{{ message }}

Guatemala

{{ message }}

Porta Hotel Del Lago
Porta Hotel Del Lago - dream vacation

2nd Avenida 6 17 zona 2, Panajachel

Camino Real Antigua
Camino Real Antigua - dream vacation

7a Avenida Poniente, 33b, Antigua Guatemala

Crowne Plaza Guatemala
Crowne Plaza Guatemala - dream vacation

Avenida Las Americas 9-08 Zn13, Guatemala City

Clarion Suites Guatemala City
Clarion Suites Guatemala City - dream vacation

14 Calle 3-08, Zona 10, Guatemala City

Hotel Casa Antigua
Hotel Casa Antigua - dream vacation

3rd Calle Poniente # 5, Antigua Guatemala

The Westin Camino Real
The Westin Camino Real - dream vacation

Avenida La Reforma Y 14 Calle, Guatemala City

Hostal Las Marias
Hostal Las Marias - dream vacation

Calle a San Bartolo, Las Jacarandas, Lote 7, Antigua Guatemala

Hotel Meson Del Valle
Hotel Meson Del Valle - dream vacation

5a Ave Sur #11C, Antigua Guatemala

Guatemala is a country in the Central America region of North America. It has borders to Mexico in the north/northwest, to Belize in the northeast, to Honduras in the southeast, to El Salvador in the south. It has a Pacific coastline to the southwest, and a tiny piece of Caribbean coastline to the east. Guatemala is very tough land. You can experience volcanic activity, seismic activity (earthquakes, mudslides), and hurricanes.

Regions

Cities

  • Guatemala City — Capital and largest city with many amenities
  • Antigua Guatemala — Colonial Spanish capital of Central America, a World Heritage site, and the most popular among tourists
  • Flores — Island city capital of Petén, good starting point to access Mayan ruins of Tikal.
  • Melchor de Mencos — Border city which is the main crossing point to Belize
  • Panajachel — Gateway to Lake Atitlán, a beautiful and busy tourist area
  • Puerto Barrios — Caribbean seaport with speedboats to and from Belize
  • Puerto San José — Pacific seaport
  • Quetzaltenango — Second largest city, in the western highlands. Commonly called "Xela".
  • Sayaxché — River gateway in Petén

Other destinations

  • Lake Atitlán — Beautiful lake region in the mountains surrounded by many picturesque villages and volcanoes, which is becoming more and more touristic
  • Monterrico — The beach closest to Guatemala City and Antigua, volcanic sand.
  • Rio Dulce — Known as "a ‘one of a kind’ ecological and cultural heritage for humanity", and home of one of the largest bridges in Central America, the area surrounding this emerald "Sweet River" has many sites to see and things to do. From jungle hikes to the Hot Springs Waterfalls (Rio Dulce is home to Finca Paraiso), visiting Castillo San Felipe de Lara, sailing & watersports, seeing the colorful, friendly surrounding villages & landscapes to taking a Lancha tour through the Majestic Canyon from Livingston. There are plenty of places to stay, including some sweet spots right on the water. Rio Dulce is also a huge hub of access to not only places within Guatemala, such as Antigua, Tikal, Cobán, Semuc Champey and more, but is equally a point of access to the surrounding countries of Belize, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

Maya ruins

  • El Mirador — massive early Maya site, perhaps the cradle of Maya civilization. Still being uncovered and studied; less developed for visitors than the other largest Maya sites.
  • Tikal — long considered the largest of Maya ruins (although the ongoing investigations of El Mirador may challenge this claim), this huge and impressive ancient Maya site is probably worth the trip to Guatemala by itself. Stay in the park or in nearby Flores the night before in order to organise an early morning trip to Tikal, to see the sun rise over the ruins. Tours are easily organised from the surrounding areas.
  • Aguateca — some of the best-preserved Mayan ruins in Guatemala where you are more likely to encounter archaeologists at work than tourists with cameras
  • El Peru (Waká) — a three day trek/boat trip from Flores and identified as the source of many looted Maya artifacts
  • Iximché — ruins in the Central Highlands, an easy day trip from Guatemala City or Antigua.
  • Nakúm — an impressive Classic Maya site
  • Yaxhá — ruins with more than 500 structures, between Flores and Melchor de Mencos

Understand

Guatemala has a rich and distinctive culture from the long mix of elements from Spain and the native Maya people. This diverse history and the natural beauty of the land have created a destination rich in interesting and scenic sites.

History

Pre-Columbian

See also: Indigenous cultures of North America

The first evidence of human settlers in Guatemala goes back to at least 12,000 BC. Sites dating back to 6500 BC have been found in Quiché in the Central Highlands and Sipacate, Escuintla on the central Pacific coast. Archaeologists divide the pre-Columbian history of Mesoamerica into the Pre-Classic period (2000 BC to 250 AD).

El Mirador was by far the most populated city in pre-Columbian America. The El Tigre and Monos pyramids each have a volume greater than 250,000 cubic meters. Mirador was the first politically organized state in America.

The Classic period of Mesoamerican civilization corresponds to the height of the Maya civilization, and is represented by countless sites throughout Guatemala, although the largest concentration is in Petén in the Northern Lowlands. This period is characterized by heavy city-building, the development of independent city-states, and contact with other Mesoamerican cultures. This lasted until around 900 AD, when the Classic Maya civilization collapsed. The Maya abandoned many of the cities of the central lowlands or were killed off by a drought-induced famine. The Post-Classic period is represented by regional kingdoms such as the Itza' and Ko'woj in the lakes area in Petén, and the Mam, K'iche', Kaqchikel, Tz'utujil, Poqomchi', Q'eqchi' and Ch'orti' in the Highlands. These cities preserved many aspects of Mayan culture, but would never equal the size or power of the Classic cities.

Colonial era

After arriving in what was named the New World, the Spanish mounted several expeditions to Guatemala, beginning in 1519. Before long, Spanish contact resulted in an epidemic that devastated native populations. During the colonial period, Guatemala was an Audiencia and a Captaincy General of Spain, and a part of New Spain (Mexico). It extended from the modern Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas to Costa Rica. This region was not as rich in minerals (gold and silver) as Mexico and Peru, and was therefore not considered to be as important. Its main products were sugarcane, cocoa, blue añil dye, red dye from cochineal insects, and precious woods used in artwork for churches and palaces in Spain.

Post-independence

On September 15, 1821, the Captaincy-general of Guatemala (formed by Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras) proclaimed its independence from Spain and its incorporation into the Mexican Empire, which was dissolved two years later. The Guatemalan provinces formed the United Provinces of Central America. Guatemala's "Liberal Revolution" came in 1871 under the leadership of Justo Rufino Barrios, who worked to modernize the country, improve trade, and introduce new crops and manufacturing. During this era coffee became an important crop for Guatemala. Barrios had ambitions of reuniting Central America and took the country to war in an unsuccessful attempt to attain this, losing his life on the battlefield in 1885 against forces in El Salvador. From 1898 to 1920, Guatemala was ruled by the dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera, whose access to the presidency was helped by the United Fruit Company.

On July 4, 1944, Dictator Jorge Ubico Castañeda was forced to resign his office in response to a wave of protests and a general strike, and from then until the end of a murderous civil war in 1996, Guatemala was subject to a series of coups with massive attendant civil rights abuses. State-sponsored murders of students, human rights activists and the ethnic Mayan peoples, gained Guatemala a terrible reputation around the world. In 1999, U.S. president Bill Clinton stated that the United States was wrong to have provided support to Guatemalan military forces that took part in the brutal civilian killings.

Since the peace accords in 1996, Guatemala has witnessed successive democratic elections, most recently in 2007 when The National Unity of Hope and its president candidate Álvaro Colom won the presidency as well as the majority of the seats in congress.

Climate

The climate of Guatemala is diverse. In most of Guatemala it is hot (low 80s [~27ºC]-mid 90s [~35ºC] depending on time of year and location), with post meridiem thunderstorms that generally notch down the heat a bit. In the Altos, or highland area the weather is generally a bit cooler, and ranges from the high 70s [~25ºC] to high 80s [~31ºC] depending on time of year.

Get in

The following nationalities do not need a visa to visit Guatemala: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United States, United Kingdom, Vatican City, Venezuela.

Valid passports are required of everyone except citizens of the following Central American countries: Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador. There is a treaty of free movement not unlike Schengen between those countries.

Proof of onward travel is often required by airlines however rarely checked by officials to gain a visa when flying into Guatemala.

By plane

Guatemala's main airport, La Aurora International Airport (IATA: GUA), is in Guatemala City. International flights arrive mostly from the other Central American countries, United States, Mexico, Colombia and Spain. The airport recently underwent modernizing reconstruction. It is now a glass-and-concrete edifice with modern shops and duty-frees that you might expect in any large city. Food options may be somewhat still limited, however. American Airlines, Avianca, Copa, Delta, and United all offer service to Guatemala, albeit at high prices. Iberia also serves Guatemala City.

Guatemala's secondary airport is situated in Flores (IATA: FRS), Petén. This small airport receives flights from Guatemala City and neighboring Belize.

By car

From Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador access is via the Pan-American Highway. Road access is also possible with more difficulty from Belize.

By bus

  • From Belize. Multiple companies have express buses from Belize City to Flores (Guatemala), passing through San Ignacio and Xunantunich, with connections to Guatemala City. A cheaper alternative is a local Belizean bus to the border town of Benque Viejo, a taxi to the border and onward from Melchor de Mencos to Flores by colectivo, or taxi to Tikal.
  • From El Salvador. Buses are available from San Salvador and Santa Ana.
  • From Honduras. Services run from Copán Ruinas, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba and Tegucigalpa.
  • Mexico. Buses are available from Tapachula, Palenque, Chetumal, Tulum, Cancún and Mexico City.

From further afield, it is possible to reach Guatemala from Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The following are bus companies that provide international services (The addresses provided in the below links are their Guatemala City addresses):

Pullmantur, 1a Avenida 13-22 Zona 10 (Hotel Holiday Inn), ? +502 2495-7000. Operates buses between Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa and San Salvador. Trans Galgos Inter., 7a Avenida 19-44 Zona 1, ? +503 2232-3661, +503 2220-6018, +503 2230-5058. departs 1pm. International services to Tapachula from Guatemala City via Retalhuleau and Coatepeque on one route and twice daily to San Salvador on another. They also operate a third domestic route to Quetzaltenango from Guatemala City. US$17. Platinum Centroamerica (King Quality), 4 Ave 13-60 Zona 10, ? +502 2501-1000. Serves Guatemala City, San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and Managua. Comfort Lines, 4 Ave 13-60 Zona 10, ? +502 2501-1000. Operates mainly between the Guatemala city and San Salvador. Ticabus (Transportes Internationales Centromaericanos), Calzada Aguilar Batres, 22-55 Zona 12, ? +502 2473-3737. departs 6.00am and 2.00pm. Major Central bus company operating buses across the Central American isthmus between Panama City and Managua. From Managua one route goes to Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in Honduras while another continues along the Pan American Hwy to San Salvador, Guatemala City and Tapachula in Mexico. They also have another north-south route connecting El Salvador to Honduras.. Transportes del Sol (Hotel Crowne Plaza), ? +502 2422 5000, +502 4147 3104. departs 3.00am and 4.00pm. =Serves Guatemala City, San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, and Managua. US$28 (one-way).

By boat

There are several ferries to and from Puerto Barrios and Livingston, and Punta Gorda, Belize.

Get around

By bus

It's hard to miss the colorfully-decorated buses that crowd the streets of major cities and highways of Guatemala. These are chicken buses, or camionetas in Spanish, and are a common form of travel for Guatemalans and a travel adventure for tourists. They are much cheaper than tourist vans or taxis and are usually very crowded, with three people squeezed into seats barely big enough for two children, and more people standing in the aisles.

The buses are often used North American school buses with the "Blue Bird" and "Ford" logos clearly visible. In addition to the driver there is usually a conductor standing in the door -many a times these people are very rude and can even be dangerous if you tell them something you don't like (for example to turn down the volume to their oftentimes nightclub subwoofers). The conductor collects fares, and from time to time jumps out to direct the bus through a blind intersection or around a tight turn. On the highways, the chicken bus drivers are aggressive, not hesitating to overtake in the face of oncoming traffic. Riding these buses on the steep highways of the Western Highlands is especially harrowing, but may be the most quintessential Guatemalan experience there is. It has to be mentioned that regularly there are many people killed in these harrowing quintessential experiences when these buses crash head on with other vehicles, go flying into a roadside ravine or tumble and spin alongside the highway, disassembling the bus in the process and working as a blender and squasher for the passengers inside.

Bus conductors may sometimes charge out of country tourists more than the going rate. If you look to see what other travelers are paying you can usually avoid this problem, however, they often charge you the same as everyone else. Sending a message to the Guatemala tourism department, Inguat [1] , will let them know of this problem.

You can board a chicken bus almost anywhere along its route. If you put out your arm, it will stop. You board and find a space to sit or stand. The conductor will come back to you after the bus is underway, and collect your fare. You need to recognize where your stop is, and move to the door in time. You ask the bus to stop, more or less wherever you want to get off.

