Overview

Guatemala is the soul of Central America, realm of Maya kings and seat of colonial power. Forgotten cities rise from lowland jungle, echoing with the calls of howler monkeys and toucans. Highland market towns bustle energetically, as ancient prayers rise in the smoke of copal incense. Guatemala borders the North Pacific Ocean, between El Salvador and Mexico, and the Gulf of Honduras (Caribbean Sea) between Honduras and Belize. It is home to volcanoes, rainforests and ancient Mayan sites.

Trips to Guetemala:

8 Day Ecuador Multi-Sport

10 Day Galapagos Adventure

11 Day Best of Ecuador & Galapagos

The dominance of an Indian culture within its interior uplands distinguishes Guatemala from its Central American neighbors. The origin of the name Guatemala is Indian, but its derivation and meaning are undetermined. Some hold that the original form was Quauhtemallan (indicating an Aztec rather than a Mayan origin), meaning “land of trees,” and others hold that it is derived from Guhatezmalha, meaning “mountain of vomiting water”— referring no doubt to the volcanic eruptions that are common in the country.
After gaining independence from Spain in the 1820s, Guatemala had a long history of government by authoritarian rule and military regimes until it came under democratic rule in 1985. Starting in 1954, Guatemala’s governments faced formidable guerrilla opposition that sparked civil war that lasted for 36 years until peace accords were signed in 1996. The struggles of Guatemala’s Indians during the war years were illuminated when Rigoberta Menchú, a Quiché Maya and an advocate for indigenous people throughout Latin America, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.

The surface of Guatemala is characterized by four major topographical features. Southern Guatemala is dominated by a string of 27 volcanoes extending for about 180 miles (300 km) between Mexico and El Salvador. Between the volcanoes and the Pacific Ocean lies a fertile plain ranging 25–30 miles (40–50 km) in width. The Petén region, a large, low-lying, rectangular area, juts northward to occupy a portion of the Yucatán Peninsula, a limestone platform shared with Mexico and Belize. Sandwiched between the volcanic landscape and the Petén are the high mountain ranges and valleys.
Guatemala has three continuously active volcanoes: the growing summit of Santiaguito, Fuego and Pacaya.

Entry Requirements

A valid passport is required for entry to Panama and re-entry into the United States. Each passenger should be sure that his or her passport has at least six months of remaining validity from the date of return to the USA. Currently, no advance visa is required for US citizens. Prior to arriving at your destination, the airline flight attendants will give you an immigration form that must be completed and presented to a national immigration officer in order to be granted a tourist visa. You must save a copy of this stamped form, as you will have to surrender it to immigration officials when you check in for your flight home. A customs declaration form for both the outbound and inbound international flights will also be handed out by the airline flight attendants and should be completed before landing. You only need to fill out one form per family.

Vaccines

No special immunizations are required for travel in Guatemala. If you have questions regarding immunizations or a health concern, contact your personal physician or local County Health Department.

Climate

Guatemala’s weather is eternally comfortable: neither too hot nor too cold. Its seasons tend to be divided into the dry season and the wet season, although the temperature, which averages 22°C (72°F) across the country, varies more according to altitude than by season. November through to April is the dry season and in the mountainous central region, it is an ideal climate for outdoor pursuits with average temperatures of 18°C (64°F). The rainy season runs from May to October which can hinder travel in more remote areas. Near the center of the country, the rainy season, running from May to September, is characterized by clear skies after abundant rainfall in the afternoons and evenings. 

Communication

The international access code for Guatemala is +502, and the outgoing code 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 00 502 for Guatemala). Roaming is expensive in Guatemala. Most travelers buy a local SIM card (if you have an unlocked phone) or a local prepaid phone on arrival. Telgua public phones are common, and require a phone card (tarjeta telefónica de Telgua), bought from shops and kiosks. Internet connections are available in the majority of Guatemalas’ cities, unfortunately the connections are very slow. In the big cities it tends to be better, but even there you might experience occasional power outages. Internet cafés, or ‘cybers’, are widely available in Nicaragua.

Currency

The Guatemalan currency is the quetzal (Q*). The US dollar is widely accepted in Guatemala, but it is still recommended to have Guatemalan quetzals on hand at all times. It can be difficult to break larger bills (like Q100) in smaller towns and at local restaurants—for this reason it is always a good idea to keep some smaller bills in your wallet.

ATM’s and banks in Guatemala don’t necessarily co-locate. ATMs in Guatemala are known to pose some challenges. Problems range from No ATMs and empty ATMs, to ATMs that only accept Visa cards from certain countries and those that don’t accept MasterCard.  Examples being Santa Catarina, El Remate (Peten Lake) and Iximche.

Please confirm your travel dates and destinations with your card issuers before you leave the USA.

Electricity

Electrical current is 115 to 125 volts, 60Hz. Plugs are typically the 2 pronged flat type so US travelers will not typically need a converter or adapter. Outlets not always have 3 holes so if your device has a third prong, bring an adapter.

Government

Guatemala is a presidential representative democratic republic. 

Religion

Guatemala is a mishmash of Mayan spiritual traditions, Catholicism, and Evangelical Christianity. It’s not always easy to separate one from the other, particularly in places like the highlands, where there are strong Mayan traditions in place.

Ethnic Groups

Guatemalans have a strong cultural heritage that blends indigenous Mayan, European, and Caribbean influences. 42% of the population is Mestizo, 18% white and some other ethnic groups such as the K’iche’, the Kaqchikel, the Mam, the Q’eqchi. Many Mayan descendants have westernized their dress and culture and also speak Spanish, these people are called ladinos. 

Languages

Spanish is the official language of Guatemala. 21 Mayan languages, one indigenous language, and one Arawakan language are also spoken in the country.

Economy

The Guatemalan economy is robust, and is actually the largest economy in Central America. Guatemala’s GDP in 2013 grew to $81.5 billion, up from $78.9 in the previous year. Agriculture accounts for 13.5 percent of the Guatemalan GDP and employs 38 percent of the population. The primary exports include coffee, bananas, sugar. Industry contributes about 24 percent of the GDP, the service sector is the largest employer (partially thanks to tourism), with around 48 percent of the population employed by this sector.

Safety

The areas you’ll be visiting in Guatemala are generally quite safe; however, common sense precautions are still important. As a general rule, you should not be out in the streets alone after dark. Stay in well-lit areas. Keep money out of sight and in a money belt. Keep your travel documents in the hotel safe or concealed in your money pouch. Please consult your tour guide for additional safety advice.

Travel Advisories

Make two photocopies of valuables such as your passport, tickets, visas and travelers’ cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.
Be sure to inform your credit card company as well as your bank you will travel internationally into South America. This will eliminate any credit card holds for fraudulent activity.

Insurance

We strongly recommend travel insurance for each traveler. Travel insurance is not provided in your tour package.