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First Timers in Guatemala

Houston, Tx
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First Timers in Guatemala

Hello,

My husband and I are taking a one-week trip to Antigua, Guatemala and are staying at the Santo Domingo Hotel. We're flying in Saturday afternoon and leaving Friday morning, which gives us five full days. We have some questions that hopefully some experienced travelers can answer.

1. We are debating if we should bring our iPhones. We aren't planning to make phone calls or use the internet during our trip, and it would really suck to lose them. We were thinking about getting a couple of pre-paid phones. Has anyone done this and could recommend a good cell phone provider?

2. We were thinking about taking traveler's checks and cashing them in at an Antigua bank. However, I've read that thieves watch for people leaving banks. What is the best way to carry cash? We are hoping to avoid ATMs. Also, do Antiguan businesses take U.S. dollars?

3. Any recommendations for restaurants in Antigua that serve traditional Guatemalan cuisine? What dish did you get?

4. It's my understanding that the Pacaya Volcano tour has the best chance at going close to lava flow. Has anyone booked a tour of the Pacaya Volcano tour through the Santo Domingo Hotel? If so, what was your experience?

5. We'd like to do a one-day tour of Tikal. Debating between Elizabeth Bell agency or the Guatemalan Adventures agency.

6. Are there any nearby nature tours? Would love to do a nature hike and learn about the local animals and fauna.

7. How easy is it to book a tour with a major tour agency of Lake Atitlan and Chichicastenango’s Market or schedule a zip line ride with 24-hours notice? I don't want to book every second of our trip in advance, but would like an opportunity to go if we feel like it.

So far we're planning to do a walking tour of Antigua, do a class at the chocolate museum, visit Pacaya and Tikal and maybe one other day excursion. Should be enough for five days right?

The Dalles, Oregon
Destination Expert
for Guatemala, Belize
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11,233 posts
326 reviews
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1. Re: First Timers in Guatemala

1. I'd leave the nice phones home and buy cheapies there. If you're going to be together the whole time, 1 will work. You might pay less than $20 for the phone and a few hundred minutes.

2. I wouldn't plan to use US dollars. The ATM at Santo Domingo should be fine. Here's my money advice from a previous thread:

_________________________________

For money I take US cash in small bills (no torn or really worn bills) and enough local currency to get me started which I save from previous trips or order online and pick up at my bank. I also take American Express travelers checks for hotels, Spanish schools, dive ops, etc. that allow me to pay that way - I find out in advance. Then for the rest I use ATMs as I go; in my experience you get the cash in the local currency and the exchange rate is decent. There are fees involved but that's just a travel expense along with many others; some banks charge more than others. I check out the forums ahead and avoid ATMs in areas with a history of problems.

Recently I set up a travel account at a different bank from where I normally do my banking; ATM card use is free and I use it while traveling, then change my password and empty it so I don't have worries about subsequent removal of the funds if the ATMs are buggy. I have it set up with daily emailed balance notices so I can keep an eye on my balance without having to use my bank password in questionable wifi environments.

I have a new travel credit card from Bank of America, too - no foreign transaction or ATM fees; incidentally it works in Europe, too, because it has the chip places there expect.

I only go out with the amount of money I need, sometimes in a 'throw down' wallet with a few expired cards and the day's cash. If I am transitioning from 1 place to another I keep my passport, cash, cards, etc. under my clothes.

Remember to notify your bank and card company you'll be using the cards on foreign shores - where and when - and also find out before you hand over your card if there will be an additional fee for charge card use - sometimes 5% or more. I email myself a scan of the travelers check numbers and our main passport pages and pack a copy of them with me, too. I also go to www.oanda.com/currency/travel-exchange-rates and make tiny cheat sheets with the conversion rates for each country to keep handy.

3. I like the Fonda de la Calle Real restaurants, especially the 1 nearest the park on the street with the arch and the Pepián soup is my favorite. For places that the locals go to eat great regional food, find a hole-in-the-wall near the market.

4. You'll likely pay more through them but it should be a good tour. Since the eruption a few years ago, though, I think it's highly unlikely you'll see flowing lava.

5. Here are 2 transportation/tour providers I’ve been pleased with in Guatemala for share shuttles, private transfers, and flight arrangements; they both offer Tikal trips:

Adrenalina Tours: www.adrenalinatours.com

Rainbow Travel: www.rainbowtravelcenter.com

Are you sure you don't want to do an overnight to Tikal? So worth it imo. Either way, try to get a tour with archaeologist/naturalist Roxy Ortiz - she's amazing.

www.tikalroxy.blogspot.com

6. If you go to the lake, the Panajachel Reserve is nice - monkeys, waterfalls, sky bridges, ziplines.

7. Shouldn't be a problem, depending on what you're interested in doing.

Sounds like a lot! Have a great trip, whatever you decide.

