Travel Tips

Recommendations for tourists visiting Guatemala

The success of your vacation depends not only on the organizer, but also on you! Bring a positive attitude and be prepared to be flexible. Here are some suggestions that might make your trip safer and more comfortable.

Luggage (What to bring with you)

  • Security measures in Guatemalan airports have increased, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with their policies prior to departure. Check your airline’s luggage regulation, especially if your trip involves multiple airlines, as luggage allowances may vary between them.
  • Place your name and address on the outside and inside of every piece of luggage. Aim to travel light; however here are some recommendations of items to bring with you:
  • Most hotels don’t provide hairdryers. If you need one bring a small one with you. Voltage in Guatemala is 110V and the power outlets are American type (= two parallel metal plates one being slightly bigger than the other). Make sure your electrical devices are compatible.
  • Film, batteries, memory cards, supplies for contact lenses and shaving devices are all more expensive in Guatemala, and sometimes difficult to find. Bring as much as you think you will need, to avoid wasting valuable time on tour searching for it.
  • Familiarize yourself with your camera before your trip, to avoid frustrations or missing out on good shots during the early days.
  • Shampoo in hotels is usually quite strong. If you have a sensitive scalp, you might like to bring your own shampoo with you. If you use face cloth, it’s also a good idea to bring one. Pack a couple of plastic bags to transport wet clothes, trash or coffee that you might purchase (Guatemalan coffee is world famous). It can be useful to pack an extra bag for carrying back additional purchases.

If your trip involves long stretches on a bus it’s recommended that you bring your favorite music with you (on a walkman, MP3 or similar device if you are traveling with a group). Even in some luxury hotels there won’t be a TV in the room; so bringing a book is a good idea. Remember that you’re on vacation, so don’t bring your work, – your family will appreciate it!

While on the trip remember to carry some bottled water with you to avoid dehydration. You should also carry some sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, mosquito repellent and the business card of the hotel you are staying at. A small calculator might be also useful, as well as a small dictionary

Always check the weather report before your departure.

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Mobile Phone Operators in Guatemala

Before traveling, contact your local operator and make sure that your mobile phone is compatible with the technology of our networks and find out the agreements they might have for roaming form Guatemala.

The operator América Móvil sells under the brand Claro and is the second largest mobile phone operator of the country. If your local operator works with this company, you will have good reception in all cities and most of the rural areas.
Technology and carrier frequency ranges:
CDMA 1X EV-DO REV 0 1900 mhz, GSM/GPRS/EDGE 900/1900 mhz y UMTS/HSPA 1900 mhz

Millicom International Cellular, S.A. under the brand Tigo is the largest operator for mobile phones in the country. It has good reception in all cities and among all suppliers it has the widest reception in the rural areas.
Technology and carrier frequency ranges:
AMPS/TDMA 850 mhz, GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850 mhz y UMTS/HSDPA 850 mhz

The Spanish Telefónica sells under the brand MoviStar. As it has not as good a reception in the rural area as other operators, it might not be the best choice if you are travelling deep into out in the rural area, but it has a very good reception in the department capitals and all main commercial cities.
Technology and carrier frequency ranges:
CDMA One 1900, CDMA 1X EV-DO REV A 1900 mhz, GSM/GPRS/EDGE 1900 mhz y UMTS/HSPA 1900 mhz

Buying a cheap card phone in Guatemala might be a cheaper solution than using your roaming. You can also just buy a SIM card of any of the mentioned providers and put it in your phone, but make sure you phone is not blocked to be used only with a specific card and provider, and that it uses the frequencies mentioned above.
However, if you prefer to use your roaming, let your main contact know you are travelling abroad. They will appreciate it when they see their phone bill next month.

Making calls:

Local calls to line or mobile numbers from a foreign mobile phone while in Guatemala must precede the code for international long distance (00) + country code (502) + 8-digit Guatemalan phone number.

Calls to your country of origin or any other country besides Guatemala must precede the code for international long distance (00) + country code + the number to be reached.

Text messages to a mobile phone in Guatemala must precede the code for international long distance (00) + country code (502) + 8-digit number in Guatemala.

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Clothing & Footwear

Always check the weather report before your departure. If you will be travelling in altitudes higher than 1200m (such as Antigua, Panajachel and Guatemala City) you will probably need a light jacket or sweater for the evenings. In altitude above 2000m (Chichicastenango, Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango) it can become chilly after sunset, so a jacket is recommended.

During the daytime, it is likely to be warm in all regions of Guatemala. However, during the months of December and January in the highlands it can sometimes be cold, even during the day. It is advisable therefore to dress in layers. In the hotter, more humid lowland regions you will be more comfortable in light cotton clothing.

