Travel Guides: Guatemala
Guatemala is a small country, lush and mountainous, that is graced with beautiful scenery, a rich indigenous culture, colonial history and important archaeological ruins. The country lies at the heart of the Mayan culture in Central America with remarkable Mayan sites scattered throughout the land, none more so than the magnificent ruins of the ancient city of Tikal, set deep within the jungle.
The Mayan villages of the highlands are spread amid the breathtaking scenery of smoking volcanoes and spectacular lakes, where ancient customs and traditions persist despite five centuries of European domination. Their culture is expressed through vibrant weekly markets, bright traditional clothing, fabulous handicrafts, different languages and colourful religious festivals. Lake Atitlán, a beautiful deep lake ringed by volcanoes and Mayan villages, is a remarkable place combining astounding scenery with traditional culture.
Guatemalan society is split between the traditional and the modern, each following their own path in a country sprinkled with remnants of a colonial past. Nowhere is the Spanish legacy more evident than in the charming city of Antigua with its cobbled streets, plazas and elegant fountains, and towering volcanoes as a backdrop. Interrelations between the Spanish and the native population produced a mixed population, the Ladinos, who have embraced their European heritage and are typically city folk.
A rough past provides a troublesome background to the country and its people. Inequalities between the Spanish-speaking Indians and indigenous cultures, and rich and poor, have been a source of tension and discord throughout the years. The violence caused by political differences has left thousands dead, while the devastation caused by earthquakes has left people homeless and in need of world aid. Despite this travellers are drawn to the intriguing mix of cultures and history set amid dramatic scenery, with extremely considerate people to show them the sights that Guatemalans are justifiably proud of.
Guatemala's climate is lovely year round and is generally hot throughout the county, making travel possible at any time. The rainy season is generally from May to November. Climate variations are due to altitude and the north has a hot, tropical climate with maximum rainfall between May and September. The coastal regions and north east are hot with a dry season running from November to April and rainy season, which is slightly cooler with temperatures averaging around 68°F (20°C) that runs from May to October. The highlands, including Guatemala City and Antigua, have a pleasant climate with less rainfall than the coast, and cold temperatures at night.
The official currency is the Quetzal (GTQ) divided into 100 centavos. In 2001 the US Dollar became the second official currency alongside the Quetzal and both are accepted. Travellers cheques and major credit cards are accepted, though some more than others. It is recommended to take travellers cheques in US dollars. Cash exchange is easier, but more risky. Visitors are not advised to exchange money at the informal booths on the street. There are ATMs in the towns and cities, which accept American Express and Visa. MasterCard and Diners Club have a more limited acceptance.
It is strongly recommended that all foreign passengers to Guatemala hold return or onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Note that the period of stay for visa-exempt nationals is 90 days; however, 90-day extensions can be organised through the Immigration Office. For nationals requiring a visa, the consulate issuing the visa will advise visitors about the amount of deposit to be paid at the port of entry in Guatemala, which will be refunded if the visitor leaves Guatemala within one year. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Entry Requirements & Embassy Consulates
Irish citizens must have a passport or replacing document that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
Irish Honorary Consul, Guatemala City: +502 2384 9446.
British citizens must have a passport or replacing document that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days, for British passport holders endorsed British Citizen. British passport holders with other endorsements are required to hold a "visa Consultada".
British Embassy, Guatemala City: +502 2380 7300.
Canadian citizens must have a passport or replacing document that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
Canadian Embassy, Guatemala City (also responsible for Australia): +502 2363 4348.
US citizens must have a passport or replacing document that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
United States Embassy, Guatemala City: +502 2326 4000.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport or replacing document that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
New Zealand Consulate, Guatemala City: +502 2431 1705.
South African citizens must have a passport or replacing document that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
Honorary South African Consul, Guatemala City: +502 2332 6953.
Australian citizens must have a passport or replacing document that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guatemala. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
There are a number of health risks associated with travel to Guatemala and travellers are advised to take the latest medical advice at least three weeks prior to departure. Malaria is prevalent in the low-lying areas outside Guatemala City and dengue fever is endemic. Visitors should be careful what they eat and stick to bottled water. Guatemalan hospitals are unlikely to give medical treatment unless the patient has medical insurance or can pay up front. Good travel insurance is therefore essential. State-funded hospitals are best avoided. Travellers should only use private clinics where possible. A yellow fever certificate is required from travellers entering the country from infected areas.
The rate of violent crime in Guatemala is exceptionally high. There has also been a relatively high rate of violent attacks on tourists, especially in remote places and in the capital, Guatemala City, especially after dark. Visitors need to be particularly vigilant in the central Zone 1 of Guatemala City where most of the cheap hotels and bus terminals are, and in all parts of the city at night. There has been an increase in crime targeting tourists arriving at Guatemala City airport and travelling to hotels in the business district of Zones 9 and 10; visitors should be extremely alert when leaving the airport. Pick-pocketing and petty theft are common in tourist areas and market places. An increase of armed robberies targeting tourists has also been reported in Antigua. Many robberies take place on the cheaper buses when travelling on the tourist routes from Guatemala City to Antigua, and from Antigua to Panajachel; keep all belongings close at hand. There has been an increase in reported incidents of attacks, including the rape of female passengers on buses during the day on main routes. Hold-ups by armed gangs occur frequently on city and long distance public buses; visitors are advised not to use them if possible. Armed robberies on minor roads around Lake Atitlan have taken place and visitors are advised to use the boat services between towns on the lakeshore. There have also been armed attacks on tourists at Tikal and on the approach road from Flores to Tikal. Guatemala's rainy season between April and November usually brings about heavy rain and flooding, mudslides and hurricanes. Fuego volcano is very active and climbing it is not advisable at present.
Business etiquette in Guatemala is similar to the rest of Latin America, except for punctuality. Due to the warm, humid climate men often wear lightweight suits and women should wear a dress or a skirt. Always be punctual for meetings, as Guatemalan business people are very punctual. Use professional titles such as such as 'Doctor', 'Professor', 'Ingeniero' (engineer) or 'Abogado' (lawyer); otherwise address colleagues as Señor (Mr), Señora (Mrs) and Señorita (Miss), followed by their last names. Business cards may be exchanged although there is no ritual around it. Business hours are generally 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken over lunch. Speaking softly is considered polite.
The international access code for Guatemala is +502. The outgoing code depends on what network is used to dial out on (e.g. 13000 for Telefonica or 14700 for Telgua), which is followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 1300044 for the United Kingdom). City codes are not required. There are generally surcharges on calls made from hotels and it is cheaper to use calling cards. Rates are generally less expensive after 7pm. Mobile phones work in the major towns and cities on a GSM network, but check that your network operator has a roaming agreement covering Guatemala. Internet cafes are available in the main tourist areas.
Travellers to Guatemala over 18 do not have to pay duty on 80 cigarettes or 99g of tobacco; 500ml of liquor or spirits (equivalent 2 bottles); and perfume.