Guatemala is the cultural heart of Central America. Like Bolivia in South America, it is probably the poorest country in its regional area, hence the country has held onto its rich traditions, culture and dress. Outside of Guatemala City, you will encounter local people in colourful traditional clothing, authentic local markets and the spirit of the traditional Mayan culture. Check out the gorgeous village of Antigua in its beautiful setting surrounded by volcanoes. Visit Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango and Quetzaltenango – the names alone are worthy of it! The ruins of Tikal, surrounded by native jungle is absolutely unmissable. Touring in Guatemala is easily combined into a longer trip including Mexico, Belize and/or Cuba.
• Mysterious deserted mega-city of Tikal
• Chichicastenango Indian Market
• Lake Atitlan
• Spanish colonial Antigua
A country you may visit all year round, however you may wish to avoid the hottest months of June to September when there is also increased rainfall.
Currency The Guatemalan unit of currency is the Quetzal and this may be exchanged for major currencies although the US Dollar is probably the best to take with you. Most major credit cards are widely accepted in hotels and better shops and there are ATM machines
Language Spanish is the official language. English is widely spoken in tourist facilities and hotels.
Why we love it Guatemala is a surprising delight! Very picturesque, it has a beautiful and very diverse landscape. The volcanoes and lakes around Atitlan have the ruins of wonderful old Spanish colonial towns around them such at Antigua. Twice a week there is what is considered the most colourful market in all the Americas is held at Chichicastenango. Indians walk for hours from their mountain villages to sell their arts and crafts at this fantastic market.
Guatemala also has jungles that have, over the centuries, swallowed up the cities of earlier civilizations. Perhaps the most impressive is the magnificent Mayan ruins at Tikal. Here one may sit atop the Jaguar Temple and listen to the spider monkeys calling in the forest below.
Weather A country you may visit all year round, it is probably best to avoid the hottest months of June to September when there is increased rainfall.
Social customs & quirks Guatemala was first colonized by the Spanish but many areas of the country retain much Indian influence. People are somewhat reserved but still friendly. You should ask permission before taking photographs and in some cases more colourful Indians may expect a small payment. Shorts are OK to wear but ensure if visiting Catholic churches you don’t show too much flesh (women should have their shoulders covered).
Bargaining is expected in the markets and you will need to offer a ridiculously low figure to the ridiculously high first offer they have made to you. Haggling will arrive at a compromise but don’t be afraid to walk away if you are not happy with a price they will chase after you if your offered price is acceptable. Be careful about pickpockets in the more popular and crowded markets. A money belt is a wise investment.
Festivals & events Catholicism is the main religious denomination in Guatemala and it reflects in the celebrations. Typical “fiestas” take place country-wide throughout the year. Whether celebrating a patron saint’s day or a national holiday, these fiestas generally feature lots of good food, music and parades. Major festivals take place during the Catholic seasons of Lent and Advent but there are literally hundreds of festivals and fiestas held throughout the year.
Health* There are currently no requirements to visit Guatemala from New Zealand, however there are some recommended precautions depending on which parts of the country you intend visiting. It is wise to consume bottled water only and ensure the seal is unbroken as at times bottles are ‘refilled’ with local supply. Before leaving for Guatemala please contact your health practitioner for full and current details on the health situation and make sure you take with you ample supplies of any medication you are currently on.
Visas* NZ passport holders may obtain a tourist visa on arrival valid for 90 days.
Notes *Please be aware that Health information is subject to change at any time and you should always double check these requirements at the time of booking and before travel.