Guatemala Travel Information
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Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. A variety of plugs are in use including the flat two-pin (Type A), flat three-pin (Type I) and the UK-style three-pin (Type G).
The official language is Spanish, but English is understood in hotels and tourist destinations. In addition, there are many indigenous languages spoken in Guatemala as well.
There are a number of health risks associated with travel to
Guatemala and travellers are advised to take the latest medical
advice at least three weeks prior to departure. Malaria is
prevalent in the low-lying areas outside Guatemala City and dengue
fever is endemic, so strict insect-bite protection measures must be
taken. A yellow fever certificate is required from travellers
entering the country from infected areas. Hepatitis A and B, and
typhoid vaccinations are recommended, as well as an MMR (Measles,
mumps and rubella) update.
Visitors should be careful what they eat and stick to bottled water, or boil all water before drinking if bottled water is unavailable. Guatemalan hospitals are unlikely to give medical treatment unless the patient has medical insurance or can pay up front. Good travel insurance is therefore essential. State-funded hospitals are best avoided and travellers should only use private clinics where possible. All medication should be accompanied with a signed and dated letter from a doctor explaining what the medication is and why it is needed.
Generally a 10 percent tip is recommended for good service in Guatemala. It is customary to tip waiters if a service charge hasn't been added to the bill and tipping extra for excellent service is also customary. Taxi drivers are not usually tipped. Hotel staff and tour guides expect to be tipped for their services and can be more favourable in their service when receiving generous tips.
The rate of violent crime in Guatemala is exceptionally high.
There has also been a relatively high rate of violent attacks on
tourists, especially in remote places and in the capital, Guatemala
City, especially after dark. Visitors need to be particularly
vigilant in the central Zone 1 of Guatemala City where most of the
cheap hotels and bus terminals are, and in all parts of the city at
night. There has been an increase in crime targeting tourists
arriving at Guatemala City airport and travelling to hotels in the
business district of Zones 9 and 10, so visitors should be
extremely alert when leaving the airport. Protest may arise without
warning and should be avoided if possible.
Pick-pocketing and petty theft are common in tourist areas and market places. Many robberies take place on the cheaper buses when travelling on the tourist routes from Guatemala City to Antigua, and from Antigua to Panajachel, keep all belongings close at hand. There has been an increase in reported incidents of attacks, including the rape of female passengers on buses during the day on main routes. Hold-ups by armed gangs occur frequently on city and long distance public buses. Visitors are advised to avoid them if possible. Armed robberies on minor roads around Lake Atitlan have taken place and visitors are advised to use the boat services between towns on the lakeshore. There have also been armed attacks on tourists at Tikal and on the approach road from Flores to Tikal.
Guatemala's rainy season between April and November usually brings about heavy rain and flooding, mudslides and hurricanes. These mudslides have claimed the lives of many people in recent years and it is best to excercise extreme caution when travelling to areas known for heavy rains and mudslides. Guatemala has active volcanoes, so it is important to regularly be aware of any volcanic activity.
It is very common to greet most people, especially in the countryside. Clothing need not be too conservative, however, modesty is advised for female travellers in order to avoid unwanted attention. Ask permission before taking photographs, particularly of children, as local people are suspicious of foreigners approaching children for pictures due to incidences of child kidnapping, particularly in remote areas where tourists have been attacked. A small tip might be required. Military clothing is illegal. Public displays of affection between same sex couples should be avoided, particularly outside of Guatemala City.
Business etiquette in Guatemala is similar to the rest of Latin America. Due to the warm, humid climate men often wear lightweight suits and women should wear a dress or a skirt with a blouse. Always be punctual for meetings, as Guatemalan business people are very punctual. Use professional titles such as such as 'Doctor', 'Professor', 'Ingeniero' (engineer) or 'Abogado' (lawyer), otherwise address colleagues as Señor (Mr), Señora (Mrs) and Señorita (Miss), followed by their last names. Speaking softly is considered polite. Business cards may be exchanged although there is no ritual around it. Business hours are generally 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken over lunch and business lunches or breakfasts are preferred over business dinners.
The international access code for Guatemala is +502. The outgoing code depends on what network is used to dial out on, which is followed by the relevant country code (e.g. +44 for the United Kingdom). City codes are not required. 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 and many hotels, hostels and language schools will offer reasonable internet rates. Public phones require a call card and it may work out cheaper to use a call card for all calls, both local and, especially, international calls.
Travellers to Guatemala over 18 do not have to pay duty on 500g of tobacco in any form and 500ml of liquor or spirits.
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