Very detailed Instructions to visit Guatemala
When I was in Guatemala last year, I knew a few friends and family members were coming to visit me. They all have a lot of questions, and most of the time they were the same ones. So, I wrote this guide to visit the country. At the end it was very useful: my mother came from Argentina, a friend from the United States, three girls from Montreal, and one Guatemalan Canadian that lives in Montreal too!
Yesterday, I thinking in editing and sharing it, it may be useful for future volunteers and their friends.
Here it goes, a very detailed guide…
After many questions of friends wanting to visit or to have information about the country, I decided to write this short guide…
I will explain the things that I find most useful, and some of them, that I wish I new before!
I will not give general info about Guatemala, but I suggest you to read Lonely Planet of Guatemala (or Central America in a Shoestring) for the history, the archaeology, security, sites to see, etc. You can also find them in the library or in digital versions.
The money here is called Quetzales (like the national bird) and 1 Canadian dollar is 5.6 Quetzales (as today, November 29, 2016) so I will tell you the prices in Q and you convert them. The prices may change with time, I am giving you an idea from when I was there (I left at the end of June 2016, with a broken heart, may I add).
Hope you find it at least informative, and that it will convince you to come!
Arriving to Guate
The return ticket from Montreal is between 800$ and 900$ dollars. For the other places you can always check the WEB to have an idea.
You will arrive in the Main airport in Guatemala City. This big city is the least safe place in the country. I suggest not to stay there, but to take a shuttle (depending the time, some leave at 16h and then no more, but we can check other options) or even a taxi to the AMAZINGLY beautiful Antigua. This city is really colonial, full of churches, ruins, museums (including the Chocolate Museum!); art crafts markets, and more.
Here you can spend at least two days; there are architecture tours in English, and many tours to do (volcanoes, coffee and macadamia farms, hot springs). The Art Galleries and souvenir shops are worth it, and there are many beautiful villages nearby, where the weaving patterns are unique in each one.
This place is the most touristic of Guatemala, so, a lot of people speak English and French.
You can find hotels or hostels depending on your budget. There are hotels and hostels for every budget. I usually stayed at a place home stay style. Doña Lolita, the owner was adorable. I really felt at home there.
From there is a Shuttle to Panajachel, where I use to live, 4 times a day (6 AM, 12 AM, 2 PM and 4 PM), it takes 2h30 and it costs 80Q. This shuttle you can reserve right there, there are many small agencies, and even in the Hotel they do it. The 4PM bus may not be available if there are not enough people.
Arriving to Panajachel
Panajachel is the busiest town of the ones around the beautiful Atitlan Lake. In this area there are around 200.000 tourists a year, so, lots of guides, agencies, and people speaking English too.
You may arrive in the main street, Santander and then find your accomodation. There are lots of tuk tuks, or moto taxies, the price is fixed at 5Q.
There is a central a fruit and vegetables market wherethe food is very fresh and cheap. There are also two supermarkets three streets away, and there are some specialty stores, an all for 3Q store (like a dollar store), lots of pharmacies, clinics, ice cream stores, restaurants, bars, and art crafts stores. You will find almost all you may need.
There are many interact machines here, also places to change dollars. Depending on the time you will be here, it is better to bring US dollars and change them, as the Interact machines may be difficult, but you can use them if you need to.
It is recommended not to give money, especially to children as this encourages not going to school and a begging culture. In the same way, it is better not to buy things from young children; they should be at school, not selling things (this is my personal opinion and my policy when abroad)
Here it is common to barter, and it is OK to do so. The sellers will tell you a price close to double of what they want some times. In restaurants, hotels, and stores the prices are fix, but you will be surprised if you ask for a discount the answer may be yes.
