Republic of Guatemala
Officially known as the Republic of Guatemala, the country’s name comes from the indigenous name Quauhtemallan, which means “place of many trees.” The natural beauty is one of the reasons to visit Guatemala.
Guatemala is located in Central America and shares borders with Mexico to the north and west, Belize to the northeast, Honduras and El Salvador to the south. On both sides, you’ll find vibrant waves, as the east coast borders the Caribbean Sea and the west coast borders the Pacific Ocean. The country is divided into 22 departments, each with its own character, nature, and culture.
The capital of Guatemala is Guatemala City, located in the southwestern part of the country. Did you know that Guatemala City is the largest city in Central America? With a population of over 2 million people, it’s a bustling metropolis full of life and activities. It is also the gastronomic capital of the country.
18 million chapines
The majority of the population, the Guatemaltecos, also refer to themselves as chapines. Guatemalans proudly use this nickname, which is part of their identity. The word “chapín” originated from Spain and referred to a type of shoe used by nobles in the fifteenth century. Meet the 18 million friendly chapines and learn about their rich heritage.
In addition to Spanish, there are 24 different languages spoken in Guatemala. Most of them are Mayan based. In one small area, you might hear the sounds of languages such as Q’eqchi’, Kaqchikel, Tz’utujil, and K’iche’. Not everyone in Guatemala speaks English, especially in remote areas where the local population might not understand English. It’s a good idea to learn a few words of Spanish before traveling to Guatemala to make it easier to connect with the real Guatemaltecos.
The time in Guatemala is GMT-6. Guatemala does not observe daylight saving time, so the clock remains the same throughout the year. Depending on the season, the time difference with the Netherlands is either 7 or 8 hours earlier. So, if you want to call someone in the Netherlands at the end of your day to tell them about your latest adventures, chances are they might still be sleeping.
Experience the vibrant culture of Guatemala during important holidays such as Semana Santa, where the streets come alive with processions and beautiful decorations. Celebrate the country’s independence on September 15th and experience the traditions of All Saints’ Day on November 1st and Christmas. From December 7th, the squares and streets are decorated with colorful Christmas lights, and you’ll often hear fireworks.
You can travel to Guatemala throughout the year as the average temperature is around 21°C. It’s often referred to as the land of eternal spring. With more than 360 microclimates, you’ll notice that the temperature varies depending on the altitude. In the Sierra de Los Cuchumatanes, at an altitude of over 3,000 meters, it can be as low as 5°C, while on the beach, it can reach 30°C.
From November to April, it’s mostly dry. In November and December, you’ll see beautiful skies with amazing cloudscapes, and you can enjoy all the greenery that has sprung up during the rainy season.
While it’s low season in Europe during the dry season, there can be a lot of local tourism in Guatemala, so make sure to book well in advance.
The rainy season runs from April to November, with the most rain falling in September and October. Everything becomes greener and lusher during this time, making it a wonderful period for nature lovers to travel.
If you’re going on a tour across the country, be prepared for all weather conditions. Bring a warm sweater for cool evenings in the highlands, a rain jacket for tropical showers, and light summer clothes for your visit to the tropical coastal areas.
It’s also advisable to dress appropriately, especially at certain historical monuments and in more rural areas. In Guatemala, it’s not common to dress very revealing or provocative. Out of respect for the culture, it’s wise to consider this when packing your suitcase.
Calling, WhatsApp, and Facetime
During your trip, you may want to stay in touch with the outside world and your loved ones back home. TIGO provides excellent internet coverage, and you can buy a SIM card at the airport to stay connected immediately. Don’t forget to make use of the free Wi-Fi available in most hotels and other locations.
Guatemala uses 110V power, and they have a different plug type. It’s advisable to get a travel adapter. Nowadays, most modern electronic devices work with different voltages. If your device says “INPUT: 100-240V, 50/60 Hz,” you don’t need to do anything.
There are no direct flights from Amsterdam to Guatemala. The most common route is through the United States or Mexico. These routes offer numerous flight options and ensure a smooth travel experience. Book your ticket as early as possible, as prices usually increase as the departure date approaches. Booking early increases your chances of getting the best deals and rates.
In addition to flying through the United States or Mexico, you can also choose alternative flight routes through Costa Rica or Panama. From there, you can fly to Guatemala or cross the border with a shuttle. All routes offer interesting options for combining trips with Guatemala.
Passport and Visa
To enter Guatemala, you need a valid passport with at least 6 months’ validity from the moment you enter Guatemala. This applies to all travelers aged 18 and above. If you’re traveling with children under 18, check which documents you need on the website of the Dutch government and bring them with you to avoid longer waiting times at border controls.
