10 things I wish I knew before going to Guatemala
Guatemala is the land where you will find magnificent volcanos, the mesmerizing colonial town of Antigua, Mayan culture and much more. Every year approximately 1.3 million people travel to Guatemala, and more than those people have plans about going to Guatemala. Considering you are one of these people, then this blog is for you. In this blog, you will find answers to how to travel in Guatemala, is it safe to travel to Guatemala, which is the best time to travel to Guatemala?
Of course, if you have plans about going to Guatemala, you should learn facts about Guatemala and local people. Here the things I wish I knew before going to Guatemala:
1. Guatemala and Guatemalans
Guatemala is the Central American country neighbouring Honduras, Belize, Mexiko, and El Salvador. Eighteen million is the current Guatemala population, but it is estimated that the Guatemala population is more than 20 million in total. One of the most interesting facts about Guatemala is that the capital of Guatemala is also Guatemala. Spanish (Guatemalan accent) is the country's official language, such as in other former Spanish colonies, but more than 20 languages are spoken here. The capital of Guatemala is the largest and most populated city. 88% of the Guatemala population believes in Christianity, 1% follow other religions, and 11% have no faith. Many various ethnic groups live in this land, such as Ladino/Mestizo, Maya, Xinca, Afro-Guatemalan, Garifuna. Ladino/Mestizo is the major ethnic group in the place by 56%. Guatemalans were nicknamed by other Spanish-speaking countries. Among them, they are called Chapines.
2. A unique country with unique traditions
Traditions may seem weird to tourists when they visit a new place. It is the same in Guatemala, too. For example, bare-knuckle fights in Chivarreto, drunken horse racing, dancing on a family grave. As we mentioned above, many ethnic groups live here, and they all have their own culture. For instance, some groups still use the traditional Mayan calendar. Everyone likes festivals, and here are some of them: Semana Santa/Holy Week, Festival Folklorico de Coban/Coban Folkloric Festival, Dia de la Independencia/Independence Day, Dia de Los Muertos/Day of the Dead, Feria de Santo Tomas/Feast of St. Thomas.
3. The most delicious meals in Central America
Almost everyone likes to try new flavours during their trip. Plenty of people believe that the cuisine of this country is the best one in Central America. The mix of Maya and Spanish cultures create unique and flavoursome cuisine. Here are some yummy and popular foods from Guatemala: Chicken pepian, Pupusas, Kak' ik, Empanadas, Hilachas, Rellenitos, etc. One of the most interesting facts about Guatemala is being the motherland of chocolate. Chocolate played an essential role in its history and culture. Interestingly, different from other countries, they prefer to drink it, not eat it. If we talk about Guatemala, we must mention coffee. Coffee accounts for 90% of the export of Guatemala. One of the best highland coffee in the world is produced here. Do you not like coffee? Bet, this excellent taste will charm you too.
4. The land of 19 different ecosystems
The Guatemala ecosystem is unique, and it includes jungles, mountains, beaches, forests, and more. As we mentioned, the land is famous for its volcanoes, and there are more than 30 of them. Furthermore, there are many trees here, and even the word Guatemala means land of many trees. Unfortunately, a significant part of them was cut for various reasons. Also, we should mention Lake Atitlan, which is the largest lake in Central America. This territory's fauna is rich enough, and there are more than 900 species of native birds. Even the national currency of Guatemala took its name from a bird whose name is Quetzal. Besides, there are more than 204 reptile species, armadillo, fox, coyote, jaguar, monkey, etc. There is a wide range of flower diversity, and they play a crucial role in medical and industrial researches.
5. Guatemala currency
If you decide to travel to Guatemala, you should get information about Guatemala currency. The official monetary unit in Guatemala is a Quetzal. Today 1 USD is nearly 7.73 Quetzal. It should be mentioned that USD by far is the widely used currency in the country. Using other foreign currencies like the Euro can be problematic. If you want to do shopping by using those currencies, it is better to use foreign-owned stores. Unfortunately, debit and credit cards are not widely used in this territory. That is why try to have cash on you always. It is important to note that money exchange counters at Guatemala airport offer low rates. It is better to exchange money in banks. Nowadays, Guatemala currency is not valuable, so we can say that travel to Guatemala will be cheap for you.
