Planning before arrival, what to pack, traveling in Guatemala and returning home.
Travel services with GuatemalaReservations.com
What to know and do before you travel to Guatemala
Trip preparation and learning about Guatemala:
You have decided to travel to Guatemala ! For some families, this is the first time and for others it is a return visit. Traveling to a different country – any country – can be stressful as you are traveling “outside your comfort zone”. Depending on your added activities (if any), you may be feeling more anxious, excited, nervous, unsure, scared, happy, etc. Add that to the stress of organizing your life to leave home, packing, and worrying about your pets !
Your time in Guatemala will be memorable, meaningful and enjoyable. Savor your time and experiences here and don’t sweat the small stuff – that is my job; taking care of your travel details to ensure a stress-free itinerary!
My drivers are prompt, courteous and safe. Vehicles have seat belts and carry insurance. I am here and accessible anytime you have a question or need some advice or information. I can coordinate any or all of your additional services while in Guatemala. Please make sure your non-traveling family members and friends have my phone numbers and email addresses as an emergency contact.
Before you go, educate yourself about the culture, economics, politics, and history of Guatemala. There are many Guatemala-specific resources definitely worth exploring in depth. The internet is full of information and all major travel books have information and additional website links. Note, there is no definitive source of information, nor is everything you read true and up to date. Use all information sources to educate yourself but Guatemala is a growing and dynamic Country and Culture and your experiences will be unique.
E-mail me for current working links if those below are not working..
• Though lacking in updated info, (INGUAT) – the Guatemalan tourist organization – is a good place to start.
• Revue, Guatemala’s English-language Magazine – http://www.revuemag.com
• Que Pasa; another English –language magazine http://www.quepasaenantigua.com
• Resource for Spanish language Schools: http://www.guatemala365.com
• Great restaurants in Antigua: http://www.degustantigua.com
• General Panajachel info: http://www.panajachel.com
• Quetzaltenango (Xela) info: http://www.xelapages.com
• The US Embassy in Guatemala City: http://www.guatemala.usembassy.gov
• The Canadian Embassy in Guatemala: http://geo.international.gc.ca/latin-america/guatemala
• The Guatemalan Embassy in the USA: http://guatemala.visahq.com/embassy/United-States
• The Guatemalan Embassy in Canada. – http://www.embaguate-canada.com
• Safety tips – http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1747.html
Essential for travel:
- Get a passport (USA): http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html
- Get a passport (Canadian) : http://www.ppt.gc.ca/index.aspx
- Buy your flight tickets. Sounds logical, I know, but some folks wait to purchase tickets and in the end, find out that their preferred travel dates are not available.
- Buy travel insurance. As one can not anticipate the future, travel insurance is a MUST to cover any unanticipated travel costs – lost bags, cancelled flights, medical issues, etc. Check with a local travel agency, your airline or on-line.
- Get necessary immunizations – recommended to be up to date on normal inoculations including Tetanus and Hepatitis A.
Check with your physician well in advance, as some vaccinations consist of two injections
spaced a month apart while others must be administered six months prior to travel.
(Unless you plan to be in remote areas for extended periods of time, typhoid and malaria treatments are not required).
- Call your credit / debit card company to confirm that your card can be used internationally and at ATM machines. Also ask about any additional charges they add to use the card internationally. Your card must have a 4 digit pin # to work in Guatemala ATM machines. Some people pre-pay their credit card and use that as a “debit” card, going to a bank in Guatemala for a cash advance. This may cut down on a foreign fee – again, check with your card company.
- Ask your health insurance company about international coverage and, if necessary, either
purchase a rider or buy a separate limited-term policy.
- Learn some basic phrases in Spanish. Try these online sources: http://www.learnspanish.com or purchase a small travel book (Lonely Planet) for “Latin American” Spanish.
Making your travel arrangements
There are plenty of good travel agencies and web resources specializing in travel to Central America. You can also contact Alissa Burch – she is a consolidator and if you let her know I referred you and $5. of each ticket is donated directly to the Ninos con Bendicion program !
Alissa Burch eXito Travel
Phone from US: (800) 655-4053 ext. 8518
Worldwide Direct: (970) 372-6294
Fax: (970) 372-6294
Every traveler needs a valid passport. Sign the face page of your passport before leaving home, pack a photocopy in your checked luggage and leave a copy at home. I will also ask you to scan your passport so I have a copy in case of emergency as well. For extra security while here, lock your passport in the hotel safe and carry a photocopy with you with your driver’s license.
*** Passports should not expire any less than 6 months from your travel dates.
The Guatemalan government currently does not require Canadian or US citizens staying fewer than 90 days to obtain visas, but your passport will be stamped and your stay is not to exceed 90 days.
