Guatemala is a mystical land of volcanic landscapes, misty cloud forests and steamy jungles that hide remnants of the mighty Mayan civilisation. With enchanting towns full of cultural riches, isn’t it about time you got acquainted with the inviting people, exotic wildlife and spellbinding stories of Guatemala?
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Articles on Guatemala
8 reasons to go to Guatemala now
Posted on Fri, 11 Apr 2014 by Jacqueline Donaldson
Ok, so we know there’s a heap of amazing places to travel to, so why choose to explore Guatemala over all the others? 8. Really cool ruins If you’ve ever [...]Read more
Intrepid believes half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once there! Where possible, Intrepid uses local transport options and traditional modes of transport - which usually carry less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.
Depending on which trip you're on while in Guatemala, you may find yourself travelling by:
Travelling with Intrepid is a little bit different. We endeavour to provide travellers with an authentic experience to remember, so we try to keep accommodation as unique and traditional as possible.
When travelling with us in Guatemala you may find yourself staying in a:
At a glance
- Trips Available:
- Capital city:
- Guatemala City (population 1.15 million)
- 13.8 million
- Time zone:
- (GMT-06:00) Central America
- Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin) Type B (American 3-pin)
- Dialing code:
Best time to visit Guatemala
The dry season is from October to April, and this is generally considered to be the best time to visit as the weather is warm and sunny. However, this is also the busiest time to travel so expect more people about, especially around Christmas and Easter.
The wet season is from May to October. During this time, some activities and roads may be restricted; however, it usually only rains for around an hour or two in the afternoon. As this is the low season for travel, you can enjoy the sites with less people around.
Culture and customs
The Guatemalan population is one of great contrasts, with daily life varying greatly depending on social status, ethnic identity and geography. City dwellers range from well-off business owners to cultured university students and humble street cart owners. Rural life also varies - many people that live in villages rely on subsistence farming or handicraft making, and typically have less access to electricity, plumbing, health care and education. To travel in Guatemala is to be exposed to a variety of people, with each group having unique customs and ways of life.
Eating and drinking
Intrepid believes that one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you're sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from wherever you are in the world.
The cuisine of Guatemala is among the best in Central America so hit the markets for some street food or a restaurant for a more formal meal.
Things to try in Guatemala
Found throughout Latin America, this is one of the most popular comfort foods in Guatemala. Tamales are a corn-dough based dish, boiled or steamed and are served wrapped in a plantain leaf. Typical fillings include chicken, pork cheese and vegetables, as well as sweet, dessert fillings like fruit or almonds.
2. Spiced Mango
Most cities and markets in Guatemala will have street carts selling mango spiced with chilli and lime. The blend of sweet and bitter flavours is a treat for the tastebuds.
3. Lemonadia Con Soda
This zesty soft drink is made with real lemons and makes a refreshing drink on a hot and steamy day.
The simplicity of this dish is what wins travellers over. Take a fresh ear of corn, roast it on a barbecue, add cheese, lime, butter and chilli, and serve it on a stick. Elotes will win you over as a delicious, cheap and easy-to-eat snack on the run!
Geography and environment
History and government
Before the Spanish arrived, the Mayan civilisation had long inhabited Guatemala and surrounding countries. Visitors will be able to see traces of this once mighty civilisation all over the country as a remarkable amount of well-preserved ruins still exist in Guatemala. It is thought that the Mayan civilisation was already in a state of decline by the time the Spanish arrived, and between 1523 and 1524 the Mayans were defeated. A Spanish colony was soon established. The first Guatemalan capital was destroyed by an earthquake and flooding in 1542, resulting in Antigua being established as the new capital. Although later earthquakes in 1773 caused widespread damage, much of the colonial-style architecture has been preserved and can be seen if visiting today.
Gaining independence in 1821, Guatemala entered into the Mexican Empire and, for a brief period of time, also belonged to the United Provinces of Central America. By the 1900s, Guatemala had been subjected to many changes in government and power, having changed hands between a variety of dictators and insurgents via coups and civil war. Between1960 and 1996, the country endured the effects of the Guatemalan Civil War, which included genocide, economic hardship, violence and displacement. A peace process was underway by the late 1980s, but it took many years to restore democratic rule and peace to the country. More recently, Guatemala’s economy has improved, mainly due to the strength of the local agriculture and tourism industries. Although there have been improvements in the economy of the country, unfortunately many Guatemalans still live in poverty.
Top 10 Birds To Spot in Guatemala
1. Keel-Billed Toucan
This tropical feathered icon is synonymous with Central America. Often found in pairs or groups, keel-billed toucans love using their huge beaks to chomp on fruit and nuts. Abundant populations make them easy to find in the rainforests and jungles of Guatemala.
2. Guatemalan Screech Owl
In Guatemala, owls represent luck and prosperity so you’ll see plenty of owl trinkets, statues and jewellery in the shops and markets. Hopefully, you’ll also get to see a Guatemalan Screech Owl hiding in the tress of woodlands and forests. Listen for its faint but distinct call.
3. Resplendent Quetzal
Guatemala’s national bird is a colourful mix of emerald green, scarlet red and white. The males feature a very long tail, which makes launching into flight difficult, so they often jump backwards first – like a parachutist!
4. Wine-Throated Hummingbird
These tiny birds nestle in the cloud forests of highland Guatemala. Despite their size, they’re not impossible to spot – just look for its green head and stunning, magenta throat.
