OMG, this is so exciting – our trip to the Ixil Triangle in Guatemala is just around the corner. So far, we have an amazingly talented and diverse team of 4 citizen journalists that will be joining SG founder & internationally known photographer Amanda Koster this July! For Jody, Great Phebe, Sam, and Mira – and anyone else interested in filling our final 2 spots – here is some prep advice as we get closer to our date of departure.
Guatemala: Getting Ready
Population 13.1 million
Area 108,890 sq km (smaller than the US state of Louisiana, a bit bigger than England)
Capital Guatemala City
Head of state President Álvaro Colom
Time: Local time is GMT -6.
Language: The official language is Spanish but English is understood in hotels and tourist destinations. Many indigenous languages are also spoken.
TRAVELING TO GUATEMALA
Visa: North American citizens need only a valid passport
Vaccinations: You are responsible for vaccinations being up to date.
Please read this Guatemala destination page at the United States Centers for Disease Control
Money: Guatemala’s currency, the quetzal (ket-sahl, abbreviated to Q), is fairly stable at around Q7.5 = US$1. The quetzal is divided into 100 centavos. Print off this handy USD-Quetzal conversion pocket guide
Getting Cash – You’ll find ATMs (cash machines, cajeros automáticos) for Visa/Plus System cards and MasterCard/Cirrus in all but the smallest towns. Bring Amex US-dollar traveler’s checks (order online) or limited amounts of US cash as a backup. Some towns suffer from change shortages: always try to carry a stash of small bills.
Tipping: Generally a 10% tip is recommended for good service by waiters, hotel staff and tour guides in Guatemala.
Local Customs: Guatemalans wave goodbye in a unique manner, which looks similar to someone fanning themselves. The hand is raised, palm facing the body and fingers are waved back and forth, together as if in a mitten. Ask permission before taking photographs of strangers, particularly of children.
Communications: The international access code for Guatemala is +502. There are generally surcharges on calls made from hotels and it is cheaper to use calling cards. Rates are generally less expensive after 7pm. Mobile phones work in the major towns and cities on a GSM network, but check that your network operator has a roaming agreement covering Guatemala. Internet cafes are available in the main tourist areas.
Electricity: Electrical current is 115-125 volts, 60Hz. A variety of plugs are used including the flat two-pin, flat three-pin & the UK-style three-pin. If you have a laptop, camera or video camera that does not accept this current and plug style, you will need a voltage converter & adapter. REI sells eagle creek’s kit
Preparations & Precautions:
I scan my passport, drivers license, and credit cards. Then, print it all out to carry in a different bag than the originals. I also advise emailing those scans to yourself in case everything is lost you can access those documents from almost anywhere with an internet cafe.
Tips on Safe Eating/Drinking:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before eating. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand gel (with at least 60% alcohol).
- Drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes.
- Do not eat food purchased from street vendors.
- Make sure food is fully cooked.
- Avoid dairy products, unless you know they have been pasteurized.
- Only eat fruits when peeled and veggies when cooked
Traveler’s Stomach or “Icky PooPoos” as Mom Calls It:
Be prepared for travelers stomach; diarrhea and/or vomiting caused by bacteria in food. Antibiotics should generally only be taken in severe cases. Ciprofloxacin, also known as Cipro, and Norfloxacin are the two most common antibiotics for this. It is safe to discontinue taking these antibiotic as soon as symptoms cease unlike with other antibiotics. You may want to ask your doctor to prescribe antibiotics to take along just in case. I always pack Immodium anti-diarrhea pills and a laxative like Dulcolax. (traveling causes digestive upset in both directions sometimes!)
Because of its consistently temperate climate, Guatemala has been called the “Land of Eternal Spring.” Expect temperatures in the 60s-70s with occasional rain during the day and clear skies at night. Rainy season invites lots of bugs – so come prepared with light weight long-sleeved shirts and pants and plenty of insect repellant.