GUATEMALA TRAVEL TIPS
A collection of important information that can make your trip more enjoyable.
It is a diverse country with landscape that ranges from lush tropical rainforest in the northern lowlands, where some of the most spectacular Mayan archaeological sites (including Tikal) are found, to the pineforested hills of the Highlands, which are home to Mayan communities that still wear their traditional weavings. Guatemala has around 21 different ethnic groups, such as the Cakchiquels, Mams, Quichés and Tzutujils speaking some 23 languages (21 of Mayan origin; the other two are Garifuna and Xinca). Take a moment to brush up on the travel tips that will help you be more prepared for travel anywhere in Grenada.
GUATEMALA GENERAL INFORMATION
Area: 108,889 sq km (42,042 sq miles).
Population: 11,237,196 (official census 2002).
Population Density: 103.2 per sq km
Capital: Guatemala City. Population: 1,022,000 (official estimate 2001).
Government: Republic. Gained independence from Spain in 1821. Head of State and Government: President Oscar Berger Perdomo since 2004.
Language: The official language is Spanish. English is widely spoken in tourist areas and major hotels and restaurants. 23 indigenous languages are also spoken.
Religion: The constitution guarantees freedom of worship, but Catholicism is the most widespread religion with a 10 per cent Protestant minority. Some indigenous communities hold services combining Catholicism with pre-Columbian rites.
Electricity: 115-125 volts AC, 60Hz. There are some regional variations.
GEOGRAPHY: Guatemala is located in Central America and shares borders to the north and west with Mexico, to the southeast with El Salvador and Honduras, to the northeast with Belize and the Caribbean sea and to the south with the Pacific ocean. The landscape is predominantly mountainous and heavily forested. A string of volcanoes rises above the southern highlands along the Pacific, three of which are still active. Within this volcanic area are basins of varying sizes which hold the majority of the country’s population. The region is drained by rivers flowing into both the Pacific and the Caribbean. One basin west of the capital has no river outlet and thus has formed Lake Atitlán, which is ringed by volcanoes. To the northwest, bordering on Belize and Mexico, lies the low undulating tableland of El Petén, 36,300 sq km (14,000 sq miles) of almost inaccessible wilderness covered with dense hardwood forest. This area covers approximately one-third of the national territory, yet contains only 40,000 people.
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GUATEMALA ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
Passport valid 6 months beyond intended stay in Guatemala.
Ticket for return or onward travel.
Visa is not required for stay up to 30 days for nationals of the following countries: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, European Union, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, San Marino, Switzerland, Taiwan, Uruguay, USA, Vatican and Venezuela.
Visa or tourist card is required for nationals of other countries. Click here for Visa Informations
GETTING AROUND GUATEMALA
Internal carriers operate return flights from Guatemala City to Flores, Huehuetenango, Coban, Puerto Barrios and Quetzaltenango. Buses link most places cheaply and relatively painlessly, although roads in El Petén often turn into muddy mires or disappear altogether during the rainy season. There are minibuses operating between some of the more popular tourist sites. Some of Guatemala's national parks are only accessible by boat.
GUATEMALA DUTY FREE
The following goods may be imported into Guatemala by persons over 18 years of age without incurring customs duty:
80 cigarettes or 100g of tobacco; 1.5l of alcoholic beverages; two bottles of perfume.
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Direct dial service lo the U.S. is available throughout the country. Telex, fax, cable TV, radio, and Internet arc all easily found.
Mobile telephone: GSM 860/1900 is available. Handsets can be hired from Ruracel and other companies. Operators include Comcel (website: www.comcel.com.gt), Sercom S.A. (website: www.pcsdigital.com.gt) and Telefonica Centroamerica Guatemala (website: www.telefonica.com.gt). Some hotels also supply them. Coverage is increasing in Guatemala; consult network operator for details.
Internet: There are several Internet cafes in Guatemala City and the main tourist areas. ISPs include GuateNet (website: www.guate.net).
Telegram: Local telegrams can be sent from the central post office. Urgent telegrams are charged at double the ordinary rate.
