GENERAL TOURIST INFORMATION
GUATEMALA.. A MULTIPLE DESTINATION
Guatemala is a "relatively" small country.. but 30 miles from point A to point B are not what you are used to, what in north America or Europe may take 20 minutes to drive, in Guatemala may take a couple of hours and in some jungle treks like El Mirador... days; Its surface area is only 108,889 square Km. And has a very diverse topography which in turn contributes to the different micro-climates, yet never really suffer any extreme temperatures. Its beaches are bathed by the Atlantic Ocean in its North Eastern part, and by the Pacific Ocean in its Southern part, it takes only 7 hours to drive from one Ocean to the other. It has 13 million inhabitants and the 55% of the population are descendants of the Mayas, speaking 23 different languages. Touristicly speaking, it is a very rich and versatile destination, and it has been grouped here into 7 different routes. As an orientation we present a brief summary of these routes, and hope this will be of assistance to plan your trip in this marvelous and complex land. Before we proceed, there's one thing you must never forget to bring when you venture out to Guatemala - cellphones or any means of mobile communication. Ideally you should bring one of those mobile phone types with global roaming so you can call anyone or buy a cheap one locally for about $20.
If this is your first trip to Guatemala and you do want to see the most important places, we recommend you to see this sample itinerary and save some reading: Click here
Route 1 Guatemala City Historical Center and Colonial Guatemala:
The present Capital City (1,500m.s.n.m) was founded towards the end of the XVIII century and has been inhabited since 600 B.C. by the Kaminal Juyu Mayas where according to the book of Mormon Jesus Christ walked once. , Actually keeps the architectural and urban characteristics of Spanish cities in its fundation. Here, is the Central Plaza, the National Palace or Palace of Culture also can be appreciated the Metropolitan Cathedral with their colonial art museum the Trade Portal where the El Portalito bar (Che´s Guevara favorite) and the Parque Centenario where Central American liberty was signed.
The layout and colonial stile buildings of the historical center of town and the older boroughs is octagonal or like a Checkerboard. many museums, the best prices and variety of handcrafts from all over the country are found at the huge central market, also at the central plaza on Sundays you can really experience the multi ethnicity of the country as no where else, you can see the young Indian women who works in the city showing their best original and expensive handmade FIESTA typical dresses to attracts the boys attentions,
You can visit the remains of the pre-classic Kaminal Juyu ruins and the fantastic Miraflores museum, Kaminal Juyu is the ONLY Mayan center known located over 1000 Meters over the sea level and did specializes in the making and exportation of obsidian flints to all Mesoamerica.
the worl´s only 1905 giant Guatemala relieve map at the Minerva park, Embassies and consulates where to register your passport (recommended) are located here, a botanical garden and a fairly complete zoo can be found in the city. The new part of the city the so call Zona Viva is full of modern buildings, night clubs and shopping centers that looks just as any commercial mall area of the US full of standard looking hotels.
Is worth to visit or stay at the Historic Center to really appreciate the Guatemalan culture this is the real Zona Viva or the real alive part of town where you can find the real Guatemala as well as LIVING HISTORICAL CHURCHES, lots of museums, shops and their heavy populated street markets lost within the churches that have most colonial images brought from Antigua during the city move, 22 different construction styles coexisting as well as the huge Underground Central Market .. you have to see Guatemala city to really understand the country´s history and our actual culture and please do not miss the church of La Merced @ 11 Ave and 7th Calle it is really a unique jewel.
Close to the Capital, only 50 Km (2 hours drive due to traffic) away is one the best conserved cities in all of America, La Antigua Guatemala, which was founded in the XVI century and partially destroyed by the earthquakes of 1773 and 1976. This is a city that is best explored on foot in order to see all the architectural jewels remains it contains; Church ruins and very few are still working but the streets are full of beautiful houses now converted into shops, bars and restaurants, fine hotels and volcano views, everything is tourist oriented.
Learn more about Guatemala City
Learn more about Antigua
Route 2 Highlands, the last Mayas territory.
The Living Native Highland is located to the North East of the Capital. This is where you will find the Indigenous Guatemala, The Cities of Totonicapan, Santa Cruz del Quiche, Panajachel , Tecpan , Quetzaltenango, Chiantla and many others. In them the best handicrafts of each area, folklore, traditions, the famous Indian Market and Patron Saint Fiestas. The remnants of the pre-Columbian cities like Iximche, Utatlan, Zaculeu, etc. Beautiful landscapes, the Atitlan Lake and the towns that surround it, and magnificent religious constructions of the colonial era, typified by the churches where you will see Christian religious practices be commingled with Mayan rites, and perhaps the best of all, to share with Indians of different ethnic groups and admire their huipiles, cortes, tocados, shawls and weavings. Each Ethnic group dresses differently with very bright color textiles.
