Here are some useful tips for those considering a trip down to Guatemala. This after three trips there in eight months and I'm going back for an extended period of time this summer!
With the euro out of control and the dollar so miserably weak, I say take advantage of exploring other parts of this world of ours where you can actually still get really great values and you leave feeling that you haven't been gauged or had to sacrifice to travel. Make your money bring you pleasure, not pain!
I hope some of you find these helpful:
- Airlines with good ticket prices to Guatemala City: Delta, Taca, Spirit, United. I've spent between $250 and $373 for non-stop roundtrip flights from L.A. If you happen to live in Florida Spirit has ridiculously cheap specials all the time from Fort Lauderdale to Guatemala City for as little as $19 plus taxes each way. I met a really cool gay couple from Florida on this last trip who go back and forth for this reason! And really, with those prices, how can you NOT go?
- When you get to Guatemala city airport walk outside and look for men holding signs that say Antigua shuttle (or the name of the place that you're going to). You should pay no more than $10 for a shuttle to Antigua or $20 for a private taxi.
- You can pay for your shuttle with American dollars. I always bring about 100 Quetzales (equals about $13 or so) just in case.
- Use the ATMS to get Quetzales. Avoid the ATM's that take your card in and return it when the transaction has ended. Try to use the ones that are SWIPE only. There have been incidents of machines eating cards and scams as well. One ate my friend's last weekend.
- You can always negotiate hotel room prices. I learned this from a Guatemalan friend. I'm getting better at it!
- It is incredibly cheap to get your laundry done there. I say take less with you and then pay to wash what you need washed. And I do wash my lingerie in the sink and I always will. Look, they're lacy and expensive and I'm a practical kind of girl. The maids giggle at my panties hanging from the curtain rods! I actually left them hanging at Hotel Dos Mundos in Panajachel and had to go back to fetch them. The maid had them tucked into her apron pocket. We all had a great laugh after that.
- When shopping at the local artisan markets always offer HALF of what they say the price is and then work your way up. This is the known way to shop. Bartering is customary. Play the game.
- A lot of places will except Visa and sometimes Mastercard BUT they will often try and charge you 10-15% in fees to do so. I think it's robbery, but what can you do? Best to pay cash when you can.
- Have your passport on you at all times - PERIOD. A young woman in my hotel packed her passport in her luggage and left it on a shuttle and went through hell to get an emergency one. Keep it on your person already!
- Guatemala e-mail can be tricky and you will often find that hotel internet goes down. Call for a reservation.
- Don't be too overly friendly with the indigenous children. I have been told that there have been kidnappings (a lot of Americans come down to Guatemala to adopt children so the market is ripe for some of these issues) and the people are wary of anyone who focuses too much attention on their children. Be kind but be smart.
- You can study Spanish in Antigua for as little as $75 for a week and we're talking 20 hours per week. There are over 70 Spanish schools alone in Antigua and there are more all over Guatemala. For as little as $135 per week you can get daily Spanish lessons, have your own room with a local family and get 2-3 meals per day. I've met people of all ages who have happily done this. Private tutors run about $3-5 per hour.
- If you go out to lake Atitlan, and you should, the local boats around the lake have two different rates. There's one for the indigenous and one for the Gringos. Gringos (what they call white people there) pay double. It's just the way it is so don't fret it. Find out what the rate is and have EXACT change to give the kids on the boats. Example: it should be 10 from Panajachel to Santa Cruz or San Marcos and 20 to San Pedro. Don't hang around waiting for them to ask for more. WALK.
- Bring light clothes for the day and sweaters or a jacket at night. Guatemala has blissful weather and it's always nice in my book. It gets chilly at night so bring layers.
- Don't bring heels if you're staying in Antigua. There are cobblestone streets, and massive cobblestones at that, and you don't want a twisted ankle or worse.
- Don't bring expensive bags, jewelry or sunglasses. If you flash your wealth you're asking for trouble. You might get robbed.
- For deals on food and some of the best food going, ask for the MENU DEL DIA (menu of the day). I had what was one of the very best meals I've had in Antigua and it was the menu del dia at a little place called Mixta's near the markets. I had a wonderful soup, delicious omelet, homemade tortilla's, fresh mango juice and a yummy rice pudding for $2.00!
- If you're traveling with a cell phone either get your phone unlocked and buy a Guatemalan SIM card or just buy a cheapie local cell phone and pay it forward to a friend when you're done. I got mine for $30 and it came with 175 minutes on it. The local carriers are Tigo (what I have), Claro and Moviestar. The cool thing, and wonderfully civilized thing at that, is that every few days when you pop into the store to get more minutes they offer double and triple days (there are signs up in the shops that offer this)! So, the other day I bought 50 Quetzales in Minutes and got... 150!
- Guatemalan hotels aren't big on air conditioning. Not to worry, just ask for a room with a fan or with windows. It gets wonderfully cool there at night.
- Bring Pepto Bismol tablets. It's common to get traveler's diarrhea and I know I usually have a day or two of a funky tummy. New flora and fauna and all that. The tablets nip things in the bud and there have been studies that the bismouth kills the bacteria that causes Montezuma's revenge. Who knew? Think pink.
- Don't drink the water. Seriously! Ask for AGUA PURA and skip the ice unless it's made with agua pura. Simple thing to do. Almost all hotels offer purified water to their guests. Order bottled water in restaurants and buy them in the local markets.
- If you're coming from the US you can bring your laptop, cell phone and iPod with you, plug in and R-E-L-A-X. Guatemala has the same voltage as we do (120 volts). No crazy adapter that may or may not work needed. It's the simple things, you know?
- Bring food to the airport when you're taking your returning flight home. Guatemala City airport is still a work in progress and the food ain't grand.
~ The current rate of exchange: $1 = 7.5 Quetzales. That means 100Q is about $13. ~
And my final tip, and it's a big one. GO! I have fallen in love with this country and I highly recommend you take some time to explore it yourself. Antigua alone is utterly delicious.
Your table awaits you...