Should you lose your passport, immediately contact the Canadian Embassy at: 13 Calle 8-44 Zone 10, Edificio Edyma Plaza, Guatemala City, Guatemala. Tel: 2363-4348 or the US Embassy at: Avenida Reforma 7-01, Zona 10, Guatemala City, Guatemala. Tel: 2326-4000
No vaccinations are currently required for travel to Guatemala. However, I encourage you to check with your physician for recommendations before traveling. Guatemala City, Antigua and Panajachel are not high-risk areas for malaria. Anyone planning an extended trip (more than 4 days) into a jungle- such as the one in the Petan area – might consider taking an anti-malarial medication. For shorter stays in Tikal (1-2 days) any good insect repellant with DEET should be sufficient.
If your travels only take you to Guatemala City, Antigua and Pana, you’ll easily understand why Guatemala’s official motto is “The Land of Eternal Spring”. Temperatures are generally in the 70s/80’s during the day and the 50s/60’s at night depending on the season. These areas are at 5000 feet in elevation and above. Temperatures are more extreme, however, in other areas of the country (like Tikal and the coastal areas which are lower in altitude). Guatemala’s normal rainy season spans from mid-May through mid-October, so if you travel during that time you will want to bring a rain poncho, an umbrella, and an extra pair of shoes. The rains are often torrential late in the afternoon or evening, but day are warn and sunny. Regardless of the season, you’ll want to bring a jacket or sweater for the cool evenings and early mornings.
What to Pack
Casual, conservative clothing is both proper and practical. Guatemalan women usually wear skirts and dress pants, and men wear long trousers. Think “business casual”, but comfortable. Capri pants, jeans and skirts are common. Shorts are worn, though it is recommended to be of modest length and limited to Panajachel and hotel pools. Children are fine with shorts. Comfortable FLAT shoes are a must. Antigua has cobblestone streets and other areas have uneven walking surfaces. Athletic shoes / sneakers are even better than shoes. Sandals can be worn, but are less practical.
Most local women do not wear sleeveless blouses or dresses. While it is okay to wear such clothing, bring along a sweater or shawl to cover your shoulders when in public, especially if entering a church or visiting a local family. Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must.
A travel guide book, Latin American Spanish phrase book and a small Spanish-English dictionary will be well used ! Choose smaller editions that can fit into your shirt pocket or purse. Maps of Guatemala and Guatemala City are also nice to have. I will supply you with maps and info for each area, but your own copies are also good to have. It is also advised you travel with 25-50 single $1. dollar bills and a several fives and tens, as they come in handy for tips . *** US Dollar bills must be crisp and new. Rips, stains, tears are nor accepted at banks and not appreciated as a form of tip or payment.
Finally, you may want to consider packing bathroom essentials, a shirt, a pair of socks, a pair of
underwear, sunglasses, and your photography equipment in a carry-on bag in case your luggage is delayed upon arrival. Headphones, a sandwich and snacks will come in handy.
~ DRINK WATER as flights dehydrate and Antigua is at 5000 feet in altitude. ~
See specific packing list later in this document.
Staying healthy while here
Turista. Montezuma’s Revenge. Food poisoning. Whatever name you give it, diarrhea is the last thing you want on this special trip. Guatemalan cuisine is delicious and interesting; take a little care, and you can enjoy some unique dining experiences during your trip. Your stomach may not used to the spices and condiments used in Guatemala.
In general, experts suggest eating foods that have been cooked and fruits that have been washed with purified water and/or peeled. Fresh lettuce salads may or may not be safe to eat, as some cooks wash fruits and vegetables in a solution that kills harmful surface bacteria, but not all take such care. Some restaurants will indicate on the menu if they follow these food-safe procedures. If in doubt, pass on anything that’s uncooked. HOWEVER, Antigua and Panajachel are tourist-oriented and most restaurants are hyper-vigilant about food preparation. Ice is made with purified water and raw fruits and vegetables are safely prepared. Lettuce or tomatoes on a hamburger are fine. I would stay away from “street” food (prepared or sold on the street) and as with anything, use your intuition about how something feels. It is normal to have some gas and or stomach rumbles as your system is not used to the cuisine here.
ALWAYS drink only bottled water and carry a supply of Pepto-Bismol or Imodium in case something doesn’t hit your system just right. Some travelers carry a prescription of Cipro (an antibiotic) with them in case they contract a bacterial infection.
The section on “Water” below has more information about staying healthy. Be sure to consider your personal health history and vulnerabilities when making food and beverage choices and make sure you have health insurance coverage while in Guatemala. If you are taking any medication, bring enough to see you through the entire trip and carry it in its original container. It’s not a bad idea to carry an extra prescription, too, should you lose or misplace your medication. Some contact lens solutions are not readily available, so plan ahead if you have a specific type you use. Bring the usual “just in case” items you normally pack when traveling (pain reliever, bandages, Kleenex, etc.) plus pack something for diarrhea. Most over-the-counter medicines used in the USA / Canada are available in Guatemala.