GUATEMALA BUSINESS PROFILE
Economy: Coffee is the leading export in this largely agricultural economy, accounting for about one-third of foreign earnings. Other major crops are sugar cane, bananas, cardamom and cotton. In the fishing industry, shrimps are a significant export earner. Guatemala boasts the largest manufacturing sector in Central America, accounting for 20 per cent of GDP, and produces processed foods, textiles, paper, pharmaceuticals and rubber goods. Oil deposits, first discovered in the mid-1970s, are being exploited by French and American concerns but the country remains a marginal producer and continues to rely heavily on imported oil. There is a small mining industry producing marble, copper, lead, zinc and other metals.
Although Guatemala has received solid support from the USA and international institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the IMF, its economic development in the last 25 years has been undermined by chronic internal conflict, exacerbated by several major natural disasters and low prices for Guatemala’s main export commodities. Nonetheless, the economy has grown steadily in the last few years and is currently 4 per cent. The USA is substantially Guatemala’s largest trading partner, followed by El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and some EU countries, notably Germany and Italy. Guatemala is a member of the Central American Common Market.
Business: Guatemalan businesspeople tend to be rather formal and conservative. Normal courtesies should be observed and appointments should be made. Punctuality is appreciated and calling cards can be useful. Office hours: Mon-Fri 0800-1800, Sat 0800-1200.
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GUATEMALA SOCIAL PROFILE
Food & Drink: There is a variety of restaurants and cafes serving a wide selection of cooking styles including American, Argentinian, Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican and Spanish. There are many fast-food chains and continental-style cafes. The visitor should note that food usually varies in price rather than quality and some of the cheap eateries are amongst the best.
Nightlife: In Guatemala City in particular, there are nightclubs and discos with modern music and dance, featuring national and international artists. Guatemala is the home of marimba music, which can be heard at several venues. In the cities, the marimba is a huge elaborate xylophone with large drum sticks played by four to nine players. In rural areas the sounding boxes are made of different shaped gourds (marimbas de tecomates). There are regular concerts throughout Guatemala. There are also theatres and numerous plays in English and other cultural performances. Films with English and Spanish subtitles are often shown in major towns. The most important museums and art galleries are found in Guatemala City, la Antigua Guatemala and Tikal National Park.
Special Events: For further details, contact the Guatemala Tourist Commission (see Contact Addresses). The following is a selection of special events occurring in Guatemala in 2005:
Mar Easter Processions, Antigua; Easter Week Celebrations, Livingston. Aug 15 Virgin of the Ascension Fiesta, Socolenango. Oct-Nov Todos Santos Cuchumatán Fiesta. Nov 1 Day of the Dead Kite Festival, Santiago Sacatepequez. Nov 1-2 Day of the Dead (celebrations and horse racing), Todos Santos. Dec 7 La Quema del Diablo (burning of the devil), Antigua. Dec 12 Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Livingston. Dec 21 Festival de San Tomás (festival of Saint Thomas), Chichicastenango.
Social Conventions: Guatemala is the most populated of the Central American republics and is the only one which is predominantly Indian, although the Spanish have had a strong influence on the way of life. Full names should be used when addressing acquaintances, particularly in business. Dress is conservative and casual wear is suitable except in the smartest dining rooms and clubs.
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GUATEMALA HEALTH & SAFETY TIPS
1: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers over one year of age coming from countries with infected areas.
2: Following WHO guidelines issued in 1973, a cholera vaccination certificate is no longer a condition of entry into Guatemala. However, cases of cholera were reported in 1996 and precautions are essential. Up-to-date advice should be sought before deciding whether these precautions should include vaccination as medical opinion is divided over its effectiveness. See the Health appendix for further information.
3: Typhoid occurs.
4: Malaria risk exists throughout the year below 1500m (4921ft), especially in Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapan, Ixcan, Petén and San Marcos. Chloroquine is the recommended prophylaxis.
