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Holidays in Guatemala

Understanding Guatemala

Guatemala has a rich and distinctive culture from the long mix of elements from Spain and the native Maya people This diverse history and the natural beauty of the land has created a destination rich in interesting and scenic sites



The first evidence of human settlers in Guatemala goes back to at least 12,000 BC Sites dating back to 6500 BC have been found in Quiché in the Central Highlands and Sipacate, Escuintla on the central Pacific coast Archaeologists divide the pre-Columbian history of Mesoamerica into the Pre-Classic period 2000 BC to 250 AD El Mirador was by far the most populated city in pre-Columbian America Both the El Tigre and Monos pyramids encompass a volume greater than 250,000 cubic meters Mirador was the first politically organized state in America

The Classic period of Mesoamerican civilization corresponds to the height of the Maya civilization, and is represented by countless sites throughout Guatemala, although the largest concentration is in Petén This period is characterized by heavy city-building, the development of independent city-states, and contact with other Mesoamerican cultures This lasted until around 900 AD, when the Classic Maya civilization collapsed The Maya abandoned many of the cities of the central lowlands or were killed off by a drought-induced famine The Post-Classic period is represented by regional kingdoms such as the Itzá and Ko'woj in the lakes area in Petén, and the Mam, Ki'ch'es, Kack'chiquel, Tz'utuh'il, Pokom'chí, Kek'chi and Chortí in the Highlands These cities preserved many aspects of Mayan culture, but would never equal the size or power of the Classic cities

Colonial era

After arriving in what was named the New World, the Spanish mounted several expeditions to Guatemala, beginning in 1519 Before long, Spanish contact resulted in an epidemic that devastated native populations During the colonial period, Guatemala was an Audiencia and a Captaincy General of Spain, and a part of New Spain Mexico It extended from the modern Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas to Costa Rica This region was not as rich in minerals gold and silver as Mexico and Peru, and was therefore not considered to be as important Its main products were sugarcane, cocoa, blue añil dye, red dye from cochineal insects, and precious woods used in artwork for churches and palaces in Spain


On September 15, 1821, the Captaincy-general of Guatemala formed by Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras officially proclaimed its independence from Spain and its incorporation into the Mexican Empire, which was dissolved two years later The Guatemalan provinces formed the United Provinces of Central America Guatemala's "Liberal Revolution" came in 1871 under the leadership of Justo Rufino Barrios, who worked to modernize the country, improve trade, and introduce new crops and manufacturing During this era coffee became an important crop for Guatemala Barrios had ambitions of reuniting Central America and took the country to war in an unsuccessful attempt to attain this, losing his life on the battlefield in 1885 against forces in El Salvador From 1898 to 1920, Guatemala was ruled by the dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera, whose access to the presidency was helped by the United Fruit Company

On July 4, 1944, Dictator Jorge Ubico Castañeda was forced to resign his office in response to a wave of protests and a general strike, and from then until the end of a murderous civil war in 1996, Guatemala was subject to a series of coups with massive attendant civil rights abuses State-sponsored murders of students, human rights activists and the ethnic Mayan peoples, gained Guatemala a terrible reputation around the world In 1999, US president Bill Clinton stated that the United States was wrong to have provided support to Guatemalan military forces that took part in the brutal civilian killings

Since the peace accords in 1996, Guatemala has witnessed successive democratic elections, most recently in 2007 when The National Unity of Hope and its president candidate Álvaro Colom won the presidency as well as the majority of the seats in congress


It is difficult to travel in the more remote areas during the rainy season between mid-May and mid-October into mid-November in the north

The months of March and April are very hot especially in the low lying areas such as the Pacific coastal plain

Talking in Guatemala

Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, and the most commonly spoken Over twenty indigenous languages are still spoken throughout, but many of the Maya people have at least a working knowledge of basic Spanish as well, except in the more remote areas For the Garifuna people in Livingston, Garifuna and English are the main languages but Spanish is spoken as well

The most familiar form of Spanish spoken among good friends is the "tú" and "vos" form, but varies between regions It is considered rude and very informal if used with someone that you do not know As a tourist, it is safer to stick with the "usted" form However, don't be surprised if some homestay families and some language teachers jump right into using the "tú" or "vos" form If they do, you may respond in kind

What to see in Guatemala

Maya ruins are the key attractions in the country and the most notable are El Mirador, perhaps the cradle of Maya civilisation, and Tikal