Here’s a travel tip: Coating the inside of your nose with Neosporin before getting on the plane will keep your nose moist and help ward off airborne bacteria.
NOTE: Guatemala can be damp and/or dusty. Contact lenses may be more irritating and/or seasonal allergies or asthma issues may be more pronounced. Please plan accordingly.
Drink only bottled water and beverages which are readily available throughout the country. Either avoid using ice or confirm that it was made with purified water before drinking iced beverages. Purified water is generically referred to as “Agua Salvavidas”, as that is the brand name of the major purified water distributor. It is like asking for a “Kleenex” when you are referring to a tissue !
“Is this pure water?” translates to “¿Es agua pura?” or “¿Es agua salvavidas?”
“Was the ice made with pure water?” translates to “¿Se hizo el hielo con agua salvavidas?”
Make sure you brush your teeth with purified water and keep your mouth closed in the shower ! J Again, DRINK PLENTY OF WATER as you are at high altitude while in Guatemala.
More (!) important info
The Quetzal (Q) – named for Guatemala’s rare and beautiful national bird – is divided into 100 Centavos. There are coins and paper bills in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 “Quetzales”. Exchange rates vary, but usually about 7.5 “Q’s” to 1 U.S. dollar. ***NOTE that banks do not use the international exchange rate. For example if the international rate is 7.85, banks will probably exchange at 7.65 +/-. Each bank has a slightly different rate. Always good to break a larger bill when possible as many vendors and small places can not make much change.
Banking by ATM is the easiest way to get currency in Guatemala because you don’t have to exchange U.S. dollars for Quetzales; simply insert your debit or credit card and withdraw cash in Quetzales. ATM machines can be used if your card has the PLUS or CIRRUS designation on the back. Please note that many credit card companies add a surcharge for purchases made outside the country (“foreign exchange fee”). This can be added to an ATM withdrawal, as well as to a credit card purchase.
Check with your bank in advance to make sure you know what their rates are and that they know to expect charges from Guatemala !
Purchases are made in Quetzales, which your bank converts to dollars, then back to Quetzales for the merchant so items purchased with a credit card are usually a bit more costly than the stated price. Many merchants add an extra 10% credit card fee to cover processing. Check with the merchant before you use your card. At a restaurant, the tip (“propina”) of 10% is usually added so don’t get confused ! VISA is more widely accepted than MasterCard. U.S. dollars are widely accepted in the major cities as well, so it is not crucial that you enter the country (even after hours) with Quetzales. Drivers, bell boys, hotel staff, etc. will happily accept tips in dollars. U.S. Dollars must be new, crisp, free of rips, tears or marks. Smaller denominations are best.
Guatemalan banks are usually open from 8:30 or 9:00am to 5:00 or 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and 9:00 am to 1:00 pm on Saturdays. Some banks in Antigua and Panajachel are open Sunday as well. Hours vary from bank to bank. There are ATM machines everywhere. Banks may charge a small fee to change your dollars. Go to the customer service desk with your passport to change dollars or travelers checks before exchanging at the teller window. Note some banks require 2 pieces of ID to take out a cash advance or use your debit card at the teller window if you do not want to use an ATM. Bring you driver’s license with you !
Phone calls, internet and SKYPE:
International phone calls from hotel room phones tend to be very expensive as most hotels add a service charge. It is recommended to use the internet for international communication. A computer and/or wifi is provided in most hotels and internet cafes are abundant throughout Guatemala. Many internet cafes now offer SKYPE. All Guatemala phone numbers have eight digits. To dial Guatemala from Canada or the USA, dial 011+ 502 + the eight digit number. To dial Canada or the USA from Guatemala, dial 001+ area code + seven digit number. Some U.S. or Canadian-based cell phones can be used internationally once activated for international calls. Contact your carrier to see if your cell phone can be used from Guatemala, the per-minute call rate, and what you need to do to activate it. You can purchase a cheap cell phone here for @ $20.- $25. which often includes @ 30 minutes calling time. With these phones, local and long distance (to the USA or Canada) calls all cost the same at @ $0.25 cents (US) per minute or less. Receiving local or long distance calls on these phones are free.
I can pre-purchase a phone for you and let you know the phone number in advance so you tell your family and friends.
You will forever keep and look at the pictures you take, so make an effort to capture the many parts of Guatemala as much as possible. Please exercise courtesy when photographing Guatemalans, particularly the Mayan People. Although they are resplendent in their colorful traditional dress, Guatemalans are people just like you who are going about their daily lives.
They do not like to be pointed at or talked about and taking photos should be with respect, courtesy and permission. Long distance group photos / scenes are fine, but up close and individual photos – especially with children – should be with permission. Out of respect for the Guatemalan people and their culture, always ask permission before taking a photo and be prepared either to pay a small fee for the photo or to purchase whatever the person might be selling.