Also, robberies of the buses is frequent in the highway in the countryside and in the capital itself. Usually several people, one or more in the front, middle and back of the bus get up, take out their guns and announce a robbery or simply a group of people -or even children- surround you and demand your possessions from you. Sometimes this is part of the regular routine of the bus drivers, sometimes even the drivers organize these robberies.

By plane

Regular domestic flights operate only between Guatemala City and Flores on Transportes Aereos Guatemaltecos and Avianca Guatemala (formerly Taca Regional).

By trolley

Guatemala City has a local trolley service aimed at tourists.

By train

There is a rail network, but aside from the occasional steam charter aimed at tourist groups, no trains, freight or passenger, have run since 2007.

Talk

Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, and the most commonly spoken. Over twenty indigenous languages are still spoken throughout, but many of the Maya people have at least a working knowledge of basic Spanish as well, except in the more remote areas. For the Garifuna people in Livingston, Garifuna and English are the main languages (but Spanish is spoken as well).

The most familiar form of Spanish spoken among good friends is the "tú" and "vos" form, but varies between regions. It is considered rude and very informal if used with someone that you do not know. As a tourist, it is safer to stick with the "usted" form. However, don't be surprised if some homestay families and some language teachers jump right into using the "tú" or "vos" form. If they do, you may respond in kind.

See

Maya ruins are the key attractions in the country and the most notable are El Mirador, perhaps the cradle of Maya civilisation, and Tikal.

Volcanoes

Guatemala has a lot of volcanoes, many of them over 3,000 metres high.

  • Volcán de Pacaya (2500m) - this is an active volcano about 30 minutes outside of Antigua. Some days it will not be accessible as the volcano may be too active to observe safely. Bring a jacket since it will be windy and cold at the top (although the ground will feel warm) and wear long pants as the volcanic rock can easily give you a nice cut. Tour guides can be organised from Antigua. Up until its most recent significant eruption in late May 2010, you were able to walk right up to see real lava and even roast hot dogs and marshmellows over it. Although trips are still common and travel agencies still boast this possibility with pictures of tourist doing so in the past, this is no longer possible.

If you decide to travel to Pacaya alone the prices are quite reasonable. Approximately Q25 (US$3) entrance to the park. At the entrance to Pacaya National Park you will be required to have a local guide, licensed by the park to take you to the top of the volcano. There are two separate entrances to the park, the first locatred in the town of El Cedro and the second in the town of San Francisco. The El Cedro route is an easier climb, around 2 hours up & 1 hour down the volcano. The San Fracisco entrance is a few miles further past El Cedro. It's a bit of a steeper climb. The entire park is patrolled by local police and soldiers - it is quite safe. Locals also offer horses to bring you for around Q125 (US$15) which if you're not into hiking is a great alternative. These are offered to you when you begin your ascent. There are washrooms, snacks and drinks available for sale at both entrances as well. Secure parking is available for those traveling without a tour group.

Do

Guatemala is rich in natural beauty and travel opportunities, it's a country that offers so much to those willing to step off the beaten track for a little while.

Antigua Guatemala is often regarded as the travellers hub, a crumbling, picture-perfect Central American town ringed by volcanoes. From here you can take a hike up Volcano Pacaya, take a bus to the bustling market of Chichicastenango, or sip some coffee in a street-side cafe and watch the world go by.

Lake Atitlan (or Lago de Atitlán) is another frequent stop on any visitors itinerary. A volcano-rimmed lake with plenty of backpacker hostels and Mayan villages that dot the shores.

Flores in Guatemala's wild north is a tourist friendly island in the middle of Lake Petén Itzá. From here you can take a bus ride to one of best preserved Mayan ruins in the world, Tikal. Howler monkeys and dense jungle make walking around the ruins an adventure in itself.

  • Semuc Champey, Lanquin, near Coban, Alta Verapaz. Semuc Champey is a cascade of turquoise limestone pools created by the river plunging below ground for a stretch before rushing back out through a spectacular waterfall. Definitely worth making the trip to Lanquin for as well as the beautiful lodges that have sprung up from the captivating hilly landscape.

Rio Dulce The Rio Dulce is a majestic emerald river, sandwiched between Belize & Honduras, which sweeps out to the Caribbean. The Rio Dulce area consists of two towns on either side of one of the largest bridges in Central America, Fronteras & El Relleno. Rio Dulce is a haven for Sailors and Backpackers alike, with plenty to do and to see. Finca Paraiso is a hot springs waterfall which is like having a spa day in the jungle; Castillo San Felipe de Lara is a historical fort site and an inexpensive way to spend the afternoon touring the castle and swimming in Lake Izabal. The many species of Birds & Animals (including manatees) makes Rio Dulce a great spot for birdwatchers, animal lovers & fishing fans.

Buy

Money

The local currency is the quetzal (Q) which is named after the national bird, which has ancient and mythic connotations even today. US dollars are widely accepted and can be exchanged in most small towns. ATMs can be found in the major towns but do not expect to find them in every tourist spot. It is fairly easy to find your self in a town without an ATM or a place to change money.

Do not expect to be able to easily exchange travelers checks to Guatemala. You might find a few places willing to accept checks issued by American Express but all other types are universally turned down. Even major banks in Guatemala City do not accept VISA travelers checks.

It is common to use dollars in tourist areas. You will most likely have difficulties in changing other currencies than US dollars, but euros are becoming increasingly common.

Shopping

It is common to bargain for most purchases in the open air market. Though you may be able to bargain in other places, be aware that chain-owned shops have fixed prices (you are no more likely to bargain in a Guatemalan Radio Shack than an American one).

These are some characteristically Guatemalan things you might consider buying here:

  • Ron Zacapa Centenario — Guatemala's prize-winning rum
  • Fabrics and traditional textiles — Traditional Mayan blouses are known as huipiles (whi-peel) and skirts as cortes. Be aware that these are almost always entirely handmade and prices for a high-end huipil may be as high as Q1000.
  • Jade — there is large jade working factory in Antigua, but it is course a very stone.
  • Coffee — touted as one of the best-tasting varieties in the world
  • Cardamom — Guatemala is the largest exporter in the world and Coban is the main centre of this trade.

Eat

Typical food:

  • Kaq Ik
  • Pepián
  • Jocom
  • Quichom
  • Tortillas and tortillas de harina. Maize tortillas are served with most meals.
  • Frijoles negros - stewed black beans
  • Caldos - beef broths
  • Tamales — steam-cooked corn meal, with a variety of fillings, wrapped in banana leaves
  • Rice 'n beans (Garifunafood in Puerto Barrios)
  • Tapado, ceviche and other fishmeals
  • Churrascos

A typical breakfast is frijoles and rice with coffee of course.

The type of food really depends on how much you want to spend and what type of place you want to spend it at. You can get almost any type of food at the main tourist locations. In the aldeas (small towns) your choices are mostly limited to those items listed above. Guatemalan food differs from Mexican food in that it is a lot less spicy, and chillies are generally served in a separate dish from the main course to be added as desired, rather than included in the food.

Drink

Popular Guatemalan beers are Gallo (lager, by far the most popular with Guatemalans), Victoria, Brahva (a light pilsner style), Moza (dark bock), Cabro, Monte Carlo (premium), and Dorada. Don't be surprised if you get salt and lemon with your beer. It's a custom to put some salt on the toes of the bottle, and screw out the lemon in the beer. Sometimes it is mixed with V8 vegetable juice, and the concoction is called michelada.

Guatemala produces a number of rums, including the superb Ron Zacapa Centenario which is aged up to 30 years.

Tequila is a very popular drink in Guatemala.

Guatemalans usually dress down when they go out.

If you order a bottled drink, you will normally get a tissue to clean the bottle. Coca-Cola and Pepsi-type products are available, plus many from local soft drink manufacturers.

Sleep

You will likely find cheap hotels (US$5 a night) in every town or village in Guatemala. In the main tourist areas, there are also many high quality hotels (US$200 a night).

Learn

Guatemala is a great place to learn Spanish. The prices are low, and Guatemalan Spanish is considered pleasing. Antigua has the most Spanish schools and is also the most popular place for tourists. But if studying Spanish is your main concern, you might be better off elsewhere, because you can actually go around in Antigua for a whole day without hearing anything but English.

Because of this, many language students head towards Quetzaltenango in the Western Highlands, where a wide range of language schools also offer Spanish language courses (some quite inexpensive). Another alternative is San Pedro la Laguna, seated by Lake Atitlan.

Work

There are various volunteering opportunities around the country.

  • Asociacion La Alianza Guatemala welcomes enquiries from potential volunteers who want to help provide care and assistance to, and protect the human rights of, the children and adolescents who live on the streets of Latin America.
  • CARE is said to organise volunteer projects in Guatemala [2].
  • Casa Guatemala (in Rio Dulce) Houses, cares for and educates over 250 abused, orphaned or impoverished children from the Rio Dulce and surrounding villages. A low-cost volunteer program working with the Children's Village or helping at one of the local businesses which supports the Orphanage is available. Spanish Classes are also available. Please visit the website for an application.
  • En Mi Salsa is a Dutch Foundation that focuses on development of rural women and their children. They support women’s handicraft cooperative Ut'z Bat'z in Chichicastenango and offer scholarships to poor children. Volunteers are needed. They also arrange your Spanish language classes, home stay, volunteer work, local tours.
  • Entremundos is a registered non-profit organization that hosts a database of over 100 local opportunties, accessible for free on their website. They also offer various additional personalized volunteer services for a small donation which includes working with their volunteer coordinator to arrange possible opportunities for you. For more info email: volunteering@entremundos.org
  • Global Vision International (GVI), (PMG) [3] run a number of volunteering programs around Guatemala with indigenous communities. They include home stay, Spanish language classes, and other services.
  • Mayan Families Mayan Families is a small non-profit organization operating in the Highlands of Guatemala. Based in Panajachel, they operate a variety of programs to support and empower the Maya people of Lake Atitlan and the surrounding areas. The work of Mayan Families is supported completely through donations, which are tax deductible in the U.S.
  • PID (Partners In Development) is a non-profit organization that works to help the extreme poor of Guatemala. They build houses for families, provide small business loans, and offer sponsorship programs for children in need [4].
  • Proyecto Mosaico Guatemala, (PMG) [5] will, for a fee of US$270, set you up with an organisation in Guatemala which needs a volunteer. They also can arrange a home stay, Spanish language classes, and other services.
  • Safe Passage/Camino Seguro welcomes enquiries from potential volunteers who want to empower the poorest at risk children whose families make their living at Guatemala's garbage dump by creating opportunities for fostering dignity via the power of education.
  • Some schools organise social projects as well. See, for example, the Guate Spanish school's entry under Quetzaltenango.

Cope

If traveling from Mexico, be aware that Guatemala does not observe Daylight Savings Time. Because Guatemala is generally to the east of Mexico, this creates the quite unusual situation of turning the clock back instead of forward while traveling eastward. Both southern Mexico and Guatemala are on the same time when Daylight Savings is not in effect.

Newspapers and Magazines for tourists:

  • Qué Pasa. Bilingual (English & Spanish) monthly magazine based in La Antigua, with tourism and feature articles, interviews, and calendars of events, cinema, and live music. Print edition is available for free in many places in La Antigua and select locations in Ciudad de Guatemala. Online edition is available at Qué Pasa's website.
  • Revue Magazine, 6a calle poniente No. 2, La Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala, Central America. 8 to 5. Guatemala's English-language magazine
  • The Guatemala Times. English language newspaper
  • The EntreMundos. Bilingual magazine about development and human rights issues in Guatemala and Central America, published bimonthly and distributed throughout Quetzaltenango, and other areas.

Stay safe

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world. Travelers should take some extra precautions when in Guatemala. If you are mugged, carjacked, or approached by armed individuals, cooperate. Do not make any sudden movements, and give whatever belongings or money that are demanded. Tourists have been shot and killed for resisting muggers. Something you have to be made aware of is that sometimes these robberies are committed by off-duty policemen -incredible as it sounds but being a robber or kidnapper is a part-time job of many policemen.

Do not go to areas known to be hotbeds of drug trafficking activity (i.e., some parts of the Peten), and do not go to the most dangerous neighborhoods in Guatemala City (zones 3, 6, 12, 18, 19, and 21). Be careful in Zone 1 in Guatemala City, especially after dark, and do not stay in hotels there. Using the slightly more expensive hotels in Zone 10 or Zone 13 (near the airport) is a much better idea.

Women should be especially careful around men, even if the men present themselves as local hotel employees. Over the last year, several tourists have been the victims of brutal sexual assaults in the beach community of Monterrico and the town of Panajachel. In one case, a local man pretended to be a hotel employee before torturing, raping, and attempting to kill a young woman staying in the area.

Do not use buses in Guatemala City, as they are frequently robbed by gangs. Instead, radio-dispatched taxis (Taxi Amarillo) are a safer way to get around the city. Another note is that when travelling by chicken bus beware of anyone sitting next to you.

