Guatemala

Currency

Guatemalan Quetzal

Language(s)

Spanish

Independence

1821

capital

Guatemala City

driving

Right side of the road

Calling Code

+502

visa requirements

If you are staying in Guatemala for less than 90 days, you do not need a tourist visa.  Guatemala is a part of the CA-4 agreement.  The CA-4 agreement includes El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  It allows for free movement across these countries' borders.    

entry and departure taxes

There is no official entry and departure tax for Guatemala, however I have heard of people being scammed into paying a tax.  This did not happen to me, so I can not speak on this issue.

crossing the border

If you are a backpacker, like me, and trying to travel on the cheap, the cheapest way to get into Guatemala is by crossing the border by land.  There are no buses that go directly across the border from Belize to Guatemala, so you have to take a taxi to the border and then walk across.  There are several bus companies that you can use once you get into Guatemala.

Referencing the picture above, the far right red circle is Belize customs.  The parking lot to the east of the building is where taxis drop you off.  You can also exchange money here.  I took a taxi from Unitedville, Belize, which is about an hour and a half west from Belize City.  My taxi driver was excellent.  His name is William Audinette and you can reach him at +501 625-4365.  After walking through Belize customs, I walked across a parking lot and the Guatemalan immigration office was on my left, as you can see with the second red circle.  The process of getting through Guatemalan customs was very easy.  I am fairly sure the immigration officer did not look at me or my passport.  After you complete the Guatemalan immigration process, you continue walking west and cross over a river.  Immediately across the river, the Fuentes del Norte buses are on your right.  I did not use these buses, but I believe they take you to Guatemala City.  I used the local collectivo bus to travel to Flores, Guatemala.  The third red circle on the far left is the location of the bus station to get to Flores.

transportation

The collective bus to Flores, Guatemala was very interesting and I highly recommend it, if you want an authentic experience.  Here is my experience:

It's 30 Quetzales to get a bus from the border to Flores, so I hop in. There were only three people on the mini-bus. That had me excited because it was hot as you know what and I did not want to be touched. Wishful thinking. We take off for Flores, but not 5 minutes into the ride we stop at this convenient store and the entire bus fills up. I don't mean like every seat was full. I'm talking clown car style. I'm thinking, this can't get much worse. Just wait.  

 The tuk-tuk I took from the market to Flores.

The tuk-tuk I took from the market to Flores.

When the bus isn't moving, the bus is a hot sweaty mess of stagnant air. When the bus is moving, it's a hot sweaty mess of flowing air. Flowing air > Stagnant air. But, we were on the back country roads, going at least 90mph, so I'm thinking this will be alright.  Everything will be alright.  Ten minutes after we really get going, the bus driver stops and lets more people on!!!! I don't even know how they fit!! We get going again and I'm now praying that no one else gets on this bus.  We stop again. And......someone gets off. Thank goodness 🙌🏼
We stop again. This time at a gas station. It would be 100% okay with me if the bus driver filled the bus up with gas. I'm not about that running-out-of-gas life. We drive past the filling tanks and stop by this little hut with three ladies under it. I KID YOU NOT- the bus driver gets out and the lady has a burrito waiting for him!! Remember there are about 25 people on this tiny bus and our driver spends 15 minutes eating a burrito!!  I suppose everyone needs to eat lunch. 
Our driver finished his roadside burrito, so we are on our way again. The next half hour goes smoothly with people getting off the bus. I can almost breath and stretch my right leg that has fallen asleep from this guy's bag of mangos that was crushing it.
I see a sign for Flores and I think to myself, "thank goodness!! Home stretch!" Just then the bus driver slows down to let these two clowns cross the road. Yes, I mean clowns. Like circus/birthday party clowns. I shouldn't have been so naive because sure enough, those clowns hop right onto our minibus. They start yelling in Spanish and apparently telling jokes. I kept hearing words like blanca, rubia, besos, and bonita and assume I am the butt of their jokes because I'm the only white blonde female on this bus. I ignore them. When they are about to get off the bus, they kept saying, "Dinero! Dinero! Dinero!" I pretend to not understand them. They then try English, asking for money again. I pretend I don't know Spanish or English. So I got out of paying them. 
The last part of the trip was uneventful, other than getting dropped off a kilometer away from where I was supposed to and having to take a tuk-tuk to Flores.  The collective drops people off at the local market.  It was not far from Flores, but not having an idea of where I was, had me a little concerned.  Everything turned out alright though.

Volunteering

If you are looking to volunteer in Guatemala, I recommend ARCAS.  ARCAS was originally created build a rescue center to care for and rehabilitate wild animals that were being confiscated on the black market by the Guatemalan government.  Since its establishment, the ARCAS Rescue Center has grown into one of the largest and most complex rescue centers in the world, receiving between 300 and 600 animals of more than 40 species per year.  

ARCAS offers three plans for volunteers:

1) Plan Mochilero is for experienced travelers who speak some Spanish and prefer to arrive at the project site on their own with no reservation.
2) Plan Reserva offers a reservation, and for the Peten project airport pick-up.
3) Plan Completo is for less experienced travelers who don´t speak Spanish. For an additional deposit, volunteers are guaranteed a reservation, picked up at the airport and offered additional services depending on the project they are going to.
When you arrive at the project site, you will be asked to register and sign a waiver form. Please bring with you a copy of the picture page of your passport.
Other than the Plan Completo deposit, you can make your volunteer payment in cash in quetzals or US dollars at the project site. (Plan Reserva and Plan completo need to be made beforehand) 
You can contact ARCAS at  volunteers@arcasguatemala.org.

number one must see

I highly recommend Flores, Guatemala.  Flores is located in the middle of the northern half of Guatemala.  It’s on an island on Lake Petén Itzá.  It is a charming town that is very laid back with adorable laneways and vibrant buildings.  Being surrounded by a lake, there are plenty of swimming opportunities.  You can just jump in front many points on the island.  You can also take a boat to the areas surrounding the lake.  Overall, Flores is a very relaxing and charismatic town.