Guatemala at a glance
In this article...
Practical matters and interesting facts
The official name is the Republic of Guatemala, which comes from the indigenous name Quauhtemallan which means “place of many trees”.
The official language is Spanish, but there are other 24 languages spoken throughout the country. Most of them are Mayan-based.
There are 18 million Guatemalans, and we call ourselves “chapines”.
The country is divided into 22 departments (or states). The capital of Guatemala is Guatemala City, which lies in the Guatemala Department.
The most important holidays for us are Semana Santa (Holy Week before Easter), Independence Day (September 15th), All Saints Day (November 1st), and Christmas.
Guatemala has 110V electric power. Take this into account if using your electronic devices that may not be compatible with this voltage. It is wise to bring an adapter to plug your devices.
Our time zone is GMT-6. There is a 7-hour time difference during the European winter and an 8-hour difference during the warmer months.
As for communications, TIGO has the best internet coverage. You can buy the chip inside the airport. Try it out immediately to make sure it works properly. Almost all hotels and other venues have Wi-Fi service.
Our currency is the Quetzal, named after our National bird. The fastest and cheapest way to get Quetzales is from the ATMs. 1 Euro is around 8 Quetzales.
When using ATMs, pay extra attention to get your card back because in Guatemala you get the card back after you get the money, while here in The Netherlands you get the card back immediately.
Debit and credit cards are not widely used outside the big cities. Master Card and Visa are the most accepted cards. Apple Pay works well where credit cards work.
I recommend always having cash on you. In many hotels and restaurants you can pay with a card, but small grocery stores, markets, or guides normally accept only cash. If heading for a long drive, make sure to have enough cash with you.
Tips are generally included in the restaurants (you will see a 10% service charge on the bill). If not included or you would like to give a little extra, 10% is the regular amount we tip in restaurants.
It is common to tip your guide or chauffeur if you are happy with their services. Salaries in Guatemala are not high and they are very appreciative of a little extra.
Driving in Guatamala
This one is the most frequent question I get. It is always challenging for me to answer it.
I love driving in Guatemala. I’ve been doing it for more than 30 years, so I’m well used to the state of the roads, the lack of road safety education… the ups and downs.
I don’t advise driving in Guatemala by yourself for many reasons. The roads often lack proper maintenance and are not adequately marked or lit. And we Guatemalans drive a bit aggressively. Car insurance is not mandatory, which means that if you have an accident, the other party is probably not insured.
On the bright side, having someone drive you allows you to enjoy the remarkable landscapes, be in contact with local people that know their way around, and travel care-free between destinations.
Guatemala has an average temperature of 21º throughout the year. The land of eternal spring.
With more than 360 micro weather, you’ll see that the temperature depends more on the altitude than the time of the year. The higher you are, the colder it gets. In the Sierra de Los Cuchumatanes, at more than 3000 meter high, you can be at 5º while on the beach, 30º is pretty normal.
Humidity is also high in Guatemala, especially in the lowlands. If you travel throughout the country, be prepared for all kinds of weather.
Best time to travel
With springlike weather all year round, Guatemala is always pleasant to visit.
There are two seasons: the rainy season runs from May to October, and the dry season, from November to April.
Everything is greener and lusher with the rain. When it rains, we usually get tropical showers that don’t last long. Around the end of July or the beginning of August, there is a heat wave or “canícula” when the rain stops for a couple of weeks, the temperature warms up a bit, and we get clearer skies.
You’ll find beautiful skies with amazing cloudscapes during November and December. Everything is still green from our “winter”. Even though it’s low season here in Europe, it can get busy with local tourism in Guatemala, so make sure you have your reservations well in advance.
Many people decide to skip Guatemala City and head directly to Antigua. If you want a complete picture of Guatemala, a visit to Guatemala City is recommended.
Traffic aside, I think the country’s capital is a beautiful city. Of course, my opinion might be biased. As a gastronomic destination, you’ll find four restaurants in the top 100 of Latin America’s Best Restaurants.
The mix of old and modern and the contrast with the rest of the country make a visit worthwhile.
Guatemala is safe for visitors.
Until 2019, my life was in Guatemala. I have an extensive network there and understand the Guatemalan idiosyncrasy. When traveling with Let’s go to Guatemala, you will get to know the country in-depth, feeling safe and supported at all times.
Of course, there is no such thing as a 100% safe place in the world. Therefore, you always have to use your common sense, be careful, and pay attention to your belongings.
If you plan to visit Guatemala, you probably enjoy traveling actively and adventurous.
Guatemala is genuine, rough on its edges, full of color, and warmhearted people. It’s an authentic destination, far from massive tourism or cookie-cutter perfection.
Embrace it and you’ll have the time of your life.
I love that Guatemala speaks to you and you want to know more about it. Let me know how I can help you!