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Facts about Guatemala
Stuff to See and Do
What to Eat
When we crossed the border into Guatemala, the first thing I found myself craving was an atol. Whether or not this can be considered the national drink of Guatemala, I don't know, but it is the symbolic drink that defines Guatemala in my mind. Atol is a traditionally corn-based drink, but it also can be made with rice, plaintains, or even chocolate. Scour the markets and ask every street vendor in town where you can get this delicious hot drink. For some strange reason, I am finding it much more difficult to locate a good atol vendor this time around.
If you don't know what a bunuelo is, it's like a pizzelle. If you don't know what a pizzelle is, it's like a light, fluffy, delicious goodness in your mouth. If you're lucky, you'll find these at markets where there are street vendors. They usually come in sets of 3 and are soaked in a syrup made from water, sugar, and anise. My mouth is watering just writing this.
Where to Shop
Arts & Handicrafts
The huipil (pronounced wee-peel) is a handmade blouse worn by Mayan women. The same fabric can also be worn by men and is village-specific (i.e., Solola, San Marcos, Chichicastenango, Todos Santos). If you look around, you'll see the huipil used to make purses, handbags, belts, pillows, and other gifts for tourists. By themselves, they make great decorations. You can buy them new or used. The finest huipiles can go for hundreds of dollars, but you can still find huipiles in good condition for Q150 or less. When shopping for huipiles, make sure to distinguish between new v. used (look at the threading around the collar and the condition of the base cloth, or just smell it) and loom v. hand-embroidered. Hope you find the right huipil for you!
When traveling in Guatemala, ground transport options are abundant. At any major hub you will likely encounter small swarms of folks offering information about the next bus or collectivo. Often times you will get misleading information from people trying to fill there transport. You would do well to know the destinations nearby and travel routes so as not to wind up on a two hour scenic detour that will cost you extra fares. As a general practice, just keep asking different people the same question until you can a deduce a likely truth.
Guatemala is a small country with lots of beauty. If you have time, explore around a bit! It's quite easy to get between towns, apart from taking chicken buses. These days, there are many micro-buses, which are privately owned and operated. This means the fares are reasonable, the stops are limited, and you're more likely to get your own seat! There are ways to organize rides through hotels, but it's also possible to just stand on the road traveling between cities and wait for one. Just stick your arm out, and they will stop (unless they're full). It's possible other cars and trucks will stop too, so if you have any apprehension about getting in, then don't. There will be more along shortly. Also, be sure you negotiate the price before actually getting in. That way, you can pay up front and not be expected to pay more later. Then, just relax and enjoy the ride. Sometimes, the micro-buses drive just as fast and crazy as the chicken buses. But, enjoy the ride! It's an adventure, right?!
In Guatemala the most common form of transportation are minivans or the so-called "chickenbusses". The chickenbusses are old-American-extremely-well-decorated- school busses (shiny coats of paint ouside, religious ornaments and colored love declarations at the inside. In these busses you will be kept awake by the reggaeton that pounds from the speakers and by the amount of people that actually seem to fit into a bus. The buses are dirt cheap, abundant and drive you to every place imaginable. Many travelers use the buses for budget reasons and for the actual local experience. A real experience it is, taking into account that you can buy your drivers license for a few bugs at the blackmarket
A look at official Guatemalan policy reveals that the country DOES NOT charge an entry or exit tax at any over-land border crossing. This mean that the $3, $5, or $10 USD they are asking you to pay to cross the border is a bribe! They will claim it is required and will refuse to stamp your passport until it is paid. To avoid paying this blatant bribe, simply ask for a receipt. They won't be able to provide you one and will let you pass without payment. I've even gone so far as to hand them the money (bribe), watch them stamp my passport, then ask for my receipt. They handed back my money and stamped passport and called the next person in line. So far I'm 2 for 2 when using this technique. Good luck!
General Availability: High
Quality of Bandwidth: Itís a crap-shoot. Usually low with wifi and high when connected via cables.
Frequency of internet in hotels: High in hostels and mid-range hotels. Low in guesthouses or budget hotels.
Frequency of internet in campgrounds: Campgrounds that were part of other lodges or restaurants all had wifi. Camping in national parks did not have any type of internet.
Average cost to connect: Free with accommodation. Internet cafes are everywhere. They seem to have the most reliable and speedy connections. The more touristy the area, the higher the cost of the internet. In Antiqua most bars and cafes offer free wifi.