You should be careful with your values, but that is general for the whole world…
Guatemala is a country where an important percentage of people are below poverty level; if you want, you can give a donation to an organization working here. I suggest Mayan Families mayanfamilies.org (they give scholarships and teach crafts to children), Estrella de mar (Starfish) estrella-impacto.org (their main objective is to empower young Mayan girls to be leaders of their communities) or the Canadian organization that I work for: CECI Canada, CECI.ca (in Guatemala, CECI works in the coffee, cardamome and recycling areas to include women and youth in the market of these products). There are many local organizations that you can encourage by buying their products or by doing some workshops, like Maya Traditions (mayatraditions.org).
Things to do
From Panajachel you can visit many towns and cities either by your own in boats, trucks, buses or take one or more day organized tours.
The one day things to do:
Visit Santa Catarina and San Antonio Palopó towns in a rural pickup: you can see ceramic manufactures, churches and an amazing view.
Visit the towns around the lake: San Juan, San Pedro, San Marcos, Santiago, and San Lucas by boat (each way is 25Q) Here they sell art crafts made of wood, textiles made with natural colors, beads, etc. You can visit some Museums, shops and small factories. In Santiago there is a little chapel dedicated to a local deity: Maximón. In Santa Cruz you can dive. You can also take an organized tour if you are short of time and want to see all in one day. There are volcanoes that you can climb: The San Pedro Volcano is a one day tour starting very early in the morning. You can also do bird watching, alone or with a guide. There are coffee farm tours too.
In Panajachel there are many activities waiting for you too. The adventurous can do paragliding. There is the Atitlan Reserve with canopy a Butterfly farm, and some animals in semi-freedom like spider monkeys and coati. These are rescue animals. The monkey I helped to rescue lives here now. There are some nice Art galleries like The Gallery, with modern Mayan art. You can swim in some parts of the lake. There is a public beach in Panajachel. There are Spanish schools here if you want to learn some. They have one week courses or longer. This school is very close to my house: www.jabeltinamit.com
You can visit the big Chichicastenango Market on Thursdays and Sundays; do some shopping, visit two churches and the Mayan ceremonial site of Pascual Abaj. You can go in a private transport at 80Q or spend 20Q and go by public transport, but it takes longer and there are three buses to take each way. It is 1h30 each way.
The many days’ things to do:
Here again, you can go by public transport or hire the services of an agency:
Go north to see the Cenotes of Semuc Champey or the Tikal ruins of Petén.
Go south to the beaches of Monterrico, visit the turtle farms and projects, do some bird watching.
Go to some of the other volcanoes, like Pacaya from Antigua…
Go to the surrounding countries of Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Mexico. But this will be another story…
Spend a few days in the capital of the country visiting Art and Archaeology Museums, the Cathedral, and the busy downtown.
Food is great!
You should try as many things as you can like I do! Being vegetarian can be difficult, but we have to be creative. There are lots of great restaurants (my favourite dish were the green enchiladas of Deli) and the street food is amazing too.
Food is safe; I only had indigestion because I eat too much sometimes!
You should try Michelada for sure! It is beer with tomato juice and spices.
Food in the market is very cheap. In restaurants, a dinner can be 20Q if a dinner type or go to 120Q in the most expensive ones. Beer is 15Q a small bottle, soft drinks around 8Q.
Mosquitoes can be a problem, but not so much in this area. You should be careful anyways, I had dengue already from bites I had in San Lucas. Malaria is not common, maybe more so in the North of the country.
Have your hepatitis, typhoid fever and tetanus shots just to be safe.
It is nice! But it may rain and it gets cooler at nights. Be prepared to little changes during the day.
It may be very hot during midday and you may need a light jacket in the evenings.
Guatemala is great, people are the nicest ever, food is amazing, prices are cheap, there are lots of things to do, and Mayans are preserving their colorful culture and languages. So, just come to visit and don’t worry for anything!
If you are not convinced enough check this: www.buzzfeed.com/jessicalima/guatelinda-para-siempre#.wpXvz9L9vA
You will be lucky to see this country for which I fell completely in love in my first CECI mandate in 2015-2016! And don’t forget to have a Michelada in my honour at the shores of the Atitlan Lake!