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Guatemala Travel Information

The Basics

Electricity

Electrical current is 110 volts, 60Hz. A variety of plugs are in use including the flat two-pin, flat three-pin and the UK-style three-pin.

Language

The official language is Spanish but English is understood in hotels and tourist destinations. Many indigenous languages are also spoken.

Travel Health

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. Visitors should be careful what they eat and stick to bottled water. 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. Travellers should only use private clinics where possible. A yellow fever certificate is required from travellers entering the country from infected areas.

Tipping

Generally a 10% 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. Taxi drivers are not usually tipped. Hotel staff and tour guides expect to be tipped for their services.

Safety Information

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; visitors should be extremely alert when leaving the airport.

Pick-pocketing and petty theft are common in tourist areas and market places. An increase of armed robberies targeting tourists has also been reported in Antigua. 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 not to use 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. Fuego volcano is very active and climbing it is not advisable at present.

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, 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

Business etiquette in Guatemala is similar to the rest of Latin America, except for punctuality. Due to the warm, humid climate men often wear lightweight suits and women should wear a dress or a skirt. 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. 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. Speaking softly is considered polite.

Communications

The international access code for Guatemala is +502. The outgoing code depends on what network is used to dial out on (e.g. 13000 for Telefonica or 14700 for Telgua), which is followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 1300044 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.

Duty Free

Travellers to Guatemala over 18 do not have to pay duty on 80 cigarettes or 99g of tobacco; 500ml of liquor or spirits (equivalent 2 bottles); and perfume.

Become our Guatemala Travel Expert

We are looking for contributors for our Guatemala travel guide. If you are a local, a regular traveller to Guatemala or a travel professional with time to contribute and answer occasional forum questions, please contact us.

Intrepid Travel

Intrepid Travel is one of the world's leading suppliers of small group adventures focused on getting off the beaten track and having real life experiences in Guatemala.

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