A valid passport is required for all persons entering and departing Guatemala, regardless of age.
An exit tax and security fee must be paid when departing Guatemala by air [$30 USD]. You pay for this and receive a ticket, which you must present at the boarding gate. Pay your departure tax before you stand in line at the boarding gate.
Guatemala is in the Central Standard Time zone and does not observe daylight-savings time.
The local currency is the Quetzal. Hotels, restaurants and shops in Guatemala and most of the tourism areas accept most major credit cards. Traveler’s checks can be exchanged at most banks.
**** TRAVEL RECOMMENDATION ****
For tour and shuttle services to/from in and around Antigua contact: Hector Nistal Tel: (502) 7832-3371 Fax: (502) 7832-0644 Antigua
Hector speaks fluent English. He is a mature, reliable tour agent who can assist you in your travel needs. Including, arranging hotel rooms during peak periods!
It is hard to get Guatemalan money out-side of the country, thus you cannot convert your cash beforeyou arrive.Take USD [American currency] to Guatemala.
American currency is accepted at hotels, market vendors, and shuttle services; however some stores off the beaten path will only accept the Quetzal. We advise you use the Quetzal while in Guatemala.
Money exchange stores are hard to find in Guatemala. There is however numerous “private” exchange guys who will exchange your money for you. We do not advise doing this because these guys also have access to state of the art copy machines and can print money. You usually find these guys around airports.
Converting Money– The way to convert money is to use the bank machine [withdraw Quetzals] or pay for things in USD and ask for the Quetzal for change.
Bank Machines– There are bank machines in all major tourist areas. We recommend you use bank machines then you never have to carry more than a couple days’ cash. Bank machine distribute money in USD and Quetzal.
NOTE:Always carry two days worth of money with you and a credit card. Sometimes you can be in a town with only one/two bank machines and if they have run out of money or are broken and you need money then you could be in trouble.
Weather conditions vary from season to season and region to region.
If you are traveling to the highlands you need to bring a jacket, nights can get nippy. Humidity is low and most days in the highlands are like a beautiful Spring day in Paris.
In the northern region it is hot. Very hot in summer. Since we visited Tikal a few years ago we now reference any extremely hot day as “Guatemalan Hot”.
The dry season is from October to early May and the rainy from late May until the end of September. Temperatures vary little during the year. The average high temperature is 77ï¿½F and the low 55ï¿½F in the highlands.
WHEN TO GO
High season in Guatemala coincides exactly with the main festivals. Hotel rates go up during these periods particularly in cities where the occassion is popular. Traveling around Guatemala is less expensive traveling during low-season, which is any non-festival period.
Special occasions in Guatemala:
Day of the Black Christ
Mayan Holy Week [Semana Santa]
Antigua, Guatemala City
Day of the Cross
Jueves de Ascencion
Lady of the Ascension
Guatemala Independence Day
Maximon’s Birthday Party
San Andres Iztapa
All Saints Day Kite Flying
cemeteries of Santiago Sacatepequez and Sumpango, near Antigua
All Saints Day Horse Race
Todos Santos Cuchumatan
Burning the Devil [Quema del Diablo]
GUATEMALA CITY AIRPORT
Travelers visiting Guatemala City are advised to stay clear of staying in Zona 1.
If you are simply transferring in and out over night then the best place to stay is on Calzada Roosevelt [Roosevelt Street] Zona 11. Roosevelt is close to the airport and is on the route to get out of the city to destinations west.
Guatemala City Airport is located 6 km outside of the city. It is a small airport with most amenities.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Travelers who visit Guatemala tend to either visit particular regions or travelers who do the whole country in one visit.
Due to cities/villages located close to each other in proximity, traveling from one to another within a certain region is an economical way to travel.
There are a few ways to get around Guatemala:
Shuttle Bus [the best]
Chicken Bus [the cheapest]
Car Rental [the most hassle]
Taxi [you can go anywhere in a car/truck taxi]
Tuk tuk [a small three wheeled taxi – cities only]
Shuttle Bus services are run out of every major tourist destination in Guatemala and will drive you to any tourist destination within Guatemala. The services are independently operated but linked together via a travel industry network. The shuttle bus service is a country wide independently run transportation network.
It is run quite efficiently, like a parcel delivery system. You connect with other shuttles at transfer locations until you have reached your destination. One merrily hands over the driver upon pick-up ones ticket and you will be guided all the way to your destination. No Spanish required, but a little helps.
The shuttle bus service that you initially purchase your ticket from will coordinate all your transfers and make all the necessary arrangements.
