For more information about ‘adventure weeks’ and ARCAS turtle volunteer placement, click on the links below.
Country information to help you prepare for your trip
There are no visa requirements for most nationalities including US, EU, Canda, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, and Switzerland. All you’ll need to visit Guatemala is a passport that’s valid for at least six months beyond the intended length of stay and proof of onward or return travel. You can stay in Guatemala for up to 90 days without a visa.
There is a departure tax of US$30, but it is usually included in the price of a flight.
Guatemala’s currency is the quetzal, which is denoted by ‘Q’. Quetzal bills come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. The exchange rate is usually around Q7.5 – Q8 to 1 US$. Coins come in demoninations of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 ‘centavos’, as well as a Q1 coin. You may have difficulty breaking larger bills (Q100, for example) in smaller towns — bring smaller bills to these places if possible.
Credit cards are becoming more widely used in Guatemala, especially in upscale hotels, urban centers, nice restaurants, and major tourist attractions. Smaller shops may accept credit cards but will charge a fee, usually around 7 to 10 percent of the transaction amount. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards in Guatemala. ATM’s are commonplace.
You may be approached by money changers at border areas. It’s usually safe to exchange your money with them, but it’s advisable to only exchange what you need for the next day or two. It’s never a good idea to pull out a stack of money in public.
Guatemala is fairly inexpensive. Travelers from North America or Europe will find Guatemala cheap. A typical breakfast at a local restaurant will cost between $2-5. Lunch is similar, but may be a dollar or two more expensive. Dinner at a local eatery is usually about $6-7.
Buying a beer in a local restaurant or bar will cost you $1-2. A bottle of water costs a little less than $1. Taxi rides are inexpensive and within most places shouldn’t be more than a few dollars, unless you’re going far.
You can often bargain at markets and in shops on the street. For example, if you were purchasing handicrafts or fruit at an outdoor marketplace, it would be acceptable (and even expected) to bargain here. However, it is not common practice to bargain in restaurants, hotels, or stores.
Tipping is a personal choice and depends on the service rendered. If you feel that the person has been helpful, then go ahead and tip them. If not, don’t feel obligated to tip. Many Guatemalans live in poverty, and tips can be an important part of their income. For the price of a cup of coffee, you can help feed their family. Tipping a few quetzales should be sufficient. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip.
Guatemala has had chaotic history filled with civil wars, military governments, and revolutions. The last few decades have been increasingly peaceful and have seen much more stability in government and society. One hopes that this trend will continue.
Guatemala’s tourist destinations including Monterrico and places you will be visiting during your time with us are typically very safe. Violent crime against tourists is uncommon in these destinations.
The most dangerous places are in remote areas near the border with Mexico. Drug cartels and transnational gangs have a presence here and it is unwise for travellers to visit these areas.
Guatemala has good medical facilities and doctors, and complete medical care is available in Guatemala City’s private hospitals. Other urban areas also have high-quality private hospitals. Try to avoid public health facilities like the Instituto Guatemalteco de Seguridad Social (IGSS) — these cater to low-income people and are usually understaffed. Rural areas also tend to lack quality health care.
Prescription and non-prescription drugs can be purchased at a pharmacies (farmacias) throughout Guatemala. The cost of medical care and medicine is usually cheap in Guatemala.
Contact the police by calling 111 or 120. The fire department can be reached by dialing 122 or 123. The tourist police, Politur, can be reached by dialing 1500. It’s also a good idea to contact your embassy if you are the victim of a crime.
No vaccinations are officially required to enter Guatemala. That said, it’s a good idea to be up-to-date on typhoid, rabies, yellow fever, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), and tetanus shots. Getting the hepatitis vaccine also makes sense. If you’ll be visiting rural lowland areas you might want to take malaria pills — you’ll need to begin taking these a few weeks before being potentially exposed to the disease.
Health conditions and vaccination recommendations do change, however, so it’s best to check with your doctor for current requirements before traveling.
It is not safe to drink the tap water in Guatemala. To avoid traveler’s diarrhea and other water-borne diseases, drink bottled water and only eat peeled fruits like oranges and bananas. Bottled water (‘agua pura’) is widely available in grocery stores, restaurants, and hotels. Boiling water for one minute or using iodine pills or a water filter will also purify water. Avoid fruits and veggies that require washing, and stay away from ice unless it’s made from purified water.
Many travellers use buses and shuttle buses to get around in Guatemala. The so-called ‘chicken buses’ – brightly painted Bluebirds that started their lives as North American school buses – operate within and between cities. Chicken buses are very inexpensive, but are not always the most comfortable way to get around. Rough Guide says that they are an essential experience on any visit to the country – we agree!
The roads in Guatemala are in fairly good condition. Over the last few years the Guatemalan government has invested in road construction and infrastructure. Along well-travelled routes, like the highways that go to Lake Atitlán, Petén and Quetzaltenango, the roads are smooth and easy to travel along. The road to Monterrico along the Pacific Coast is good, although the last 12 miles (20 km) are somewhat bumpy.
Guatemala is the northernmost country in Central America. It shares borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. It’s also bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
Guatemala has an area of 42,043 square miles (108,890 sq km), which is about the same size as the state of Tennessee. Guatemala’s border with Mexico is 595 miles (958 km), the border with Belize is 165 miles (266 km), the border with Honduras is 152 miles (244 km), and the border with El Salvador is 123 miles (199 km).
Guatemala meets the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and has a string of volcanoes running down its center. Geographically, it is a fascinating country.
Guatemala has an impressive and varied landscape. A string of volcanoes extend down the center of the country, many of which are active. Tajmulco Volcano, at 13,845 feet (4,200 m) is the highest peak in Central America. Many of these volcanoes, like ones near Antigua and Guatemala City, can also be climbed.
The highest mountain chain in Central America, the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, extends from Mexico into Guatemala. There’s also another mountain chain, the Sierra de Las Minas, that’s found in the eastern reaches of Guatemala. Petén is mostly lowland areas.
Rainforests are found in many places, particularly in Petén and the Central Highlands. Guatemala has a number of beautiful lakes, most notably Lake Petén Itzá and Lake Atitlán. And if you’re a fan of the coast, you can find some nice beaches on both the Pacific Coast and Caribbean Coast.
Guatemala is in the Central Standard Time (CST) zone and is six hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT-6). There is no daylight savings in Guatemala, so the time difference with U.S. destinations changes by an hour during daylight savings time.
Guatemala has a tropical climate, with weather that is largely determined by altitude. Put simply, the higher up you go the cooler it gets. Lowland jungles and areas along the coast are usually hot and tropical, while mountainous destinations can be downright chilly. Travelers will find nice springlike temperatures in cities like Antigua, Quetzaltenango, and Guatemala City.
Guatemala has a rainy and dry season. The dry season (verano) lasts from around November until May, while the rainy season (invierno) lasts from May through November. The rainy season typically sees daily showers in the afternoon; the mornings are often sunny, which allows you to get out and do things even during this season. The Western Highlands and Pacific Slope tend to be the wettest parts of the country.
As of 2013, the population of Guatemala was a little over 14 million. The annual growth rate is just under 2 percent. Guatemala is a fairly young country — the median age is about 21 years-old. About half of the population lives in urban environments.
Guatemala is evenly divided between the descendants of indigenous Maya groups (of which there are 21 different linguistic groups) and ladinos, who are of Mayan descent but have westernized their dress and culture and also speak Spanish. There are also a large number of mestizos (descendent of both Europeans and Mayans) and a small amount of people with pure European lineages.