Food & drink: Bottled water is available everywhere. Other water sources may be contaminated, and water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Milk may be unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised, but make sure that it is reconstituted with pure water. Avoid dairy products which are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Pork, salad and mayonnaise may carry increased risk. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
Other risks: Onchocerciasis (river blindness) occurs in localised foci in rural areas. Dengue fever may occur. Dysentery and diarrhoeal diseases are common. Visceral, cutaneous and mucocutaneous leishmaniasis also occur. Hepatitis A occurs and inoculation is recommended. Altitude sickness may be experienced in higher places such as volcanoes and mountains, and exertion should be avoided.
Rabies occurs. For those at high risk, vaccination before arrival should be considered. If you are bitten, seek medical advice without delay. For more information, consult the Health appendix.
Health care: There are both public and private medical facilities in Guatemala City, but insurance is strongly advised. Some hotels offer doctor’s services to their guests.
Safety begins when you pack. To avoid being a target dress conservatively, act respectfully in churches. A flashy wardrobe or one that is too casual can mark you as a tourist easily, remember that unfortunately Guatemala Government do not care about promoting tourism as State policy so this is not a tourist oriented country with a very limited exceptions, so most population is real people living real lives... So as much as possible, avoid the appearance of wealth. You are not in Disneyland we are just a poor country.
Always try to travel light. If you do, you can move more quickly and will be more likely to have a free hand. You will also be less tired and less likely to set your luggage down, leaving it unattended.
Carry the minimum amount of valuables necessary for your trip and plan a place or places to conceal them. Your passport, cash and credit cards are most secure when locked in a hotel safe also is a good idea to prepare a fake wallet with old credit cards and some money ($20 in ones). When you have to carry your money on your person, you may wish to conceal them in several places rather than putting them all in one real wallet or pouch. Avoid hand bags, fanny packs and outside pockets which are easy targets for thieves. Inside pockets and a sturdy shoulder bag with the strap worn across your chest are somewhat safer but nothing is better than a good money belt. One of the safest places to carry valuables is in a pouch or money belt hide under your clothing.
If you wear glasses, pack an extra pair. Bring them and any medicines you need in your carry-on luggage, always check twice before you leave the hotel room for any forgotten property..
To avoid problems when passing through customs, keep medicines in their original, labeled containers. Bring a copy of your prescriptions and the generic names for the drugs. If a medication is unusual or contains narcotics, carry a letter from your doctor attesting to your need to take the drug. If you have any doubt about the legality of carrying a certain drug into a country, consult the embassy or consulate first.
IMPORTANT: Bring AMERICAN EXPRESS travelers checks ONLY any other brand will give you lots of problems to cash them in the banks (not to pay with) also bring the original invoice and one or two major credit/debit cards (VISA are better) instead of much cash. Never cash large amounts of money at one bank.
Special purchases include textiles, handicrafts, jewellery, jade carvings, leather goods, ceramics and basketry. Markets are best for local products and bargaining is necessary. Ceramics can be purchased cheaply in many places including Villa de Chinautla, San Luis Jilotepeque and Rabinal. Cobán is the cheapest place to buy silverware. The Central Market in Guatemala City and the Craft Market provide a range of crafts combining traditional and modern styles. Guatemala City contains many modern shopping centres and malls. Gran Centro Comercial Los Proceres, Galerias La Pradera, Plaza Cemaco and Geminis International Mall are all located in Zone 10. In addition, visitors may make use of the facilities at Tikal Futura, Peri-Roosevelt Shopping Mall and the Century Shopping Centre. Shopping hours: Mon-Sat 0930-1930. Malls are also open on Sunday.
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The currency in Guatemala is the QUETZAL, named after the National Bird. Coins are in denominations of one , five, ten, twenty five, and fifty cents as well as One Quetzal, and the bills in fifty cents, one, five, ten, twenty, fifty, and one hundred Quetzales. Also differ by their color and the printed figure. The exchange rate may vary according to the currency market, but is very easy to consult it, in any Bank Branch or in the newspaper. You really don't need to exchange for Quetzales in advance outside of the country and suffer the low exchange rate, bring a few $1 bills to pay for the taxis and change at the Airport bank that is open almost all day, Or request Guatemalaweb to send someone of confidence to pick you up to the airport and take you to your hotel.