Although some say that travelers should always carry a bit of extra cash and be prepared to bribe a few police officers, most tourists will have no reason to give bribes to anyone. The most likely situations in which you might have to bribe police would be if you are driving a car or riding a motorcycle and are stopped for fictitious violations of traffic rules. Most European/North Americans find it immoral but it is much easier to spend Q50 and avoid the headaches than to be harassed by the police. Phrases such as "I'm sorry officer, is there any way we can solve this right now?" work well. Do not offer bribes directly to an officer because it is illegal and you could actually end up in more trouble.

Never take photos of children without permission. Some Guatemalans are extremely wary of this and will assume you are a kidnapper (even if the children are someone else's). Guatemala has had many problems with children being sold or kidnapped and put up for adoption on the black market. Of course, this doesn't include a few children mixed in with many adults at a distance. This occurs mainly on the more remote Guatemalan villages. In the major cities people are somewhat more open towards picture-taking, but still avoid it.

It is dangerous to travel between cities after dark. Doing so significantly increases your risk of being in a car accident or being the victim of an armed robbery.

Pickpocketing is common in markets, so never keep anything in your back pocket and take as little with you as possible.

One of the best things about Guatemala is the abundance of natural beauty and numerous treks. Some of these are notorious for robberies (Volcan de Agua, trails around Lago de Atitlán, Volcán de Pacaya). Always ask around about the situation before embarking blindly. Inguat, locals, and fellow travelers are safe bets for information. Traveling in groups during daylight sometimes decreases the risk, but not always.

Traffic can be dangerous. You will encounter many one-lane roads (one lane each way) and drivers are apt to swerve back and forth, avoiding potholes and bumps along the way. There are also various multiple lane highways. Traffic in Guatemala City and surrounding metropolitan areas during rush hour is very slow, but general driving everywhere is usually very fast (average speeds of up to 60 mph in some city roads).

Stay healthy

Drink only purified water (Agua Pura Salvavidas is recommended by most of hospitals and hotels).

CDC [6] states that malaria risk exists in rural areas at altitudes lower than 1,500 metres, with no risk in Antigua or Lake Atitlán. Preventative anti-malarial medication can and should be purchased ahead of visiting malaria-endemic areas.

Dengue fever is endemic throughout Guatemala.

Hepatitis A&B vaccinations are recommended.

Respect

Address people you don't know in a formal manner (Señor, Señora, Usted), and greet people in the following way:

  • day - "buenos dias" "feliz dia"
  • night- "feliz noche" "buenas noches"

You'll encounter this in more suburban, rural areas. Native Guatemalans are raised to greet strangers formally.

Connect

Phone

Guatemala's international calling code is 502. There are no area codes. Phone numbers all have eight digits. On September 18, 2004, the phone system switched from seven to eight digits, and there is a scheme for adding specific digits to the front of seven-digit numbers (WTNG.info description [7]).

The phone system isn't great, but it works. Tourists can call abroad from call centers, where you pay by the minute. It is also easy to purchase a calling card to use at public pay phones. The phones there do not accept money, so to use a public phone on the street you must purchase a telephone card. Typically, the cost is around Q8 for a 10 min call to North America. Cell phones are quite cheap and calling to the US through one can get as low as US$0.08 a min. If you are planning to stay for a while and plan to use the phone, you should consider buying a cheap prepaid phone. Wireless nation-wide internet access for laptops is also available as a service from some companies. Telefónica has good coverage with their PCMCIA EV-DO cards.

Post

The postal system is traditionally not reliable, but your post cards usually get through. A stamp for Europe is Q5. There are; however, many other alternative companies to the federal mail system that are reliable, though frequently somewhat pricey.

Internet

Internet access is widely available. Even most of the more remote areas have some type of internet access available. Many larger areas also have WiFi. All of the Camperos chicken/pizza restaurants (which are numerous) offer free WiFi, as well as many other restaurants and cafes. Some hotels may also offer computer banks with internet access. Just ask and you eventually will find some sort of free access.

Mobile (3G/GPRS) internet access

If you have an internet capable mobile phone such as iPhone, Google Android, Nokia N95 etc. or USB dongle for your laptop, you just need a local SIM card (roughly Q25) and can start enjoying the prepaid access plans, which generally come in lots of an hour, a day, or a week.

With a program such as PDANet you can create a mini Wifi network that follows you around as you travel. I asked around and apparently the normal way to activate the internet after putting in the right configuration settings I was supposed to send the SMS message "WAP" to the shortcode 805, but I didn't need to do this. The APN (access point name) was internet.tigo.gt

Here is a table for the settings and activation options for various providers, including approximate costs.

Hear about travel to Guatemala as the Amateur Traveler talks to Shannon O’Donneal from alittleadrift.com about her recent trip to Guatemala. Shannon went to Guatemala to attend a language school but was surprised by the breath of diversity in the culture.

Pedro from Guatemala

Pedro from Guatemala

Journeymakers are the people you meet who make your trips more memorable. People who share their spirit & enthusiasm with everyone they encounter.

This month I’m partnering up with American Express for their 100th anniversary to highlight some of my favorite Journeymakers after 5 years on the road.

Who are Journeymakers? The people you meet on your travels who inspire you or somehow make your journey extra special.

The tour guides, locals, or others who find a way to enrich your travel experience.

It was difficult for me to choose, as I’ve met so many amazing Journeymakers during my travels. But these are the people who stand out the most.

Pedro The Volcano Man

Guatemala is where I met my first Journeymaker, Pedro. With my Spanish just as bad as his English, communication was basic as he guided us up the 9000 foot Volcano San Pedro on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan.

However you don’t need to speak the same language to make a new friend. Pedro was joking around with us all the way up — stopping to point out his favorite flowers, mushrooms, and birds as we climbed.

When he isn’t growing coffee along the nutrient rich slopes of the volcano, Pedro guides intrepid travelers to the top, clearing a path through the jungle with his trusty machete.

The view from the summit was breathtaking. It’s humbling to know that he hikes this giant volcano every day to earn a living. Makes you appreciate how easy the rest of us have it.

Pedro’s enthusiastic attitude about sharing his knowledge of the local landscape helped make our volcano adventure feel extra special.

Sorina from Romania

Sorina from Romania

Sorina The Gypsy

While traveling through Spain I met a remarkable community of gypsy travelers who live inside abandoned caves. Originally from Romania, Sorina and her friends kindly invited me to hang out with them and spend the night in their cave.

We shared stories, food, and played music all evening. They explained how they support themselves by selling homemade crafts to tourists in Granada. Other members of the community would pop in and join us from time to time.

The next day I helped them all build a vegetable garden.

The generosity of Sorina & her friends will always stay with me — sharing their crowded cave with a complete stranger simply because I was curious about their lifestyle. It made me want to go out and return the favor for someone else.

Thanks to them, my time in Granada was the highlight of my trip to Spain.

Isaac from Panama

Isaac from Panama

Isaac The Jungle Guide

While traveling through Panama, I teamed up with a friend to visit the Darien Gap. We hired a local Kuna indigenous guide named Isaac to lead us through this mysterious wilderness where no roads exist.

Trekking deep into the rainforest in search of rare frogs, birds, and snakes — Isaac used his knowledge of the area to locate animals we’d never have spotted on our own.

But the journey didn’t stop there. Rather than pay for a guesthouse, Isaac invited us to stay with him and his family.

Fishing is a major source of both food and income for the indigenous people living here. We spent an afternoon on the river hand-line fishing in the rain, later grilling our fresh catch for dinner.

Thanks to Isaac’s hospitality and outdoor skills, we received a fascinating glimpse of life in Darien that not many people get to experience.

Rudy from Nicaragua

Rudy from Nicaragua

Rudy The Ex-Soldier

I first met Rudy while searching for street food late one night in the city of León, Nicaragua. After ordering a giant chicken empanada with rice & beans I sat down to eat alone.

Another customer invited me over to join him. “No one should eat alone” he said. A former soldier from the Nicaraguan revolution, Rudy was visiting from Luxembourg where he lives now.

He told me the odd story of Dr. Abraham Paguaga, a famous doctor with magic healing abilities. Together we tracked down locals to verify his tale.

Eventually we ran into a pair of elderly sisters who were treated by the doctor. They invited us in for tea to share how he healed them both from sickness when no one else could.

Thanks to Rudy, I learned something unexpected about an enchanting place. He sparked my curiosity and helped add a layer of intrigue to local history.

Fleming & Ellen from Denmark

Fleming & Ellen from Denmark

Fleming & Ellen The Adventurers

While trekking 10 days across Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail, I unexpectedly met Fleming & Ellen from Denmark at a remote wilderness cabin 50 miles from civilization.

We chatted for a few hours waiting for the steady rain outside to subside.

At 70 years old, they’ve hiked the 100 mile long Arctic Circle Trail 6 times now. They had also spent a month trekking completely across Greenland’s vast ice cap, pulling their own food & supplies on sleds…

If that wasn’t enough to impress, they’ve both hiked to Everest Base Camp and climbed Mont Blanc (Europe’s highest mountain at 15,777 ft.). They didn’t even start trekking until their 40’s either!

Before we parted ways, these incredibly inspiring senior citizen adventurers gave me tips for crossing a deep river further ahead on the trail, and ideas for my next adventure.

Thanks to Fleming & Ellen, I will never feel too old to seek out challenging new travel experiences. If they can do it at 70, so can we all.

Who Are Your #Journeymakers?

All these people shared their time & kindness with me while enriching my travel experience to help make it more memorable. Have you met any Journeymakers on your travels who deserve to be recognized or thanked?

Visit The Journeymakers Website to create a personalized postcard to thank someone who made your trip extra special.

Remember to share your story in the comments below too! ★

READ NEXT: Things To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Who has inspired or enriched your travels?

American Express

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Mexico podcast pinPin me on Pinterest!Mexico is one of those countries that has a million symbols to define it — tacos, sombreros, pyramids, moustaches, guacamole, Frida Kahlo… everyone pictures something when the word Mexico is mentioned. Some of these images are, of course, more representative than others. We wanted to find out which of these icons reflect what Mexico is really like.

To do this, we headed off on a road trip through the Yucatan Peninsula with our friends Ange and Janine. We soon left behind our starting point of Cancún in the state of Quintana Roo, and visited Valladolid, Chichen Itzá, Izamal, Mérida, Uxmal, Palenque, and San Cristobal de las Casas. On the whole, it was a great route that we can recommend if you’re planning a Mexico road trip.

To listen, hit play below or find episode 314 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Where is this, exactly?

Imagine Mexico is shaped like a hook, with the point off to the right of the main part of the country. We started at the pointy bit and made our way south and west towards the curve of the hook, then turned around and came back to where we started. We passed through the Mexican states of Yucatan, Campeche, Tabasco (quickly) and Chiapas.

Why do a Mexico road trip in Yucatan, Campeche and Chiapas?

Mexico might call you for a variety of reasons, but you’ll stay for the food. We loved trying all the different types of tortilla-based cuisine and hunting out options that had nothing to do with flatbread. Some highlights were seafood in Campeche and a delicious banana stuffed with beef in Palenque.

Of course, culture is a big drawcard too, especially if you are interested in history. We visited three Mayan ruin sites and a fantastic Mayan museum, and felt like we only touched the surface of this amazing society. I’d love to learn more!

Chichen Itza was pretty impressive.Chichen Itzá is one of many Mayan ruins in this area

Geology fans will love the cenotes, underground pools that were apparently used by the Mayas for human sacrifice. Actually, cenotes are great for everyone — many are open to the public, and for a fee you can have a swim and cool off on a hot day.

Get there

We flew into Cancún, but there are lots of international airports to choose from, depending on where you want to start your trip. Mérida is a good option, and Mexico City could be a good entrance point — you can take a bus or internal flight to your preferred starting point.

You can also enter by bus from the United States, Guatemala and Belize.

Plane flying in blue sky. We recommend arriving by plane.

Get around Mexico

Since there were four of us travelling together, we hired a car and split the costs. This was more expensive than we would have liked, though it still came in at less than US$20 per person per day including tolls and petrol, which seems reasonable for the amount of flexibility it gave us. Not having to find transport from bus stations to hotels was a definite luxury!

Be aware that tolls can be quite expensive and roads are often in a very bad state of repair. If you’re not confident about avoiding potholes, driving might not be your best option. You may also have to pay bribes to police officers or protestors, which can be quite stressful.

If you’re travelling alone or as a couple, or just not interested in driving, the bus network is excellent and fairly priced, though not cheap: around 100 pesos per hour of travel. We used ADO for a couple of trips and found it comfortable and convenient, though there are other bus companies to choose from, depending on where you’re going.

You could also consider ride-sharing. Mexico’s BlaBlaCar network is extensive, and we had a positive experience travelling from Monterrey to Querétaro. Just make sure to choose people with good references and let friends or family know what you’re doing.

Jungle tour in Palenque a href=Exploring the jungle-covered ruins at Palenque was a highlight of our Mexico road trip.

Valladolid

Valladolid is a lovely old city that’s a good starting point for a trip to Chichen Itzá. One night is enough to see what it has to offer, which includes an old convent, a Mayan Chocolate Museum, and a shop that offers tequila tastings.

