International Traveling can be quite an experience. If you are anything like I was, traveling to Guatemala was my first experience of international traveling. I was excited, nervous and foaming at the mouth for adventure. I spoke 5 words of Spanish and although my journey was relatively smooth I wish I had a list of do’s and dont’s to boost my travel confidence.
The Great 8:
1. Avoid traffic hours
Guatemala City is infamous for gridlock traffic. After a huge population surge in the past 15 years the transportation infrastructure is still being updated to accommodate the amount of drivers. Times to avoid traveling in Guatemala City are: 5:30am-8am and 5-9pm. Driving during commute hours is a grantee of spending 2-3 hours in traffic. Traveling out of the city between peak hours will take about 30-45 minutes in any direction.
2. Checked Bag Ticket
When you check you bag at your departure airport they will give you a small receipt/sticker that corresponds to your checked bag. Unlike US airports, where baggage claim is pretty much unregulated, La Aurora International has an agent to check baggage ownership. A quick presentation of your baggage sticker will prove your ownership and move you along smoothly.
3. Baggage Claim
After you have proven you bags are indeed not stolen you will pass through another level of customs. Here you will turn in your immigration form and pass your bags through a final x-ray machine.
4. Welcome Parties
Whoever you have scheduled as a pickup form the airport is not allowed inside the airport at any time. You will have to make your way outside to find your awaiting party. There is usually quite a disorderly crowd waiting so be ready for your first taste of Guatemala City chaos.
5. Airport Shuttles
Upon reaching the doors to exit, to your left you will find some shuttle services offered to popular location like Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Xela, etc. These community shuttle companies are very fairly priced and reliable. Expect rates ranging from $10-$30 per person depending on the destination. Departure time will vary because they do not leave until the shuttle is full. Taxis are also reliable, faster and private but their rates are considerably higher. For example, a taxi from the Airport to Antigua are $40 per trip as compared to a $10 shuttle rate.
6. Money Exchange in the Airport
I would avoid using a money exchange service offered in the airport. Their exchange rates are always well below what the banks will offer. Taxis and shuttles will always accept USD and you are better off exchanging money at a bank or money house at your destination. For travelers with other types of currency it might be best to exchange a minimal amount just to get you to your location. Another great tip would be to use an ATM. ATM’s will give you a fair exchange rate of the day and you will avoid traveling with a wad of cash in your pocket. A quick phone call to your bank about international fees and security should clear up any issues.
7. Passport and License
As a foreigner traveling in Guatemala the law states you must always carry your passport as identification and visa validation. Although after 3 years I have never been asked, it is still good to know the law. Another unpopular fact is with a valid driving license from your home country and valid passport you are legally allowed to operate a vehicle in Guatemala. This is great for travelers wishing to rent or borrow a friend’s car.
If you will be driving or traveling within Guatemala I would download the popular application Waze. This is a traffic navigation application and it works wonders in Guatemala. I use it literally ever day to plot out a driving or walking routes with very accurate arrival times, where to find traffic and ways to avoid the traffic if possible. You can use it while connected to WIFI to plot future travel times between towns. I found Google Maps to be very outdated and unreliable in Guatemala.
These are the 8 Great for first time travelers to Guate. There will be more detailed tips and Guatemalan travel ideas to come. Please message me if you wish to have some specific information about Guatemala