Guatemala

Part of the narrow isthmus that makes up Central America, the Republic of Guatemala is a small country that shares borders with Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras.It is mountainous for the most part, and is host to over 33 volcanoes, some of which remain active. The country touches the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. These opposing coastlines highlight Guatemala’s diverse geography - black basalt volcanic sand beaches in the west and white coral sand beaches in the east. A flourishing centre of Mayan culture more than 1000 years ago, Guatemala was also a Spanish colony for nearly three centuries until it won its independence in 1821. This mix of native Mayan and Spanish civilization has created a culture that is both unique and diverse, in a country that is rich with sites of natural and historical beauty.

Language

Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, but for parts of the indigenous population it is a second language to the many Mayan dialects that are still prevalent throughout the country. English is spoken to a proficient degree at all major tourist sites.

Hola, habla inglés? - Hello, do you speak English?Donde esta Tikal? - Where is Tikal?Cuanto cuesta? - How much does it cost?Si - YesNon - NoPor favour - PleaseGracias - Thank You

Currency

The Guatemalan quetzal (GTQ) is the national currency. US Dollars are also widely accepted. As of October 2006:

1 GBP = 14.3 GTQ1 EUR = 9.7 GTQ

Weather

Guatemala’s climate is as varied as its geography. The coastal regions and the north east are hot and humid throughout the year as are the jungles in the north. The mountainous plateau in the centre of the country is more temperate when compared to the lowlands.

It should be noted that Guatemala’s location in the Caribbean Sea makes it particularly susceptible to hurricanes on occasion.

Attractions

The main tourist attractions in Guatemala are undoubtedly the archaeological remnants of the ancient Mayan people which are now left on show, and the country’s many volcanoes.

Camouflaged on all sides by dense jungle, the most notable of these ruins lie in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal National Park. Here in the heart of the Petén department lie the ruins of the largest Mayan city, which was inhabited from as early as 6th century BC. The site is comprised of hundreds of historical buildings, many of which are still in the process of being fully uncovered. The sites of El Mirador and Piedras Negras (both also to the north in the Petén department) are well worth the admission price as well.

For those interested in seeing the raw power of Mother Nature, Pacaya volcano (2552m) is highly recommended. One of the main tourist spots in Guatemala, this volcano has been almost constantly active since it abruptly re-awoke in 1961. Small eruptions take place almost every day and recently lava rivers could be seen flowing down the sides of the mountain.

The city of Antigua (A UNESCO World Heritage Site) in the centre of Guatemala is famous for its well-preserved Spanish ruins, a hangover of the colonial period. There are many fabulous monuments and churches from the Renaissance period that can still be appreciated today.

Shopping

Guatemala is famous for its fabrics and traditional textiles, remnants of its Mayan past. These are produced all over the country and are sold locally at traditional style markets. The country is also famed for its coffee which is generally regarded as one of the finest in the world as well as its rum (Ron Zacapa Centenario is the best).

Beyond the traditional markets there are also modern shopping malls in the larger cities, however much shopping takes place on the sidewalks. This ‘grey economy’ is particularly prevalent in the capital. Here one can find a large selection of fake branded clothes as well as CD’s and DVD’s.

Remember: Bargaining is central to shopping in Guatemala, especially for tourists, so don’t be fooled if vendors are spouting horribly over bloated prices. Usually the threat of losing a sale is enough for them to offer a more reasonable price.

Nightlife

There are a variety of bars and nightclubs in most of the decent sized cities and tourist areas throughout Guatemala. In particular, Antigua has a vibrant nightlife in which locals and tourists freely mix in the many bars and cafes that pave the sidewalks.

There are usually many live music events on offer in most bars and clubs and styles vary from place to place although Latin Rock is the staple of many venues. Most places prefer casual dress.

Driving

  • In Guatemala the rules of the road are often only casually observed. Many drivers use their hands instead of indicators. Full attention is required at all times.
  • Speed limits are posted (in kilometres) although they are sometimes ignored, as are lane markings and stop signs.
  • Seat belts must be worn at all times in a moving vehicle and it is against the law for the driver to operate a mobile phone while driving.
  • Any one found driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will be arrested and faces the possibility of jail time.
  • Remember: Drivers use the right-hand side of the road in Guatemala.

Food and Drink

Guatemala’s Spanish influences are apparent nowhere more than in their cuisine. Many local dishes are either rice or tortilla based and other typical dishes include stewed black beans and beef broth. In the larger cities all manner of restaurants can be found, and many of the most famous international food chains are on offer throughout Guatemala. The country is also host to a selection of fine locally brewed beers, and most tourist areas stock a wide variety of big brand drinks.It is recommended that you only drink purified water, and be wary of food served in the streets.

Tourist Information

INGUAT, Guatemalan Tourist Institute7a Avenida 1-17, Zona 4 Centro Civico, Guatemala City
  • Tel: +502 2421-2810 / +502 5578-9836; Fax: +502 2421-2891
  • Email: asistur@inguat.gob.gt
  • Web: http://visitguatemala.com

All car hire locations in Guatemala