Chichen Itzá

The most famous of the Mayan ruins in Mexico is certainly worth a visit, though its popularity is also its liability. Get there early to beat the crowds, many of which are coming all the way from Cancún on bus tours. Parking costs 30 pesos and the entrance fee is currently 224 pesos. Guides are available for 600 pesos for a one-hour highlights tour, though we used a free audio-guide app and showed ourselves around instead.

Izamal

The yellow town is certainly worth a stop, for its colourful buildings and many ruins. Wander around and enjoy the atmosphere and climb a pyramid or two for an excellent view of the town.

Izamal, Mexico's yellow city.The convent at Izamal.

Mérida

Mérida was one of the highlights of our trip, and it’s worth spending a few days here. Music events are put on every night in the main square, which is often packed with locals, tourists, and food stalls. Parking can be an issue, though, so choose a hotel with parking if you’re driving. Also be aware that most attractions are closed on Monday, and many on Tuesday too, so plan your visit for later in the week if possible.

We enjoyed the Mayan museum on the outskirts of town, it’s great for getting a good overview of Mayan culture — which will definitely be part of any trip to this part of Mexico.

Uxmal

Uxmal was another fantastic ruin, conveniently located not too far from Mérida. Prices were similar to Chichen Itzá but it wasn’t as crowded; we decided to show ourselves around rather than hire a guide.

Campeche

Campeche is so proud of its colourful houses that its car licence-plate symbol is a collection of brightly coloured buildings. You’ll love wandering around admiring the city, and can get a good view by walking along the city walls. The main square is a nice place for a drink in the evening, and there are various light shows to see after dark. The one we saw was a little underwhelming though!

Campeche's beautiful streets.Campeche is pretty!

We headed out to the beach on our last morning in town, and had what was possibly our best meal of the trip at a restaurant called Playa Gaviotas: coconut shrimp, fish, beef, beer, and a collection of tapas that came free with the drinks.

Palenque

It’s a long drive from Campeche to Palenque, but these ruins are worth the effort. The entrance fee is only 64 pesos, and the excavated section warrants several hours of exploring. However, a lot of the site hasn’t been excavated and is still covered by the jungle. You can hire a guide to take you into this part, which we did — it was awesome! Seeing a Mayan swimming pool and climbing through an ancient aqueduct made the 1000 peso price tag (for the group) seem quite reasonable.

Exploring the jungle in Palenque, a href=Exploring the jungle in Palenque.

Cascadas de Agua Azul

The “Blue water waterfalls” weren’t blue when we were there, but it was still a pleasant stop. There’s a small entrance fee into the complex, which includes a long series of small waterfalls with swimming spots in between, and a variety of handcraft stalls and small restaurants. It’s a good place to stop for lunch and a refreshing swim.

San Cristobal

Although the drive in is long and bumpy, and the highway was closed when we wanted to leave, the journey to San Cristobal is worth the effort. This colonial town will charm you with its pleasant atmosphere, colourful streets, and many, many churches and plazas. It is a tourist hotspot, which means you’ll have to deal with street vendors and touts, but it was one of our favourite stops on our journey.

The Na Balom museum is worth a visit to learn about local tribes and the anthropologist couple who worked with them last century.

What else?

After San Cristobal, we stopped for a night in Frontera and ran through Ciudad del Carmen, and also made an overnight stop in Xpujil before relaxing by the Bacalar lagoon for a night. Unfortunately, though, we couldn’t do everything on our road trip through Yucatan, Campeche, and Chiapas — there are many more ruins to see and tacos to eat, and we couldn’t do it all. So, it’s over to you… have a good trip and let us know how it goes!

To listen, hit play above or check in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud.

Felices fiestas! Happy holidays! It’s strange that, just ten days into the new year, both Christmas and New Year’s Eve feel so remote, like they happened a long time ago. Perhaps it’s because I’m so excited about 2016 and am looking forward to everything that this year has to offer.

Pin me on Pinterest!Pin me on Pinterest!We’ve just arrived in San José, Costa Rica, after a full month in Mexico. It’s been a month of work, time with friends, Star Wars, and using the sharing economy; with stays in Monterrey, Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, and Guadalajara, as well as visits to Guanajuato and Tequila. Not to mention our Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Slow, in other words!

Monterrey

In order to be allowed to enter Cuba, we had to have tickets out — and all the flights out on the dates we wanted were quite expensive. We ended up choosing the cheapest option and flying into Monterrey in the north of Mexico, with vague ideas of onward flights or long bus journeys to Guatemala. Then one day I sent a Facebook message to our friends Pete and Dalene: “We’d love to see you sometime, hopefully our paths will cross in the next year or so,” and they replied: “Are you going to be back in Mexico for awhile? We head in a few weeks…”

One thing led to another, and in the end we decided to stay in Mexico and celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve with them in San Miguel de Allende.

First, though, we had to get out of Monterrey, which wasn’t our cup of tea at all — just too smoggy. We booked a Blablacar and thoroughly enjoyed our onwards journey with a pleasant guy called Axa. He was heading to Querétaro, close enough to San Miguel to meet our needs, and we decided to spend a week there rather than rushing on. Good decision. Querétaro is a fantastic city with a comfortable, local feeling and lots of great restaurant options. Our AirBnb host Roberto showed us around the first night we arrived, and Pete and Dalene showed up not too long after us.

Mexican foodThe food in Mexico is just so good.

Querétaro

Our week in Querétaro was great: full of work days and fun evenings. We went to the cinema to see the new Star Wars movie (so good!) and in the process tried Uber for the first time. (By the way, if you sign up to Uber and use the code craigm5124ue in the promotions tab you get a free ride and so do we… That’s what I call the sharing economy.) We also discovered the joys of gorditas, ate tacos and churros, and generally had a great time.

San Miguel de Allende

Too soon it was time to say goodbye to Querétaro’s charming cobbled streets and make our way to San Miguel de Allende. We’d organized an apartment rental (with the help of the amazing Talon Windwalker) and spent our first afternoon with the apartment’s owner, Athea, who showed us around her neighborhood and amused us with YouTube videos.

We weren’t the biggest fans of San Miguel; it just seemed a little too much like a Disney idea of a Mexican village. However, we loved spending time with Pete and Dalene, mostly playing a card game that certainly wasn’t called Soily when we first started playing it but was by the time we left.

Taco stand in San Miguel de Allende MexicoSan Miguel de Allende was great for tacos!

Mexican fiestas!

Christmas Day was a low-key affair at Pete and Dalene’s place; Talon and his son joined us for a delicious dinner, games and a bit of piñata-whacking — the sparklers we bought weren’t a success, though. We also saw in the new year at their place, with tacos and fireworks; it was a lovely end to a great day. Well, for me anyway. Craig was having problems with an eye infection and Dalene wanted to work, so Pete and I headed off to the botanic gardens to admire the local flora and rock formations. We stopped for an artisanal beer on a rooftop terrace, and on our way home let ourselves be drawn to a mobile food vendor’s stand that was selling beer-like drinks in enormous chalices. I’d been putting off trying a michelada, which is more or less beer with a spicy sauce added, because they just sounded so disgusting, but the customer who explained this particular one to us was so enthusiastic that we ordered a couple on the spot. And who’d have thought that spicy beer with seafood could be so good?

Linda and Michelada in San Miguel de Allende, MexicoYep, that’s a shrimp in my beer.

Guanajuato

Craig’s eye was still playing up a couple of days later, so he stayed behind while I headed to Guanajuato with Pete and Dalene — what a beautiful place! The highlight was climbing to the viewpoint to look out over the city, and eating chilaquiles in their favorite restaurant.

View of Guanajuato, MexicoGuanajuato is pretty!

Guadalajara

It’s not the best reason for going somewhere, but we headed to Guadalajara just to catch a flight. Sadly, we had a lot of work to do, so we didn’t see too much of the city, but we did head out for dinner twice with my language exchange friend Omar and his wife Maribel. It was great to finally meet Omar after knowing him online for almost seven years, and we got on even better in person than we had online.

Guadalajara cathedral MexicoWe did at least manage to see Guadalajara cathedral.

Tequila

The highlight of our stay in Guadalajara was undoubtedly our day trip to Tequila. Omar and Maribel picked us up early so we could have breakfast in the market before meeting their friend Carmen and joining a tour of the Jose Cuervos distillery. After a wander around town, we made our way to an enormous bar on the outskirts of town for “jarritas” (jars of alcohol) and spent two hours slowly sipping our enormous tequila-based cocktails and becoming more and more merry. This week I read that adults laugh on average only 17 times a day (compared to kids, who average 400 times). Well, we blew that number out of the water in Tequila.

Jarritas in Tequila MexicoThose jars were full of deliciousness.

It’s been a great month, full of truly excellent people and beautiful places, and we’re looking forward to returning to Mexico someday. For now, though, it’s time for Costa Rica and Panama!

Join the sharing economy

We’re really into the sharing economy at the moment: we use AirBnB all the time, occasionally jump in a Blablacar, and have just discovered Uber. Use these codes when you join, and we both get benefits:

Uber: Enter the code craigm5124ue in the promotions tab to get your first ride for free. AirBnB: Use this link for $20 off your first stay.

San Pedro La Laguna

Learning Spanish in Guatemala

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

While traveling through Guatemala I spent 3 weeks taking Spanish classes and staying with a local family on Lake Atitlan. Here’s a rundown of my experience.

Guatemala is one of the best countries in the world to visit if you’d like to learn Spanish. It’s not too far from the United States, classes are inexpensive, and locals naturally speak slowly without using too much slang.

Plus, if you’d like to learn Spanish fast, there’s no better way then to be totally immersed in the culture & language for an extended period of time.

I decided to study in the town of San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlan, located in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountains.

This massive lake is surrounded by volcanoes, colorful wildflowers, and traditional Maya villages. A picture perfect setting to learn Spanish.

Lake Atitlan

Beautiful Lake Atitlan

San Pedro La Laguna

My Home for 3 Weeks

Spanish School In Guatemala

I went to Cooperative School San Pedro on Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlan). It’s a true cooperative started by a group of experienced Spanish teachers who believe they have a responsibility to their community.

In general it’s recommended to take at least 3 weeks of Spanish classes to get a basic grasp on the language. You can choose between 3-6 hours of instruction per day, either morning or afternoon classes.

Homestays are available or you can find your own accommodation.

I paid $205 USD per week for 4 hours of class per day, 5 days per week, which also included my homestay plus 3 meals a day. It was a great deal!

Lake Atitlan has a laid-back hippy vibe, and the landscape around the lake is breathtaking with many outdoor activities nearby. However Antigua & Quetzaltenango (Xela) are also popular towns for learning Spanish.

Xela is a larger city, while Antigua is a bit more touristy.

Friends of mine have recommended ICA Spanish School in Xela and Antigua Plaza School in Antigua if you’re looking to stay there instead.

San Pedro La Laguna

Spanish Class with Flori

A Typical Day At Class

There are a few different options for class schedules, however I choose 4 hours of one-on-one Spanish instruction per day, five days a week. My teacher was Flori, a local woman who’s been teaching for years.

She always seemed upbeat and excited to teach as we sat in the shade overlooking Lake Atitlan.

After a general evaluation of my Spanish skills (almost non-existent in my case), Flori gave me a refresher course on rules of Spanish and helped improve my vocabulary using fun games and written exercises.

There were homework assignments every night too…

My Spanish quickly improved with regular daily instruction, and I was finally able to communicate with my Guatemalan host family and other locals.

Three weeks of class wasn’t enough to become fluent, but traveling through Central America was MUCH easier because I could understand a lot more and make myself understood.

Even though I probably sounded like a 5 year old!

Homestay Guatemala

Guatemalan Homestay

Mayan Hosts

Local Maya Host Family

The Homestay Experience

While taking Spanish school in Guatemala I stayed with the Bixcul-Pichilla family in their small two-story cinderblock home nestled at the bottom of Volcano San Pedro.

It was super difficult to communicate at first, as they don’t speak any English. Only Tzujill (a local Mayan language) & some Spanish.

I had my own bedroom, and the family of 5 shared 3 others. We also had a basic kitchen and open-air courtyard. Living this way was an eye-opening experience for me, very different from the “comfortable” American lifestyle I’m used to.

There was a bathroom in the courtyard, and a sink area used for washing clothes, cleaning dishes, brushing teeth, shaving — pretty much everything.

Water was delivered via pipes once or twice a week, where it’s stored in drums for later use. Occasionally it would run out if we used too much.

San Pedro Volcano

Climbing San Pedro Volcano

Lake Atitlan Canoe

Traditional Wooden Canoe

Activities Nearby

Like I mentioned earlier, the Lake Atitlan area is full of cool things to do. So when I got sick of trying to memorize new Spanish words, I’d take a break and get outside for a Guatemalan adventure!

Volcano Hikes

Lake Atitlan is surrounded by volcanoes. Hiking these is a great way to get some exercise and capture epic photos of the landscape. Two of the most popular hikes are Volcano San Pedro and La Nariz de Indio.

Lake Kayaking

Rent a kayak and explore Lake Atitlan up-close and personal. Or if you’re feeling REALLY adventurous, find a local fisherman willing to rent out his traditional wooden canoe. They aren’t easy to navigate!