If your request is denied, put your camera away immediately and move on. If you are allowed to take the picture, be sure to thank the person. “May I please take your picture?” translates to “¿Podria tomarle una foto, por favor?” . And ALWAYS say “Gracias”. !
Some restrooms may not be as sanitary as what you are used to, even in nicer hotels and restaurants.
Be aware that for reasons of water conservation and antiquated plumbing, used toilet paper is disposed of in a wastebasket, rather than in the toilet. This is for both pee and poo. When you enter the stall you will see the wastebasket containing crumpled toilet paper, and you’ll know the protocol! It’s also helpful to carry some tissues and wet wipes when you’re out and about. “Where is the bathroom, please?” translates to “¿Disculpe, donde es el baño por favor?” And ALWAYS say “Gracias”. J
You will be visiting areas frequented by tourists, and they are generally safe. When it comes to safety, being in Guatemala City is similar to being in New York, Los Angeles, or any major city in the USA or Canada; there are certain areas best left unvisited, especially at night. Prepare by reading the safety-related information in your favorite travel books . The US State department has a pretty scary advisory. I would not create an itinerary or suggest activities that would be unsafe or risky. Though I can never guarantee 100% safety anywhere in the world, an itinerary I create with you will follow safe and prudent travel guidelines. Whenever and wherever you are traveling, most importantly use common sense! Play it safe by leaving your jewelry at home.
Do not walk around with electronics or a computer. Keep your ipod, passport, extra credit cards and extra cash in a hotel safe (if applicable) or in the hotel room (good to lock in a backpack or suitcase with your TSA lock !). Hotels I use are reputable and safe, but I suggest locking a suitcase for your own piece of mind. When out and about, carry “on your person” the name, address, and phone number of your hotel and enough taxi money to get you there (Q20.). No reason to carry any more than needed and put different amounts of small denomination bills in various pockets so you are not pulling out a wad of cash to pay for an inexpensive item. There is no need to carry around your passport or tons of credit cards. Only take with you what you do not mind “giving as a non-tax deductable donation” …
In a depressed economy, pick pockets are very common for both tourists and locals. Carry a good photocopy of your passport. If you feel you need a “real” photo ID, carry your driver’s license.
Also note that it is very common to see heavily armed security guards in Guatemala. They are everywhere, so try not to be alarmed.
Shops and banks are generally open by 9:00am. Prices are fixed in larger stores but bargaining is expected in the markets and most craft stores. Carrying a pocket makes currency conversion a breeze. If you do not speak or understand Spanish, a small pencil and paper are handy to write numbers so you are sure on the amount agreed upon for purchases ! Guatemalans work hard for their money, have very little opportunity, and deserve to be compensated in the same way you deserve to be compensated for your work. Getting a “great deal” is far less important than demonstrating respect and compassion for others. When Q1. Can buy 4 tortillas (often lunch for someone), paying a little more on your end will benefit the seller greatly.
Private vendors selling antique textiles and Guatemalan handicrafts can sometimes be found in the hotels, the courtyards off the main streets, and on church steps, but most are located in either the town’s “official” market or in areas where there are many vendors together (many selling the same items). In Antigua, there are several vendor area – the largest being near the bus station or in Antigua’s newest market, located in the ruins of a building located at the corner of 3a Avenida and 3a Calle. Both locations are open daily.
Another must on any shopper’s itinerary in Antigua is the cavernous Nim Po’t enterprise, said to house the world’s largest retail Maya textile collection. The Nim Po’t is located near the La Merced church (at 5a Avenida Norte #29 by “the Arch”), and is a consignment store for hundreds of indigenous suppliers. Here, you’ll find an overwhelming number of new and antique textiles, hand-carved and painted masks, beaded jewelry, handbags, sculptures, books, t-shirts, and much, much more. You can take also take your time and learn about the various textiles and compare the quality of various items. Prices there are fixed and there is no extra fee to use your credit card. If you pay in cash, any purchase of Q100. or more will receive a 10% discount upon request.
In Panajachel, the main street – Avenida Santander – is one stall or shop one after the other full of crafts, t-shirts, leather goods, etc.
*** note that high quality homemade textiles and crafts are available if you visit the Niños con Bendicion program in San Antonio Aguas Calientes (known for their 2-sided weavings). All proceeds go directly to their education fund.
Guatemala is in the Central Time Zone but does not use daylight savings time in the summer.
Electrical current (120 volts, 60 Hz), flat-pronged plug and sockets are the same as in the USA and Canada. Note that most plug sockets are 2 pronged. If you have something with 3 prongs you will need to bring a small rubber adaptor.
Dress conservatively. You will see many a short-short and crop tops, but err on the side of caution and respect. Dress for the weather, but be respectful. Carry a light sweater as it is cool in the shade year-round. Nights and early mornings are always cool. Mid May through mid –October is our rainy season with usual late day / evening rains. An umbrella and shoes that can dry quickly (or extra shoes) will serve you well !
