Central America in its entirety is a wonderful place to visit but Guatemala stands out as a country that most tourists do not want to die without (and this is partly so due to the abundance of ancient Mayan sites that no one should miss out on). Yes, with its fascinating landscapes, its fine blend between cultures and its talkative and friendly people, it is a gemstone hidden within a climate zone that will always make you feel that you are visiting an exotic place. Though the local grandeur is obvious, Guatemala is not a country without its flaws. So, without further ado, let us hop to the details and examine the top five things to know before visiting it!
1. The coffee:
To kick off a list such as this, one must wake up properly (wink). Alright, jokes aside, Guatemala is the second most significant country in the world when it comes to coffee production. What this inadvertently draws into perspective is that it will have a great number of cafés and coffee vendors. If you do not particularly relish the smell of the black wake-up liquid in the morning (for we know that not all people enjoy it particularly), you might be out of luck, for it is everywhere. But do not expect the coffee to adhere to western standards, though, because the Guatemalan incarnation will hit you like a truck – yes, it really is that strong.
Tipping in Guatemala is an interesting subject as it works in all sorts of ways. The general idea is that you should be tipping in one way or another but it does not stop at such simple equations. First of all, if you are at a restaurant, a bar or a café, always try to look at the bill for it reveals what you should be doing next. If the bill includes the word “propina”, you should know that a tip has already been included into the mix but if it doesn’t, you should consider adding it yourself in terms of cash. While you can tip even beyond the “propina”, it will not land you a better service inherently. Hotel staff are especially out on the hunt for extra coin – definitely tip them to assure that you get the best service possible. And now comes the interesting part: in spite of what we have written above, know that, culturally, tipping is not mandatory in Guatemala. Now that’s some headache-causer, isn’t it (wink)?
While Guatemala is a heaven for tourists, it is recommended that they stick themselves under the needle just to be on the safe side of the health coin. If you are visiting areas under the altitude of 1,500 metres, there is a risk of malaria – this only brings us to the idea that we always insist on: never forget to pack an adequate protection against mosquitos. Dengue fever is endemic to Guatemala and Hepatitis A and B can also be encountered. The best thing to do is to drink only purified water or bottled water and to keep an eye open at all times.
Even though visiting Guatemala will land you in a natural heaven, you should not forget about the fact that crime is quite rampant there. The country and its capital (Guatemala City) both occupy the 25th place in terms of crime globally. While this may seem quite far down the list, do not forget that nearly 50 homicides occur per 100,000 inhabitants each year. Petty theft and cheap cons are so abundant that one should always keep a keen eye out for pickpockets and thugs. Sexual assaults and rapes are fairly common in the following zones of Guatemala City: 1, 3, 6, 18 and 21 – women should especially be careful to dress modestly and to avoid unwanted attention. Staying out after dark is not advised in the aforementioned locations and using the hotels of zone 10 or zone 13 are much more profitable in terms of safety. Speaking Spanish well does help as you are going to look less like a naïve tourist and more like a versed local. Practice your “seseo” while you’re at it, por favor (wink)!
5. The echo of the civil war:
Though the people that you are going to meet in Guatemala will be some of the most blissful that you’ve ever encountered, know that the residual effects of the local civil war (1960-1996) still remain as scars within them. More than 50% of the Guatemalan population consists of indigenous Mayans and they have been persecuted for years and years. Countless people have been slain during those 36 years and the indigenous population was ravaged. The best thing to do when talking to the locals is to avoid politics so as to not bring up the lasting scars of the genocide. Oh, and while you’re at it, you can admire the immovable euphoria that some locals experience in spite of all the aforementioned brutality that they may or may not have endured – those people are truly walking wonders!
Did you enjoy our list? How was your trip to Guatemala and what lasting memories have you gone home with? Tell us all about it in the comment section below and be sure to check back regularly for exciting updates! Merry pyramid-hunting (wink)!