Central America
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2. Re: First Timers in Guatemala

Basic phones and SIM cards are cheap in Guate. Several providers to choose from, but TIGO I believe has the widest coverage. That's the provider I use and have yet to find myself without signal almost anywhere in Guate.

its a very long haul from Antigua to Tikal unless you fly to Flores.

Edited: 7:47 pm, November 20, 2013
3. Re: First Timers in Guatemala

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New York, New York...
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4. Re: First Timers in Guatemala

I lived in Antigua for several months and got along just fine without traveler's checks. As for the ATMs, they are totally fine as long as you stick to the ones at the banks in centrally located areas (i.e. the ones near parque central - those are the banks I frequented during my time there). They have armed guards in front manning the ATMs, and you needn't worry. Just make sure that you notify your bank that you will be using your cards there or they'll freeze your account.

As for Tikal, I would recommend flying there through Guatemala's local airline. It's only a one-hour flight (versus a 10-12 hour bus ride). You can arrange this directly with the airline.

5. Re: First Timers in Guatemala

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Removed on: 1:05 pm, November 22, 2013
california
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6. Re: First Timers in Guatemala

First, you will need to return to Guatemala, there is so much to see and do. Regarding the phones--not certain you need to purchase a phone for such a short visit. Your hotel or tour guide, etc, will make calls for you. We regularly take our I-phone because there are safe WiFi places everywhere. You would be able to use FaceTime(free calls) and e-mail at your hotel. Just turn off roaming, etc and do not otherwise use data. The camera is so handy for a quick photo. Keep the phone safe. Enjoy!

Charleston, South...
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7. Re: First Timers in Guatemala

You need to write a traveling book for Guatemala! You always give great advice!

Bonita Springs...
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14 posts
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8. Re: First Timers in Guatemala

Casa Santo Domingo is great!!

Tikal is very far and just an exhaustive trip. I suggest a trip to Lago Atitlan - its so beautiful and stay @ Posada Santiago's stone cabins. Also time it with a trip to the ChiChi market. Do not bring anything but comfy shoes! and pack very lightly this isnt 1st world travel.

Houston, Tx
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9. Re: First Timers in Guatemala

Just came back from our Antigua trip. Thought it would be helpful to future travelers if I answered my own questions:

1. We ended up bringing our iPhones and keeping them in the safe in our hotel room. I made sure to keep the phone on airplane mode or off so I wouldn't get any international data charges. I also turned on settings where you need to input a password. Also, the iphone has a setting where it completely erases all data after 10 failed password attempts so I turned that on as well. We never used them. Also, never got around to needing a cell phone in Guatemala.

2. We didn't bring any traveler's checks. Prior to leaving, we exchanged $1000 for quetzales through our bank (Chase), and asked to for different denominations. We also took another $1000 in USD and a credit card and a debit card. We kept our money and cards in the hotel safe and other hiding areas, and only brought what we needed for the day. The only time we carried a credit card was on our excursion to Tikal in case we got stranded and needed a flight/hotel. We tipped our tour guides/drivers in USD to hold onto our quetzales. I paid for our tours in advance of our trip, and we're not big shoppers and didn't do any fancy dining, so we had a lot of quetzales and USD leftover. Never used the credit or debit cards.

3. We went to a restaurant in Antigua on the street with the arch, Fonda de La Calle Real. My husband ordered Pepian and I ordered Suban-iq. Both were pretty good. On a Sunday night, I ate what looked like chicken flautas with cabbage on top at one of the food carts in front of La Merced Church and had the effects of food poisoning later that night, which kept me up all night.

4-5 - I did both the Pacaya and Tikal tours with Elizabeth Bell's agency and we enjoyed both. The tour company through Santo Domingo was more expensive.

6. The Tikal tour also had a side benefit to seeing a lot of animals and fauna. Pacaya tour also has a lot of vegetation but not much animals. We ended up booking a tour of Chichicastenango and Lake Atitlan through Guatemala Adventures. On all our tours, it was nice to see different parts of Guatemala.

7. I spoke to Elizabeth Bell's agency and it seemed like we would've been able to schedule a walking tour (didn't end up doing this), a coffee plantation tour and zipline tour with only a couple hours notice.

Houston, Tx
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10. Re: First Timers in Guatemala

Forgot to mention in my response that one of the tour guides, who lives in Antigua, recommended a restaurant named something with the word "Verde" in it. Anyway, the restaurant name translated in English means the Green Belly. Didn't end up eating there but it'll be on our to-do list for next time.