As beautiful as it is, it is considered culturally offensive to dress either yourself or any children traveling with you in traditional Mayan clothing / “traje”.
See additional cultural info later in this document.
The trip itself
Most flights into Guatemala City connect through the Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Atlanta, or Miami, so the last leg of your journey will likely be less than three hours long.
While descending into Guatemala City you may feel some turbulence due to the mountains. Guatemala City is a large area sprawling with a variety of different buildings and terrain. If you arrive in the daytime, you will see modern high rise building and small hovels precariously built on steep slopes of the canyons. You might have a view of the double-humped volcano, Pacaya, or the huge Lake Amatitlan, both just outside Guatemala City.
Be sure to complete all customs and immigration forms distributed by the flight attendants before deplaning and make sure they are easily available with your passport and baggage tickets.
Arrival into La Aurora Airport, Guatemala City:
When you land, you will taxi to one of several gates. Upon deplaning, you’ll walk down a long hallway toward immigration and customs. You will pass a bank if you want to exchange any money BUT they give a very poor exchange rate. First, you’ll enter an immigration line, so have your immigration form ready, along with your passport. After the agent stamps your passport, you’ll move toward the baggage claim area. It is very common to see armed security guards in Guatemala, so do not be alarmed. Claim your bags from one of the 2 baggage carousels. Luggage carts are available (free) should you need one. Porters will try to assist you with your bags and if you do not want to tip them, politely say “no gracias”. Once you’ve collected your bags, exit the baggage claim area either by passing a uniformed person who will collect your customs declaration or by moving through a baggage inspection line. When ready, head for the exit door and expect that your baggage will not be searched.
If you need help with your baggage, ask one of the many porters for assistance. He will remove your bags from the carousel, load them onto a cart, and escort you the short distance to the airport exit. There is a restroom inside the airport before you exit – transport to Antigua is about 1 hour !
You will see the INGUAT Tourism desk featuring a wide array of brochures. You can buy a good map of Guatemala and they have other info for free. I will also have an info pack for you upon arrival.
At the airport’s glass exit doors, you will see a large crowd of people waiting for passengers. If you reserve airport transport in advance, my driver will have a small sign with your name on it, so just patiently scan the crowd and locate him or her. You can take the luggage cart to that meeting point. Be aware that once you go through the large, glass exit doors, you cannot re-enter the airport! In short, be sure you are ready to exit the terminal. Again, there is usually a lot of activity just outside the airport exit since everyone who is awaiting someone’s arrival must stand outside to greet his or her loved one. It can be disconcerting to be in a racial minority and/or in a foreign country surrounded by people who don’t speak your language, but know that you are safe! There is a coffee/snack shop and more bathrooms outside the terminal on your left side if you need water, a snack or other services before your transport to Antigua.
Travel from the airport to your hotel in Antigua is approximately 1 hour +/- depending on traffic.
You will be confronted with many differences while visiting Guatemala Most North Americans find these very frustrating. Below are some helpful hints.
* Please say thank you (“gracias”) for almost everything; otherwise you’ll be impolite.
* Timing? There is not such a thing as timing in Guatemala (or Latin America in general). We even have our own time, the “hora chapina”, which means 20-30 minutes later than the time you agreed. If you are an “always on time” person you will need to be flexible a little and not lose your mind. They will come… not on time; and always with an excuse… but they will come!
* Latinos are very warm and will try to make you feel at home. Be careful with this, though with unknown men on the streets. A “no hablo español” will help you to get out of uncomfortable situations.
* Men are rude sometimes and they will yell “compliments” or whistle to you (women) on the streets. Do not turn and pay attention to them. They do that to almost every woman they see.
* The word “love” is very strong for us. In English you “love” pizza, “love” listening to music or the color green…. In Spanish “to love” – “amar” is very intimate and not to be used for things. “I like” – “me gusta” is the appropriate phrase to use. Try not to say I love you (te amo) to people (especially from the opposite sex) or you can be misunderstood. “Te cariño” – “I care for you” is more appropriate.
* Sometimes it is not what you say, but the way you say something that matters – body language says more than words.
* Food! It’s different ! (with the exception of fast food stuff). Guatemalan food is very seasoned (salty, sweet or spicy at times). Whenever you finish your meal, someone will say one of these two things: “muchas gracias” or “buen provecho” (boo-ehn pro-vey-cho). The first one means “thank you very much” and is said by the people as they finish their meal. It doesn’t matter if it is the wait staff, owner or the guest. The second one means something like “I hope it serves you well” and even though it started as the answer to the first one, it can be used either way. So if you are told “muchas gracias,” answer “buen provecho” and vice versa… always with a smile!
