating Mexico per state is fairer than comparing the whole country to Guatemala.
What makes Guatemalan culture unique?
Since there are so many different aspects that define Guatemalan Culture this also is a question that is rather hard to answer. Guatemalans are an interesting mix of different ethnicities and cultures.
Where the many Indigenous Mayan families mix in with the Ladinos and Mestizos. The East Coast even has Caribbean communities.
What I personally love about Guatemalans is their kindness. They know I’m a gringo that doesn’t speak much Spanish, but I try, and they let me.
I’ve had encounters where people got annoyed when I didn’t understand them the first time, or when they didn’t understand my broken Spanish. But not in Guatemala. I got the occasional laugh sometimes but I laughed at myself too.
Guatemalans articulate very well and speak relatively slowly, which makes it a great destination to learn Spanish!
The people of Guatemala are hard-working, helpful, happy, and grateful people that often try to find humour in situations.
Are people from Guatemala Hispanic or Latino?
Around 43% of the people in Guatemala are Indigenous, and 54% are mostly a mix of Spanish and Indigenous. So you could argue that Guatemala is more Latino than Hispanic.
The definitions of Hispanic and Latino usually have a big overlap, though.
Do Guatemalans and Mexicans speak the same language?
Mostly, yes. Spanish is the main language spoken in both countries. But there are differences. Guatemalan Spanish and Mexican Spanish are very similar, but still slightly different.
The people of Guatemala also speak more indigenous languages. Where about 18% of Guatemalans speak indigenous languages, and only close to 6% of Mexicans speak them. In the end, Mexico is a vastly bigger country so 6% accounts for more people in total.
Some of these people speak mainly their indigenous language and only speak Spanish as their second language. I found this absolutely fascinating since I didn’t expect this.
Guatemala Vs. Mexico: Differences
Having travelled to both countries, seeing how different parts are is interesting. Other than culture, they differ in some more areas too.
Costs & Prices
Interestingly enough, Guatemala is a bit more expensive than Mexico. Given, the Tulum area in Mexico has a hefty ‘gringo-tax’. But generally speaking, when comparing the two countries, Mexico comes out as the winner regarding low costs and prices.
The weather in Mexico is only slightly different than in Guatemala. Guatemala is nicknamed the country of eternal spring for a reason. Temperatures in Guatemala often stay the same. Take Antigua Guatemala for example. The average temperatures all year are between 22°C and 24°C during the day and between 12 and 16 during the night.
Mexico City can, however, get quite cold at times. Day-time temperatures fluctuate between 21°C and 27°C. But during the night, it can be as cold as 6°C!
Both Guatemala and Mexico only know 2 seasons. The wet and dry seasons. But Guatemala gets the most rain, and Mexico the most sun.
Both cuisines are primarily based on corn, beans, and rice. Where Mexicans prefer a bit more spice, I found Guatemalan cuisine to be more mellow. Mexico definitely has a lot more variety and different ‘traditional’ foods.
My favourite food for this whole Central America trip was in Mexico!
Geography & Landscape
It’s obvious Mexico is way bigger than Guatemala. Which makes comparing Guatamala Vs. Mexico’s geography and landscapes very interesting.
Guatemala is somewhat divided into three geographical regions. The mountainous highlands, the Pacific coast south of the mountains, and the northern Petén lowlands.
Guatemala is full of volcanoes, either extinct, ‘sleeping’, or active. Some of them even regularly erupt!
Yes, Mexico also has volcanoes. More volcanoes even! But since Mexico is 20 times bigger, and only has about 1.5x the number of volcanoes, the landscape is not as defined by them.
Almost all of Guatemala is covered in jungle and forests. Honestly. The whole country is green. Dense cloud forests on the side of volcanoes, and the temple-ridden jungle in the Peten lowlands.
Mexico is a land of extremes and diversity. High mountains and deep canyons. Dry deserts and soggy jungles. And everything in between. You can find it all in Mexico.
Guatemala Vs. Mexico: Similarities
While there are differences, these countries also have many similarities!
We had never experienced hospitality quite like the way we did in Guatemala and Mexico. The people are all incredibly friendly and helpful, even if you don’t speak their language.
We were even invited over for dinner at a local man’s house in Guatemala – which we, unfortunately, had to turn down. When comparing these two countries, this was the first similarity that came to mind.
Restaurant employees go the extra mile to make your meal the best. Locals try to have a chat, to get to know you and where you’re from while sitting in a park. The neighbour of our AirBnB even offered to take us out on New Year’s Eve, so we could celebrate it like a local.
The south and South-East of Mexico stem from the ancient Maya culture. Like Guatemala, these parts are heavily influenced by Mayan culture and have many ruined temples and cities. The most famous one is Chichén Itzá.
Since these parts share the same history, their culture is also similar. Influenced by Maya culture and mixed with the Spanish occupiers.
Both Were Spanish Colonies – Which Is Noticeable
The Spanish influence in Central and South America is still visible today. The Spanish migrated to these parts of the world and took their culture and architecture with them.
All over Mexico and Guatemala, you will find Colonial towns, and experience Spanish National Holidays. Just take a look at Valladolid in Mexico – named after the old Spanish capital city – which is full of Colonial architecture.