Scuba Diving

Yes, you can go scuba diving under the lake here, and apparently there’s interesting stuff to see. Like freshwater crabs, underwater volcanic hot-vents, and flooded hotels. ATI Divers is located in the town of Santa Cruz.

Coffee Tours

Coffee is a big deal in Guatemala, and the nutrient-rich volcanic slopes around Lake Atitlan are covered in coffee farms. A coffee tour allows you to experience the fascinating coffee production process from start to finish.

Maya Villages

There are 12 Maya villages spread out around the shores of Lake Atitlan, with many only accessible by boat or on foot. My favorites were Santiago, San Juan, and San Marcos. Walk the cobblestone streets, visit old churches, watch a local basketball game, and experience some Maya culture.

Community Outreach

Many of the Spanish schools in San Pedro give back to the community with social aid projects, and you can volunteer to help out by bringing food or building supplies to poor local families in need.

San Pedro Church

Church in San Pedro la Laguna

Santiago Lake Atitlan

Santiago Streets

Tips & Advice

Panajachel is the main transportation hub for the Lake Atitlan area. A bus from Guatemala City to Panajachel takes 3-4 hours. Once at the lake, the best way to travel from village to village is by lancha (boat taxi). Prices vary, but are generally around 15-25q ($2-3 USD).

The temperature around Lago Atitlan fluctuates between 50 – 80 degrees (F), so it can get chilly at night. Larger towns like Panajachel & San Pedro have ATMs, but not all of them do.

When picking a Spanish school in Guatemala, keep a lookout for schools that funnel money into social aid projects for the local community. I’d also recommend staying in a homestay for the same reason, that money goes a long way towards improving the lives of your host family.

For additional recommendations, talk to people who’ve actually attended the school you are interested in. Search travel blogs or online forums like Lonely Planet to read reviews of other schools. ★

More Information

Location: San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala [Map] Spanish School: Cooperative School San Pedro Total Cost: $90 – $225 USD per week depending on hours/homestay Useful Notes: Staying with a host family is the most cost-effective way to learn Spanish in Guatemala, and the best way to practice what you’re learning in school while learning about local culture. Recommended Reading: Lonely Planet Guatemala

READ NEXT: Camping On An Active Volcano

Any other questions about learning Spanish in Guatemala?

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

San Pedro La Laguna

Learning Spanish in Guatemala

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

While traveling through Guatemala I spent 3 weeks taking Spanish classes and staying with a local family on Lake Atitlan. Here’s a rundown of my experience.

Guatemala is one of the best countries in the world to visit if you’d like to learn Spanish. It’s not too far from the United States, classes are inexpensive, and locals naturally speak slowly without using too much slang.

Plus, if you’d like to learn Spanish fast, there’s no better way then to be totally immersed in the culture & language for an extended period of time.

I decided to study in the town of San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlan, located in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountains.

This massive lake is surrounded by volcanoes, colorful wildflowers, and traditional Maya villages. A picture perfect setting to learn Spanish.

Lake Atitlan

Beautiful Lake Atitlan

San Pedro La Laguna

My Home for 3 Weeks

Spanish School In Guatemala

I went to Cooperative School San Pedro on Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlan). It’s a true cooperative started by a group of experienced Spanish teachers who believe they have a responsibility to their community.

In general it’s recommended to take at least 3 weeks of Spanish classes to get a basic grasp on the language. You can choose between 3-6 hours of instruction per day, either morning or afternoon classes.

Homestays are available or you can find your own accommodation.

I paid $205 USD per week for 4 hours of class per day, 5 days per week, which also included my homestay plus 3 meals a day. It was a great deal!

Lake Atitlan has a laid-back hippy vibe, and the landscape around the lake is breathtaking with many outdoor activities nearby. However Antigua & Quetzaltenango (Xela) are also popular towns for learning Spanish.

Xela is a larger city, while Antigua is a bit more touristy.

Friends of mine have recommended ICA Spanish School in Xela and Antigua Plaza School in Antigua if you’re looking to stay there instead.

San Pedro La Laguna

Spanish Class with Flori

A Typical Day At Class

There are a few different options for class schedules, however I choose 4 hours of one-on-one Spanish instruction per day, five days a week. My teacher was Flori, a local woman who’s been teaching for years.

She always seemed upbeat and excited to teach as we sat in the shade overlooking Lake Atitlan.

After a general evaluation of my Spanish skills (almost non-existent in my case), Flori gave me a refresher course on rules of Spanish and helped improve my vocabulary using fun games and written exercises.

There were homework assignments every night too…

My Spanish quickly improved with regular daily instruction, and I was finally able to communicate with my Guatemalan host family and other locals.

Three weeks of class wasn’t enough to become fluent, but traveling through Central America was MUCH easier because I could understand a lot more and make myself understood.

Even though I probably sounded like a 5 year old!

Homestay Guatemala

Guatemalan Homestay

Mayan Hosts

Local Maya Host Family

The Homestay Experience

While taking Spanish school in Guatemala I stayed with the Bixcul-Pichilla family in their small two-story cinderblock home nestled at the bottom of Volcano San Pedro.

It was super difficult to communicate at first, as they don’t speak any English. Only Tzujill (a local Mayan language) & some Spanish.

I had my own bedroom, and the family of 5 shared 3 others. We also had a basic kitchen and open-air courtyard. Living this way was an eye-opening experience for me, very different from the “comfortable” American lifestyle I’m used to.

There was a bathroom in the courtyard, and a sink area used for washing clothes, cleaning dishes, brushing teeth, shaving — pretty much everything.

Water was delivered via pipes once or twice a week, where it’s stored in drums for later use. Occasionally it would run out if we used too much.

San Pedro Volcano

Climbing San Pedro Volcano

Lake Atitlan Canoe

Traditional Wooden Canoe

Activities Nearby

Like I mentioned earlier, the Lake Atitlan area is full of cool things to do. So when I got sick of trying to memorize new Spanish words, I’d take a break and get outside for a Guatemalan adventure!

Volcano Hikes

Lake Atitlan is surrounded by volcanoes. Hiking these is a great way to get some exercise and capture epic photos of the landscape. Two of the most popular hikes are Volcano San Pedro and La Nariz de Indio.

Lake Kayaking

Rent a kayak and explore Lake Atitlan up-close and personal. Or if you’re feeling REALLY adventurous, find a local fisherman willing to rent out his traditional wooden canoe. They aren’t easy to navigate!

Scuba Diving

Yes, you can go scuba diving under the lake here, and apparently there’s interesting stuff to see. Like freshwater crabs, underwater volcanic hot-vents, and flooded hotels. ATI Divers is located in the town of Santa Cruz.

Coffee Tours

Coffee is a big deal in Guatemala, and the nutrient-rich volcanic slopes around Lake Atitlan are covered in coffee farms. A coffee tour allows you to experience the fascinating coffee production process from start to finish.

Maya Villages

There are 12 Maya villages spread out around the shores of Lake Atitlan, with many only accessible by boat or on foot. My favorites were Santiago, San Juan, and San Marcos. Walk the cobblestone streets, visit old churches, watch a local basketball game, and experience some Maya culture.

Community Outreach

Many of the Spanish schools in San Pedro give back to the community with social aid projects, and you can volunteer to help out by bringing food or building supplies to poor local families in need.

San Pedro Church

Church in San Pedro la Laguna

Santiago Lake Atitlan

Santiago Streets

Tips & Advice

Panajachel is the main transportation hub for the Lake Atitlan area. A bus from Guatemala City to Panajachel takes 3-4 hours. Once at the lake, the best way to travel from village to village is by lancha (boat taxi). Prices vary, but are generally around 15-25q ($2-3 USD).

The temperature around Lago Atitlan fluctuates between 50 – 80 degrees (F), so it can get chilly at night. Larger towns like Panajachel & San Pedro have ATMs, but not all of them do.

When picking a Spanish school in Guatemala, keep a lookout for schools that funnel money into social aid projects for the local community. I’d also recommend staying in a homestay for the same reason, that money goes a long way towards improving the lives of your host family.

For additional recommendations, talk to people who’ve actually attended the school you are interested in. Search travel blogs or online forums like Lonely Planet to read reviews of other schools. ★

More Information

Location: San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala [Map] Spanish School: Cooperative School San Pedro Total Cost: $90 – $225 USD per week depending on hours/homestay Useful Notes: Staying with a host family is the most cost-effective way to learn Spanish in Guatemala, and the best way to practice what you’re learning in school while learning about local culture. Recommended Reading: Lonely Planet Guatemala

READ NEXT: Camping On An Active Volcano

Any other questions about learning Spanish in Guatemala?

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

I have to be honest with you: we weren’t enamoured with Quintana Roo. Packed with tourists, corrupt police officers, and touts trying to sell us overpriced tours — it just wasn’t for us. However, it does have a lot going for it in the way of sun and fun, and it might be for you. If nothing else, Cancun airport is a convenient place to start your travels around the rest of Mexico.

To listen, hit play below or find episode 315 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Where is Quintana Roo, exactly?

Quintana Roo is Mexico’s easternmost state, a long skinny wedge of Caribbean coastline located in the Yucatán peninsula. The state of Yucatán is to the west, the country of Belize is to the south, and Cuba is not far away to the north-west across the Caribbean Sea.

Why visit Quintana Roo?

Quintana Roo, a href=Pin me on Pinterest!Most people visit Quintana Roo to enjoy long, lazy days in the sun. The beach is ever-present, there’s great food to try, and Mayan ruins dot the state and are easily accessible. Plus there’s the added attraction of the cenotes — pools that were originally part of underground rivers, revealed when the bedrock above collapsed. They’re cool and refreshing as well as being geologically interesting, a great place to cool off on a hot day.

Get there

Probably the easiest way to get to Quintana Roo is by plane. We flew into Cancun, and there’s another international airport further south, in Chetumal. You could also fly into another Mexican airport (such as Mexico City or Mérida) and transfer to a local flight or even make your way overland.

You can also enter by bus from the United States, Guatemala and Belize — it’ll be a long journey if coming from the States, though!

Get around

Distances between cities aren’t enormous in Quintana Roo, and the bus network is excellent and fairly priced (though not particularly cheap). You can buy tickets at bus stations or possibly online — our credit card wasn’t accepted when we tried, but you might be luckier! From Cancun airport, it’s easy to get to Cancun or Playa del Carmen by ADO bus, you can buy your tickets in the terminal after arrival or from a booth at the bus stop outside.

You could also hire a car, but be aware that tolls can be expensive and corrupt police officers target tourists, looking for bribes. A better option could be ride-sharing, especially if you’re travelling with a friend or as a couple. Mexico’s BlaBlaCar network is extensive, and we had a positive experience travelling from Monterrey to Querétaro. Just make sure to choose people with good references and let friends or family know what you’re doing.

A word on timezones

Although most of Mexico is in the Central Time Zone (GMT -6) Quintana Roo is an hour ahead (GMT -5, the Eastern Time Zone). The state changed its timezone in February 2015, so that tourists could enjoy an extra hour of daylight in the evening. Be aware that you’ll be changing timezone if you travel to other Mexican states — we didn’t know, and were a bit surprised when we the time suddenly changed on us!

Where to explore

Cancun

Cancun is a planned city, designed especially for tourism. Most of its buildings are hotels and resorts, which stretch along an extensive peninsula located on the Carribbean coast. If you want to soak up the sun and drink expensive cocktails while lounging beside a pool — this is the place for you! We didn’t, and it wasn’t our favourite place in the world.

There isn’t a lot to do in Cancun itself apart from visiting the nightclubs and enjoying the resort facilities. There’s a nice market to wander around in the centre of town and a small Mayan ruin on the peninsula, but most of the attractions involve visiting the large theme parks or going on full-day tours to visit other ruins such as Chichen Itza.

Experiencias Xcaret runs the many theme parks you’ll see advertised (which all start with the letter X). Denotes appealed to us: it was more of an adventure experience than a park. We visited four different underground pools (cenotes) of different types, and zip lined, rappelled, or kayaked into them — it was fun!

Linda and a cenote in MexicoZip lining into a cenote was awesome.

Isla Mujeres

A great day trip from Cancun is Isla Mujeres, an island located a short ferry trip from the city. To get there from the hotel zone, take bus R1 to Centro (10.50 pesos) and ask the driver where to get off for Puerto Juarez. When you get off, you’ll see yellow mini buses parked along the road, which you can catch to the UltraMar terminal (8 pesos). A return ticket to Isla Mujeres costs 146 pesos — it’s a lot cheaper than the ferry direct from the hotel zone, and it runs a lot more frequently.

On the island, you can enjoy the beach, eat at one of the many restaurants, or go snorkelling or scuba diving to see the underwater museum. You can also hire a golf cart to explore the island if you’re so inclined. We spent our day just relaxing on the sand — bliss.

Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, MexicoIsla Mujeres is a great place to relax on the beach.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen was much more our kind of place, especially once we got off the souvenir stall-lined main street. The beach attracts a lot of visitors, though as it was ridiculously windy when we were there, we weren’t among them. If we go back to Quintana Roo, it will be to Playa del Carmen.