Guatemala has a lot of volcanoes, many of them over 3,000 metres high

  • Volcán de Pacaya 2500m - this is an active volcano about 30 minutes outside of Antigua Some days it will not be accessible as the volcano may be too active to observe safely Bring a jacket since it will be windy and cold at the top although the ground will feel warm and wear long pants as the volcanic rock can easily give you a nice cut Tour guides can be organised from Antigua This volcano can be climbed all the way to the crater, and most of the time you get to see real lava

What to do in Guatemala

Guatemala is rich in natural beauty and travel opportunities, it's a country that offers so much to those willing to step off the beaten track for a little while

Antigua Guatemala is often regarded as the travellers hub, a crumbling, picture-perfect central american town ringed by volcanoes From here you can take a hike up Volcano Pacaya, take a bus to the bustling market of Chichicastenango, or simply sip some coffee in a street-side cafe and watch the world go by

Lake Atitlan or Lago de Atitlán is another frequent stop on any visitors itinerary A volcano-rimmed lake with plenty of backpacker hostels and Mayan villages that dot the shores

Flores in Guatemala's wild north is a tourist friendly island in the middle of Lake Petén Itzá From here you can take a bus ride to one of best preserved Mayan ruins in the world, Tikal Howler monkeys and dense jungle make walking around the ruins an adventure in itself

  • Semuc Champey Lanquin, near Coban, Alta Verapaz Semuc Champey is a cascade of turquoise limestone pools created by the river plunging below ground for a stretch before rushing back out through a spectacular waterfall Definately worth making the trip to Lanquin for as well as the beautiful lodges that have sprung up from the captivating hilly landscape

Buying stuff in Guatemala


The local currency is the Quetzal which is named after the national bird, which has ancient and mythic connotations even today One US dollar is equivalent to 81 Quetzales US dollars are widely accepted and can be exchanged in most small towns ATMs can be found in the major towns but do not expect to find them in every tourist spot It is fairly easy to find your self in a town without an ATM or a place to change money

Do not expect to be able to easily exchange travelers checks to Guatemala You might find a few places willing to accept checks issued by American Express but all other types are universally turned down Amazingly even major banks in Guatemala City do not accept VISA travelers checks

The national currency is Quetzales The rate of change is approximately 834 Quetzales for 1 US Dollar and 1178 for 1 €uro January 2010 It is common to use dollars in tourist areas You will most likely have difficulties in changing other currencies than US Dollars, but euros are becoming increasingly common


It is common to bargain for most purchases in the open air market Though you may be able to bargain in other places, be aware that chain-owned shops have fixed prices you are no more likely to bargain in a Guatemalan Radio Shack than an American one

These are some characteristically Guatemalan things you might consider buying here:

  • Ron Zacapa Centenario — Guatemala's prize-winning rum
  • Fabrics and traditional textiles — Traditional Mayan blouses are known as huipiles whi-peel and skirts as cortes Be aware that these are almost always entirely handmade and prices for a high-end huipil may be as high as Q1000
  • Jade — there is large jade working factory in Antigua, but it is course a very stone
  • Coffee — touted as one of the best-tasting varieties in the world
  • Cardamom — Guatemala is the largest exporter in the world and Coban is the main centre of this trade

Food and eating in Guatemala

Typical food:

  • Kaq Ik
  • Pepián
  • Jocom
  • Quichom
  • Tortillas and tortillas de harina Maize tortillas are served with most meals
  • Frijoles negros - stewed black beans
  • Caldos - beef broths
  • Tamales — steam-cooked corn meal, with a variety of fillings, wrapped in banana leaves
  • Rice 'n beans Garifunafood in Puerto Barrios
  • Tapado, ceviche and other fishmeals
  • Churrascos

A typical breakfast is Frijoles, eggs and bread with coffee of course

The type of food really depends on how much you want to spend and what type of place you want to spend it at You can get almost any type of food at the main tourist locations In the aldeas small towns your choices are mostly limited to those items listed above Guatemalan food differs from Mexican food in that it is a lot less spicy, and chillies are generally served in a separate dish from the main course to be added as desired, rather than included in the food