You do not need to apply for a visa in advance. At the border control, you will receive a visa stamp for a stay of up to 90 days. Make sure you do receive a visa stamp to avoid problems or fines when exiting. For a visa for a longer stay or visa-related questions, you can contact the Embassy of Guatemala in The Hague.
Please note that if you book a flight with a layover in the USA, you will need an ESTA travel permit to make the transit. Check in advance if you meet the requirements. You can check this on the website of Visa Buitenland. There you will find detailed information.
A travel insurance for Guatemala is highly recommended when planning a trip to the country. A good travel insurance policy can provide coverage for various unexpected situations and give you peace of mind during your journey.
With cancellation insurance for Guatemala, you can be reimbursed for non-refundable trip expenses in case you have to cancel your trip due to covered reasons. These reasons may include sudden illness, injury, or a family emergency that prevents you from traveling, severe weather conditions, terrorism, travel supplier bankruptcy, and more.
Currency and Exchange Rate
The official currency of Guatemala is the quetzal, named after the national bird. US dollars are also widely accepted in metropolitan areas. The exchange rate is approximately 8 Quetzals for 1 Euro and has remained relatively stable in recent years. It can be convenient to carry a small amount of US dollars before departing for Guatemala. This makes it easier for your arrival at the airport and your first day in Guatemala.
The fastest and most cost-effective way to obtain Quetzals is through ATMs. Mastercard and Visa are the most widely accepted cards. Apple Pay works well where credit cards are accepted. When using ATMs, be extra careful to retrieve your card because in Guatemala, you get your card back after receiving the money, whereas in the Netherlands, you get the card back immediately.
Outside of large cities, debit cards and credit cards are not widely used. Therefore, it is recommended to always have cash with you. Many hotels and restaurants accept cards, but small supermarkets, markets, or guides usually only accept cash. If you’re heading out on a long journey, make sure to have enough cash on hand.
Tips are generally included in restaurants (you’ll see 10% service charge on the bill). If it’s not included or if you want to give something extra, 10% is the usual amount we tip in restaurants. It’s also customary to tip your guide or driver if you’re satisfied with their services. Salaries in Guatemala are not high, and they’ll appreciate a little extra.
Renting a car is not very common in Guatemala. A large part of the roads in Guatemala are often poorly maintained and not adequately marked or illuminated. Especially in the western region, there are many bad roads.
The locals are used to the state of the roads and the lack of traffic safety education. Guatemalans drive somewhat aggressively. Car insurance is not mandatory, which means that if you have an accident, the other party is likely not insured. On the positive side, if you let someone else drive, you can enjoy the remarkable landscapes and travel from one destination to another worry-free.
The chicken bus, also known as “camioneta,” is the primary public transport in Guatemala and an experience in itself. These colorful, converted American school buses are a cheap and adventurous way to travel through the country. Not only are they very affordable, but they also provide an opportunity to interact with locals. They are often crowded and not very fast, so if you want to experience a ride on a chicken bus, it’s best to take a short trip without luggage.
On Lake Atitlan, small motorboats sail from one place to another throughout the day. There are good connections to reach each village. Sometimes you may have to make a transfer somewhere. You can use that opportunity to visit the village. It’s a delightful way to explore the lake.
If you prefer to stay dry on land during your stay at Lake Atitlan, the Tuk-Tuk is a good alternative. They will take you from one village to another, even on sometimes bumpy roads. Of course, you’ll pay a bit more than with the boat, but you’ll have a private and dry ride.
Despite Guatemala’s turbulent history, it is a safe country to travel to. A peace agreement was signed on December 29, 1996, after a long period of war. Creating safety is an important pillar for Guatemala. Crime in Guatemala has decreased significantly in recent years, especially against travelers. Tourism is an essential source of income for the country, so a lot has been invested in safety, and you can see the results. You can travel through the country with peace of mind and confidence.
Guatemala City safety
In many countries, the capital city is often not the most pleasant city to visit, but Guatemala City is more agreeable than most people expect. Of course, there’s no such thing as a 100% safe place in the world, so you should always use your common sense, be cautious, and watch your belongings. Serious crimes are generally a thing of the past, but theft can still occur regularly. Be careful about pickpocketing in busy streets, markets, bus stations, and squares.
Do you want a hassle-free, fully organized trip so that the only thing you have to do is to enjoy all the inspiring moments and places in Guatemala?
I’m here to help! I can see that Guatemala has caught your interest, and you want to know more about it. Let me know how I can assist you, and together, let’s plan this adventure!