Tulum

Tulum is most famous for its ruins, which are located on the coast. We enjoyed our visit there and were pleasantly surprised by the price, which was a fraction of the cost of visiting Chichen Itza or Uxmal. However, we were feeling a bit ruined out by the time we got to Tulum, and weren’t overly impressed by the complex. If this is the first Mayan ruin you visit, though, I’m sure you’ll have a much better time than we did.

Mayan ruins at Tulum, MexicoMayan ruins at Tulum

Cozumel

We didn’t get there on this trip, but this island is a scuba diving paradise. You can get there from Playa del Carmen.

What else?

It’s impossible to see and do everything, and we didn’t try. Tulum was as far south as we went in Quintana Roo, but if you continue on you’ll eventually hit Chetumal, which is right on the border with Belize. We also haven’t mentioned the many smaller towns dotted through the state that might take your fancy — exploring is always a good thing.

Personally, though, we’d recommend that unless you want a lazy beach holiday or to do some serious snorkelling, limit your time in Quintana Roo and head inland to see what the rest of Mexico has to offer you.

To listen, hit play above or check in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud.

Boston Fourth of July

When Donald Trump announced he was running for president, we joked that he’d be done within a few months. Comedians had a field day. He couldn’t gain any serious support, could he?

Until he started leading all the polls…and winning primaries.

Holy shit. This could actually happen.

“If Trump gets elected, I’m leaving the country!”

I know. Everyone says it. But there’s no way to actually do that, is there?

OF COURSE THERE IS! You could leave the country in SO many different ways — ways that are 100% legal and ethical.

Kate on the Sydney Bridgeclimb

1) Get a working holiday visa in Australia or New Zealand.

If you’re 30 or under, you qualify to spend a year living and working in Australia or New Zealand! These are the only traditional working visas currently available to Americans.

In both countries, you can apply for the visa if you’re as old as 30; you can enter the country within one year of receiving your visa, which means you could start your year at age 31. Australia also offers the option of taking a second year if you spend three months working in “regional Australia” (rural areas and outside the most popular tourist destinations). Edit: I’ve since learned the second year is not available to Americans, sadly. Brits and Canadians can take advantage of this option, however.

You could spend your year bartending in Cairns or Queenstown, working on a winery in the Barossa Valley or Marlborough, working at a corporate job in Melbourne or Wellington, or taking on a hospitality job just about anywhere. And those are just a few of the possibilities.

For more, check out the Australia working holiday visa site and the New Zealand working holiday site.

Hongdae

2) Get a job teaching English abroad.

Teaching English abroad is one of the easiest ways U.S. citizens can get a job working abroad. Most countries only require a university degree in any field; others also require a TEFL certificate.

The most opportunity for Americans is in Asia. South Korea tends to offer the best packages: a competitive salary plus free housing and free flights to and from your home country. Many teachers in South Korea are able to comfortably save more than $10,000 per year and pay down debt or go traveling afterward.

Japan, China, and Taiwan also have great environments for teaching English with decent benefits. Entry-level teaching jobs in Southeast Asia and Latin America tend to pay only enough to get by.

While many Americans dream of teaching English in Europe, it’s extremely difficult to work in the EU without EU citizenship and the jobs are thus few. Eastern Europe and Turkey are a better bet.

Options in the Middle East tend to pay the most but have the most stringent requirements, often a teaching certification and experience in your home country and/or an advanced degree.

This is just the most basic of overviews — head to ESL Cafe to learn anything and everything about teaching English abroad.

El Tunco, El Salvador

3) Join the U.S. Foreign Service.

Dreamed of working as a diplomat around the world? The U.S. Foreign Service is your way in. If you’re able to pass the notoriously difficult Foreign Service Exam, you’ll be eligible to work two-year contracts in countries around the world.

The goal of the U.S. Foreign Service is “to promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the U.S. abroad.” Basically, you represent the United States while abroad.

There are several different tracks: Administration, Construction Engineering, Facility Management, Information Technology, International Information and English Language Programs, Medical and Health, Office Management, and Law Enforcement and Security.

You don’t get to choose your destination — you could be headed to any of 270 embassies around the world — but if you work in a hardship destination, you’ll often get preferential treatment regarding your next assignment. Like two of my lovely readers whom I met in Mexico last year — after working as diplomats in Pakistan, they got stationed in Cuba next.

Check out all the details on the U.S. Foreign Service’s website.

Bitola

4) Join the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps is perhaps the most famous volunteer program in America, starting in 1961 under President Kennedy. Volunteers are sent around the world in primarily two-year contracts working in the fields of Education, Health, Community Development, Environment, Youth in Development, Agriculture, and Peace Corps Response.

You don’t get to choose where you go — you’re sent where your skills are needed the most. That means if you speak Spanish, there’s a good chance you’ll be sent to Latin America; if you speak French, there’s a good chance you’ll be sent to Africa.

Most people I’ve known to serve in the Peace Corps describe it as life-changing. It’s a fantastic way to serve your country and make lasting contributions toward building a better planet.

For more, visit the PeaceCorps.gov.

Koolbaai

5) Find a job abroad.

I know it sounds daunting to find a job abroad when you don’t know anything about it, but Americans do it successfully every day!

The U.S. State Department has put together a comprehensive list of resources for finding work abroad, no matter what field you’re in.

Ljubljana

6) Study abroad or get another degree.

Are you still in college? Studying abroad will be one of the most valuable (and fun!) things you do in your college career. Here are the lessons I learned from my semester in Florence in 2004.

Already have a degree? This could be a great opportunity to get your master’s abroad! Several countries offer you the option of getting your master’s in just one year, unlike the standard two years in the United States.

You probably know that several countries offer free university education to their citizens. Well, several countries offer free university education to international students as well, including Americans! Don’t speak the local language? They offer degrees given in English as well.

It was big news when Germany began offering free education to international students in 2014. Other countries include Brazil, Finland, France, Norway, Slovenia, and Sweden.

Many of these countries also offer stipends, making getting your degree infinitely more affordable than in the U.S.

London Millennium Bridge

7) If your job has an international office, see if you can transfer.

This isn’t an option if you work for a small, independent, local business. But it could work if you work for a larger company.

I used to work for a company with offices in Boston and London, and plenty of people migrated across the Atlantic in each direction. The company took care of the sponsorship and all the red tape.

Another option: if your company has an international parent company, see if you can find a job abroad in one of your parent company’s other companies.

Playa Samara

8) See if you can start working remotely.

If your job is mostly doable online, you may have the ability to start working remotely and set up shop anywhere in the world.

Note that this is something best done little by little. Start by doing exceptionally outstanding work for awhile, then ask your boss if you can work remotely one day per week. Make that your most productive day of the week. If it goes well and your company is pleased, keep negotiating for more time working remotely.

If you’re able to transition to working 100% remotely, keep in mind that you may need to stay within the same time zone or in a destination where you have excellent internet. Still, that’s a small price to pay for working from, say, a beach town in Costa Rica!

Berlin

9) Look into the German Artist Visa.

Entering the EU long-term is a major challenge for most Americans, but one of the easiest ways in (aside from getting a student visa) is to get the German “artist visa.”

“Artist” is a relative term here. In this case, it means freelancer. If you’re able to prove multiple contracts paying you enough to get by, that may be enough for you to secure this visa and live in Germany.

Most people with this visa choose to live in Berlin due to its art scene, expat scene, and relatively low cost of living (albeit one that continues to rise). Increasingly popular alternatives are hip Hamburg and artsy Leipzig.

Check out Travels of Adam’s guide to getting the German artist visa or, alternatively, a student visa.

Paris Marais

10) Become an au pair in Europe.

If you love kids, don’t mind living with a family, and want to live like a local, becoming an au pair could be an excellent option for you. Many Americans become au pairs by finding a job and family online, then registering for a student visa to give you a year in the country.

The student visa could be for as little as a few hours of language study each week; some countries, like France, are notoriously lax about whether you actually attend class and many au pairs decide to ditch the classes entirely.

Being an au pair could be the time of your life — or a complete disaster. The best thing is to know exactly what kind of experience you want — how many kids and how old? Living with the family or in your own apartment? Urban, suburban, or rural environment? Would you be expected to cook or not? — and finding a family that fits your needs well.

Ashley Abroad has a great resource for getting started as an au pair.

Christmas at JJ's

11) Save up, quit your job, and backpack the world for awhile.

Yes. You can absolutely do this. Plenty of people around the world travel for months at a time — it’s very common for people from other western countries, but far less popular for Americans.

If you want your money to go the furthest, stick to a cheaper region. Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Central America, and Eastern Europe are all great options. You can live in parts of these regions on less than $1000 per month if you want to (but that amount doesn’t include start-up expenses like flights, gear and insurance).

Here’s how I saved $13,000 in just seven months. That was almost enough to sustain me for six months in Southeast Asia from 2010-2011, but keep in mind prices have increased a bit since then.

Santa Cruz Atitlan Guatemala

12) Move somewhere cheap for awhile.

Not in the mood to be traveling all the time? You could just move somewhere. Many countries have visa policies that allow you to live long-term by leaving the country every few months and coming right back. (Be sure to check on your country’s latest visa regulations, as they can change at any time.)

I still think that Chiang Mai, Thailand, offers the maximum value for a great price. As a solo adult, you can comfortably get by in Chiang Mai for less than $800 per month, or even less if you’re part of a couple, and there are plenty of amenities for the many expats who live and work there.

Other popular options for expats? Oaxaca, Mexico. Ubud, Bali. Bangkok, Thailand. Medellin, Colombia. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala (particularly Panajachel and San Pedro). If you have the ability to live in the EU, consider Berlin, Germany; Lisbon, Portugal; Budapest, Hungary; Prague, Czech Republic; or any town you can imagine in Spain: Madrid, Sevilla, Granada, Barcelona.

Ragusa, Sicily

13) Get a second citizenship based on your ancestry.

Several European countries offer the option of getting a passport based on your ancestry. I’ve known Americans who have gained Irish, British, Italian, and German citizenship due to their parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents being born in those countries.

The best part? Gaining EU citizenship means you can move around freely within the EU, not just the country where you hold the ancestry! I have an American friend with new German citizenship who’s thinking about moving to London. That’s totally fine on a German passport.

Do research this first — every country is different and has its own conditions. Some don’t offer ancestry-based citizenship at all. (While my great-grandfather immigrated from Italy, I don’t qualify for Italian citizenship because he naturalized before my grandmother was born.) Here’s a guide to obtaining citizenship in European countries.

Israel also offers citizenship based on the Law of Return. You must either be Jewish by birth (meaning your mother or grandmother is Jewish) or a convert to Judaism.

Keep in mind that this could potentially take years, depending on the country. It took three years for my friend Mike to get his Italian citizenship. (Then again, as someone who lived in Italy and visits often, they are not the most organized of nations when it comes to this kind of stuff. Or anything else, frankly.)

Skellig Michael

14) Fall in love with someone from a different country, get married, and move to their country.

I know a lot of people, particularly women, dream of this — meeting a handsome fisherman on a Greek island, or a brawny Australian at a beach bar in Thailand, and falling in love and it being destiny and your friends being so jealous.

Well…as someone who has lived in another country for two different boyfriends, let me tell you that the reality can often be quite difficult, even if you have a good relationship. Living in a different country is like fighting through hundreds of cultural differences every day, and there can be a chasm in your relationship if you’re struggling while your partner is surrounded by everything he knows and loves. It’s much harder if you don’t speak the local language or you’re living in a small town.

Whatever you do, make sure you have a strong support system on the ground. Make sure you have interests, activities, and a social circle outside your partner. Most importantly, make sure your partner understands how challenging it is for you to be there, even if you’re happy most of the time. Make sure he makes an effort to travel to America, too.

You’re the one who is sacrificing here. Even if you were excited to move there. Even if he supports you financially. Even if you work online and have the freedom to live anywhere.

quebec-ice-slide-gallery

15) Just move to Canada!

Everyone says they’re moving to Canada if a candidate they hate is elected. Well, this guy actually moved to Canada when George W. Bush was elected. That link gives you an overview of ways for Americans to move to Canada today.

Pink House New Orleans

But in all seriousness…

I know this is a tongue-in-cheek list, but I seriously hope you’re not voting for Donald Trump. (I know I’m preaching to the choir here. The kind of person interested enough in other countries to read a travel blog is not the kind of person who would support a xenophobic presidential candidate.) Please do everything you can to keep him from being elected.

But there’s something else I want to say.

In the past six years, I’ve met many American travel bloggers who have said something along the lines of, “I just don’t like it in America. I don’t want to live where I could be killed in a random shooting or where I could be bankrupted if I’m hospitalized. I don’t like it here anymore, so I’m leaving.”

I get it. I was like that. Parts of me still feel that way. But not anymore.

I recently moved back to the U.S. after more than five years of travel. There were many reasons. One is because I am sick of doing nothing. I want to be here and fight to make my country better. And I’m getting started.

All of us can run away. Believe me — there’s stuff about America that keeps me up at night. Frequent school shootings and a Congress that refuses to pass any kind of reasonable legislation like closing the gun show loophole. Black Americans, including children, being killed by the police for no reason at all. The racism, both overt and subtle, that our president receives on a daily basis. Out-of-control elections and candidates supported by corporations. The possibility of a religious ideologue being appointed to the Supreme Court.