5. Pale-Billed Woodpecker
The distinct ‘rap rap rap’ of the woodpecker gives away its location every time. The black, white and red coloured pale-billed woodpecker is commonly found in Tikal so keep an eye out for them while visiting the Tikal ruins.
6. King Vulture
Revered in Mayan mythology and commonly represented in temples and artwork, majestic king vultures glide on thermal currents for hours, searching for food, so look up to see them soaring above.
7. Horned Guan
This endangered species can be found in the highland regions of Guatemala lurking in the cloud forests. With a bright red feathered horn on the top of their heads, it’s not hard to spot these magnificent creatures.
8. Scarlet Macaw
These vibrant and curiously beautiful birds are endangered but can still be found in some of Guatemala’s biosphere reserves. Poaching and habitat destruction has led to a decline in their populations, but conservation groups are currently helping to save the species. See them while you can!
9. Ringed Kingfisher
These noisy birds can be found near large bodies of water as their favourite food is fish, although they will also eat reptiles, insects and berries. Named for the wide, white collar that features on its neck, you won't have many problems finding this species as they are found in great numbers throughout Central and South America.
10. Blue-Crowned Motmot
This striking, multi-coloured bird has a green and yellow body with a turquoise-fringed face and deep-set red eyes. Motmots love humid conditions so can be found in forests, plantations and gardens throughout tropical Guatemala.
Although Guatemala does have a few modern malls, the most interesting shopping experiences will come via the many markets featured throughout the villages and cities.
Most importantly, have fun and don’t forget to haggle for a good price! It's also a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.
Things to buy in Guatemala
1. Traditional Handicrafts
Colourful blankets, shawls, scarves and clothing, wooden carvings, woven basketry and hand-made ceramics all make great souvenir options.
Guatemalan paintings are typically colourful and uplifting. The galleries and markets of Antigua are one of the best spots to pick up unique art – from traditional paintings, to folk art and contemporary pieces by emerging local artists.
Guatemala produces and exports some of the best coffee in the world. Coffee lovers should stock up here where the quality and price is good.
Guatemala also creates some of the finest chocolate in the world. Head to a chocolate shop and choose from bitter dark chocolate, spicy chilli and cinnamon chocolate or perhaps pick up some rich hot chocolate mix to take home.
Festivals and Events in Guatemala
Day of the Dead
This well-known holiday that honours the dead is celebrated all over the country. Guatemalans usually fly massive kites, visit the graves of ancestors and eat ‘fiambre’ (a giant mixed salad consisting of meat, cheese, olives, egg, corn and onion). Colourful altars decorated with flowers and skulls can also be found in homes, shops and streets during this time.
Fiesta de Santo Tomas
The highland town of Chichicastenango is home to one of the best outdoor markets in Central America, and also this extraordinary annual festival. Combining Catholic and Mayan traditions, expect to see lively processions of costumed dancers, firecracker explosions, exotic pageantry and kamikaze-style bungee jumping.
FAQs on Guatemala
A bottle of beer = US$2
Basic meal = US$4
Dinner at an international restaurant = US$10-15
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
Apr 6 Easter
May 1 Labour Day
Jun 30 Army Day
Aug 15 Assumption (Guatemala City only)
Sep 15 Independence Day
Oct 20 Revolution Day
Nov 1 All Saints’ Day
Dec 24 Christmas Eve
Dec 25 Christmas Day
Dec 31 New Year’s Eve (afternoon only)
Please note these dates are for 2013. For a current list of public holidays go to: http://www.worldtravelguide.net/Guatemala/public-holidays
Australia: Not required
Belgium: Not required
Canada: Not required
Germany: Not required
Ireland: Not required
Netherlands: Not required
New Zealand: Not required
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Not required
United Kingdom: Not required
USA: Not required
Health and Safety
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
The World Health Organisation
also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/
Guatemala Travel Tips
Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.
Top responsible travel tips for Guatemala
1. Be considerate of Guatemala’s customs, traditions, religion and culture.
2. Dress modestly and respectfully. Shoulders to knees should be covered, especially when entering places of worship.
3. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead.
4. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.
5. When bargaining at markets, stay calm, be reasonable and keep a smile on your face. It's meant to be fun!
6. Learn some local language and don't be afraid to use it - simple greetings will help break the ice.
7. Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.
8. Refrain from supporting businesses that exploit or abuse endangered animals.
9. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.
10. When on community visits or homestays, refrain from giving gifts or money to locals.
The Intrepid Foundation
The Intrepid Foundation provides travellers with an opportunity to give something back to the many wonderful communities we travel to. By donating to The Intrepid Foundation you can make a difference in local communities - in health care, education, human rights, child welfare and the protection of wildlife and the environment.
Organisations and projects currently supported by The Intrepid Foundation in Guatemala include:
*CasaSito provides educational opportunities in rural areas of Guatemala for children living in poverty. Guatemala has a very high level of illiteracy, particularly in rural areas which lack schools and educational resources. Our support is for their scholarship program, helping keep children in school.
To learn more or donate, go to: www.theintrepidfoundation.org
|When the Ground Turns in its Sleep||Sylvia Sellers Garcia|
|The Bruja’s Tale||Timothy A Madden|
|The Heart of the Sky||Peter Canby|
|The Long Night of White Chickens||Francisco Goldman|
|A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya||David Freidel|