Vans are generally in good condition and drivers are friendly and courteous. They are also economical. For example a ride from Guatemala City to Antigua costs $10 USD.
Shuttle busses are usually 100% tourists while Chicken Busses are usually 100% Guatemalan [with the odd adventurous gringo].
The Chicken Bus is the dominant means of transportation in Guatemala. There are thousands of elaborately painted busses all over Guatemala.
If you want a taste of real Guatemala take a long tour on the Chicken Bus. But we don’t recommend it. Here’s why; Chicken Busses are privately owned. Many owners let the busses motors run until wear on the motor cause severe oil burning. Some bus exhaust systems also disintegrate over time and are not repaired. What happens is the toxic thick black exhaust smoke bellows out of some of these busses, right through the windows and into the bus. The ride can become sickening after even a short time and if you are stuck on that particular bus for a 6 hour ride you are going to get sick.
If your luggage is thrown up on top of the bus it also gets covered in exhaust smoke which gets right into your bags and soaks into your clothing.
Just standing on any street or highway in Guatemala for five minutes and you will know exactly what we are talking about. Unbelievably some people actually leave their windows open on these busses and you can see the exhaust smoke coming into the bus.
Of course not all busses are oil burning polluters and you can travel safe and economically on the Chicken Bus line. In fact there are no shuttle busses operating in many non-tourist locations in Guatemala and you must use the Chicken Bus.
The terminal de buses or main bus station in Guatemala City is in Zona 4. From here you can catch a bus to almost anywhere in the country. Autobuses de Oriente has service to the Atlantic Lowlands, Las Verapaces, and El Petï¿½n. Transgalgos travels to the highlands.
There are car-rental agencies in most sizeable cities and at the airport in Guatemala City and Flores. Make sure you get insurance and properly check the car prior to leaving the agency. Note every minor scratch, ding or problem with the car.
Valid U.S., Canadian and European driver’s licenses are accepted for the first 30 days of a visit, and international driving permits are accepted in Guatemala for extended stays.
There are taxis everywhere in Guatemala. It is commonly advised to get the cost before you drive as it is reported that many drivers will scam you however we have never actually experienced this or talked to anyone who has been ripped off.
In some small cities the taxi cab may be a pick-up truck and you may have to ride in the back of the truck. These taxis are usually procured by a “tour guide” for you.
Cellular telephone service covers most areas frequented by tourists.
Guatemala has had its share of political turmoil. This is political turmoil that surfaces often in a violent manner. Long running feuds exist between certain factions, families and even villages. This is violence directed at Guatemalans, not tourists. Don’t get involved.
Stay out of “local bars”.
Stay clear of any political rallies or protests.
Stay clear of zone 1 in Guatemala City.
Dress-down while traveling.
Don’t flash wads of money.
Be wary of the parasites. Not the insect variety but the people kind. Like Mexico they are quite common at all popular travel destinations where they can be found at bus stations, docks, churches, camp sites, hotels, markets, attractions and anywhere tourists go.
The difference between Guatemalan parasites and Mexican parasites is that the parasites in Guatemala wear an official looking laminated ID card around their neck that they use to help swindle tourists.
Parasites are always friendly and speak English. Many also speak Italian, German, and French. They will approach you and usually immediately offer some helpful advice or ask if you need assistance. Stay away from these people.
RESTURANTS & FOOD
You will have no problem finding places to eat in Guatemala, unless you are staying in Zona 1 in Guatemala City, where there is mostly only junk food.
There are lots of excellent restaurants in every tourist zone. At the same time there are restaurants that are not so good. How do you know the difference? We have a systemï¿½if the restaurant offers “French fries” [papas fritas] on the menu as an item in an entrï¿½e then the food is usually greasy, the vegetable is lettuce salad and overall the food overpriced and bad. If the potato is baked or mashed then the food is of a higher quality. We find this a simple method to choose restaurants.
Some people advise to never eat food off the street-side food venders. This depends a lot on the food being sold, location and occasion.
A hot dog off a food vendor on 6th in Zona 1 will be covered by bus exhaust and other pollution. Hmm yummy. On the other hand some of the food found at the street/park vendors in places like Antigua during any special occasion is amazing. This can be said of any city in Guatemala.
Supermarkets, convenience stores and markets can be found in every destination. There is also fast food in every shape and form. Guatemalans love pizza, hotdogs, French-fries and hamburgers.
A full range of medical care is available in Guatemala City, but medical care outside the city is limited.