So why do I even bother? Because when you choose to be inactive, you’re giving power to the opposition.

If you choose to travel, or to live abroad, that’s wonderful! But don’t use it as an excuse to check out of America completely. Donate money to causes that will make America better. Donate your time to causes and see if you can help online. Get absentee ballots, familiarize yourself with candidates in every race, and vote in every election. These things really can make a difference.

Would you leave the country if Trump was elected?15 legal, ethical ways to leave the country if Donald Trump gets elected.

Laptop in Malta

There’s a question that I’ve been asked more and more often lately:

“There are so many travel blogs out there today. If I start, I’m going to be so far behind. Do I have any chance of making it a career? Is it even possible?”

A lot of people would say no — but I disagree.

I think now is actually a good time to start a travel blog. There’s more money to be had in the industry. Blogs and personalities become popular much faster. New social networks becoming progressively more prominent. In short, you’re open to a lot of opportunities that I didn’t have.

 

RELATED: How to Start a Travel Blog The Right Way

 

Here are a few tips from 2016 that did not apply to the space until fairly recently.

Chiang Mai Travel Bloggers

Know you don’t have to be the biggest travel blogger of all.

Just a few years ago, only the top tier of bloggers were making a full-time living from their blog, and only a few were making enough money to live anywhere more expensive than Southeast Asia.

That has changed. More people are making decent livings. You still see plenty of bloggers living in Southeast Asia, but an increasing number are living in pricey cities in North America and Europe.

A lot of new bloggers start with the goal of being one of the biggest travel bloggers of all. (Quite frankly, that was my motivation in the early days.) If you do that, you’re going to be chasing it forever. But if you don’t let fame motivate you — if you instead want to have a quality working career — you can absolutely make it happen.

Think of it this way: every TV actor dreams of having Viola Davis or Kerry Washington’s career, headlining a popular Thursday night drama. But you could also be a working actor appearing in small guest roles on everything from Law & Order to Brooklyn Nine-Nine to random commercials and the latest Judd Apatow flick, the kind of person where people say, “I know that face! What’s she been in?”

Those actors still make money from their craft. Many of them have a pretty good work/life balance as well. That’s something to keep in mind.

Kate Quaker Oats Murder

That said — most of the big names have slowed down their travels.

There was a time when the people behind the biggest travel blogs were on the road at least 80% of the time. That’s not the case anymore. We’re very tired.

I’m not going to name names because some people are keeping it quieter than others, but a great many popular travel bloggers have chosen to get year-round apartments with leases and travel far less often. (Most of you know that I am one of these bloggers, having moved to New York seven weeks ago.)

That means that if you have the opportunity to travel long-term, you’re going to be doing so in a way that not a lot of others are doing at the moment. That’s especially good for real-time platforms like Snapchat. More on Snapchat below.

Kate in Albania

Niche is good; personality plus specialty is better.

Niche is always a big discussion — people always talk about how important it is to HAVE A NICHE. You need to open that proverbial fly-fishing blog!

But in this day and age, I see it differently. I think the most important thing is to have a well-developed voice and personality along with a few specialties on which you can become an expert.

Alex in Wanderland, for example, has a specialty in diving.

Young Adventuress has a specialty in New Zealand travel.

Flora the Explorer has a specialty in sustainable volunteering.

These specialties are not the only subjects that these bloggers write about, so I wouldn’t go so far as to call them their niches. But they are areas that differentiate them and give them expertise and credibility. If I needed help with any of those subjects, I would go to their sites in a heartbeat. (Also, it’s worth adding that Liz didn’t even visit New Zealand until she had already been blogging, so yes, it is possible to develop a specialty on the road!)

This is especially important for all the women trying to differentiate themselves as a solo female travel blogger. There are a million of you now, ladies. Work on diversifying.

The most difficult part is developing your voice and personality, and that can only be done by writing, writing, writing.

Smartphone Challenge

Social media is more important than ever.

We’ve entered a time where social media can often eclipse the value of your blog. That was never the case early in my blogging years, but I’m seeing it more and more today, especially with Instagram.

At this point in time, Instagram is by far the most important social network. It’s widely consumed by “real people,” it’s prioritized by brands (translation: this is where the money is), and it allows you to show your strengths. A company may be more interested in advertising on Instagram than anywhere on your blog.

But this means you’re going to throw a lot of time and effort into creating a beautiful, engaging Instagram profile.

Snapchat is another big network on which I recommend getting started. It’s huge among “real people” and it’s still early enough that you can be an early adopter, like me.

Another place that can become a game-changer is Pinterest. Pinterest now regularly drives traffic to lots of my pages that don’t necessarily do well in search.

Other social networks are important. Some people swear by Facebook (and I do quite a bit with it); others live and die by Twitter. And by all means, yes, work on growing your Facebook audience in particular. But if I were you, I’d throw your time and resources into focusing on Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest.

Kate and Brenna in Koh Lanta

The time to get into video is now. Or yesterday.

Video is projected to grow more and more — a year and a half ago, Mark Zuckerberg said that he expected video to be the dominant content on Facebook within five years. I’ve said before that not doing enough on YouTube keeps me up at night. I just feel like I haven’t had to learn all the skills.

There is plenty of room to grow on YouTube — I’d argue that you can grow faster and far more effectively as a travel YouTuber than as a travel blogger. The time is definitely now.

FYI — Travel Blog Success is having a sale on their videography course this week. It’s 35% off. See below for more.

I actually bought the course last year but I need to make creating better videos a priority for this summer.

Angkor Wat at Dawn

I still mean it — get out of Southeast Asia.

This is one of the most controversial pieces of advice I’ve given, and I stand by it. Southeast Asia is tremendously oversaturated in the travel blogosphere at this point in time.

Is it possible to focus on Southeast Asia and still become a prominent travel blogger? Of course it is. You can stand out if you consistently create genuinely original content.

But most people who spend time in Southeast Asia don’t do that. They write “this is what it’s like to cruise Halong Bay” and “here are photos from my day at Angkor Wat” and “the best things to do in Ubud are these” and “this is how awesome Koh Lanta is.”

It’s good stuff, sure, and it will be useful to your readers who aren’t familiar with those destinations, but posts like those will not allow you to gain traction as a travel blogger. Major influencers will not be sharing these posts because they’ve been seen a thousand times before.

If you want to spend extended time in a cheap region, consider parts of Mexico and Central America (inland Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, inland Nicaragua), parts of South America (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia), parts of Central and Eastern Europe (Balkans excluding Croatia and Slovenia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, former USSR), and/or parts of South Asia (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka).

Because while plenty of people have written about those destinations, they are nowhere near the saturation level of Southeast Asia.

Bloghouse Mentors: Kate, Lisa, Cailin, Mike, Steph

Travel Blog Success Will Help You Grow Fast, Well, and Efficiently.

I push Travel Blog Success because it’s the best product out there. Why?

  1. The course will teach you so much at a fast rate. If you read the materials and put the work in, you won’t make the mistakes that the majority of bloggers make.
  2. The course comes with discounts and perks. Savings on premium plugins, hosting, design products, conference tickets, and more.
  3. The Facebook community is the best travel blogging group on the web. Forget the giant groups on Facebook — the private Travel Blog Success group is the only place where I give out advice to bloggers publicly, and lots of other experts do, too.

And yes, I earn an affiliate commission if you purchase through that link. 26% on the main course, 15% on the others. But I only link to products that I actually use, like, and recommend. Always have, always will.

What do I always tell people? Wait until the course on sale. Because even though that means I’ll be making a much smaller commission, I’d still rather have you get the maximum discount.

Well, it’s on sale now. 35% off all courses. And since I last wrote about it, more courses have been added in addition to the main Travel Blog Success course:

  • Bloggers, Brands, and Tourism Boards — A course on getting partnerships, both comped and paid
  • Bloggers to Bylines — A course on becoming a freelance travel writer.
  • Videography for Travel Bloggers — A course on becoming a travel videographer or YouTuber.

The sale ends Friday, March 25, 2016, at 11:00 PM ET.

San Juan del Sur Sunset

Because yes: It’s still possible to make it if you start today.

I know some people will disagree with me, but I think that in many ways, it’s a lot easier to get started now than it was when I did in 2010. The market may be crowded, but there is always — always — room for excellent content.

And whether you’re watching a brilliant sunset on a beach in Nicaragua or sitting on your purple couch in your Harlem apartment (which I may be as I write this), the life of a travel blogger is incredibly rewarding. Each day, I feel so grateful that this is what I do for a living.

Note: the links to Travel Blog Success are affiliate links. I only use affiliate links on products that I actually use, like, and recommend. This course is worth every penny and then some!I think now is actually a good time to start a travel blog. There's more money to be had in the industry. Blogs and personalities become popular much faster. New social networks becoming progressively more prominent. In short, you're open to a lot of opportunities that I didn't have.

Rio Secreto Mexico

Rio Secreto Underground River

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Hiking in waist-deep water through dark caves at Rio Secreto, we turned a corner to discover a massive cavern decorated with incredible stalactites all over the ceiling.

Spelunking, or exploring caves, is one of my favorite adventure travel activities. I’ve hiked and crawled through natural underground passageways in South Africa, Guatemala, Iceland, and more.

But Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is teeming with incredible caves too.

There is something exciting about wandering through the darkness, deep into the Earth, not sure what you’ll discover around the next bend.

Visiting Rio Secreto gives you a taste of this rarely-seen and magical world.

We walked through the jungle to one of the cave entrances led by our guide “Ro”, who told us camera traps nearby had recently captured images of wild jaguars that call the area home.

Rio Secreto Mayan Blessing

Traditional Mayan Blessing

The Maya Underworld

Our adventure begins with a sacred Maya cleansing ritual using smoke. A local shaman asks Mayan death gods for permission for us to enter their domain.

The Maya consider these caves scared, a portal to Xibalba (aka “the place of fear”) — the Mayan underworld.

Ancient skeletons, artifacts, and petroglyphs have been discovered in the cenotes and caves that cover the Yucatan Peninsula. Some date back 13,000 years!

Caves like this were often used for human & animal sacrifice, and even today many local Maya keep clear of them.

In 2007 Rio Secreto’s owner decided to allow eco-tours through 10% of the natural reserve, in order to fund conservation for the rest of it.

Cave Entrance

Entrance to the Underworld

Stalactites in a Cave

Amazing Cathedral of Stalactites

Exploring Rio Secreto’s Caves

There are a few different entrances to the caves, covered in vines. Black holes ready to swallow us into the earth. We switch on our headlamps and head into the darkness, not sure what lies ahead.

Rio Secreto is a maze of passageways and dramatic mineral formations. Water drips lightly from the ends of stalactites on the ceiling into the pristine blue pools at our feet. This water has slowly filtered through the porous rock, which is why it’s so clean.

We’re witnessing millions of years of geological history as we hike and swim through different chambers.

The water is cold, but the air is warm with humidity too. We squeeze through narrow cave passages, sometimes with water up to our chests. But there are also massive chambers, large enough to fit a small house inside.

Secret Caves in Mexico

Swimming through Narrow Passages

Underground River Systems

Limestone cave environments like this are very fragile. Rio Secreto has taken great pains to keep the area pristine, without installing concrete paths or tons of cheesy artificial lighting. It’s just you and your headlamp in the darkness.

You have to watch your footing though, as the cave floor constantly changes from wet and slippery to sharp and jagged. It feels like a proper caving adventure!

Our guide occasionally placed a couple of powerful waterproof flashlights into the water, turning it into a giant glowing river of blue light.

This water is part of an intricate network of rivers that flows beneath the Yucatan Peninsula’s hollow limestone shell. It’s actually the 2nd largest underground river system in the world.

Professional cave divers love the area’s many underwater caves. But at Rio Secreto, the water level is shallow — allowing anyone to explore these caves on foot. No need for specialized scuba gear or expensive training.

Lonely Planet Guatemala (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

#1 best-selling guide to Guatemala*

Lonely Planet Guatemala is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Visit Tika's monumental restored temples, learn to speak Spanish while admiring picture-postcard vistas in Antigua or hike Lago de Atitlan's lakeshore trails; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Guatemala and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Guatemala Travel Guide:

Color maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - ancient Maya heritage, history, religion, education, sport, wildlife, literature, painting, music, architecture, handicrafts, environmental issues, cuisine, coffee Over 45 maps Covers Guatemala City, Antigua, Lago de Atitlan, Quiche, Baja Verapaz, Alta Verapaz, Copan (Honduras), El Peten, Tikal, El Mirador,  ChichicastenangoQuetzaltenango, Nebaj and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Guatemala, our most comprehensive guide to the country, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less traveled.

Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveler community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travelers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

*Best-selling guide to Guatemala. Source: Nielsen BookScan. Australia, UK and USA.

GUATEMALA Country Studies: A brief, comprehensive study of Guatemala

CIA

A brief yet detailed report on the country of Guatemala with updated information on the map, flag, history, people, economics, political conditions in government, foreign affairs, and U.S. relations.

