Guatemala - Preparation and Departure
August 15, 2004
|Flight KL0685 Amsterdam - México DF, MX0389 México DF - Guatemala|
What I write about preparation should not be taken as an inspiration - rather as a reminder, what unusual problems you can have and what is good to think about.
- Get an air ticket. Most regular flights from Europe require a transfer in the US. If you would need a visa to enter the US, consider one of the few direct flights to México (e.g. KLM from Amsterdam, Lufthansa from Frankfurt).
- Prepare the week of vacations. As for maps, they are difficult to obtain even in Guatemala. I found a simple folding map of Guatemala with a scale of 1:500.000 at 70 Q ($9) only in the third bookstore and according to locals, this is normal (nobody uses a map there). Download and print out a free detailed map of Guatemala (by region) from Czech map server before departure if you want to avoid problems.
Instead of a guidebook, I downloaded several travel guides from the internet - several Czech reports, English-language Enjoy Guatemala and Bootsnall and finally official pages of Guatemala Tourism Visita Guatemala (in Spanish). I have certainly forgotten some resources, because it was finally 30 densely printed pages, but you will find further similar links with common search engines, further in this text or under the photographs.
I have not arranged any hotel, it was the task of my employer. If you come as tourists, I recommend Pension Dos Lunas ($10 per person in a two-bed room including breakfast and transport from the airport). Somebody recommended me Hotel Fenix in downtown. It should be OK, but take note that it is located in Zona 1, a high-crime area, which is better to avoid. So if I can recommend something, book the first night in Dos Lunas and try to get out of the city asap. You will find accommodation in the countryside much cheaper ($5 - $2) without reservations and without unnecessary risk.
As I am interested in railroads, it was important for me to arrange a ride on a freight train from Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios. More about it on a special page. If you are not a train enthusiast and just want to get to the East, you'd better take comfortable and cheap buses of Litegua Corporation.
Just an information for readers of old guidebooks - phone numbers changed in Guatemala on September 18, 2004. Seven-digit numbers have been transformed into eight-digit. Use a conversion table (alernatively form).
- Get vaccination. The biggest health risk is malaria. It occurs up to 1600 m above sea level (Guatemala City is OK, but e.g. Tikal is risky), especially in the evening. The best protection is a repellant (also due to other diseases), but everybody should also take Malarone (one pill a day during the whole stay in an infected area; start 1 - 2 days earlier and stop one week after return). There is no other vaccination (just other medicines). I have taken the pills and had no problems with that. There were problems with mosquitos only at one place - at Ceibal National Park. Even though they probably were not infected (it happened around noon), I was happy to be protected. So I also recommend this to other visitors.
Another tropic risk is Dengue fever, also transmitted by mosquitos. There is no vaccination and no cure (you treat it as a flu - supportively only), but luckily it is rather rare. The best protection is a repellant.
It is also recommended to take a vaccine for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and typhoid fever. Hepatitis A requires two shots within 6 - 12 months. Given the short notice of departure, I managed to get only the first one, which means about 70 % protection. The second shot should (supposedly) protect 100 % for the rest of your life. Typhoid vaccine protects about 3 years. The way Hepatitis B transmits (blood or "bodily fluids") is such that I did not ask for it - it would have been useless.
Take this just as a high-level overview from a laic. You will find more reliable information on specialized servers, e.g. The Travel Doctor.
- Pack the bags. It is worth taking light summer clothing, but don't forget a light pullover or a jacket - Guatemala City is in the mountains and it is sometimes cold there. Rainy season lasts from May till October, so be prepared for short intense showers (up to 1 or 2 hours per day, usually in the afternoon, but not every day). If you forget a piece of clothing, you may have a problem buying it on the spot - Guatemalans are generally shorter. (Personally I had a problem buying sandals of 44 size in a big market place.) I took a sleeping bag and regretted, because I did not use it at all (the climate is warm and cheap hotels are everywhere). On the other hand, I took care to bring many small presents, as Guatemalans are nice and a small present makes a difference. You can import maximum 3 liters of alcohol (more than enough) and all foods except fresh fruit and meat. European electrical appliances require an adapter (Guatemala uses U.S. sockets). If you need one, bring it with you, you may not find any on the spot. The only usable currency in Guatemala is US $ (convert them into Quetzales after arrival). Do not even try EURos, banks do not normally accept them. Taking a cell phone also does not make much sense, because they have a different system and both European and U.S. cell phones are useless.
But now let's get back to the trip. I took a train from Brussels to Amsterdam Schiphol and took off with KLM towards Mexico (the flight lasted about 12 hours). I slept most of the flight. In Mexico, I had to go through passport control and take my baggage (the same system as in the US - they do not recognize transit - but at least I did not need visa). The airport was a little confusing, but finally I managed everything during the three hours scheduled for the transfer. The Mexicana aircraft did not have a baggage space, my backpack had to go to the cabin. On arrival to Guatemala City, nobody asked me for any fee. It was enough to fill in a form and show a passport. A company taxi waited for me at the airport and took me to the hotel. It was about 11 pm. I had to show up at work the next day at 6 am. Exotics has started.
© Jan Peula, 2004