Or Antigua Guatemala – the previous capital city of Guatemala, which is also full of Colonial buildings and catholic churches. The religion of the Spanish. Which they spread over Central and South America. You’ll see the similarities in the pictures below.
While Spanish isn’t the only language spoken in Guatemala and Mexico, it is the most widely spoken. Almost everyone speaks Spanish. They sometimes use slightly different grammar rules, or maybe even different words.
But they can still easily communicate with each other in Spanish. Minor differences aside, it’s safe to say the majority of the population shares the same language.
Map of Guatemala and Mexico
Guatemala Vs. Mexico: Which is Better To Travel To?
This fully depends on the expectations of your trip. Are you looking for a nice relaxing beach holiday? You’d be best off going to Mexico. Do you want to enjoy amazing hiking, jungle treks, or volcano climbs? Then Guatemala is your best bet.
Although I’d recommend visiting more than one country, let’s compare the trips.
Guatemala Vs. Mexico – Trip Comparison
I’ll compare a few main characteristics, to make it easier to decide. With an explanation of why I picked either country, because opinions may differ!
As mentioned before, Mexico is the best destination if you’re looking for a beach holiday. Guatemala does have some good beaches, but they’re no match for Holbox, Tulum, and Cancún.
If nature is the driving power behind your trip, you should consider visiting Guatemala. Watch a volcano erupt from the side of the neighbouring Acatenango volcano. Trek through the jungle for days in search of ancient Mayan structures. Or kayak on the deepest lake of Central America – Lake Atitlan.
With a vastly more diverse cuisine, Mexico wins this one. The best mix of flavour, spiciness, and colour. Mexican food is unbeaten anywhere in Central America.
Ok, you might find this a strange answer. Guatemala. Yes, Mexico is generally warmer and has a bit less rain. But it’s also the country with the most extreme weather.
You know what to expect when you visit Guatemala. Temperatures don’t really change. And if an area is too cold for your liking, there will be a nicer climate a few hours away.
Mexico is bigger. Much bigger. So if you’d like to visit multiple great or popular places in one trip, Guatemala might be the better option. Antigua to Lake Atitlan is only a 3-hour drive. And the beach town of El Paredon is only a few more hours away.
Mexico does have domestic flights, which makes travelling long distances a lot quicker. But this is incredibly bad for the planet we so desperately want to see!
Guatemala is slightly more expensive. Although not by that much, Mexico is the best option for a cheaper holiday or trip. Just stay away from the Tulum area if you want to save money.
Guatemala: Best Things To Do
There is so much to do in Guatemala. It’s incredibly hard to pick the best things, but after a long thought, I have come up with my top 3.
Acatenango Volcano Hike
This was my absolute favourite hike of the whole Central America trip. You’ll be going to a camp nearly at the top of Acatenango, at 3600mts/12,000ft, to watch the nearby volcano Fuego shoot lava into the night sky.
To watch a volcano actively erupt multiple times is an experience not easily put into words. Watching nature be both so beautiful and violent is such a humbling experience.
Callie has put together a guide to the Acatenango hike for more information!
Visit the Tikal Ruins
The Ruins of Tikal are a magical place. You can really feel the history. The way nature took back what was once a magnificent city is breathtaking. Many temples are uncovered.
Some are still ‘hidden’. It is obvious they’re there though, pyramid-shaped hills are not usually a natural occurrence.
To read more about visiting these ruins, take a look at our Mini Guide to Tikal.
Explore Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is the prettiest lake I’ve encountered so far. It is the deepest lake in all of Central America. Surrounded by 3 volcanoes, this is one of the best places to come to rest or to go on epic excursions.
We have a Guide to Lake Atitlan that you can check out for more information.
Mexico: Best Things To Do
Mexico has lots to offer. But because it is all so spread out, I’ve picked my top 3 best things to do all relatively close to each other. And in the most-visited area – the Yucatan Peninsula.
Be Amazed by Chichen Itza
We were blown away by this structure. When we visited, we didn’t really know what to expect. The main attraction, the pyramid, is a lot bigger than I expected. It makes you wonder, how did they build this, with such precision? It’s not hard to see why it is one of the 7 wonders of the world.
For info on getting to Chichen Itza, see our guide here.
Swim In One Of The Thousands Of Cenotes
The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for its many cenotes. Many of these natural caves with pools of water were used by the Mayans, either as sacred places or for drinking water. Nowadays you’re welcome to swim and cool off in these wonderful natural pools.
Check out our guide to one of our favourite Cenotes in Mexico.
Visit The Bacalar Lagoon
The colour of this Lagoon is incredible. As if it comes straight from a painting. The Bacalar Lagoon is a beautifully refreshing stop on your Mexico Itinerary.
The town has some great vegan food and cute little bars. It is what Tulum used to be back in the day.
Enjoy a day trip to the natural lazy river for even more great fun!
Guatemala Vs. Mexico – Final Thoughts
Comparing Guatemala and Mexico is a challenging task. They both have many similarities and quite some differences. Choosing either destination over the other is not easy.
They both have their charms. I personally loved both, you really can’t go wrong. But it’s wise to decide what you’re looking for in the trip – and decide accordingly to suit your personal needs.