Guatemala lies southeast of Mexico and northwest of the other countries of Central America. Its location on the narrow strip which joins the continental masses of the Americas, as well as its topographic relief, give the country an enormous diversity of climatic regions.
A journey in Guatemala takes the visitor in a few minutes from the lush vegetation of the warm low lands zone to the cold of the pine forests. Most of the nine million Guatemalans live in the valleys of the mountainous regions, in the center of the country, where the climate is temperate. This is the region of lakes and volcanoes for which Guatemala is known throughout the world.
In this small country of only 70,000 square miles, the ancient Maya civilization had its heyday in the first millenium of our calendar. In 1523, the Spaniard Pedro de Alvarado, sent by Hern�n Cort�s, launched the conquest of Guatemala. With the cruel destruction and subjugation of the Quiche, Kakchikel and Tzutujil lords, the colonial era opened in 1524. The period saw an impressive cultural development experienced by few other places in the New World. In 1821, Guatemala and Central America declared their independence from Spain. Since the, many dictatorships have alternated with a few democratic periods. But, starting in 1985, Guatemala began a new process in its history, in search of peace and democracy.
Over half of the population is made up of 22 Maya groups, the most numerous of which are the Quiche, Kakchikel, Mam and Kekchi. The mestizos, or "ladinos", product of the biological and cultural mix between Indians and Europeans, make up less than half the population, including the Garifunas, of Afro-West Indian stock, and some Europeans. Altrhough the official language is Spanish, each Maya group and the Garifunas speak their own language.
In Guatemala, freedom of worship is guaranteed in the constitution. The country is mostly Catholic, altrough there are many Protestant denominations. Maya rites and worship are preserved, particularly in the rural communities.
The luggage of persons visiting Guatemala may include personal clothing, hygiene and personal care accessories, jewels, handbags, umbrellas, medicines, baby food and/or special foods, personal sporting equipment, carriages and baby toys, wheelchairs for disabled passengers, personal photographic camera and accessories, binoculars, typewriter or portable computer, recorder, radio equipment, tools and instruments of art, profession or hobby, portable and personal (compete equipment for workshops, offices or laboratories are not included), personal portable musical instruments and accessories, books, manuscripts and photographs, 500 grams of tobacco, 3 liters of wine or alcoholic beverages (adults only), 2 kilos of candies, tent and camping accessories. Film producers, photographers and photojournalist may ask the Guatemalan Tourist Commission for help in bringing in their equipment.
To leave Guatemala it is only necessary to show your passport, fill out the immigration card (available at all border posts and from airlines), and pay an exit tax of U$20.00.
Money, Exchange and Banks:
The Guatemalan currency is the Quetzal. It is identified in the trade with the initial Q. It is divided into 100 cents.
Coins: 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100 cents.
Bills: Q0.50 (brown), Q1.00 (green), Q5.00 (purple), Q10.00 (red), Q20.00 (blue), Q50.00 (orange), Q100.00 (light brown).
Exchange at December 2000: approximately Q7.77 = U$1.00. Paper currency is more acceptable than travelers checks. There are banks in the entire country.
Opening hours are generally from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays. Some branches have special opening hours from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 or 8:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays, and 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Banks at the airports have special opening hours according to the arrival of flights.
Most Accepted: Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa. Acceptance of American Express is limited to the more prestigious establishments. Some ATMs allow access to the Cirrus, Plus and Pronto international systems.
Post and Telecommunications:
There are post and telegraph offices in the entire country. TELGUA, the telecommunications authority, has agencies in the main cities and provides telephone, fax and telex services to the entire world. Some hotels give internet service.
The main cities and towns are linked by first-class bus services, and the major sites of interest are served by tourist microbuses. However, the independent travelers who visits many interesting places will have to use second-class buses, the comfort of which is limited.
There are car rental agencies at the airports and in the main cities. Some travel agencies provide transportation service with guide and driver.
In Guatemala City, Antigua, Coban, Chichicastenango, Esquipulas, Flores, Livingstong, Panajachel, Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango and Tikal the visitor will have no difficulty in finding, within a wide range, a room to his taste and expectations. However, this range is reduced according to the importance of the place, and in some isolated places lodging conditions are rather austere.
From pre-Hispanic times, the Guatemalan diet is based on corn, which the visitor will taste on many occasions in the form of tortillas (a sort of pancake). Guatemalan dishes also include beans, meat and chicken, prepared with local spices. These dishes are to be found in specialized restaurants, given the long time they take to prepare. Some of the most traditional dishes most often requested by Guatemalans are the Quetzaltenango tamales, kakik (spiced turkey soup), jocon (chicken in green tomato sauce), guacamole (avocado puree), subanik (beef, pork and chicken vapor-cooked in a highly spiced sauce), and traditional Antigua candy, among other delicacies.
There are restaurants for all tastes and budgets at most of the tourist sites in Guatemala. Antigua food is well known.
The visitor will be attracted to Guatemalan handicraft, famous throughout the world. The best places to buy them are in the markets in the whole country. Markets open early and close early in the afternoon, although some fixed markets, such as in Guatemala City and Panajachel, close in the evening.
Visitors will find whatever they need in the shops in the cities. Business hours are generally from 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., although many stores, especially department stores and shopping centers, close at 8:00 p.m. Some convenience shops remain open 24 hours a day.
Tips in restaurants are not included in the price or in the bill, except where otherwise indicated. Tipping is at the discretion of the customer, but 10% is usual.
Tourist guides who accompany groups of more than five persons for a certain time usually receive U$2.00 per person per day in tips. Individuals or couples on a day tour usually reward the guide with U$35.00 to U$50.00.
Luggage carriers and bellboys in the hotels usually receive the equivalent of one dollar per piece of luggage. Tipping tax drivers is not customary.
Electricity is 110 volts. Outlets are for flat shafts. Visitors from Europe should bring an adaptor for round to flat.
It is suggested that visitors who take special medicines should bring enough for their stay in Guatemala as they may not be available on the local market. If you use glasses, an extra pair may be useful in case of loss. It is recommended that you drink only bottled water or water recommended in the hotels. You are also advised not to eat food prepared on the streets.
The use of an insect repellent is recommended in the warmer climates, as well as suncream in the entire country. Prophylactics against malaria may be useful in the humid and warm zones during the rainy season.
Dress and Climate:
Guatemala has a diversity of climates, depending on the region and the altitude. It is important to remember that the rainy season is from May to November, although in some places like the Verapaz Departments (Quetzal Biotope, Semuch Champey, Coban, Cahabon River) in the north of the Peten it may rain all year.
Guatemala is a country rich in culture and nature. The visitor can see and admire traditional rituals and ceremonies, pre-Hispanic and Colonial monuments, landscape and nature parks. It all makes up a unique cultural heritage, but it is very delicate.
For this reason, the visitor is asked for the maximum respect for the culture, customs and traditions of the local inhabitants. Please do not interrupt or photograph traditional rituals in places of worship. Remember that many of these places are larger than imagined. For example, in Chichicastenango, the place of worship includes the steps of the church and the forecourt, and not only the interior.
Visitors to the homes and/or workshops of local artisans should preferable form organized groups or come at their invitation. We should not forget that an unplanned visit can interrupt work or family life.
Please do not write or paint on buildings and monuments and, when you visit them, do so only in the areas authorized.
In natural areas, trips are more pleasant in silence. This makes it more pleasant for all and contributes to living with the environment.
The extraction of plants and animals in protected areas, as well as pre-Hispanic and Colonial objects, is prohibited and punished by law.