*** Do not flush the toilet paper or anything else down the toilets. Use the garbage basket. Why? It seems that if you throw it in the toilet, it will get plugged and make a flood because of the way the water pipes are built. *** This includes 5 star hotels and establishments too !
Why and what is “etiquette”?
Your trip to Guatemala is an opportunity to learn about another culture, including the fact that there are wonderful people everywhere who share our same hopes, fears and dreams. This is what unites us as human beings, after all! Take the opportunity not only to learn as much about Guatemala as you can but to sit back, observe and experience the sights, sounds, smells and tastes.
You are ambassadors for your country and for those who will come after you!
Remember that others will follow you in the journey Guatemala. Leave the people you meet with a favorable impression of North Americans so as not to make things more difficult for those who follow. Be gracious. Lower your voice. Have patience. Be flexible. Have fun !
- • Remember that you are a visitor and guest in their country, and behave accordingly. Show respect for the people and the culture. And no, not everyone knows or speaks English !!!
- • Learn about Guatemala before you travel.
- • Listen to the advice of your guide or hosts.
- • Show an interest in Guatemala’s customs and culture and try to adapt to them or at least respect them.
- • Graciously accept food, drink, and gifts when they’re offered. You do not have to eat or drink, but graciously accept and say “gracias”.
- • When there is a setback, remember that with patience and persistence it will pass.
- • Make apologies for mistakes you may make. See Spanish suggestions below.
- • Learn some Spanish before you travel, and use it. Your efforts will be appreciated.
- • Bring a phrase book and dictionary with you and try to learn more of the language while you are
there. “Pardon me” or “Excuse me” translates to “Perdon.” You can use it if you bump into someone, need to get a clerk’s attention, correct something, or ask that something be repeated. “I’m sorry” translates to “Lo siento,” a broader term used to show empathy and compassion.
• When you pass someone on the street, say “buenos dias” or “buenas tardes” (if afternoon). It is amazing to see the smile and return greetings you receive !
…Be impatient, inconsiderate, loud, noisy, belligerent, demanding, or argumentative.
…Put yourself on a time schedule and/or set deadlines that your hosts or guests either cannot meet or
will have no inclination to meet (if applicable).
…Try to “buy” your way to faster service.
…Seek or expect to find your culture in the foreign country.
…Be afraid to socialize within the framework of a different culture and customs.
…Make demands or expect others to cater to you.
…Indulge in heated or argumentative political conversation with people in your host country.
…Expect a foreign bureaucracy to work any more efficiently or swiftly than yours.
…Complain about or criticize different customs, attitudes, political events, or social conditions.
…Be afraid to ask questions, but phrase them carefully and respectfully.
…Take offense if you are treated rudely or brusquely. Stay calm, and not respond in kind.
…Videotape or take pictures of adults or especially children without their permission.
Being patient and flexible:
Be patient and courteous at all times. Keep in mind that Latin Americans tend to be more relaxed about time than North Americans, so “7 pm.” might mean “sometime tonight.”
Latin Americans are not as tied to schedules as many of us are, so meeting times arranged by your hosts may be approximate. All services I arrange (transports, tours, meals, etc) are REALLY at set times !
If you are asked to return or have an appointment, ask me and depending on the context, I can advise you is it is the “hora chapina” or real time…
- A 10% gratuity is expected at restaurants. Many restaurants include the “propina” but check your bill and see if it was added or not. Feel free to leave more if you have exceptional service. A similar level of tipping is also appropriate for taxi drivers and tour guides. Tips depend on your tipping habits and the quality of services received. Quetzales or US dollars (in new condition) are gratefully accepted.
- A tip of @ Q10. or $1. per bag for an airport or hotel porter is appropriate – same rate per person for hotel cleaning staff. Be gracious and show that you appreciated the efforts of the cleaning staff that took care of you during your stay as well as any favorite wait staff in the restaurants.
- Taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers have their tip included in the cost of their service.
- When using public restrooms, you may be in the care of a bathroom attendant, so be sure to have Q1. ready to compensate them for their service.
- Hotel tips are appreciated. Staff clean and serve food, as well as help with bags. In a smaller hotel, this can be the same people. In a large hotel, there can be specific people for specific jobs. Please anticipate and be kind with your tipping, depending on the length of your stay and habits
- Driver tips are @ Q50. or $5. per person, depending on the length of the trip *
- Guide tip is suggested at $5. per person per day *
* Some families or groups can give a larger tip for the family as opposed to per person.
Note that you can sit for HOURS at a restaurant, even if there is a line to get in. You need to ASK for the check (“la cuenta”) – it will usually not just be given to you ! The tip “propina” is not always included.
Here is an excellent link for some of the many restaurants in Antigua: http://www.degustantigua.com/
Using courteous language:
- The Guatemalan people are courteous, gracious, and accommodating. It is considered proper to
say “buenos dias,” “buenas tardes,” and “buenas noches” for “good morning,” “good afternoon,”
and “good evening,” rather than the familiar “hola.” “Buenas tardes” is used from about 12noon to 7pm or so.
