Travel Information

Food and Water
Internet Services
Medical Care / Emergencies
Reading Materials
Religious Services
Sightseeing / Recreation
Telephone Service
Tourist Services
Don't Forget

Most film is available in Antigua or Panajachel, but you may get a better price buying it in the U.S. Be sure to follow the usual rule of asking people before you take their picture. In some cases, the person may expect a tip.

Guatemala’s official motto is the “Land of Eternal Spring”, but night-time temperatures in the highland mountains can be quite cool. As such, bring a light jacket or sweater. Days are generally warm and delightful during the dry season from late October to May. Days during the rainy season are also nice, but expect afternoon rain showers—more in September.

Guatemala tends toward the casual—jeans, slacks, and tie-less shirts for men; skirts or pants for women. In Santa Cruz, men wear pants generally; shorts are exceedingly uncommon; women always wear skirts, known as a corte. It is not advisable for men or women to wear revealing clothing. Hence, the best policy for fitting into the local culture is no midriff exposure, no going shirtless, and no nipples revealed—the only exceptions to this rule apply when one swims in the Lake.

Electric current is 110 volt, which is the same as in the US and Canada.

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Food and Water:
Wash all vegetables and fruit with a chlorine or iodine solution. Peel them when possible Don’t eat ice cream or snow cones sold on the street. Always drink purified water (agua pura), even when brushing your teeth. Alternatively, you can drink any water that has been boiled for 20 minutes or treated with purifiers, such as iodine tablets.

If an establishment looks clean and well-run and the vendor also looks clean and healthy, the food is probably safe. In general, places that are packed with travelers or locals generally are fine. The food in busy restaurants is cooked and eaten quickly, so it probably is not reheated or old.

Small gifts are nice to have on hand for special acquaintances. Professional or work-related gifts, such as nice notebooks, pen and pencil sets, pocket-size “week-at-a-glance” for the year all are appropriate.

Specific immunizations are not required for travel anywhere in Guatemala. However, up-to-date immunizations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, diphtheria, polio, and tetanus are strongly recommended.

Internet Services:
Antigua and Panajachel abound with Internet cafes, and all provide affordable internet services. The Clinic in Santa Cruz also has a satellite, Internet connection.

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Medical Care / Emergencies:
Quality medical services are readily available. However, you should bring any prescription drugs, other medications, or hygiene items that you use regularly.

Travelers are advised to have medical insurance that covers them while abroad and are encouraged to purchase medical evacuation insurance.

U.S. dollars are the currency to bring to Guatemala. Any other currency may prove impossible to exchange. Most banks will exchange cash or American Express travelers checks. However, new rules are making it harder to cash more than one traveler’s check per day of any denomination.

The local currency is the quetzal (Q), named after Guatemala’s beautiful and rare national bird. The quetzal is comprised of 100 centavos and exchanges at a rate varying between 7.5 to 8.0 per U.S. dollar.

There are several ATMs in Antigua and Panajachel, but don’t depend on ATMs for all of your local cash needs. Have traveler’s checks, cash, and/or a credit card for backup. The majority of ATMs are the VISA/Plus system. MasterCard is less widely accepted. If you have a choice, travel with a VISA credit card. Guatemalan ATMs will only accept personal identification numbers (PIN) of four digits, so contact your bank before you leave home to get a compatible PIN. Several banks give cash advances for VISA, fewer for MasterCard.

VISA and MasterCard are accepted for pricier items and at the larger hotels, shops, and restaurants. American Express cards are often accepted at the fancier places. In some cases, a small surcharge is added to the credit card charge.

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Reading Materials:

1) Guidebooks:

Lonely Planet, Rough Guide

2) Culture:

I, Rigoberta
by Rigoberta Menchú (Peace Nobel Laureate), describes the civil war turmoil from the point of view of a Mayan woman.

The Popol Vuh
by Miguel A. Asturias (Literature Nobel Laureate) describes, very poetically, the cosmogenesis from a Maya-K'iché perspective.

A History of Antigua
by Elizabeth Bell is a must for its description of Antigua's history and an interesting portrayal of its current sites.

3) Guatemala’s Health System and Issues:

PAHO's Country Profile for Guatemala

World Bank Report: Guatemala Poverty Assessment

4) Medical Spanish Books:
Note: To purchase the books listed below, you may go to the Medical Spanish Mercado website at

Physician's Guidebook to Medical Spanish
by Craig A. Sinkinson, M.D.

Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice
by Ronni L. Gordon and David M. Stillman

1001 Pitfalls in Spanish
by Marion P. Holt and Julianne Dueber

Infusions of Healing: A Treasury of
Mexican-American Herbal Medicine

by Joie Davidow

Medical Spanish: Interviewing the Latino Patient -
A Cross Cultural Perspective

by Teresa Gonzalez-Lee

Harper Collins Spanish Dictionary
by Harper Collins Staff

5) International Medicine Books / Information:

Mountains Beyond Mountains
by Tracy Kidder

Medical texts appropriate to the following disease entities:

Child Health
(malnutrition, vaccinations, cultural and physical problems, long-term implications, potential solutions and integrated management)

Maternal Health
(breast feeding, cancer prevention, family planning, cultural and physical problems, obstetrics, long-term implications, potential solutions)

Diarrhea / Parasitic Diseases
(pathology, diagnosis, appropriate treatments, potential solutions)

Dermatology: Adult and Pediatric
(pathology, diagnosis, appropriate treatments, potential solutions)

(pathology, diagnosis, appropriate treatments, potential solutions)

Rickettsial Disease
(pathology, diagnosis, appropriate treatments, potential solutions)

Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers
(pathology, diagnosis, appropriate treatments, potential solutions)

(pathology, diagnosis, appropriate treatments, potential solutions)

(pathology, diagnosis, appropriate treatments, potential solutions).

