Guatemala is a small, lush, and mountainous country,graced with beautiful scenery, a rich indigenous culture, colonialhistory, and important archaeological ruins. The country lies atthe heart of the Mayan culture in Central America with remarkableMayan sites scattered throughout the land, none more so than themagnificent ruins of the ancient city of Tikal set deep within thejungle.
The Mayan villages of the highlands are spread amidthe breathtaking scenery of smoking volcanoes and spectacularlakes, where ancient customs and traditions persist despite fivecenturies of European domination.
Their culture is expressed through vibrant weeklymarkets, bright traditional clothing, fabulous handicrafts,different languages, and colourful religious festivals. LakeAtitlán, a beautiful deep lake ringed by volcanoes and Mayanvillages, is a remarkable place combining astounding vistas withtraditional culture.
Guatemalan society is split between the traditionaland the modern, each following their own path in a countrysprinkled with remnants of a colonial past. Nowhere is the Spanishlegacy more evident than in the charming city of Antigua.
Antigua's cobbled streets, plazas, elegant fountains,and towering volcanoes as a backdrop. Interrelations between theSpanish and the native population produced a mixed population, theLadinos, who have embraced their European heritage and aretypically city folk.
A rough past provides a troublesome background to thecountry and its people. Inequalities between the Spanish-speakingIndians and indigenous cultures, as well as between rich and poor,have been a source of tension and discord throughout the years.
The violence caused by political differences has leftthousands dead, while the devastation caused by earthquakes hasleft people homeless and in need of world aid. Despite this,travellers are drawn to the intriguing mix of cultures and historyset amid dramatic scenery, and they generally find the localsfriendly, considerate, and proud of their country.
The heart of ancient Mayan culture lives on inGuatemala, with a Spanish influence that seamlessly blends togetherancient, colonial, and modern eras. From the classicalSpanish-Baroque architecture in Antigua, exemplified by such piecesas the famous fountain, Fuente de Pescado, to the legendarystructural wonders of the Mayan temple complex Tikal.
Each step along Guatemala's quaint cobbled streetsand jungle trails leads further into the distant past. As with manyof its Central American neighbours, Guatemala has held onto localcustoms and cultures while developing its urban hubs to meet moderntourist standards.
Party in Guatemala City's business district duringwarm evenings, then travel to the markets in Chichicastenango on aSunday, a meeting place for traditional artisans and hub for localproduce. Chichicastenango is bound to entice all travellers withthe sensory delicacies of Guatemala's verdant forests, farms, andplantations.
Adventurous travellers can hike up Volcan SanPedro, just behind the famous picturesque resort village of SanPedro La Laguna. Visitors should note that a local guide isconsidered essential to conquering the dormant volcano's peak.
While the adrenaline junkies are relishingGuatemala's many summits, other travellers can enjoy a spate ofurban sightseeing. The country is also home to a wealth of ancientartefacts and numerous historical sites so history buffs will be intheir element.
The country has a strong tourism industry andtravellers looking for an in depth and immersive experience intoauthentic Central American culture should lace up their boots andpack their bags, for they need look no further than Guatemala.
The ruins of Las Capuchinas, the biggest and most remarkable ofAntigua's convents, are the best preserved and most beautiful inthe city. The convent was founded in 1736 by Spanish nuns and isnow a museum dedicated to religious life in colonial times. Thenuns who lived here followed a strict daily routine that focusedaround fasting and praying. Their tiny cells can be found in thewalls of the round tower, which has good views from the top. Thereare also fountains, gardens, and several lovely courtyards withinthe compound.
Set deep in the jungle of the Parque Nacional, Tikalis home to one of the most important remnants of Mayan culture: theCity of Voices. First occupied around 800 BC and becoming one ofthe Mayan political hubs, its most striking features are the steepsided towering temples rising up to heights of 230ft (70m).Scattered around the area are countless other structures, manystill partially buried in the ground or engulfed by the verdantrainforest. The Great Plaza with its five temples served as theheart of religious and ceremonial activity. The Temple of the GrandJaguar was built to house the magnificent tomb of King Jasaw ChanK'awiil while the Temple of the Masks has two eroded masks oneither side of its stairway. The surrounding jungle is alive withthe sounds of animal life, particularly the roars of howlermonkeys. This combination, of rainforest and ruins, make it one ofthe few sites declared both a Cultural and Natural Heritage toHumanity by UNESCO. There are two museums on site, containingcopies of some of the elaborate sculptures, bas-reliefs, and stelaefrom the ruins, a map showing Tikal as it was in 800 BC, as well asitems recovered from the excavations, including the burial goods ofKing Jasaw Chan K'awiil.
The Volcan San Pedro is located behind San Pedro La Laguna andoffers one of the most spectacular views in the world. The hike isstrenuous and is around 6 hours round trip depending on fitnesslevels, but the rewards are well worth the effort. The startingsections include a rough trail, after which it is all jungletrekking. It is advisable to hire a local guide, as there is nosignage and this is one of the wildest areas in the country, atruly adventurous hiking experience.