- Remember to say por favor (please), gracias (thank-you), de nada (you’re welcome), and
perdon (excuse me).
- Learn a few phrases in Spanish, such as “¿Disculpe, donde esta el baño?” (“Where is the bathroom please?”) and “La cuenta, por favor” (Check please – at a restaurant). Again, you can sit at a restaurant for hours until YOU politely ask for the check. It is not customary to shoo customers away even if there is a line. Meal times are culturally an important time for people and you are welcome to sit as long as you want until you are ready to leave, ie: YOU have to ask for the bill “la cuenta por favor”.
Personal Safety Issues and International Travel
Guatemala is a country with significant poverty issues which is seen in many developing countries.
As such, simple pick pocketing is common. I make every attempt possible to keep you safe during your time here by creating an appropriate itinerary and avoiding areas and activities which I feel may be questionable or dangerous.
Here are some general guidelines: (note, some sound extreme and are not meant to scare you – just to give an alternative point of reference. These are tips I use when visiting the USA !).
1. Do not make obvious displays of large amounts of cash or expensive items (jewelry, cameras, electronic devises, etc.)
2. Carry only the things you will need with you for that day or that time period.
3. Walk in groups of two or more when possible.
4. If you are returning from a restaurant in the evening / after dark, take a taxi or “tuk-tuk”.
5. Be aware of the people around you.
6. Watch for the following activities that may indicate a pick-pocket plan:
Someone jostles you more than the situation indicates
Someone points to something spilled on your clothing
Something is dropped close to you to distract your attention
7. Bring two copies of your passport with you (notarized as being authentic copies of the original, if possible), and carry a copy – instead of your passport – with a drivers license for photo ID.
8. Keep wallets, pocketbooks, backpacks, etc., in front of you and close to your body.
9. Store money and credit cards in different locations, and carry only what you need.
10. Do not take pictures of children or nationals except with permission.
11. Follow the information given in the Health Information section of this info packet.
12. Relax and enjoy – vigilance is better than paranoia.
The following items are suggested to be included in packing for the trip.
Jeans / Capri and /or khaki pants / t-shirts / dress shirt (optional) / bathing suit / shorts (no more than 2” above the knee) / pajamas / socks / underwear / sneakers or flat soled shoes / Sandals / flip flops (for showers or pools) / Rain jacket or poncho (May to Oct) / hat / sunglasses.
Passports / copy of passports / driver’s license / flight itinerary / medical info / copy of document numbers (credit cards, license, passports…).
Spending money (US cash small denominations for tips – NOT torn, stained or ripped)
Debit or credit card / traveler’s checks / checkbook (in case you purchase extra services or need emergency cash with me – agreed upon in advance !).
Flashlight /camera with extra memory cars and battery (+ your cords !) / Laptop or other computing device (hotels have computers for your use and wifi) / travel clock / back pack or day pack / water bottle / I-Pod/CD player w/ extra batteries or charger (good for transports and in your hotel, but don’t walk around town plugged in !) / sunglasses
Sunscreen /shampoo/conditioner / insect spray with DEET /toothbrush / toothpaste / deodorant/ prescription medicines (in original bottles) / anti-diarrheal medications (just in case) / feminine products / pain medications (tylenol, advil) / pepto bismol / sunglasses / soap / hair dryers etc – (plug sockets have 2 prongs. Bring an adaptor if you have an item with 3 prongs) / wet wipes or no-rinse hand sanitizer (like Purell) / tissues and/or travel packs of toilet paper / pens and paper for notes.
Having said all that… PACK LIGHT.
You can also easily purchase items when here !
Day Trips and Information about Areas
Founded in 1543 and located approximately 1 hour southwest of Guatemala City, La Antigua Guatemala (Antigua) is home to the continent’s single greatest repository of Spanish colonial architecture. Historic ruins dating back as far the 16th and 17th centuries stand alongside contemporary galleries, dozens of Spanish-language schools and internet cafes, and a fine assortment of shops and restaurants. A trio of volcanoes (Agua Volcano, Acatenango and Fuego) stand guard over this charming town. Monday, Thursday and Saturday are market days in Antigua—a good time to experience an “authentic” Guatemalan market (mercado). Any day is a good day to buy any number of items made by Mayan artisans! Antigua offers as much of a selection of textiles, ceramic and other crafts as anywhere else in the country. Planned activities in and Around Antigua can include a walking tour, a visit to a nearby Mayan Music and coffee Museum and a folk dance performance by local children including tortilla making and a back-strop weaving demonstration (Ninos con Bendicion).
In Antigua there is a chocolate museum and chocolate making workshop (I can get you a discount), paid use of the Porta Hotel Antigua pool, coffee tour, zip lining, paintball, and so much more ! Shopping and “people-watching” are also popular activities !
