Unique World Inspirations - Guatemala Travel Tips
Guatemala is a beautiful amazing country that should be on your bucket list! With the combination of gorgeous natural landscapes including volcanos, Lake Atitlan, and Mayan ruins, friendly people, rich textiles, and flavorful food it has something for everyone. Do your research before you go, travel consciously, and you’ll have the trip of a lifetime! Here are our top travel tips to help you get started.
Guatemala is a conservative country with both Catholicism and traditional Mayan religions being practiced. Modest clothing is recommended and includes long skirts or pants for women as well as sleeved tops that do not show cleavage or stomachs. For men pants and t-shirt or collared shirts work well. Wearing shorts will definitely make you stand out as a tourist. Especially when going into religious buildings, ceremony sites, and churches remember to be covered up. You might be lucky and catch a Mayan ceremony, just don't approach or take photos, it is alright to watch from a respectable distance. By being conscious of their norms not only will you feel like you fit in more, but you'll also be showing your respect to a wonderful culture.
Don't Take Photos Without Consent
Like most countries, taking photos without asking for approval is frowned upon and can be downright dangerous. Just as you wouldn’t want to have a stranger snapping pictures of you and using them who knows how, treat others with the same respect. If asked many of the beautifully colorful Guatemalan’s will be happy to be in your photo.
Carry Cash, Especially Small Bills
The national currency is Quetzals and small bills are especially helpful for tuk-tuk, markets, and tour guide tips. In remote areas is rare to find restaurants or shops that accept credit cards. As ATM’s are uncommon in the best remote areas and in the popular area can go down, plan out your expenses. Split up your cash into multiple places and carry just enough for your next purchase in an accessible area.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
Guatemala is not the place to strut in your wedges or heels as the street are cobblestone and you’ll want to be able to comfortably explore. Taking care of your feet and ankles will help you to have the best experience possible. When visiting Mayan ruins wear shoes with a good grip as the jungles are humid and the surfaces can be slippery. Shoes that cover your toes are a good plan to keep your trekking enjoyable.
Enjoy and Respect Nature
Guatemala is a spectacular place with gorgeous natural wonders to explore. With 20 different ecosystems and 50 protected natural area there are so many choices of what to do and where to go it's hard to decide! 20 large lakes,120 smaller lakes, 37 volcanos all add to the natural magic of the country. Be respectful of the land by always picking up your trash, staying on trails, and not picking any flora or fauna. Don't harass any of the wildlife that you will most likely encounter and make sure pictures are all you take with you.
An extra tip we almost learned the very hard way is to check online and with the expat locals about which lake and which parts of a lake are safe to jump into! Not being from Guatemala your body may not be accustomed to the bacterias in the water and you don't want to ruin your trip by jumping in beautiful water that then strands you in the bathroom for days.
Don’t Flush Toilet Paper
You’ll notice all toilets will have a wastebasket next to them, always place your toilet paper in the basket, don’t flush it! The pipes and sewer system do not have the ability to handle the paper and flushing it could cause considerable damage. Also, carry tissue or toilet paper with you, as many public restrooms don’t provide it.
Don’t Drink Tap Water
Like many countries around the world, don’t drink, brush your teeth, or allow tap water in your mouth in the shower. You can ask for no ice in your drinks or confirm that filtered water is used for ice cubes. Many hotels have drinkable water available and you can easily buy bottled water. It’s also not recommended to consume food like salads that might have been washed with tap water, rewash fruits and vegetables, and don't forget shakes often contain water.
Guatemala does have travel warnings and it is easy to avoid the areas with the highest crime rates. A few bad stories can make it appear the whole country isn’t safe and that just isn’t the case. Be smart in your planning and do your research ahead of time. It isn’t recommended to wander around Guatemala City and don’t take taxis you haven’t book ahead of time. Just like you should anywhere else you travel be aware of your surroundings, don’t walk alone at night, don’t be flashy with your money, and don’t wear expensive jewelry. Be confident and comfortable no matter what the circumstances and try not to put yourself in unsafe unknown situations. Guatemala is an incredible country full of so many beautiful experiences and by using common sense you will have lifelong memories for the right reasons.
Don’t Rent a Car
With so many public transportation options from chicken buses to private drivers and shuttles, there’s no reason to take the risk. GPS doesn’t work well, there are a ton of one-way streets, extreme potholes are common, and homemade “speed bumps” can take a toll on even the best of drivers. On top of it all, it is a criminal offense if you are in a car accident! Not driving yourself also allows you to enjoy the breathtaking views along the way!
Learn Some Spanish
If you don’t already know some Spanish it would be extremely helpful to learn conversational phrases, directions, safety. Depending on where you are traveling you may encounter many locals who speak one of the 21 Mayan dialectics but many also speak Spanish. Not only will you be able to get where you want to go but you just might meet lifelong friends.
Hirer Private Guides
Guatemala abounds with Mayan ruins, beautiful towns, and wildlife, hiring an expert local guide will help ensure you don’t miss an opportunity to enjoy these experiences fully. Nothing compares to having a tour guide that is a descendant of the Mayan groups who built the ruins you are exploring explain the people and culture both past and present. Contact us if you’d like some personal recommendations for drivers and guides we now call friends!
Support the Locals
Support artisans that handmake their beautiful crafts and weave their global renown traditional textiles. Pay these amazing artisans what they deserve as most likely the money go further and make a great impact on them. Look for Fair Trade companies, artisan groups, and products so you know even the artisans in the most remote areas are being paid fair wages and are being treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.
If in Santiago Atitlan we highly recommend stopping by the Elder Center and Bead Shop for gorgeous Fair Trade beaded jewelry that supporting artisans and indigenous Mayan elders. Your purchases have the power to make a drastic impact on the amazing people of this gorgeous country. By consciously shopping while in Guatemala you support their talented artisans and allows you to ethically bring the beauty of their culture back to your home.
We hope you found our tips helpful! Have an amazing time experiencing the Mayan culture, meeting the wonderful people, and exploring nature! If you aren't able to go to Guatemala now and want to bring the Mayan culture to you, check out our Fair Trade Guatemalan crafts.