Guatemalans tend to dress modestly and conservatively. It’s best to avoid wearing clothing that might make you stand out, such as revealing clothing – for example very short skirts or shorts for women, or open shirts for men. Likewise, neutral colors are preferable, especially whilst on nature trails. Moreover, when visiting Mayan temples, you will find that the staircases leading to the top are rather steep, and therefore modest shorts or light trousers are the more practical option.

During the rainy season in Guatemala, which stretches from May to October, heavy rain showers occur daily for a short time. Regular umbrellas are not very suitable for these downpours; so either carry a large one or a raincoat.

For visiting Antigua, Guatemala City and Lake Atitlán, where you will find more expensive hotels and restaurants, you may feel more comfortable wearing smarter clothes.

Comfortable walking shoes or tennis shoes are suitable for most regions and towns. Sandals with a strap around the ankle to prevent you from slipping are especially good for the warmer regions, beaches and places where you might get wet. However for health reasons, closed shoes are more suitable for areas such as markets where the ground may be dirty. High heels aren’t very practical anywhere in Guatemala. Slippers or thongs are useful for hotel rooms to avoid walking directly on carpets or on cold tiled floors.

Check which costs are already included in your tour package

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Money

Check which costs are already included in your tour package and be aware of which payments you will still need to make following arrival. For safety reasons however, avoid depending entirely on cash.

Bring only what you will need for the first couple of days and take advantage of banks at the airport to obtain local currencies, especially if you are arriving during the Weekend. The very first bank you will see after leaving the plane in the Guatamala City Airport has not the best exchange rate, you’ll find more banks with better exchange rates down the hall and ATMs that deliver local currency after the security check-point. Never trade currencies with street vendors.

Don’t bring high denomination bills such as US $100, or bills dating from 2001 or earlier, or any torn bills as they won’t be accepted. Due to the fact that Guatemalan banks offer poor exchange rates for Euros or Mexican Pesos, and hardly accept other currencies, it is advisable to carry US dollars. During your trip, limit money exchanges to banks and hotel front desks. If your trip includes a visit to Copan in Honduras, you will find that most shops accept Guatemalan Quetzales or dollars – and so it’s unnecessary to obtain Honduran currency.

Contact your credit card company before you leave on your trip. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels and quality restaurants, but only in more up-market stores. You can find ATMs in the main cities. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted however with cards such as American Express, Dinners and Discover Network and Plus you might encounter problems when trying to get money from an ATM. In rural areas it will be difficult to use credit cards, so carry local currency in low denomination bills. This also applies if you want to purchase something from street vendors or in markets.

Due to long waiting times at banks, traveler’s checks aren’t the best option. Also, when you do exchange money it’s best to do so in reasonably large amounts to make it worth your time. Never keep your credit cards, personal documents and cash in the same place.

Most stores have fixed pricing, but it is customary to barter in both markets and with street vendors – potentially cutting up to a third off the price of a product. It is advisable to compare prices on similar products with different vendors before you buy however keep in mind that exaggerated bargaining contributes to low paid labor.

Due to the number of tourists in some areas you will counter children begging for money. It is ultimately your decision whether or not to give a Quetzal (Q1) or to politely say “No Gracias” (no thanks) and walk away. As with street vendors there is a risk that you will be followed by more.

Airport tax is usually included in flight-tickets but an additional security fee of US $3 is usually charged at the airport. Any charges by customs police at Guatemalans land-borders are illegal but common. To pass promptly through the customs it is usually necessary to make these payments to the authorities, especially on the border crossings from Guatemala to Honduras or El Salvador.

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Tips

Tipping for particular services is customary in Guatemala as in other countries. There are no hard and fast rules regarding how much to tip a person. It will depend on a number of factors, such as the quality of service given, or the effort involved in delivering the service. Ultimately it is up to you to decide how much to tip, but you may find these guidelines for group travelers helpful.

In bars, cafes and restaurants it is usual to tip 10%. This may or may not already be included in your bill so check it before paying.

Porters in hotels and airports usually get one American dollar per bag or two per room. Some lodges and hotels are located in rugged natural environments; meaning porters have to carry the luggage for a longer distance or up a hill. Here it is appropriate to tip more, in accordance with the effort exerted.

When taking photographs, please act respectfully and ask permission before photographing someone. Remember, that individuals that you see in markets or on the road are simply living their daily lives – and are most certainly not actors performing for tourists! They may feel uncomfortable having their picture taken – just as you might if you noticed strangers taking photos of you. If you ask to take a photo of someone they may request a donation of a few quetzals, usually in between Q. 5 – 10, (or US$ 1- to 1.50) for a picture. It’s up to you whether the photo is important enough for you to pay for it. If you tip with foreign currency like dollars or Euros, don’t give coins, as banks won’t change them.