The Rough Guide to Guatemala

Rough Guides

The Rough Guide to Guatemala is the definitive guide to this fascinating Central American country. Its detailed accounts of attractions and full-color maps show you everything Guatemala has to offer, from ancient Mayan cities to beautiful rainforest scenery and stunning lakes.

Newly updated, this guide is packed with insider tips about off-the-beaten-track destinations, hiking trails, surf spots, kayak and rafting trips, and jungle walks, as well as all the best hotels, cafes, restaurants and bars for every budget. Whether you're taking in the grand Mayan site of Tikal, the colonial architecture of Antigua, a traditional market, or an adventurous jungle trek, The Rough Guide to Guatemala will help you experience the best.

Make the most of your time with The Rough Guide to Guatemala.

The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics (The Latin America Readers)

Greg Grandin, Deborah T. Levenson, Elizabeth Oglesby

This reader brings together more than 200 texts and images in a broad introduction to Guatemala's history, culture, and politics. In choosing the selections, the editors sought to avoid representing the country only in terms of its long experience of conflict, racism, and violence. And so, while offering many perspectives on that violence, this anthology portrays Guatemala as a real place where people experience joys and sorrows that cannot be reduced to the contretemps of resistance and repression. It includes not only the opinions of politicians, activists, and scholars, but also poems, songs, plays, jokes, novels, short stories, recipes, art, and photographs that capture the diversity of everyday life in Guatemala. The editors introduce all of the selections, from the first piece, an excerpt from the Popol Vuh, a mid-sixteenth-century text believed to be the single most important source documenting pre-Hispanic Maya culture, through the final selections, which explore contemporary Guatemala in relation to neoliberalism, multiculturalism, and the dynamics of migration to the United States and of immigrant life. Many pieces were originally published in Spanish, and most of those appear in English for the first time.

Guatemala (National Geographic Adventure Map)

National Geographic Maps - Adventure

• Waterproof • Tear-Resistant • Travel Map

National Geographic's Guatemala Adventure Map is the most comprehensive map available for travelers exploring the country's rich cultural heritage and diverse natural beauty. Combining a clearly marked road network, a user-friendly index of cities and towns, topographic information and points of interest, this expertly researched map is the perfect companion to any guide book. The mapped road network, shown with distances, includes major highways and secondary roads along with high clearance roads and tracks, for those seeking to explore off the beaten path. Additional travel information includes airports, airstrips, ferry routes, railroads and border crossings. Among the hundreds of pinpointed cultural, ecological, historical and adventure destinations are national parks and other protected areas, archeological sites, caves, beaches, shipwrecks, coral reefs, UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The front side covers northern Guatemala and its northern border regions with Mexico and Belize. Included are the Mayan areas of El Mirador and Tikal National Park along with the island town of Flores on Lake Peten Itza. The reverse side covers the country south of the Yucatan Peninsula, bordering areas of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize, the Pacific Ocean shoreline and part of the Gulf of Honduras. In this area you'll find the World Heritage site of Antigua, Lakes Atitlan and Izabel, Pacaya Volcano and the capital, Guatemala City.

Every Adventure Map is printed on durable synthetic paper, making them waterproof, tear-resistant and tough — capable of withstanding the rigors of international travel.

Map Scale = 1:500,000Sheet Size = 37.75" x 25.5"Folded Size = 4.25" x 9.25"

Guatemala - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Lisa Vaughn

Culture Smart! provides essential information on attitudes, beliefs and behavior in different countries, ensuring that you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies, and sensitive issues. These concise guides tell you what to expect, how to behave, and how to establish a rapport with your hosts. This inside knowledge will enable you to steer clear of embarrassing gaffes and mistakes, feel confident in unfamiliar situations, and develop trust, friendships, and successful business relationships. Culture Smart! offers illuminating insights into the culture and society of a particular country. It will help you to turn your visit-whether on business or for pleasure-into a memorable and enriching experience. Contents include * customs, values, and traditions * historical, religious, and political background * life at home * leisure, social, and cultural life * eating and drinking * do's, don'ts, and taboos * business practices * communication, spoken and unspoken

Guatemala 1:470,000 Travel Map (International Travel Country Maps: Guatemala)

ITM Canada

Very detailed, double sided road and travel map, scale 1:470,000, includes insets of central part of Guatemala City and the city's Environs as well as place name index. Printed on synthetic paper, durable in tropical conditions. Distinguishes roads ranging from expressways to seasonal tracks. Legend includes railways, ferry routes, national parks, points of interest, international airports, domestic airports, airstrips/landing grounds, major archaeological sites, other archaeological sites, active volcanos, waterfalls, ferry lines, gas stations, border crossing points, reefs.

Moon Guatemala (Moon Handbooks)

Al Argueta

This full-color guide includes vibrant photos and detailed maps to help with trip planning.Part-time Guatemala resident Al Argueta provides travelers with an insider's view of Guatemala's best, from idyllic surf spots to popular volcanoes. Argueta offers in-depth coverage of Lake Atitlan and La Antigua, as well as Guatemala City's diverse selection of museums. With expert advice on where to eat, sleep, relax, and explore, Moon Guatemala gives travelers the tools they need to create a more personal and memorable experience.

Exercise a high degree of caution

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

In south-eastern districts close to the borders with El Salvador and Honduras, and in northern districts along the border with Mexico, drug-related violence has led to a number of armed attacks. Violence related to drug trafficking has also been reported in the capital, Guatemala City, as well as in other major cities in the country. Foreigners and tourists are not usually targeted but you should nonetheless always remain vigilant.

Military and police forces, deployed along the border with Mexico to combat organized crime and improve security conditions, are conducting random vehicle searches.

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of violent crime in Latin America, but a very low arrest and detention rate. Most incidents are drug- and gang-related and occur in and around Guatemala City and in rural areas. The border with Mexico also presents risks due to drug smuggling and illegal immigration. Handguns and other small arms are very common. Criminals often operate in groups. Foreigners are often targets of robbery, carjacking, armed assault, sexual assault and rape. Crime levels tend to increase during the holiday seasons.

Always be aware of your surroundings. Do not display signs of affluence, especially in airports. Avoid travelling alone (especially late at night) and avoid low-cost hotels with poor security. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. Carry only a copy of the identification page of your passport and sufficient funds for the day. Exercise extreme caution when using automated banking machines (ABMs). If you are threatened by robbers, stay calm and do not resist. Injuries or death have occurred when victims have resisted.

Be vigilant, especially in large cities. Avoid walking after dark. Never display laptop computers, mobile phones or other electronic devices.

Vigilante justice has increased in rural areas, resulting in lynchings of suspected child kidnappers and other delinquents. Avoid large crowds and gatherings because of the potential for violence. Maintain a high level of personal security awareness at all times.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations occur and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. They can lead to significant disruptions to traffic and public transportation. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Road travel

Only undertake intercity travel by car during daylight hours, preferably in a convoy of two or more vehicles.

Secondary streets and rural roads are poorly lit. Local motorists rarely obey traffic laws. Steep, winding mountain roads and lack of road signs present additional dangers.

The Inter-American (or Pan-American) Highway (CA-1) and the road from Guatemala City to the Atlantic Ocean are dangerous because of heavy traffic. Off-road travel in the remote highlands should be undertaken only after seeking advice from the Embassy of Canada in Guatemala City.

Avoid travelling on the isolated small dirt roads near Lake Atitlán. The safest route to Lake Atitlán is via the Inter-American Highway and Sololá, although this is where most disturbances occur. Avoid travelling on the road from Godinez to Panajachel as it is dangerous and rarely patrolled by police. Armed robberies against vehicles with foreign licence plates have occurred on the Pacific Coast Highway (CA-2) and the Atlantic Highway (CA-9).

Roadblocks, which can cause major traffic disruptions, have been reported along roads leading to and from airports. Do not attempt to pass through a roadblock, even if it appears unattended. Stay alert to new developments through local media reports and amend your travel arrangements accordingly.

Roadblocks erected by armed gangs are common, particularly in the northern and western departments of San Marcos, Huehuetenango, Quiché, Alta Verapaz, Petén and Escuintla. Criminals have been known to pose as police officers. Comply and do not resist if attacked. Always drive with car windows closed and doors locked.

Allow enough time for border formalities so that you can arrive in a major town before dark. Many border posts close for lunch and at dusk. Avoid exchanging money at border crossings unless absolutely necessary as doing so has sometimes resulted in armed robbery.

Public transportation

Local and intercity public buses are not safe. Problems include mechanical unreliability, the use of unlicensed drivers, frequent major road accidents and crime on board. Pickpocketing and armed robbery are daily occurrences.

Public buses are frequently targeted by gangs who hurl grenades or fire shots as a way of ensuring compliance to extortion demands or to settle accounts. Drivers have been the targets of violence, including murder. Passengers have been subject to armed robbery, sometimes by fellow passengers.

Do not travel on local public buses (“chicken buses”). Tourist shuttles travelling between popular destinations have been targeted by hijackers in the past.

Only travel on intercity buses during daylight hours and with reliable tour companies, as fraud has occurred.

Ensure that transportation and tour providers are reputable and reliable before booking. The government tourist assistance service PROATUR or hotel staff can provide you with advice on the safest companies. In Guatemala City, only use official taxis and make detailed arrangements for the return trip. Advice on reliable taxi companies may be obtained by inquiring with PROATUR or hotel staff.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General security information

Tourists may obtain up-to-date security information through INGUAT (service available in English), the Guatemalan Tourism Institute. INGUAT’s telephone numbers for tourist assistance (ASISTUR) are (502) 2421-2810 and (502) 5578-9836. You may also dial 1500 within Guatemala. Tourist groups may also request security escorts and obtain emergency assistance through INGUAT.

When visiting volcanoes and other tourist sites, you should travel in groups and with a reputable tour company. Sexual assaults and robberies can occur, especially when security personnel normally deployed on these sites are absent. Travellers should stay informed of security conditions in the areas they plan to visit.

Do not approach or photograph children and women, since many people in Guatemala fear that children are being kidnapped for adoption or for theft of vital organs. Violent incidents involving foreigners have occurred.

Cruise-ship passengers who book a tour or make other travel arrangements should ensure that the company is recognized by the cruise line. Confirm your itinerary with the ship and port authority as well as with INGUAT, the Guatemalan Tourism Institute, and PROATUR.

Exercise caution when swimming off the Pacific coast, and seek information about water conditions such as strong currents, riptides and undertow. Avoid deserted and unpatrolled beaches after dark.

Emergency services

Dial 110 or 120 for police, 122 or 123 for the fire department and ambulance services. It may be difficult to obtain police assistance. Police forces lack resources and are often corrupt. National police officers do not speak English. PROATUR officers are able to provide assistance in English.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Central America and Mexico, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Central America and Mexico. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Central America and Mexico, certain insects carry and spread diseases like American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in Central America and Mexico, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Private hospitals and clinics in urban areas offer equivalent care to those in Canada and are much better staffed and equipped than public or rural facilities.

Physicians and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for medical care.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Illegal drugs

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect extended jail sentences.

Laws

Importation into or export from Guatemala of items such as antiquities and artefacts may be subject to strict regulations. Contact the Embassy of Guatemala in Canada for information and advice.

People found driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs are subject to arrest and detention.

If you are travelling with a vehicle, you must comply with the deadline for leaving the country indicated on the temporary importation form provided by Guatemalan customs at the port of entry. If you fail to leave Guatemala with your vehicle by the expiry date, you will have to pay taxes.

If you are involved in a driving accident that results in injury or death, you may be taken into custody until responsibility for the accident is determined.

An International Driving Permit is recommended.

Money

The currency is the Guatemalan quetzal (GTQ). It is not possible to exchange Canadian dollars (cash or traveller’s cheques) in Guatemala. U.S. currency and traveller’s cheques are readily convertible to local funds at most major banks. Do not accept torn notes as they can be difficult to exchange. Credit cards are widely accepted. Do not exchange large amounts of currency with informal money changers. Some automated banking machines (ABMs) will accept Canadian debit cards with a four-digit personal identification number.

Climate

Forest Fires

Forest fires often occur from November to June. Even though they can happen anywhere, they usually affect the department of Peten. In the event of a major fire, you should follow the instructions of local emergency services, particularly with regard to evacuation procedures. Monitor local media for updated information.

Hurricane and rainy seasons

The hurricane season extends from June to the end of November. The National Hurricane Center provides additional information on weather conditions. Stay informed of regional weather forecasts, and follow the advice and instructions of local authorities.

The rainy season extends from mid-May to mid-November. Flash floods and mudslides are common occurrences, causing temporary road closures. You should keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.

Seismic activity

Guatemala is located in an active seismic zone. Familiarize yourself with earthquake security measures in hotels and public and private buildings, and follow the advice of local authorities in the event of an earthquake.

Volcanoes

The Fuego, Pacaya and Santiaguito volcanoes present consistently moderate activity which is considered to be within normal parameters. Monitor levels of volcanic activity through the local media and amend travel arrangements accordingly. Hiking on volcanoes should be done only with a reputable tour company that tracks volcanic activity. Follow the advice of local authorities in the event of an explosion or eruption.