Carry-On Packing List for Guatemala (Even for Long Trips!)

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When I started telling people I was going to Guatemala, I was surprised that the most frequently asked question is, “What’s on your packing list?”.

Believe it or not, packing for an extended trip is almost the same as packing for a week.  As long as you get used to the idea of doing laundry, it’s actually quite simple!

I was determined to keep my luggage to a carry-on packing list.  As such, I second-guessed every item that I packed.  I want to be prepared for everything, but on the flipside, I only want to carry it if I’ll actually use it.

This Guatemala packing list shows how to travel carry-on only even on extended trips. The author traveled 7+ weeks through Central America with a backpack.
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Carry-On Only for Seven Weeks: My Packing List for Guatemala

Luggage

In Central America, the land of chicken buses and muddy roads, bringing a backpack instead of a suitcase is a no-brainer.  However, I literally unpacked and re-packed between two different backpacks several times, trying to decide which to bring.  The great debate was between an Osprey Ariel 65 and the eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior and in the end, my standard carry-on won.  I’ll be traveling with my eBags backpack.

Related Reading: Guatemala Public Transportation (Link opens in a new window) Public transportation in Guatemala is extremely cheap and it always produces great stories to be told.

My Backpack of Choice for This Spring
My Backpack of Choice for This Spring

It’s just the right size, has plenty of organizational features, and fits comfortably in case I need to walk a ways to reach my destination.  I wish it had a hip belt to take some of the weight off my shoulders, but I’ve yet to find the perfect bag.

I’ll also be traveling with a separate laptop bag to carry my computer and a few other things I’ll need for my studies.

As packed, the backpack measures about 19″ x 14″ x 9″ and weighs 21 pounds; the laptop bag is 16″ x 10″ x 5″.  Technically, these items fall into a standard airline carry-on allowance (as one bag plus a personal item), though I didn’t pack for that intentionally.

What’s Inside

01 - everything
Everything I’m taking to Guatemala

Inside, I’ve organized my things with packing cubes to find what I need quickly instead of needing to rummage through my bag on a daily basis.  It’s a great solution for anyone who won’t have drawers to unpack in and one of my favorite travel gear items.

Read more: Using Packing Cubes to Stay Organized (Link opens in a new window) Packing cubes have revolutionized my packing.

Clothing

Choosing which clothes to take was the hardest part of packing for me.  I expect to encounter temperatures varying between 40 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit so I’ve included quite an assortment of items.  A combination of layering techniques and weekly laundry should help me prepare for all scenarios and have enough to wear for several weeks.

Although it took a lot of energy, I refrained from buying specialty clothing items intended for travel.  Yes, they may be useful, but locals get by with just the basics so I can too.

02 - clothing
My wardrobe for the trip.

Packed: 2 tank tops, 2 t-shirts, 2 long-sleeve shirts, 1 lightweight cardigan, 1 fleece sweatshirt, 1 raincoat, 2 pairs pants (1 convertible to shorts), 2 skirts, 1 bathing suit, 1 cover up (terry cloth to double as a towel), 1 pair pajamas, 1 hat, 1 set of gloves, 3 bras, 8 pairs of underwear, and 6 pairs of socks.

Yes, I probably overpacked in this category.

Related Reading: Anti-Theft Underwear (Link opens in a new window) Read more about an amazing product that actually lets you hide your passport in your undies.

Shoes

Cutting down my shoe list to small number was hard.  I’d love a pair of sneakers for running and a pair of slip-on walking shoes for everyday wear.  Unfortunately, it just wasn’t going to happen.

06 - shoes

Packed: flip flops, water shoes, and hiking shoes.

Personal Care

By my best guess, I have enough of everything in this item to last for the full trip, despite the fact that things like soap and toothpaste could easily be obtained within the country.

