15 Things nobody told me about traveling in Guatemala
It has been eight months since I moved to Guatemala. I still remember when I arrived in this diverse country. By not preparing my trip and just traveling to Guatemala with an open-minded mindset, unprepared, I was very much amused and amazed in my first week. Guatemala was so much different than the Netherlands, my home country. I noticed plenty of fun things that aren’t covered in any guidebook and so, I would like to tell you about these things in this post. Enjoy!
1. It’s Always Someone’s Birthday
You don’t need a morning alarm call in Guatemala. If you are not waking up from the noisy roasters or barking street dogs, you will wake up from one of your neighbors who is letting off ridiculously loud firecrackers to wake up the birthday person. Once it was the birthday of the daughter of my homestay family, the noise of firecrackers started at 05:00am in the morning and afterwards loud happy birthday music was played. Let the day begin!
2. The people are super friendly
The local Guatemalans are super friendly! I lived in a homestay at a local neighborhood in Panajachel and all the neighbors said hi all the time. Once I was in a little tienda and the tienda had no more onions which I needed to prepare my dinner. One of my neighbors told me to walk home with her to give me some onions. I told her, I wouldn’t mind walking another 500 meters to try to buy them at another tienda, but she insisted me to walk home with her and in the end, she gave me some onions. She didn’t want any money in return. It was such a nice gesture. I never experienced this in the Netherlands.
Also, every local who works at a bar or any other local would be happy to chat with you. They can definitely help you to find your way around in Guatemala or to improve your Spanish.
3. The buses are like highway rollercoasters
The awesome used to be US school buses are beautifully decorated and one of the coolest busses I have been on so far. The busses probably have seats for about 40 people, but are usually packed with around 70 or 80 people. Be prepared for a fully packed ride. Seats that normally facilitate two people are in Guatemala suitable for three or four people. A cozy and clammy ride it will be! And don’t forget the highway with all the curves. The drivers are somewhat crazy and you must hold the seats very well or you will slide of the leather seats in every corner. Also, don’t be surprised if salesmen and preachers jump on the bus and give loud speeches to sell products. The buses are an amusing , but not always comfortable attraction to experience.
4. There are people everywhere with shotguns
Don’t be surprised to see people with shotguns. Guards with shotguns actually… Every shop, from sofa warehouses to supermarkets seem to have at least one guard armed with a shotgun.
5. And plenty of people with machetes
And there are plenty of local Guatemalans who have a machete strapped to their hip. For me, a scary sight, but for them a practical device to use in the fields.
6. Fried Chicken shops are literally everywhere
Guatemalans love fried chicken. They love it so much that every street seems to have at least one fried chicken joint. Either a store or an individual who sell some pollo y papas.
7. Guatemala is home to some world class hiking
I love hiking. After hiking in Indonesia, Nepal and Sweden, I couldn’t wait to explore some hikes in Guatemala. Some of the hikes I did turned out to be the highlight of my Guatemala adventure.
Take the sunrise hike to Indian Nose at lake Atitlán for example, Guatemala has some truly epic scenery to boast about.
8. Everyone gets sick once in Guatemala
It’s just part of the deal. If you spend any length of time in Guatemala, or in Central America in general, at some point, you get sick. I know people who only visited Guatemala for 5 days and got sick after three days of traveling. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of food safety standards in Guatemala. Unfortunately, I also had to use antibiotics when traveling for 5 months through Guatemala.
9. Guatemala is a country with something for everyone
Guatemala is a country which really does have something for everyone. Think about big cities, ancient cities, volcanoes, mountains, temples, flooded caves, crystal clear water, jungles, Mayan villages, cool bars, or retro cafes. It is pretty easy to get off the beaten track and to explore new and exciting things.
10. There is almost a church in every street
Especially in the smaller towns and villages, you will almost find a building that somehow functions as a church. So, no huge churches, but small houses that play loud music in the evenings and are visited by many Guatemalans.
11. The mercados are awesome in Guatemala
Nothing is more fun than strolling through a market where local vendors are offering their wares. Most of the local markets around lake Atitlán are vibrant, colorful, and filled with exotic smells. The local market offers some of the freshest and cheapest produce around.
12. There are always stray dogs around
There is always a stray dog or two around. Nobody seems bothered by this. They just wander around. I like dogs and all, but sometimes they make me feel scared, for example when I had to cross a narrow street with five stray dogs blocking my pathway. Just remember that they are not always friendly and cute.
13. You can take public transportation everywhere you go
During the day or night, you can always find a ride back home! The most efficient way to get around is by tuk tuk in the smaller cities or by bus in the bigger cities. A single ride in a tuk tuk only costs you Q5 or Q10 ($0.65 – $1.30). You can also jump in the back of a collective pickup truck and drive around the town.
14. There is garbage or trash everywhere
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of garbage and trash everywhere in Guatemala. Trash has been simply dumped in several places in the ground and nature is covered by trash. The famous lake Atitlán for example, has been blanketed with a carpet of toxic cyanobacteria, putting the brakes on fishing and making it dangerous for people to swim in the lake.
15. You will love the food in Guatemala
While some restaurants serve “gringo food”, others serve authentic dishes. I couldn’t get enough of all the different types of tacos, gringas, quesadillas, and burritos. You will definitely get to like it and maybe even miss it when traveling back home again.
And there you have it: 15 random things that nobody told me about traveling in Guatemala! Did any of the things nobody tells you about traveling in Guatemala surprise you? Leave us a comment below!
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