The holiday resort town of Panajachel in thehighlands has a large population of long-term hippie expats and adistinctly Western character. The relaxed ambience accompaniesbreathtaking views of three volcanoes that sit near the lake. Thereare many hotels, small restaurants, and lively nightspots, with amosaic of sensory delights awaiting visitors. Visit the photomuseum in the Casa Cakchiquel, a historic hotel that has housedlegends such as Che Guevara and Ingrid Bergman. The Church of StFrancis, built in the 16th century, has survived severalearthquakes, and still provides sanctuary to the locals. Panajachelis a good base for exploring the more traditional villagessurrounding the lake and offers good shopping and swimming aroundthe town. Food lovers will enjoy sampling the diverse local cuisinein one of the numerous restaurants or cafés.
The holiday destination of San Pedro La Laguna has a relaxedbohemian feel and it comes as no surprise that it is one of themost popular places for a summer holiday in Guatemala. The villagerevolves around the Catholic Church and the market place, withnarrow cobbled streets leading up the hill, away from the ferrydocks. Coffee plantations surround San Pedro La Laguna, andpicturesque paths lead to the lake, where boulders and smallstretches of beach provide peaceful sunbathing and swimming spots.There are also thermal pools in the village offering superb viewsof the nearby volcanoes. These hidden oases are a great way torelax after some rewarding hiking up the Volcán San Pedro behindthe village.
Guatemala's climate is lovely year round and is generally hotthroughout the county, making travel possible at any time. Therainy season is generally from May to November, with averagetemperatures of 72°F (22°C). Climate varies more due to altitudethan season.
It's easier to see the country in the dry season, which runsfrom November to April and is an ideal time to explore themountains, rainforests, and volcanoes in the country. There aresome regional variations, with the highlands, including GuatemalaCity and Antigua, experiencing less rainfall than the coast, andslightly colder temperatures at night.
The official currency is the Guatemalan quetzal (GTQ), which isdivided into 100 centavos. Cash exchange is easy, but visitors arenot advised to exchange money at the informal booths on the street.There are ATMs in the towns and cities, which accept AmericanExpress and Visa, while MasterCard and Diners Club are not widelyaccepted.
The official language is Spanish, but English isunderstood in hotels and tourist destinations. In addition, thereare many indigenous languages spoken in Guatemala aswell.
Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. A variety ofplugs are in use including the flat two-pin (Type A).
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period ofintended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of up to90 days.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid for theperiod of intended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for staysof up to 90 days for British passport holders endorsed BritishCitizen. Those holding passports with other endorsements shouldconfirm entry requirements before travel.
Canadian citizens must have a passport or replacing documentthat is valid for the period of intended stay in Guatemala. No visais required for stays of up to 90 days.
Australian citizens must have a passport valid for the period ofintended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of up to90 days.
South African citizens must have a passport valid for the periodof intended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of upto 90 days.
Irish citizens must have a passport valid for the period ofintended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of up to90 days.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period ofintended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of up to90 days.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport valid for the periodof intended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of upto 90 days.
It is strongly recommended that all foreign passengers toGuatemala hold return or onward tickets, and the necessary traveldocumentation for their next destination. Note that the period ofstay for visa-exempt nationals is 90 days; however, 90-dayextensions can be organised through the Immigration Office. Fornationals requiring a visa, the consulate issuing the visa willadvise visitors about the amount of deposit to be paid at the portof entry in Guatemala, which will be refunded when the visitorleaves Guatemala. It is highly recommended that your passport hasat least six months validity remaining after your intended date ofdeparture from your travel destination. Immigration officials oftenapply different rules to those stated by travel agents and officialsources.
There are a number of health risks associated with travel toGuatemala and travellers are advised to take the latest medicaladvice at least three weeks prior to departure. Malaria isprevalent in the low-lying areas outside Guatemala City.
Dengue fever is endemic and the Zika virus can be contracted, sostrict insect-bite protection measures must be taken. A yellowfever certificate is required from travellers entering the countryfrom infected areas. Hepatitis A and B, and typhoid vaccinationsare recommended, as well as an MMR (Measles, mumps and rubella)update. Visitors should be careful what they eat and stick tobottled water, or boil all water before drinking if bottled wateris unavailable. Guatemalan hospitals are unlikely to give medicaltreatment unless the patient has travel insurance or can pay upfront.
Good travel insurance is therefore essential. State-fundedhospitals are best avoided and travellers should only use privateclinics where possible. All medication should be accompanied with asigned and dated letter from a doctor explaining what themedication is and why it is needed.
Generally a 10 percent tip is recommended for good service inGuatemala. It is customary to tip waiters if a service chargehasn't been added to the bill and tipping extra for excellentservice is also customary. Taxi drivers are not usually tipped.Hotel staff and tour guides expect to be tipped for their servicesand can be more favourable in their service when receiving generoustips.