03 - personal care

In several cases, I’ve opted against liquid products to reduce weight and minimize potential spills (solid shampoos, soaps, and insect repellent cloths instead of sprays).  As a bonus, as the trip goes on, I’ll be using these products up and will have less to carry.

Packed: hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, razor and replacement blade, shampoo, conditioner, soap, shaving cream, hand sanitizer (not pictured), deodorant, lotion, sunscreen, aloe, insect repellant and bug bands, Q-tips, mini-towel (more like a shammy), and tweezers.

Electronics

My biggest debate in the electronic category was whether to opt for a laptop or iPad; bringing both was never a consideration even though I use them for different things.  Although the tablet wins instant points for being more compact and having a longer battery life, I chose the computer for easier blogging and photo editing.
04 - electronics

I’ve decided to start out without a cell phone, but will buy a simple prepaid option if I end up needing one.  Am I crazy to think I can get by without one?

EDIT: At the urging of my husband, I bought a cheap ($10) cell phone in Guatemala and loaded it with prepaid time to use during my trip.

Packed: laptop and charger, camera and case, underwater camera, Kindle, headphones, multi-plug outlet, spare memory cards, and spare batteries.

Want specifics of the brands and models I use for luggage, electronics, and more?  Check out my travel gear recommendations!

Miscellaneous

This catch-all category could easily grow out of hand if you let it, but I tried to keep things to a bare minimum.  My Girl Scout background had me wanting to prepare for all scenarios, but that’s simply not a practical option.  I tried to leave out anything that can be easily purchased in-country if necessary instead of bringing everything with me to begin with.

05 - miscellaneous

Note…the sleeping bag liner in this photo didn’t make the final cut but I ended up adding a Tide to-go pen for stain removal and I’ll be wearing a watch that doubles as an alarm clock.

Packed: Eyeshade, ear plugs, Steripen, headlamp, packable day pack, tissues, hairbands, spare earrings, sunglasses, padlock, lip balm, vitamins, first aid kit, stain remover pen (not pictured), water bottle, watch (not pictured) notebook, pens (not pictured), dictionary, and wallet.

Related Reading: Safe Drinking Water: A Steripen Review (Link opens in a new window) This is my unedited opinion on the Steripen.

The Final Product

Amazingly, the end result is almost the same as my packing list for vacation normally.

packing list for vacation
It all fits!

I’ll be interested to see which items I never pull out and what I end up buying while I’m there because I didn’t think to pack it.

CARRY-ON PACKING LIST

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Read More:

Do You Really Need It? A Comprehensive Printable Packing List

The Complete Guatemala Travel Guide

42 thoughts on “Carry-On Packing List for Guatemala (Even for Long Trips!)”

  1. I didn’t see sunscreen on your list. Will you be buying it there? With Guatemala’s high altitude and strong sun, you will burn easily.

    1. @Mary, I own a platypus so can 100% understand your point. However, it’s almost impossible to use my Steripen in a collabsible water bottle, so I’ve chosen to bring a more traditional option. Since I expect it to be full of water more often than not anyway, I think it’s a manageable trade-off.

  2. Congratulations on your adventure! I’m amazed by all that fit in the backpack and think you have it covered. I usually pack power bars and a bit of candy when I need a sugar boost or reminder of home. also I bring a few ziploc bags for food along way or makeshift ice pack.

    1. @Suzanne, wish I had read your note about ziploc bags before I got here. They already would have come in handy a few times. Great idea for a packing list! (I normally pack snacks also – KIND bars are my favorite – but in Central America, fruits and breads are available everywhere!).

  3. I’d dump the paperback translation dictionary for the offline version of Google Translate. That saves a lot of room and weight. Then I’d add the cell phone and a 10,000 mAH battery pack for the times I wasn’t near an electrical outlet for a day or two. I think I’d still be ahead on space and maybe weight, too!

    I see your point on the computer being easier for blogging, but I might be tempted to go with the iPad (Nexus, in my case) plus an Bluetooth keyboard.