Route 3 The Maya Adventure
The best of the Mayan ruins is located in the department of PETEN, where you can get to by a Commercial flight or if you have more time, by the highway driving yourself or in a comfortable bus.
At a distance of only 63 km from the Santa Elena Airport is, Tikal National Park, where one of the most important and best conserved Maya Cities, is located. This city was inhabited from 800 BC to 900 AD Construction of up to 210 ft. Will surprise you as you go through the jungle; this park also has a magnificent museum which must be visited. Furthermore you can travel to other ruins like Yaxha, Aguateca, Piedras Negras, Uaxantun, Ceibal etc. If you plan to stay more than a day, which we recommend, is to navigate the Rio la Pasion (Passion River) and appreciate thel tropical rainforest with huge Mahogany and cedar trees, Orchids, bromeliads and ferns, as well as an impressive fauna of parrots, toucans, crocodiles, turtles, monkeys etc. You will also see lakes like Peten Itza and Petexbatun, the first with the Flores Island and the second surrounded by late classic ceremonial centers of the Mayas. All kinds of lodging facilities are available as well as tours of the major Maya cities.
Route 4 The Caribbean
The particular interest of this route is that it is very complete. Located in the department of Izabal it has attractions like the Quirigua National Park, which is well known by its Stelaes and their incredible Zoomorphs , natural attractions like the Rio Dulce, Lake Izabal, Cerro San Gil, the beaches near Livingston like playa blanca, Punta de Manabique, Cocoli and Punta de Palma, the beautiful 7 altares cascades , etc. It also has attractions of the colonial period like the San Felipe Castle, the town of Livingston, of the Negro-Caribbeans in Guatemala, known as Garifunas very happy and friendly people. The main population center in Izabal is Puerto Barrios, which has a fine airport ; Izabal is 298 Km from the Capital, on the Atlantic highway. The area has all type of hotels particularly the Resort Hotels that have wonderful facilities and offer you equipment for Water Sports and you can fly there.
We highly recommend a tour through Rio Dulce and a visit to the Chocon Machacas Biotopo where the Manatee may be found in its natural habitat. The finca Paraiso with their very unique medicinal hot spring water falls, the river Polochic basin and many off the beaten track spots can be found by the adventure traveler.
Route 5 Natural Paradise
Geographically this area belongs to the central zone of the country. Here the best preserved areas of the county can be found and also the richest in bio-diversity at 200 Kms. from the Capital on Las Verapaces highway. Among the towns to visit, is Coban, where magnificent work in silver can be purchased and one of the main attractions is the Orchid Greenhouse where more than 60,000 plants are kept. The Cahabon River and the Semuc Champey Pools should be seen; The Lankin and the sacred Candelaria caves known to the Mayas as the entrance to Xibalaba (the underworld ) as well as the Lachua National Park a lake that many believe was formed by a meteorite impact. These are places for Nature lovers, since you can camp, hike, take splendid photographs, do white water rafting, visit coffee farms and get to know indigenous people who still maintain their beliefs, traditions and folklore alive along with their forest and the Maya´s sacred and most beautiful bird of the world, the Quetzal bird or feathered serpent. Salama is 95 kilometers from Coban, famous for leather and clay handicrafts. In this area the Quetzal Biotopo should be visited. This is a protected area which has been used as a model for other countries.
Route 6 Guatemala waiting for be discovered:
The tourist should travel to the eastern region of the country, one of the most productive zones. It is recommended to start the tour at San Agustin Acasacuastlan, which is outstanding for its baroque, XVI century church and for its textiles and palm handicrafts, It also has Mayan remains a site call Guaitan, home of the most sophisticated Maya Jade carvings ever made and the biggest jade mining operation in the country.
Afterwards visit Zacapa, famous for its cheese and cheese bread and its nearby thermal waters. Afterwards, travel on to Esquipulas where 1.5 million Guatemalans, Mexicans and Central Americans make their pilgrimages to honor the image of the Black Christ. This city recently became world famous because the Peace Talk began here, as well as the signing of the first set of Peace Accords that lead the road to the cease of hostilities in 1999. The Ipala volcano located in Chiquimula is unique for the outstanding lake contained in the crater of this extinct and easy to climb beautiful colossus. As far as natural enchantment is concerned the Ixpaco and Ayarza Lagoons should be visited, both medicinal with a high sulfur content in their water. At the border where the three countries El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala meet. The El Trifinio, Tri-national Park was instituted and is made up of 12,000 protected acres of the Merendon Mountain Range. This is a sub-tropical rainforest which is the dominant ecosystem of the area.
