Noble Journeys' Guatemala Travel TipsAnyone going to this beautiful country for the first time will be amazed by how this vibrant, indigenous culture continues to thrive amidst the encroachment of progress and more modern lifestyles. Its textiles are famous the world over, and are worn not just by students and tourists, but by the local people themselves, protecting the age-old weaving and embroidery techniques, and proudly displaying the unique styles of their individual villages. The famous markets are filled with native crafts, which the local people also purchase.
The countryside is varied and beautiful, from the mountainous highlands to gorgeous Lake Atitlan, considered for the newest list of "The Seven Wonders of the World". The people are kind and generous and welcome us with exuberant hospitality. You are in the land of the Mayas and will witness many interesting Mayan traditions and rituals. There are dramatic Mayan ruins in Tikal and Copan.
It is not difficult to travel to and is on the same side of the world as we are, very comforting to many travelers these days. Hotels and restaurants are many and varied, depending on the level you wish. There are many in the classic and charming colonial styles. Road conditions vary, but be aware most of them are narrow, and two lane.
Here are some tips to help you negotiate the journey:
A valid passport is required for stay of up to three months for most nationalities. Please check to make sure your passport is current for at least 6 months after your entry date, and make a photocopy that you can carry with you at all times. Currently travelers from the United States do not need a visa. Please check before traveling as conditions can change unexpectedly.
Visitors to Guatemala are typically advised to make sure they are up to date with their TYPHOID, HEPATITIS A, TETANUS and POLIO vaccines. Malaria is a risk in areas with altitudes below 1,500 meters and we suggest you take your doctor's advice, based on your travel itinerary, on whether or not you need to take anti-malaria medication. For more information about immunization precautions while traveling in Guatemala, consult the Centers for Disease Control.
Guatemala is in the Central Standard Time Zone and has no daylight savings time.
Travel, medical and emergency evacuation insurance is essential. As the latter, in particular, can cost $50,000 or more, it is highly recommended that you purchase travel insurance to cover trip cancellation, medical expenses, emergency evacuation, etc. Purchase a policy covering the entire cost of your trip (land and air) and ask about pre-existing conditions. Noble Journeys recommends, but is not responsible for, policies through Travel Insured Interntional at www.travelinsured.com or (800) 243-3174. Our agency # is 46716.
In country, there are many public buses (affectionately called "Chicken buses") between destinations, always packed with local folks and their purchases from the market, as well as "gringos". One can hire a private car and driver or use the shuttle services, more comfortable and flexible ways to go. Public or private boat services can be used on the lake (Lake Atitlan).
Spanish is the official language; English is widely spoken in main tourist areas. Antigua is filled with schools teaching Spanish to tourists who have the time to spend.
Always dress conservatively. Women should think twice before wearing clothes that are too provocative. Guatemala is a very Catholic, conservative and still very macho country. You run the risk of offending or attracting un-wanted attention. Men should never go shirtless as this is rarely seen in Guatemala. We also suggest that you do not wear any expensive jewelry while traveling in Guatemala and certainly do not bring anything of sentimental value in case of loss or theft. Most people here earn around $150 a month and therefore it is advisable not to openly display wealth. It is important to take basic precautions, as you would do anywhere in the world these days, against the possibility of theft: keep day packs, cameras, money belts etc in front of you as you walk.
Depending on when you go, it can be chilly in the highlands so always bring a light jacket or sweater. Layers are always a good way to dress, as it can be hot during the day.
The local currency is the Quetzal, named for the national bird. US dollars are accepted at all banks and many shops. When changing money, always ask for some small bills like 5, 10 and 20 quetzals, as people often don't have change, especially in markets. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels and restaurants, and most shops, though you may be asked to pay an extra percentage to cover the vendor's cost of accepting the card.
Food & Drink:
Strongly recommended to only drink bottled water--including for brushing your teeth. Delicious fresh fruits and vegetables are available throughout the country. Always wash them with bottled water if you buy them in the markets. The better hotels and restaurants have filtered water to wash the produce so you shouldn't have a problem. Beware of ice from cafes using regular tap water. Stomach upsets are quite common, so be sure to bring medications for this eventuality. Generally, prices are: Breakfast $3, Lunch $5-$8, Dinner $8-$15, Expensive Dinner $25 +, Beer $1.5 - $3, Wine $2.5 - $4 per glass. Bottle Wine $15 and upwards
110 volts AC is found throughout most of the country
Carry packs of Kleenex or rolls of toilet paper, as some public bathrooms do not provide it, especially in more remote areas. Please also remember that in nearly all bathrooms in Guatemala, you are required to put the toilet paper into the bin provided, and not into the toilet itself, as this can cause problems with the delicate sewage systems!
Always bring what you need, in original containers, from home; the pharmacies there may not have what you require. ALWAYS pack these in your carry-on bag, in case of airlines losing your bags, along with a change of clothes for the same reason.
Air passengers pay a $30 departure tax upon leaving Guatemala (If this is not already included in your international air fare) plus a $3 airport security tax. For Internal flights clients must pay a $3 fee for each flight.
You will have a marvelous trip through this charming country! Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Joan Noble, Director
Contact us or visit our Guatemala main page for more information about an exciting Guatemalan vacation.