My family just wrapped up a summer living the digital nomad life in Guatemala. We motored up the Rio Dulce in June in order to avoid the Caribbean hurricane season. The upside of the Rio is that it’s fresh water (good on the boat while we’re not cruising), it runs far enough inland that it’s never been effected by a hurricane, and it’s an inexpensive place to leave a boat and to have skilled work done. The downsides are that it’s extremely hot at this time of year, and it’s a seven-hour drive from the capital and pretty much everywhere else a visitor would like to spend time in.
Guatemala—similar to what I’ve found in Mexico—makes a great place for the nomad to spend the year. When it gets too hot on the coast, you simply move inland—and up. Guatemala City sits at an elevation of ~5,000 feet, meaning comfortable sunny daytime temperatures and cool evenings. While it was sweltering on the coast, we spent our summer months inland without air-conditioning.
In addition to being a friendly, welcoming country for visitors like us who arrive on our boats looking for refuge from storms, it’s also a great place for Wanderers to arrive by air and then drift around from place to place. I found it to be a great place to live and work from. There are myriad options for places to stay, good food, tons to see and do, and when it’s time to be online there is fast wifi and cheap data plans everywhere.
Our first month off the boat traveling inland we spent in Guatemala City itself. In Zona 4 to be exact. The city is split into zones, with Zona 1 being the central heart of the city where you’ll find the historic buildings, museums, and main plaza. Moving south from there you pass through Zona 4 where there is a lot of business buildings, some fast food, and a bit of residential. It’s not a touristy spot at all, but more of an “up-and-coming” area, I guess you would say. Further south you eventually run into Zona 10 where the hotels and upscale shopping are, tons of restaurants, and long wide parks along the boulevard.
From our AirBnB condo in Zona 4 it was a pleasant walk to Zona 10, or a quick $3 Uber ride to the plaza in Zona 1. Perfectly situated, and priced for the in-between-ness of its location.
Let’s have a look at our expenses for a family of four living life in Guatemala City.
Our condo was a spotlessly clean two-bedroom on the fourth floor of a new building. During the month we spent a lot of time walking the city. We visited museums and parks in Zona 1, and strolled the paths through Zona 10 to different restaurants and playgrounds. There are small amusement parks scattered throughout the city where for just a couple dollars the kids could go on some rides and we could all smash around on the bumper cars. We also did normal life stuff, like visiting the dentist and dermatologist, and getting a camera repaired. As for work life, the time zone is two hours behind New York, so trading hours started at 7:30—the perfect time zone as far as I’m concerned. Trading in the condo I always had strong wifi, and while out and about in town I kept an iPad handy with a local SIM card. A data plan with 2GB that was good for one week, cost just $4. All in all, Guatemala City was an effortless place to trade from in the mornings, and then find fun things to do in the afternoons and on weekends.
After a month in the city we moved on to Antigua, about ninety minutes away. This is the tourist heart of Guatemala, and deservedly so. It’s a beautiful Spanish Colonial town surrounded by smoking volcanoes. We paid about double what we could have paid to be a few minutes outside of town in order to live just a couple blocks from the main plaza in a unique colonial era home with a patio overlooking the volcanoes. There is a ridiculous amount of good food in Antigua, so we never ate a meal at home unless it was takeaway. There are a lot of interesting churches and ruins to see. My kids spent a month in Spanish classes each morning, my wife worked with the animal rescue, and I traded. In the afternoons we’d all go out and see something new together, have dinner out, stroll through the plaza with an ice cream, and go to bed tired. This would be an easy place to spend a lot more time.
So yeah, Guatemala is a great place to visit, and to live the digital nomad life from. These were the costs for our family and I don’t pretend to imply they represent a low or a high budget for anybody else—they are just meant to give you an idea. If you’re single and don’t mind staying in a hostel and working from a coffee shop you’ll lower your expenses a ton. Food, drink, restaurants, and groceries are also going to vary wildly from family to family. For us, Guatemala is a country that falls well within our budget, is filled with friendly people, and offers loads to see and do. You really can’t go wrong with a stay here.