Route 7 The Pacific Coast
South of the Capital on the western side the San Jose, Iztapa and Monterrico beaches are the most famous. They are all connected by the Chiquimulilla Canal, most of which can be toured by outboard, to enjoy the marvelous landscape of mangrove swamps, a great variety of flora and fauna, particularly birds. Another activity altogether is the sport Fishing, which can be done throughout the year and which has become known well during the last few years because the fantastic Marlin fishing. Inland further west, visit Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, an area with the very best sugar plantations and mills as well as cattle ranchs. This zone is rich in Archeological remains of early Olmecas. Abaj Takalik and the Democracia Park famous for the huge stone heads, should be visited. The advantage of this route is that if you continue west, you can visit other large towns like Mazatenango and Retalhuleu, and connect to Quetzaltenango or lake Atitlan area and begin a new route.
ON THE ROAD:
Check the route to your destinations and do not worry about gas station, there are many, just try to be over 1/4 of the tank. Many stations do have convenience stores with plenty of everything and ATM's.
The highways on the central and eastern highlands are kind of narrow and have many curves, so always drive defensively and keep your eyes open in the curves for buses passing.
On some of the highways at higher altitude, you may run into dense fog.
The Atlantic highway may be dangerous due to heavy traffic and fast driving.
To plan your trips get help from the time and distance maps.
Guatemala has a wide variety of lodging possibilities, so check our list.
There is a wide range of prices, depending on the zone visited. We at Guatemalaweb can handle recommendations and reservations to the most tourist accepted hotels
Both government and private offices generally open at 8:00 am. Shops generally open between 9:30 and 10:00 am. In the country’s interior everything generally starts working at 8:00 am. Government offices generally close at 4:00 p.m. The municipality at 5:00 p.m. and private offices at 6:00 p.m. and shops, depending on their location, between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m.
The times to eat are: Breakfast between 6:00 and 8:00 am.
Lunch 12:00 and 2:00 p.m.
Dinner 6:00 and 9:00pm
Guatemala dishes are easy to find in the Capital city.. There are dishes from specific regions that reflect the true Guatemalan cuisine. Some of these are: Sweet or Salty tamales, Jocon which is chicken in a green sauce mainly of coriander and green tomatoes; Pepian, beef stew with vegetables and a sauce based on a roasted seed, sesame and guaque peppers; Subanik is chicken, pork and steak accompanied by rice and guacamole , which is avocado mixed with onion, salt and oregano. Look for restaurants with Mayan names or ask where to get them at you hotel, international food fast food chains and the famous Campero Chicken are easy finds.
Occasionally hotels serve typical dishes on specific days. In the interior it is easier to find them, generally the food is spicy but not as much as Mexican food. As for desserts we recommend: Arroz con Leche (Rice cooked with sweetened milk and cinnamon sticks), Torrejas, Sweetened papaya dessert, and Chancletas, which are made of breaded Guisquil and raisins, beaked, do not miss the popular Rellenitos de Platano.
ELECTRICITY, WATER, TELEPHONE AND POSTAL SERVICE.
The Electricity, which you will usually find, is 110 volts AC and 60 Hz.. The most used power outlets are the two rectangular prong type. If your equipment has three or round prongs, an adapter must be used; some of the hotels will let you borrow one but will be better to bring your own. The water you will find in hotels, in general in the Capital and departmental capital, is safe to wash your tooth but not to drink due to your particular micro flora we strongly recommend you to drink bottled water only. Both telephone and postal services can be find in larger towns in the interior. The postal service requires postage stamps both for local and international mail. Local pre-paid intenational telephone cards are available in many stores and phone companies in Guatemala.
CURRENCY, BANKS AND CREDIT CARDS:
The currency in Guatemala is the QUETZAL, named after the National Bird. Coins are in denominations of one , fifty, ten five and the rare one cents as well as One Quetzal, and the bills in, one, five, ten, twenty, fifty, and one hundred Quetzales. Also differ by their color and the printed figure. The exchange rate may vary according to the currency market, but is very easy to consult it, in any Bank Branch or in the newspapers. You really don't need to exchange for Quetzales in advance outside of the country and suffer the low exchange rate, bring a few $1 and $5 bills to pay for the taxis and change at the Airport bank that is open almost all day the rate here is ok, also be careful to bring only neat US bills since old or broken ones are often not accepted.
The Banks are private and the majority have branches in all of the country, the capital city and departmental capitals you will find international services but in small towns only savings and checking services. With regard to credit cards, these have generalized use in formal business and restaurants major international credit cards are widely accepted but VISA is preferred, ATM,s are everywhere. See the ATM section in this web site for national locations, in general you will find them at banks and gas stations.
The banks generally opens 9:00 am to 6:00 p.m. .
To travel in the interior of the country we recommend you carry some small US cash and Quetzals. The majority of the mid prices and up hotels in the interior will accept credit cards some will add a 7 to 10% surcharge and VERY IMPORTANT: AMEX travelers checks are the ONLY ones accepted in the country mostly at banks and at very few hotels. The best exchange rates for travelers checks is usually found in Guatemala City AMEX office.