Drinking in Guatemala

Popular Guatemalan beers are Gallo lager, by far the most popular with Guatemalans, Victoria, Brahva a light pilsner style, Moza dark bock, Cabro, Monte Carlo premium, and Dorada Don't be surprised if you get salt and lemon with your beer It's a custom to put some salt on the toes of the bottle, and screw out the lemon in the beer Sometimes it is mixed with V8 vegetable juice, and the concoction is called michelada

Guatemala produces a number of rums, including the superb Ron Zacapa Centenario which is aged up to 30 years

Tequila is a very popular drink in Guatemala

Guatemalans usually dress down when they go out

If you order a bottled drink, you will normally get a tissue to clean the bottle Coca-Cola and Pepsi-type products are available, plus many from local soft drink manufacturers

Accommodation in Guatemala

You will likely find cheap hotels in every town or village in Guatemala In the main tourist areas, there are also many high quality hotels

Working in Guatemala

There are various volunteering opportunities

  • Proyecto Mosaico Guatemala, PMG 4 will, for a fee, set you up with an organisation in Guatemala which needs a volunteer They also can arrange a home stay, Spanish language classes, and other services
  • Global Vision International GVI, PMG 5 run a number of volunteering programs around Guatemala with indigenous communities They include home stay, Spanish language classes, and other services
  • Casa Alianza Guatemala 6 welcomes enquiries from potential volunteers who want to help provide care and assistance to, and protect the human rights of, the children and adolescents who live on the streets of Latin America
  • Some schools organise social projects as well See, for example, the Guate Spanish school's entry under Quetzaltenango
  • Entremundos 7 is said to organize local NGOs
  • CARE is said to organise volunteer projects in Guatemala 8
  • PID Partners In Development is a non-profit organization that works to help the extreme poor of Guatemala They build houses for families, provide small business loans, and offer sponsorship programs for children in need 9
  • En Mi Salsa 10 is a Dutch Foundation that focuses on development of rural women and their children They support women’s handicraft cooperative Ut'z Bat'z in Chichicastenango and offer scholarships to poor children Volunteers are needed They also arrange your Spanish language classes, home stay, volunteer work, local tours