Antigua also hosts a number of international restaurants.
En route from Antigua to Panajachel (or a day trip from Antigua), are the ruins of IXIMCHE. The site is located between Antigua and Panajachel off the highway in Tecpan – an mostly indigenous town @ 90 min from Antigua and 60 min from Panajachel. Iximche was the 1st capital of Guatemala after the Conquest and holds the ruins of a traditional Mayan ball court and small temples. Iximche is still actively used as a Mayan ritual site. http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g292008-d953592-r121665587-Iximche-Panajachel_Lake_Atitlan_Western_Highlands.html
Lake Atitlán: (Panajachel – “Pana”).
Described by many as the most beautiful lake on earth, Lago (lake)Atitlán covers approximately 78 square miles and is ringed by three non-active volcanoes (San Pedro, Atitlán and Tolimán).
Most popular activity is to take a boat ride and the lake offers a variety of activitites, including hiking, kayaking, relaxing… soak in the culture of this special area of Guatemala !
Chichicastenango’s bustling market days are Sundays and Thursdays, and on them the town is an explosion of color. Mayan artists and vendors come from all over to sell their wares, which include everything from hand-woven and hand embroidered decorative pieces and clothing, to pottery, to flowers, to fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, to chickens and machetes. The 400-year-old church of Santo Tomas overlooks the market and is open to visitors who may enter through its side doors. Since
the church is still used for religious services and by Shamans for their rituals, visitors should demonstrate considerable respect by being as low-key as possible while on its grounds.
“Chichi” is situated 87 miles northwest of Guatemala City, a two-to–three hour trip by vehicle. It is @ 45-60 min from Panajachel. Note that the streets are narrow and crowded with tourists expected to make purchases. Some people feel over stimulated by the colors, noises and energy of the market. For others, this energy is what they find most attractive in the market.
Tikal National Park:
Between A.D. 250 and 900, Tikal was a vast urban community punctuated by broad plazas, soaring monuments and numerous temples. Now it is the standard by which all other Maya ruins are judged. Situated east of Flores and west of the Belizean border, the ruins of Tikal are tucked inside the largest primary tropical forest north of the Amazon in the Peten region. Hiking through the jungle to reach the various ruins and climbing though temples is hot and sometimes strenuous, but it is experience not soon forgotten. It is possible to see much of Tikal in a day, although most people choose to stay overnight at the park so they can more spend more time exploring and hear the jungle sounds at night. Daytrip packages include airfare from Antigua to Flores, lunch, and a guided tour through a jungle that is alive with howler monkeys, spider monkeys, turkeys, toucans and various other creatures big and small. An overnight package with 2 options are also available. Let me know and I will send specific information. Tikal is not cheap, but it is priceless.
La Ciudad Guatemala (Guatemala City) is a metropolitan city of 12 million people. As such, it shares many of the same conveniences and problems of other cities this size. We do not spend time in Guatemala City except for your arrival and departure, but there are a few good places to visit for a ½ or full day.
- • Parque Zoologico La Aurora – The zoo near the airport is like a little oasis in Guatemala City. It is clean and safe, and children as well as adults enjoy it. It’s a great place to “people watch” too!
- • Children’s Museum- A wonderful museum for young and old. Bilingual staff. Located across the street from the zoo. http://www.museodelosninos.com.gt/
- • Museo Ixchel de Traje Idigena – This small, interesting and informative textile museum also has a hands-on kids’ area and workshops. http://www.museoixchel.org/
I can pre-arrange your return airport transport. Regardless, you should plan to be at the airport in Guatemala City approximately 2+ hours before your flight departure time. When you make flight reservations, especially the return portion, plan to arrive at the airport in the USA (for your connection) at least two hours prior to your connecting flight to allow plenty of time between flights to move through customs, immigration, and security. Miami and Dallas are especially crowded and slow and at least 2 hours is needed just to have time to make the next flight !
Exit tax and Customs:
When checking in at the airport in Guatemala City, taxes are included in your ticket cost. This may change and if so, I will let you know.
Customs allows each family member to return with @ $800 worth of personal items duty free. Keep your receipts for documentation. You will fill out a declaration on the airplane before you land in the USA or Canada. Note – due to security issues, you need to put coffee in your checked baggage along with any candles you may have purchased. Soaps and wax crayons should also be put in your checked luggage.
Plenty of places to purchase food for the flight and/or sit and eat. Credit cards are accepted as well as Quetzals and Dollars. Pizza Hut has the cheapest bottled water and they will give you their free wifi code…. (123456789)
When you get home
I love seeing Guatemala through other people’s eyes !
Tell all your family and friends about the magical time you had in Guatemala so they want to return with you.
Any and all constructive criticism and feed back is appreciated so I can use that info for those traveling after you.
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