Sandwiched between Mexico to the North and El Salvador to the South, Guatemala is a relatively small country with a land area of 109,000 square kilometres or 42,042 square miles. Located in the tropical zone, the country contains a striking variety of topographic features. Nearly two-thirds of the country is mountainous and volcanic. The spine of upper central America is the Sierra Madre mountain range which runs parallel to the Pacific coast. The southernmost extension of the range stretches into Guatemala with peaks which rise to 3600 metres in the Cuchumatanes region. 33 volcanoes dominate the landscape, many of them active and some spectacularly so. South of the Cuchumantes lies the now extinct Volcan Tajumulco, at 4220 metres/ 13845 ft, the highest point in Central America. To the north and East of this highland area, the farmland quickly gives way to lush tropical rain forests known as the ‘Peten’. In the far northeast, close to the border with Belize, the World Heritage site of Tikal contains well preserved Mayan architecture over a large area. These regions of highland and forest, together with the humid and fertile Pacific slopes in the south, and the river-ribboned Caribean coast, make this a land of varied contrasts.
The time in Guatemala is GMT -6 hours
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. For the Garifuna people in Livingston, Garifuna and English are the main languages (but Spanish is spoken as well). Few locals will speak English outside of the main tourist areas that we visit, however very few tourists make the effort to learn a little of the local language. So it really impresses the locals to hear a few phrases in their own language and is a great way of enhancing your cultural experiences along the way. Don’t be discouraged by laughter, this is genuinely a sign of their appreciation; it is all part of the fun to try out your vocabulary. We recommend you take a pocket phrase book and learn some common greetings and phrases.
Guatemala has a range of climates which vary according to altitude. Being in the tropical zone it has two principal seasons, the Wet Season from May to September and the Dry Season from October to April. Known as the Land of the Eternal Spring, it is possible to trek year round in Guatemala though October through to April is the best time for a visit. At this time the average daytime temperature in the high sierra will range from 17 to 25°C / 63 to 77°F. Whilst in Antigua and at Lake Atitlan, temperatures are unlikely to fall below 15°C / 60°F, even at night. At our highest camps, temperatures will fall to around 5°C / 40°F at night. The time of year that we have chosen for our visits to Guatemala coincides with a mainly dry period, at least on the Pacific side of Guatemala. However, there is the possibility of showers in the afternoons when climbing the volcanoes.
The unit of currency in Guatemala is the Quetzal (named after the national bird). For up to date exchange rates visit: www.xe.com It is not necessary to purchase local currency outside the country. We recommend you take your travel money in the form of cash or travelers cheques in US dollars. you will have an opportunity to change money on the day following your arrival. US dollars are accepted as payment in most restaurants and shops in Antigua but not necessarily outside this city. Credit and debit cards can be used to obtain cash from ATMs in several banks in Antigua and Quetzaltenango. Credit cards can also be used to purchase many goods and at restaurants in Antigua and are particularly useful for more expensive souvenirs.
Nationals of European Union countries and nationals of the United States and Canada, need only a valid passport and a return or onward journey ticket for entry into Guatemala. A Tourist Card is issued on arrival, which is valid for a 90-day stay in the country. A passport valid for six months after your return date is required for most nationalities.
Please note that if you intend to travel to Guatemala via the USA you must have a machine readable passport. Even if you are merely in transit through a US airport you will not be allowed to travel if you do not have a machine readable passport. Also note that if you have any convictions (including driving convictions) you cannot enter or transit through the USA without a pre-arranged visa.
You should attend your own doctor and dentist for a check-up. Your doctor will have access to the most up to date information on the required vaccinations for the country you are visiting. In general we recommend vaccinations against the following: Polio, Tetanus, Typhoid, & Hepatitis ‘A’. Malaria prophylaxis is not recommended for this itinerary. It is however recommended if you opt to extend your trip with a visit to low lying areas such as the Caribbean or Pacific coasts, or the Tikal site. A very good online resource is the NHS travel website at www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk
Additional Sources of Information
Guatemala, Belize & Yucatan. Lonely Planet.
Guatemala. Lonely Planet.
The Maya World. The Rough Guide.
Guatemala & Belize. Neos Guide.
Central America Adventure Travellers. AA World Travel Guides
Central America series: Guatemala.
Lonely Planet - www.lonelyplanet.com
Rough Guides - www.roughguides.com