The rate of violent crime in Guatemala is exceptionally high.There has also been a relatively high rate of violent attacks ontourists, especially in remote places and in the capital, GuatemalaCity, particularly after dark. Visitors need to be particularlyvigilant in the central Zone 1 of Guatemala City where most of thecheap hotels and bus terminals are, and in all parts of the city atnight.
Tourists arriving at Guatemala City airport and travelling tohotels in the business districts have been targeted, so visitorsshould be extremely alert when leaving the airport. Protest mayarise without warning and should be avoided if possible.Pick-pocketing and petty theft are common in tourist areas andmarket places. Many robberies take place on the cheaper buses whentravelling on the tourist routes from Guatemala City to Antigua,and from Antigua to Panajachel. So keep all belongings close athand.
There have been reported incidents of attacks, including thesexual assault of female passengers on buses during the day on mainroutes. Hold-ups by armed gangs occur frequently on city and longdistance public buses. Visitors are advised to avoid them ifpossible.
Armed robberies on minor roads around Lake Atitlan have takenplace and visitors are advised to use the boat services betweentowns on the lakeshore. There have also been armed attacks ontourists at Tikal and on the approach road from Flores to Tikal.Guatemala's rainy season between April and November usually bringsabout heavy rain and flooding, mudslides, and hurricanes. Thesemudslides have claimed the lives of many people in recent years andit is best to exercise extreme caution when travelling to areasknown for heavy rains and mudslides. Guatemala has activevolcanoes, so it is important to always be aware of any volcanicactivity.
It is very common to greet most people, especially in thecountryside. Clothing need not be too conservative. However,modesty is advised for female travellers in order to avoid unwantedattention.
Ask permission before taking photographs, particularly ofchildren, as locals are suspicious of foreigners approaching kidsfor pictures due to incidences of kidnapping, particularly inremote areas where tourists have been attacked. A small tip mightbe required.
Military clothing is illegal, so avoid camouflage-patternedclothing. Public displays of affection between same sex couplesshould be avoided, particularly outside of Guatemala City.
Business etiquette in Guatemala is similar to the rest of LatinAmerica. Due to the warm, humid climate, men often wear lightweightsuits. Women usually wear a dress or a skirt with a blouse. Alwaysbe punctual for meetings, as Guatemalan business people are verypunctual.
Use professional titles such as such as doctor, professor,ingeniero (engineer) or abogado'(lawyer), otherwise addresscolleagues as señor (Mr), señora (Mrs), and señorita (Miss),followed by their last names.
Speaking softly is considered polite. Business cards may beexchanged although there is no ritual around it. Business hours aregenerally 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with an hour taken overlunch and business lunches or breakfasts are preferred overbusiness dinners.
The international access code for Guatemala is +502. Theoutgoing code depends on what network is used to dial out on, whichis followed by the relevant country code (e.g. +44 for the UnitedKingdom). City codes are not required. There are generallysurcharges on calls made from hotels. Rates are generally lessexpensive after 7pm. Wifi connections are available in the citiesand main tourist areas and many hotels, hostels and languageschools will offer reasonable internet rates.
Travellers to Guatemala over 18 do not have to pay duty on 500gof tobacco in any form and five liters of liquor or spirits.
Guatemalan Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 7454953 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Guatemalan Embassy, London, United Kingdom (responsible forIreland): +44 207 2211 525, or email@example.com
Guatemalan Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 233 7188 orwww.canada.minex.gob.gt
Guatemalan Honorary Consulate, Cape Town, South Africa: +27 21418 2020 (Johannesburg: +27 11 804 5080)
Embassy of Guatemala, Canberra, Australia: +61 26189 1311
United States Embassy, Guatemala City: +502 2326 4000.
British Embassy, Guatemala City: +502 2380 7300.
Canadian Embassy, Guatemala City: +502 2363 4348.
South African Consulate, Mexico City (responsible forGuatemala): + 521 55 1100 4970
Australian Embassy, Guatemala City, Guatemala: +502 23280300
Irish Consulate, Guatemala City, Guatemala: +502 535 35349
New Zealand Consulate, Mexico City (responsible for Guatemala):+52 55 5283 9460
A quaint traditional hill village with cobbled streets and redtiled roofs, Chichicastenango has been one of the largest centresof Mayan trade since pre-Hispanic times and thousands of peoplegather in a spectacle of colour and festivity every week. Chichi,as it is called, is renowned mainly for its Sunday and Thursdaymarkets, Sunday being the busiest. The markets attract tourists,commercial traders and Mayan weavers from all over the highlandarea. It is also an important centre of culture and religion, andthe locals have combined traditional Mayan religious rites withCatholicism. This is particularly evident around the Church of StThomas where traders spread their goods on the steps, burn incense,offer food to the Mayan earth god, and pray to the Virgin Mary.Like its market, Chichi is famous for its outstanding handicrafts,which are rich in colour, and expertly designed by the localartisans. Tourist-orientated stalls blend into the frenzied tradingof local necessities like fruit and vegetables, balls of wax, lumpsof chalk, macaroni, sewing items, soap, baskets and spices.