Local guides that take you through a museum or natural park usually get US$ 2-3 per person, the same counts for boat drivers. Drivers and guides that accompany you for longer trips usually get more, perhaps US$ 3-5 per person per day for the driver and US$ 5-10 per person, per day, for the guide. Remember however that these are just guidelines. It is up to you if, and how much you want to tip.

One of the most practical and comfortable ways of tipping your tour guides is to leave the tip in an envelope, including a note or business card if desired. This will enable you to express your gratitude for their services smoothly, avoiding, avoiding any awkward or clumsy moments.

Use the same common sense travelling in Guatemala that you would at home.

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Safety

Use the same common sense travelling in Guatemala that you would at home. Be especially cautious in areas such as crowded markets, bus stations, elevators, crowded tourist sites, festivals and the outskirts of cities.

The Guatemalan national tourism board (INGUAT) directs a program called ASISTUR that helps to coordinate security and support for tourists, and will coordinate aid in the event of an accident. You can obtain their phone number at any information desk at INGUAT or ask your guide for details. There is an INGUAT office at the Airport in Guatemala City. You will also find “civil tourism police officers” in the most touristic cities of Guatemala. Only approach police officers wearing uniform and carrying identification.

It is advisable that you purchase travel insurance that includes medical assistance. Make sure that you know the names of the hospitals in Guatemala City that your insurance will cover, and carry always your insurance ID and phone number so that the company may be contacted in emergencies.

Independent travel in Guatemala is not advisable. When travelling with a group, make sure the person who meets you is the tour operator representative. Ideally, get his or her name and phone number before departure.

Make a note of the emergency phone numbers of your bank, credit card company, embassy and consulate, and bring them with you. Also note down the name and contact details of a relative or friend that could be contacted in case of an emergency.

Don’t bring expensive jewelry and watches and don’t keep cameras and mobile phones visible. Try not to bring anything that you feel would be irreplaceable.

If you are renting a car, check it before signing an agreement and familiarize yourself with driving local laws. If you are driving to in rural areas, check road conditions first as you might need a 4-wheel drive. Make sure your tank is always full and filled with the correct fuel. In case of an accident call AISISTUR. If the national police arrive, it is recommended that you tip them immediately upon their arrival, and ask them for help. Do not move the vehicle. Try to park only in public parking lots and make sure you have all the car’s documents. Don’t stop on the highway or offer rides to strangers. If somebody needs help call the local authorities.

If you leave your hotel for a day trip or are departing, keep the room locked and leave the key at the reception. Never leave it in the room door, even if you’re not coming back. Leave your passport in the hotel’s safety box or in a locked suitcase; as it’s best to avoid the risk of loosing it by caring it around. Carry copies of your most important documents and leave the originals in safe pace. It’s advisable to also leave a copy of them with someone at home.

Never share your itinerary or travel plans with strangers or any other private information.

Use only authorized registered taxis. Taxi rates should be negotiated at the beginning of the trip. If you travel by boat make sure there are life jackets on-board.

National parks have designated trails which you should follow for your own safety. When visiting volcanoes, private reserves, caves or rivers, go only with a professional guide. Make sure you are informed about the terrain so that you are prepared, and know what precautions to take.

Try to reach your hotel or final destination before sunset and don’t walk at night on the streets.

But most important guideline of all is to always be aware of your surroundings. No matter if you are in a crowded place or not, on the road to somewhere or walking on a nature trail, – be aware of what’s around you. This is a general safety rule applicable for travelers all over the world!

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Important Phone Numbers

In case of emergency call the nearest delegate of ASISTUR to the following numbers:

Guatemala City Tel. (+502) 5460-7042
Antigua Guatemala Tel. (+502) 4217-9196
Chiquimula Tel. (+502) 4149-1135
Escuintla (Pacaya Volcano) Tel. (+502) 4149-1105
Jutiapa Tel. (+502) 5460-7045
Esquipulas Tel. (+502) 4149-1139
Alta Verapaz (Semuc Champey, Coban & Candelaria) Tel. (+502) 4149-1134
Baja Verapaz (Biotopo del Quetzal, Rabinal) Tel. (+502) 5966-5042
Izabal (Livingston, Rio Dulce & Quirigua) Tel. (+502) 5555-2922
Peten Central (Flores & Tikal) Tel. (+502) 5414-3594
Peten Occidente (Sayaxche) Tel. (+502) 5966-1167
Peten Oriente (Poptun) Tel. (+502) 5555-2910
Suchitepequez Tel. (+502) 4149-1141
Solola (Lake Atitlan) Tel. (+502) 5874-9450
Retalhuleu Tel. (+502) 5966-5043
Lake Atitlan (Panajachel & Santiago Atitlan) Tel. (+502) 5874-9450
Huehuetenango & Totonicapan (Cuchumatens Mountains) Tel. (+502) 5966-1167
Quetzaltenango (Xela) Tel. (+502) 4149-1104
Quiche (Chichicasteango & Ixil Trangle) Tel. (+502) 5826-2547