6. How to travel in Guatemala?
The primary method of public transportation in the country is las camionetas, which means chicken buses in English. They are old school buses, which is the cheapest way of travelling in Guatemala. For a one or two-hour journey, you should expect to pay nearly 1.50 USD. For short trips, you will probably pay around 0.50 USD. As you are a tourist, the best option for backpackers is shuttle buses. For instance, you will pay 15 USD for travelling between Antigua and Guatemala City. Of course, taxis are also available, and they are cheap and safe. Taxis are commonly available in large cities, and you will give almost 8 USD for 10 minutes' travel. One of the disappointing facts about Guatemala is that there is no train in Guatemala. Also, if you want, you can rent a car for approximately 150 USD. It is important to note that hitchhiking is not safe in Guatemala. How to travel to Guatemala as cheap as possible? As we mentioned, you can use chicken buses, and another option is UBER for short trips.
7. The best time to travel to Guatemala
Guatemala is an excellent place to visit at any season because of the warm climate. In most cases, temperature changes between 18-28°C. Many people don't like to travel to Guatemala between September and May because it is the rainy season. That is why a group of people believes that this is the best time to travel to Guatemala. So, during this period drop in prices can be seen, and you can easily find excellent accommodation for low costs.
8. All tourists are obliged to see these places
Maybe the most effortless thing in the world is to find somewhere interesting to visit in Guatemala. There are some mesmerizing places with an excellent view: Volcano Pacaya, Volcano Tajumulco, Semuc Champey, Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Crater Azul, Tikal, Flores, Quetzaltenango, etc. Most of these places can be visited year-round, but it is advised to visit Volcano Tajumulco and Crater Azul during December and March. If Mayan culture seems attractive to you, you should travel to Tikal. The biggest and most complex Mayan city, which has been found, is here in Guatemala. As it is known, the highest volcano in Central America with 4220 meters is located here. One day is enough to finish your hiking, but it should be better to do it with pause - another destination for lovers of Antigua's historical places. Colonial architectural style buildings surrounded by volcanoes and mountains will make you feel in the past for a while. Is it safe to travel to Guatemala, which is full of volcanoes? There is nothing to worry about, just always try to be aware of warning and news.
9. Where to stay in Guatemala?
As in other countries, there are plenty of hotels, hostels, monthly renting houses available in Guatemala. Finding suitable accommodation to stay in completely depends on your vacation plans, territory, and budget. The price range is extensive, and mostly it begins from 20 USD. You can also find some more affordable places, but it is not safe to stay in such hostels. Some of the places which we can advise are Maya Papaya (Antigua), A Place to Stay Boutique Hostel (Antigua), Mr Mullet's (San Pedro, Lake Atitlan), Quetzalroo (Guatemala City), Casa de Grethel (Flores). Besides, there is another thing I wish I knew before going to Guatemala; some people prefer camping, and you can do it, too. You are not obliged to bring a tent with you, so it is easy to find.
10. Is it safe to travel to Guatemala?
Before going to Guatemala, most tourists worry because of safety. Unfortunately, security is a little bit problematic issue in the state. Every year almost two million people visit Guatemala, and most of them don't face any problem, but still, crime rates in the country are high. First of all, it is better to keep away from isolated areas, especially at night in the capital of Guatemala. Also, try not to use much jewellery and keep them in a safe place. Besides, there are more than 30 volcanoes in Guatemala. So be attentive and always check the current news and warnings. It should be mentioned that attack against tourists is sporadic, and in most cases, those troubles took place in past because of overdrinking or overuse of drugs.
Kanan Isazade was born and grew up in Baku, but now he is in Turkey because he is doing a Master's degree in Energy. Kanan loves to travel and meet people from various cultures, races, and beliefs. He travelled to more than 10 cities, and most of them are in Turkey. Kanan's motto is: learn new languages, travel around the world, read as many books as you can, and never forget to put yourself in someone's shoes to understand others.