The Banks are private and the majority have branches in all of the country, the capital city and departmental capitals you will find international services but in smaller towns only savings and checking services. See the ATM section in this web site for national locations.
The banks generally opens 9:00 am to 6:00 p.m. .
To travel in the interior of the country we recommend you carry some small cash USD and Quetzals. The majority of the mid prices and up hotels in the interior will accept credit cards with a 7 to 10% surcharge and travelers checks are mostly take only the banks and in hotels in the capital city. The best exchange rates are usually found in Guatemala City banks.
With regard to credit cards, these have generalized use in formal business and restaurants major international credit cards are widely accepted. Posada Belen is the only place in Guatemala to accept Discover Card.
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GUATEMALA TAX & TIPPING
Goods and services are subject to a 12% value-added tax (IVA). Hotels also have an additional 10% tourism tax.
Air passengers pay US$30 or 237 quetzals, at the time of publishing. Land and sea departure taxes vary according to the area you are exiting.
Generally, a 10% tip is appropriate for restaurants. Ask if the trip is included since some establishments add it to the bill.
GUATEMALA CLOTHING & ATTIRE
While in Guatemala City and the highlands area wear spring clothing and a sweater at night. Comfortable walking shoes are suggested. While at archaeological sites and the lowlands, light-colored, lightweight, cotton clothing is recommended. Sunglasses and a hat are recommended while on tours or at the beach.
Guatemala's population, the largest in any Central American country, is almost evenly divided between Native Americans and ladinos, but also includes small groups descended from African and European immigrants. Within the population are widely varied ways of life, differing between ladinos and indigenous people, between urban and rural residents, between the more affluent and the very poor. The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, into which many indigenous Guatemalans have incorporated traditional forms of worship. An estimated 40% and 1% of the population practices Protestantism and traditional Mayan religions, respectively.
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GUATEMALA SPORTS & ACTIVITIES
Mountaineering: This is practised on and around Guatemala’s volcanoes. At 4200m (13,776ft) above sea level, the Tajumulco in the San Marcos region is the highest volcano in Central America. In spite of this, it is technically an easy climb. Those requiring something more challenging can try the Tolimán, with its 3158m- (10,358ft-) twin peak summit. An easier climb is the San Pedro volcano, whose summit can be reached in about six hours. One of the most visited volcanoes, given its proximity to Guatemala City, is Pacaya at 2252m (7386ft). Excursions to this constantly erupting volcano must be made in a group and with a guide. The ascent of the Agua (or Hunapu) volcano at 3776m (1233ft) gives the opportunity to spend the night in the crater where there is a refuge for 30 people. Aktun Kan, Jobtzinaj, Lanquín and La Candelaria are principal locations for caving.
Watersports: Río Dulce and Lakes Izabal and Atitlán are good for windsurfing, with Lake Atitlán also popular for diving. Guatemala’s fast-moving rivers, including El Cahabón, El Chiquibul, El Motagua, La Pasión and El Usamacinta are ideal for boating and rapids shooting. Lakes and rivers suitable for fishing include El Lago de Izabal, El Petén, Río Dulce and the rivers of Alta Verepaz. The Pacific Coast is one of the best places worldwide for sports fishing. Birdwatching is also recommended at these locations.
Other: There are around six 18-hole golf courses in Guatemala, with others currently under construction. Facilities at the Guatemala Country Club and the San Isidro courses, 8 km (5 miles) and 10km (5.5 miles) from the city respectively, are open to members only. The course at the Hacienda Nueva Country Club is open to the public. Other courses are at the Alta Vista Country Club in San José Pinula, which also had other sporting facilities, and Mayan Golf in Villa Nueva. Green Place in Guatemala City has a 9-hole course.
Cycling is popular in la Antigua Guatemala, Izabál, the Guatemalan Altiplano, Panajachel, Santa Catarina Palopó and the plains of El Petén.
GUATEMALA TIME ZONE
Guatemala is in the Central Standard Time zone and does not observe daylight-savings time. Guatemala Standard Time is GMT-6
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