Guatemala – Country guide
Capital: Guatemala City
Language: Although Spanish is the official language, it is not universally spoken among the indigenous population, nor is it often spoken as a second language.
Voltage: Electrical current is 110 volts, 60Hz. A variety of plugs are in use including the flat two-pin, flat three-pin and the UK-style three-pin.
Once the site of the impressive ancient Mayan civilization, Guatemala was conquered by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado in 1524 and became a republic in 1839 after the United Provinces of Central America collapsed. Guatemala remained a Spanish colony for nearly 300 years, before gaining its independence in 1821. It was then a part of the Mexican Empire until becoming fully independent in the 1840s. Since then, Guatemala’s history has been divided into periods of democratic rule and periods of civil war and military juntas. Most recently, Guatemala emerged from a 36-year civil war, reestablishing a representative government in 1996.
GETTING TO GUATEMALA
Guatemala’s main airport, La Aurora International Airport (GUA), is near Guatemala City. 6 km (4 miles) south of the city. International flights arrive mostly from other Central American countries and North America.
Citizens of the US, Canada, EU countries, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Japan are among those who do not need visas for tourist visits to Guatemala. On entry into Guatemala you will normally be given a 90-day stay.Your passport must have at least six months’ validity before travelling to Guatemala.
The local currency is the Quetzal.One US dollar is equivalent to 8.1 Quetzales. US dollars are widely accepted and can be exchanged in most small towns. Currency exchange: ATMs can be found in the major towns but do not expect to find them in every tourist spot. It is fairly easy to find yourself in a town without an ATM or a place to change money.
Do not expect to be able to easily exchange traveler’s checks to Guatemala. You might find a few places willing to accept checks issued by American Express but all other types are universally turned down. Amazingly even major banks in Guatemala City do not accept VISA traveler’s checks. Banks generally give the best exchange rates on both cash and traveler’s checks. If you can’t find an open bank you can often change cash (and occasionally checks) in travel agencies, hotels or shops.
There is a US$30 (or Quetzal equivalent) airport departure tax which is normally included in the price of the ticket. An additional security tax of US$3 is payable at the airport. For internal flights there is a five Quetzal per person travel tax, which is also payable at airline check-in desks. A security tax of US$3 is payable at the airport. Goods and services are subject to a 12% value-added tax (IVA). Hotels also have an additional 10% tourism tax.
HEALTH & VACCINATIONS
Vaccine recommendations: The only required vaccine is yellow fever, and that’s only if you’re arriving in Guatemala from a yellow fever-infected country in Africa or South America. However, a number of vaccines are recommended.
Traffic drives on the right. There is an extensive road network but less than a third of the roads are all-weather. Travelers should avoid driving to Panajachel via Patzun as the road is badly maintained and criminals take advantage of these conditions to hold up travelers.
The road from the El Salvador border to Cuilapa and from the Belize border to El Cruce are major danger spots for bus-jacking and there are also similar incidents on the main Pan-American Highway near Solola. Buses are cheap but crowded and road accidents are common. Slightly more expensive air-conditioned services are available. Taxis: Travelers are advised to use radio-dispatched taxis or taxis from international hotels. Tipping is discretionary (5 to 10%).
CLOTHES YOU SHOULD BRING
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.
The following local advice and travel tips may help: * Keep your valuables locked away in a safe or keep them on your person when travelling. * Carry a photocopy of your passport for identification purposes. * Avoid displaying items of value such as laptops, cameras and mobile phones. Do not wear jewellery and only carry minimal amounts of cash. * You should be particularly careful of your belongings at bus stations, airports and crowded tourist places. Theft is common in Antigua and Zone 1 in Guatemala City.
For shorter trips within towns and cities the safest option is to take radio or hotel taxis. It is safer to change money at hotels and use ATMs in shopping centers or department stores. It is wise not to withdraw too much money at one time and you should avoid withdrawing money at night.
Avoid travelling on your own or at night, especially at border crossings or areas where there are few other people around. Avoid approaching, or taking pictures of, Guatemalan children without permission from the child’s parent or guardian. * We advise against climbing volcanoes at night. It is also safer to go with others and hire a guide or take part in a tour with a reputable company.
Guatemala’s climate varies according to altitude. The coastal regions and the northeast are hot throughout the year with an average temperature of 20°C (68°F) sometimes rising to 37°C (99°F). Generally, nights are clear all year round. In higher climes, near the centre of the country, the rainy season, running from May to September, is characterized by clear skies after abundant rainfall in the afternoons and evenings. Temperatures fall sharply at night.