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Religious Services:
Protestant and Catholic religious services are held weekly in Antigua, Panajachel, and Santa Cruz La Laguna. Jewish and Muslim religious services are held weekly in Guatemala City.

Antigua and Panajachel are charming towns. As such, you may acquire a false sense of security. While it is quite safe to walk all over the towns during daylight hours, avoid walking alone or on deserted streets late at night.

Foreign tourists in general may be singled out, as they are presumed to be “wealthy” and carrying valuables. To protect yourself, use common sense precautions:

1. Unless you have immediate need of them, leave most of your cash, traveler’s checks, passport, jewelry, airline tickets, credit cards, expensive watch, and, perhaps, your camera in a sealed, signed envelope in your hotel’s safe or hidden out of site at your house. At hotels, obtain a receipt for the envelope; you may have to supply the envelope. Your signature on the envelope and a receipt from the hotel clerk will help prevent pilfering.

2. Have a money belt or a pouch on a string around your neck and place your remaining valuables in it and wear it underneath your clothing. You can carry a small amount of ready money in a pocket or bag.

In Santa Cruz La Laguna, safety is not as much of an issue. The isolation of this village—only accessible by boat or foot—makes it safer than other areas of Guatemala. Also, men do not make sexual comments or gestures toward women. Nevertheless, common sense advises a) that women should not walk alone or on trails at night and b) that one should keep valuables in a safe place and out of view.

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Antigua and Panajachel have a multitude of vendors to satisfy visitors’ desires for colorful Guatemalan products. Wherever there is an open space, you may find a vendor selling. The Mercado de Artesanias, by the bus station in Antigua, has plenty to offer, as does Santender Street in Panajachel. Bargaining with the market and street vendors is accepted practice. In general, the asking prices quoted to foreigners are higher than the vendors will accept. Depending on one’s bargaining skills, the final prices may drop from 30% to 50% of the initial asking prices.

Sightseeing / Recreation:
Recommended trips are visits to Chichicastenango, Livingston, Guatemala City, and the Mayan ruins of Tikal, Ixmche and Quiriguá. Some participants may choose to climb one of the volcanoes near Antigua or surrounding Lake Atitlán or to take a breakfast or lunch horseback ride from a ranch in Santiago Atitlán.

In the Santa Cruz La Laguna area, hiking trails abound, and one can also rent kayaks, as well as private boats, to familiarize oneself better with the Lake’s mysteries and beauty. In addition, there is a diving school, located at the Iguana Perdida, a hostel near the dock in Santa Cruz. The Iguana additionally provides waterskiing trips by special arrangement.

For safety, a reputable guide is recommended for all of these activities / destinations.

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Telephone Service:
Many of the Internet cafes offer competitively priced international telephone service. And there are many public phones—operated with pre-paid phone cards, which are available at almost all convenience stores throughout Antigua, Panajachel, and the rest of Guatemala.

Cellular phones in this area operate with the purchase of pre-paid telephone cards, specific to the telephone’s plan (i.e., Comcel phones can only use Comcel cards, known as Tigo cards). Project participants are advised to purchase a) an inexpensive cell phone ($25-30) or b) a SIM card ($10-12) for US cell phones operating on the GSM system.

Telephone calls with cellular phones can be made to locations both within Guatemala and the U.S. The cost of the call is more for minutes used to call the U.S (approximately 10 cents per minute USD). One nice feature of cellular phones in Guatemala, however, is that the user only pays for the minutes used for calls made and not the minutes used for calls received. As such, receiving calls from the U.S. costs nothing.

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Guatemala is on Central Standard Time (CST) always. The country does not change time for daylight savings purposes, due to the fact that the amount of sunlight during the year varies minimally.

A 10% tip is expected in restaurants, and most often, it is automatically added to the bill. Tour guides generally receive a tip of about 10%, more if the tour is outstanding.

The most important thing to know about Guatemalan toilets is that you should not throw anything into any of them, including toilet paper. For this reason, bathrooms are equipped with a wastebasket or a small box into which you throw soiled paper. Toilet paper is not always provided, so be safe and carry your own supply with you.

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Tourist Services:
Antigua’s INGUAT tourist office is on the southeast corner of the central park, and it is open from 8am–5pm, seven days per week. The office of the Tourist Police in Antigua is on the corner of 4a Calle Oriente and 4a Avenida Norte. The office in Panajachel is at the main dock area. Anyone who is robbed should report there first.

Don’t forget:
• Documents: passport and tickets
• Cash, traveler’s checks, credit card
• Toiletries
• Medications
• Sunscreen and insect repellent
• Writing materials (notebooks, pens, etc.)
• Books / learning materials
• Camera and film
• Bathing suit and flip-flops.

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