Chief Operator of ASISTUR Tel. (+502) 5555-2918
Operator Assistant of ASISTUR Tel. (+502) 5578-9835

Other Emergency numbers

Guatemalan Police (PNC) Tel. 110
Highway Patrols (Provial) Tel. 1520
Fireman Tel. 122

This short dial numbers work only if dialled from Guatemala.

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Health

Before traveling it is advisable to inform your health-care provider of all the countries you plan to visit six weeks before departure. Your doctor will then be able to determine what immunizations you will require or precautions you will need to take.

If you are taking medication, ensure you bring more than enough, as it is likely that you will be unable to find the exact same type locally, especially in rural areas. Keep them in their original prescription bottles and always in your carry-on luggage. While the medicine that you consume might be available and simply sold under a different brand name in Guatemala; you will probably feel more comfortable using your own medicine.

If you are prone to upper respiratory problems or allergies please note that crop burning is practiced in Guatemala towards the end of the dry season (this runs from February and ends in May), and so the air can get smoky in certain areas.

Contaminated food and water are the leading cause of illness in travelers. Protect yourself by drinking only bottled water, or carbonated drinks in cans or bottles. Carry Iodine tablets with you to purify water if bottled water is not available. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before eating. It is also advisable to bring alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel or antibacterial hand wipes (with at least 60% alcohol) to use if soap and water are not available. It is also a good idea to bring anti diarrheic medicine, such as Pepto Bismol or Imodium. Be careful what you eat. It is best to avoid buying from street vendors and ensure your food is fully cooked. Also avoid dairy products, unless you know they have been pasteurized.

Malaria risk areas in Guatemala are only at altitudes below 1,500 m (4,921 ft). There is therefore no risk in Guatemala City, Antigua or Lake Atitlán. It is wise to take anti-malaria drugs, if you are traveling to coastal areas such as the southern or Caribbean coast of Guatemala, or to the lowlands of the north. Take medicines prescribed by your doctor only. Diseases such as dengue and malaria are spread through insect bites. One of the best ways to protect yourself is to prevent insect bites in the first place by using insect repellent (bug spray) with 30%-50% DEET. Picaridin, available in 7% and 15% concentrations, needs more frequent application. A brand sold in Guatemala under the name OFF is very effective. Try to remain indoors in a screened or air-conditioned area during the peak biting period for mosquitoes (dusk and dawn). Bring flying-insect spray to help clear rooms of mosquitoes. The product should contain a pyrethroid insecticide; these insecticides quickly kill flying insects, including mosquitoes.

Malaria symptoms will occur at least 7 to 9 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • sweats
  • headache
  • body aches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fatigue

Fever in the first week of travel in a malaria-risk area is unlikely to be malaria; however, it is still a good idea to see a doctor if you develop a fever during your trip.

Other diseases that can very rarely affect travelers are Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG), Hepatitis B, or Rabies. Some of these are preventable by vaccination. Please consult your doctor on how to prevent them. Also check that all your routine vaccinations are up-to-date (Tetanus shot boosts are required every 10 years).

Do not touch or feed any animals, including dogs and cats. Even animals that look like healthy pets can potentially carry rabies or other diseases. Help children stay safe by supervising them carefully around all animals. If you are bitten or scratched, wash the wound well with soap and water and go to a doctor right away.

To avoid infections such as HIV and viral hepatitis avoid sharing needles for tattoos, body piercing, or injections and use latex condoms.

Car accidents are also a leading cause of injury among travelers. Protect yourself by never drinking and driving and ensuring all passengers wear a seat belt. Never get on an overloaded bus or mini-bus and hire local drivers when possible. Avoid driving at night.

Use sun block and sunglasses for protection against the harmful effects of UV sunrays even if you consider yourself to have resistant or dark skin. Use a hat.

Although yellow fever is not a disease risk in Guatemala, the government requires travelers arriving from countries where yellow fever is present to give proof of yellow fever vaccination.

Visit your doctor after returning from the trip.

Note: Check your Flight Company for the latest information about airport screening procedures and prohibited items.

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