Travel Date: Feb 11th to Feb 14th, 2017
I wanted a spon·ta·ne·ous, last-minute trip to a destination off my buck·et list. I searched the price of air tickets and the most reasonable was to Guatemala; Guatemala was the winner! When I told people I was going to Guatemala, they asked “why Guatemala”? I replied, “why not”. I have learned that it is those places that are usually the best kept secret that blow you away with their beauty. Guatemala is a country full of natural beauty, culture, history and good food. It is also a country with little written about it so you enter the unknown. I spent a short but sweet 72 hours in Guatemala and visited 3 cities (Guatemala City, Panajachel and Antigua); I loved every second of it. I highly recommend this forgotten country for solo – group or couple traveler(s). I am listing a few pointers below which I learned along the way –
Money Guatemala accepts both their National Quetzal (GTQ) and the US Dollar. Exchange wisely, because once you leave Guatemala City Airport the banks only convert US Dollars to National Quetzal and do not accept other currency. If you are using USD, I suggest converting into the National Quetzal because each place will set their own conversion rate to their benefit. Credit cards are accepted in most places but I would advise against using them unless it is an emergency, even the locals will advise you not to use them.
Money Exchange Convert your money at the airport prior to arriving in Guatemala because the exchange rate is better. If you miss the opportunity, convert your money at the Exchange Counters upon arrival and before the Immigration checkpoint in Guatemala City Airport. I missed both opportunities and found myself driving back to Guatemala City Airport to exchange money since banks did not accept CAD. The Exchange Counter is located at ‘Departures’ where you check-in for your flight (bring your passport), this counter offered the lowest rate of exchange but there is room for negotiation. Keep in mind when you are flying out of Guatemala, there are no Exchange Counters past security checkpoints.
Driving Prior to traveling to Guatemala, I searched many blogs regarding renting a car in Guatemala and did not find many. I took the risk of the unknown and have no regrets. I drove through a river (literally a river), mountains and dirt roads but safety was not an issue and I can say this because I was lost in villages and cities; no one bothered me; instead they were very to themselves unless you asked for help. However, if you are not use to driving in a big city than I do not recommend renting a car. You have to drive through Guatemala City regardless where you are traveling to; the volume in the city is immense. You must have a GPS or data on your phone (you can purchase a SIM card at Guatemala City Airport if your phone is unlocked – I purchased a 2GB SIM card for $25 USD) because a map will not help you as there are hardly any street signs. Be ready for one way streets, be ready to get lost, be ready for an adventure, be ready for early sunsets (try not to drive at night) and give yourself extra travel time.
Ruins If you see one, you see them all. Most of the church ruins in Antigua are fenced off so you cannot explore the interior.
SCAM When you negotiate on a price, make sure to confirm the currency you will be paying in; USD or GTQ. I experienced a Tuk-Tuk scam; I negotiated on a price of 120 for an hour tour of Antigua assuming it is in their National Quetzal. Once the tour finished the driver demanded US dollars, I told him I don’t have the money and eventually he let me go.
Go out there, explore because if you never experience it than you’ll never know!