8 Things You Should Probably Know About Guatemala Before You Come Here

The Showers Are All Out To Kill You

The guy who designed the electric shower system used throughout Guatemala, is a raving lunatic.

There’s no other way to describe it.

I once stayed at a place when I was in Lake Atitlan that had 2 plug sockets IN THE SHOWER!

Who’s using those?!?

My 2nd favourite shower in Guatemala though, was the one we had in our homestay in Xela when we were studying Spanish.

This one was the usual tangle of electrical madness, with plenty of black tape thrown in for good measure.

Initially it was fine and barely even noteworthy by Guatemalan standards. But as the days went on the burning smells became stronger and stronger until one day it actually caught fire and started kicking out black smoke.

We told our host mum (who was actually a genuinely fantastic host), and she replied with the textbook Guatemalan “oh yeah, it’ll just need some more tape”. Yeah…no worries.


Stray Dogs Are An Issue

If you’re not a fan of dogs, then be warned. Guatemala may be a tricky time for you.

Guatemala is home to easily the highest numbers of street dogs I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

Awareness about prevention is slowly increasing here, and there’s a growing number of non-profits in certain areas focused on Neutering strays and domestic pet dogs to prevent further population growth.

For the most part they wont really give you any hassles, but I’ve had a few instances where that definitely wasn’t the case.

The ones you encounter when you’re outside of the main cities and a bit more remote (like some of the ones I ran into when out hiking a few times) can be much more aggressive. Carry a big stick, and try not to run. Although I know that’s easier said than done!


Most People Speak No English

When I came to Guatemala for the first time, I thought maybe most people might speak a little bit of English.

I wasn’t expecting too much, but I thought between their odd word of English and my odd word of Spanish, we’d probably get through it together with maybe a few miscommunications here and there.

Turns out I needn’t have worried about any miscommunication though, as most Guatemalans speak absolutely no English whatsoever. So there’s no chance of that happening.

I quite quickly learnt that my 5 word Spanish vocab arsenal wasn’t going to cut it if I intended to survive the 3 months I had planned here.

going back to school learning spanish in xela guatemala
going back to school learning spanish in xela guatemala

It was time to knuckle down and get serious. So we signed up for Spanish classes in Xela and invested a bit of time in making the rest of our trip easier and more rewarding. In hindsight I wish we could have signed up for longer, but we were on a time constraint and needed to get moving. Still, it definitely helped to work on some of the basics, and I’d recommend doing the same if you’re planning to be around Central or South America for any length of time. Classes are cheap, and the locals are some of the friendliest, chattiest people I’ve met so you’ll never be short of someone to practice with.


It’s Always Someone’s Birthday

You’re pretty unlikely to ever need a morning alarm call in Guatemala.

That’s because no matter how early you need to be up, there’s virtually guaranteed to be a bloke in the house next door to you who’s awake earlier and letting off ridiculously loud firecrackers just to let you know he beat you out of bed.

I’ve heard and read that setting off firecrackers or bangers is a tradition on peoples birthdays here in Guatemala. Don’t ask me why, but apparently that’s a thing. Because nothing says many happy returns like a small firework set off in the daylight, right?

By that reasoning, people in Guatemala seem to have a LOT of birthdays, because these things are going off every single morning.

On the plus side though, I now have a new found appreciation for life, since I get to start every morning with the massively relieving realisation that I’m not actually being shot at.


Don’t Expect To Get Good Coffee Here

But Guatemalan coffee is some of the best in the world!

Yes. It is.

Which is why you won’t find good coffee here.

It’s far more valuable as an export commodity than it is to keep it in country and retail it domestically.

All the coffee plantations here have expert coffee tasters who grade the coffee according to quality. The best stuff is packed straight off for export.

What’s left at the end, is the stuff deemed not good enough for the international market.

And that’s the stuff you’ll be drinking when you’re here in Guatemala.

So make the most of the quality Guatemalan beans before you get into the country!


It’s Home To Some World Class Hiking

Having lived in New Zealand for a few years, we’re big into hiking, and we planned to do a lot of it while we were here in Central America.

A month into our time here, I can tell you that we have not been disappointed.

hiking in guatemala
hiking in guatemala

Some of the hikes we’ve done have turned out to be the highlights of the whole trip.

From the overnight hike up Volcano Acatenango to the 3 day Xela to Lake Atitlan with the awesome Quetzaltrekkers team, Guatemala has some truly epic scenery to boast about.


Guatemalans Are Some Of The Friendliest People I’ve Ever Met

Every time you leave the hotel or hostel in Guatemala, make sure to allow some extra time for your journey.

It’s pretty much impossible to walk down the street here without making some new friends, because literally every person you walk past will give you a smile and say hello. Even in the bigger cities.

It’s such a refreshing change to most big Western cities where no-one says a word to anyone, and everyone just silently goes about their own business.

I know which streets I’d rather walk down every day.


Everyone Gets Sick

You should know that going in.

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’re going down.

The best way is to just tell yourself that from the start.

There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of food safety standards here. Just walk into any of the little butcheries or market places where they’re selling meat and veg and you’ll see the inevitability of it all.

Bring plenty of sickness meds with you if possible, keep hydrated and be ready to use those electrolyte and probiotic replenishers when necessary.


Wrapping Up

Despite a few extra precautions being needed here and there, Guatemala is a beautiful country with a lot to offer, and it’s filled with insanely friendly people.

It’s as entertaining, challenging and rewarding all in equal measure.


Have you been to Guatemala? What were your highlights/lowlights?

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