Cities in Guatemala

acatenango  agua blanca  aguacatan  almolonga  alotenango  amatitlan  antigua guatemala  asuncion mita  atescatempa  ayutla  barberena  barillas  cabanas  cabrican  cahabon  cajola  camotan  canilla  cantel  casillas  catarina  chahal  chajul  champerico  chiantla  chicacao  chicaman  chiche  chichicastenango  chimaltenango  chinautla  chinique  chiquimula  chiquimulilla  chisec  chuarrancho  ciudad vieja  coban  colomba  colotenango  comalapa  comapa  comitancillo  concepcion chiquirichapa  concepcion  concepcion  concepcion tutuapa  conguaco  cubulco  cuilapa  cuilco  cunen  cuyotenango  dolores  el adelanto  el asintal  el chol  el estor  el jicaro  el palmar  el progreso  el quetzal  el rodeo  el tejar  el tumbador  escuintla  esquipulas  esquipulas palo gordo  estanzuela  flores costa cuca  flores  fraijanes  genova  granados  gualan  guanagazapa  guastatoya  guatemala city  guatemala  guazacapan  huehuetenango  huitan  huite  ipala  ixchiguan  ixtahuacan  iztapa  jacaltenango  jalapa  jalpatagua  jerez  jocotan  jocotenango  joyabaj  jutiapa  la democracia  la esperanza  la gomera  la libertad  la libertad  lanquin  la reforma  la union  livingston  los amates  magdalena milpas altas  malacatancito  malacatan  masagua  mataquescuintla  mazatenango  melchor de mencos  mixco  momostenango  monjas  morales  morazan  moyuta  nahuala  nebaj  nenton  nueva concepcion  nueva santa rosa  nuevo progreso  nuevo san carlos  ocos  olintepeque  olopa  oratorio  ostuncalco  pachalum  pajapita  palencia  palestina de los altos  palin  panajachel  panzos  parramos  pasaco  pastores  patulul  patzicia  patzite  patzun  petapa  pochuta  poptun  pueblo nuevo  pueblo nuevo vinas  puerto barrios  purulha  quetzaltenango  quezada  quezaltepeque  rabinal  retalhuleu  rio blanco  rio bravo  rio hondo  sacapulas  salama  salcaja  samayac  san agustin acasaguastlan  san andres itzapa  san andres sajcabaja  san andres  san andres semetabaj  san andres villa seca  san andres xecul  san antonio aguas calientes  san antonio huista  san antonio ilotenango  san antonio palopo  san antonio sacatepequez  san antonio suchitepequez  sanarate  san bartolome jocotenango  san bartolome milpas altas  san bartolo  san benito  san bernardino  san carlos sija  san cristobal acasaguastlan  san cristobal cucho  san cristobal totonicapan  san cristobal verapaz  san diego  san felipe  san francisco el alto  san francisco  san francisco zapotitlan  san gabriel  san gaspar ixchil  san jacinto  san jeronimo  san jose acatempa  san jose chacaya  san jose del golfo  san jose el idolo  san jose ojetenan  san jose pinula  san jose poaquil  san jose  san jose  san juan atitan  san juan bautista  san juan chamelco  san juan cotzal  san juan ermita  san juan ixcoy  san juan sacatepequez  san juan tecuaco  san lorenzo  san lorenzo  san lucas sacatepequez  san lucas toliman  san luis jilotepeque  san luis  san manuel chaparron  san marcos  san martin jilotepeque  san martin sacatepequez  san martin zapotitlan  san mateo ixtatan  san mateo  san miguel acatan  san miguel chicaj  san miguel duenas  san miguel ixtahuacan  san miguel panan  san miguel siguila  san pablo jocopilas  san pablo  san pedro ayampuc  san pedro carcha  san pedro jocopilas  san pedro necta  san pedro pinula  san pedro sacatepequez  san pedro sacatepequez  san rafael petzal  san raymundo  sansare  san sebastian coatan  san sebastian huehuetenango  san sebastian  santa ana huista  santa ana  santa apolonia  santa barbara  santa barbara  santa catarina barahona  santa catarina ixtahuacan  santa catarina mita  santa catarina palopo  santa catarina pinula  santa cruz balanya  santa cruz del quiche  santa cruz mulua  santa cruz naranjo  santa cruz verapaz  santa eulalia  santa lucia cotzumalguapa  santa lucia milpas altas  santa lucia utatlan  santa maria chiquimula  santa maria de jesus  santa maria ixhuatan  santa maria visitacion  santa rosa de lima  santiago atitlan  santiago chimaltenango  santiago sacatepequez  santo domingo suchitepequez  santo domingo xenacoj  san vicente pacaya  sayaxche  senahu  sibilia  sibinal  sipacapa  siquinala  solola  soloma  sumpango  tacana  tactic  tajumulco  tamahu  taxisco  tecpan guatemala  tectitan  teculutan  tejutla  tiquisate  todos santos cuchumatan  totonicapan  tucuru  uspantan  usumatlan  villa canales  villa nueva  yepocapa  yupiltepeque  zacapa  zacualpa  zapotitlan  zaragoza  zunilito  zunil  

What do you think about Guatemala?

How expensive is Guatemala?
(1 GTQ = 0 USD)
Meal in inexpensive restaurant28.79 GTQ
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)195.43 GTQ
McDonalds meal42.07 GTQ
Local beer (0.5 draft)20.96 GTQ
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 16.65 GTQ
Cappuccino17.58 GTQ
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)7.63 GTQ
Water (0.33 bottle)6.19 GTQ
Milk (1l)10.17 GTQ
Fresh bread (500g)17.06 GTQ
White Rice (1kg)11.64 GTQ
Eggs (12) 16.11 GTQ
Local Cheese (1kg) 46.59 GTQ
Chicken Breast (1kg) 39.71 GTQ
Apples (1kg) 25.94 GTQ
Oranges (1kg) 20.23 GTQ
Tomato (1kg) 7.52 GTQ
Potato (1kg) 8.44 GTQ
Lettuce (1 head) 4.56 GTQ
Water (1.5l)7.2 GTQ
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 77.56 GTQ
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)11.79 GTQ
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 12.87 GTQ
Cigarettes19.4 GTQ
One way local bus ticket2.22 GTQ
Monthly pass for bus89.1 GTQ
Taxi start22.06 GTQ
Taxi 1km5.53 GTQ
Taxi 1hour waiting27.3 GTQ
Gasoline (1 liter) 7.54 GTQ
Utilities for a "normal" apartment652.89 GTQ
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) 60.67 GTQ, your travel companion

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