After more than three decades of civil war, Guatemala is now emerging as a viable and popular tourist destination. The breadth of Central America’s ecology, culture, and history can be found in Guatemala in a distilled form: ancient Mayan ruins and soaring volcanoes stand side-by-side, and the government’s tourism-focused agenda has encouraged a rich and educational lexicon of Mayan history to arise.
Some say the political and economic pressure that demands the indigenous population put itself on display amounts to another form of oppression, for which Guatemala was known through much of its history. Despite this, indigenous Guatemalan culture lives on in the ruins and rituals of Mayans past and present. Recently, rural villages have been successful in coaxing travelers away from the Guatemala City/Antigua area, into the vibrant wilderness that helps define Guatemala as one of the most interesting and well-preserved countries in Central America.
It must be mentioned, however, that violent crimes exist–particularly in larger cities–and tourists should be aware of their surroundings and cautious of potentially threatening situations.
Traveling in Guatemala
It’s easy to get by in Guatemala on the cheap. A one-plate meal will go for less than US$2, while fruit and snacks from the markets are practically free. Camping is also quite cheap, and bus trips cost around US$1 an hour. A hotel room with bathroom, plus a couple of meals, won’t generally run you more than US$25 a day.
It’s hard to exchange anything other than U.S. dollars, but if you do have a different currency, go to the casas de cambio in the Flores or Guatemala City airports. ATMs are available sporadically in Guatemala City (and not available in most other areas), and most banks will give you an advance on your Visa card over the counter. MasterCard, however, is almost completely useless in most of Guatemala.
Waiters expect a tip of around 10%, on top of the 10% IVA (value-added tax). Hotels charge a 10% tourist tax in addition to the 10% IVA. Most hotels and shops have fixed prices, but you’ll be expected to bargain at markets.
Health Risks in Guatemala
Health risks include cholera, dengue fever, malaria, hepatitis, typhoid, and dysentery. It is advised that you consult a doctor about what shots you may need before traveling to Guatemala.
Weather in Guatemala
November through May is the dry season and, climatalogically, the most pleasant time to be in Guatemala. Along with summer holidays, however, this is also the busiest season for tourists. Although the rain may seem like an imposition during the wet season, it’s worth planning your trip for this time of year if you want to avoid crowds and find bargains.
Republic of Guatemala Information
Population: 12.6 million
Square Miles: 42,500 sq mi (109,000 sq km)
Capitol: Guatemala City (pop: 2 million)
Official Languages: Spanish, Gar’funa, and 21 Mayan languages
People: 56% mestizo/ladino descent, 44% Mayan descent
Religion: Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Mayan-Catholic fusion
Major products/industries: Coffee, sugar, bananas, textiles and clothing, furniture, chemicals, petroleum, metals, natural rubber, flowers, cardamom, tourism