    1. @Scott, I’m already in agreement the dictionary should go. Boy is it heavy (and bulky!). I’ve chosen to forego the cell phone, at least for now. We’ll see how long I make it before I give in…

      As for the laptop vs. iPad, I’ve tried both and I think you lose either way! Haha.

  4. Hi! I am from Guatemala, welcome I here! Have a nice holy weekend. Well I don’t know when do you come, now is summer but there’s too much wind and cold so you should bring a sweater but it depends where are you planning to visit because weather is crazy here.
    Greetings

      1. I’m from Guatemala city I live in mixco, yeah its a bit cool at night but hot at day .how was your holly week? Did you see “procesiones”?

  5. I lived in Guatemala for a few years and it is super easy to buy a cheap cellphone and add minutes (for a very affordable price) for calls and texts in the country and to the states! You can then save it (If you plan to go back), give it another fellow traveler, or pass is over to a local! The initial $12 investment is worth it and makes you feel more secure knowing you can easily call local friends or for help, as well as keep in touch with friends and family back home!

    1. @Chelsea, I ended up buying a cell phone about halfway through my travels – can’t say I really used/needed it, but it was definitely cheap.

  6. Hey Becky, I thoroughly enjoyed your trip report and your packing tips! Re: packing, was there anything you either did or didn’t need? I’ll be there for just 16 days but plan a lot of hiking, before I chill on a beach in Belize. 🙂

    1. @Kelsey & Jess, I really wish I had brought a full-size hairbrush instead of the travel-sized one I packed (at this point, I can’t think of a good reason why I didn’t buy one there since it bothered me daily). I ditched the Spanish dictionary about a week in…just too heavy and bulky to cart around!

  7. I just got back from Guatemala and wished I had seen this before heading there! I didn’t realize how chilly it got in most areas. I would have definitely brought another cover up and a pair of jeans! I didn’t have any pants with me, only leggings, as I was heading to Nicaragua and the beach right after for the majority of my trip!

  8. Hi Becky
    Tripped over your site while cruising the net in preparation for our trip to Guatemala. I’ve had similar thoughts about the places around Atitlan — expat colonisation at the expense of indigenous lifestyle — but everyone seems to love the area.
    As for packing, I’m so with you! 🙂 We’ve been travelling with carry-on only for years now, and most items we bring have dual purpose. Since you’re using shampoo bars, may I suggest you consider a light shaving brush instead of shaving cream? We wear our shoes, and none to pack. We both chose Keens sandals with the rubber toe. We’ve walked in snow in Iceland (yes, after an hour socks were a little damp, but Icelandic wool still kept feet warm) and my husband danced the salsa in Cuba in the same shoes! 🙂 So definitely all purpose shoes. We wash up clothes in the shower (with the multipurpose shampoo / soap bar) as the shower rinses better than a sink tap. Quick dry clothing means fewer items, too.
    Look forward to continuing to read about your travel adventures

    1. @Alma, Thanks for sharing your own packing tips!! I don’t think I could get away with just 1 pair of shoes, so I’m impressed.

      These days I use razors with built in “shaving cream” but the brush idea sounds like something worth considering. Happy travels!

  9. Hello,
    I will be heading to Guatemala for 20 days. What about food and getting sick? do you recommend antibiotics, any kind of american brand medicine (just in case). also, did you get any traveling shots before going out there? what about bug repelent? do you thinks it was nessesary on your trip?

  10. Have you had any trouble with transitioning to shampoo bars while traveling? I just ordered one for my Guatemala trip in a couple weeks and am worried about how my hair will react. Also, a note on Amazon mentioned that someone had trouble getting the shampoo bar through security in Guatemala–did you experience that at all? Thanks!

    1. @Ebie, Give it a try at home for a week to see if you like it — just like regular shampoo, different brands/lines will work better for different types of hair. I still prefer liquid shampoo when it makes sense, but the bars do okay when it is easier for packing! I’ve never had a problem with security, sounds like a weird situation.

  11. wow! i will be leaving to guatemala for two weeks in november. it will be my first time ever solo traveling, i’m kind of scared as a female and 19 but i could not be more excited!! great & helpful post thank you!

  12. Hi Becky,
    Greeting from Canada! I’m going to for a 5days solo travel in Guatemala in March. I heard it’s the dry season, will be based in Antigua. A day visit the Lake/3 villages/boat tours as well. Any tips for packing ? Should I just wear leggings or should I bring jeans, even shirt?

    Thanks!

    1. @Grace, Pack whatever pants you are most comfortable in. You will see other people in leggings, jeans, and anything else you can think of. I definitely encourage a sweater or something to layer – it can be cool mornings/evenings. Have a great trip!

  13. Thanks for writing this packing list, Becky!

    I am headed to Guatemala in two short weeks for my first time and I think I have finalized my packing list (finally) with the help of this post. It’s always good to see what others pack when they travel somewhere.

  14. Rather than packing cubes we use dry bags, in our bigger bags admittedly, this keeps things separated and obviously dry, but f caught in a downpour, or the bigger packs end up on the roof of whatever bus we are on!

  15. Careful with the advice on public transportation. Public transportation in Guatemala, the famous chicken buses, are extremely dangerous and unsafe. I live in Guatemala and I would never ever get on one!!! Just be careful 🙂 always a good idea to ask someone from the area

  16. I am headed to Guatemala in July for a Missions trip w/ a team and we will be staying in a Hotel …I have an embarrassing question please… I am concerned about the rule of not flushing toilet paper. Would it be okay to get biodegradable baggies of some sort to place soiled tissue in, then place in the trash? I was informed the water source for bathing and tooth brushing is not safe? I would use bottle water to brush my teeth, then in the shower not get it in my mouth & wear water shoes. Would it be worth bringing a shower head filter to hook up in the Hotel? (I have never traveled out of the country and I know I must sound spoiled, I hope this trip helps me!!) TIA for your time and help!! 🙂

    1. @S, Yes, you can of course bag any soiled tissue before throwing it away if you want.

      For water — bottled water is great and many hotels have those 5-gallon dispensers you can use to refill water bottles (to be environmentally friendly). If you visit local people’s homes, they will often boil the water to sterilize it rather than offering bottled water. That’s a great and safe alternative.

      I’ve never used a shower head filter and didn’t have a problem in Guatemala (or other parts of Latin America, SE Asia, or Africa). That may be overkill in my opinion but if it brings you comfort, just make sure it’s okay with the hotel or family you’re staying with.

  17. Could you write something about what shots or malaria pills you think is necessary.
    I will be going to G for a month in the end of May.

  18. Is it easy to buy/dispose of feminine products in Guatemala? I noticed that you didn’t pack them, so I wanted to double check. We’re going to be in Antigua for the most part, but then traveling on the weekends. Also, can you give some examples of things you didn’t pack because you knew you could get there, and/or any surprises in that area (thought you could get easily but couldn’t/ didn’t think you could get easily but could)?

    1. @Leah, Easy to find feminine products in Antigua & Xela. I can’t remark on other areas, but I imagine small towns or predominantly Mayan communities may be more difficult.

      Don’t pack any shampoos, soaps, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. that you need (unless you’re very particular on brand)…all toiletries easy to find.
      Don’t pack snacks, there are tons and they are cheap!
      Don’t pack medicines, they are easy to find and don’t require a prescription…so you can just buy them if you need them instead of trying to come with a massive first aid kit.

      Maybe surprising, maybe not: Guatemalan towels are usually close to threadbare, so if you have space, you might want to bring a decent one from home (but towels are bulky, so you might make do without!)

  19. Thank you for posting this. I am heading to Guatemala for my first time next week and am feeling a little apprehensive but are doing all our research so I think we are in good hands.

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