|Guatemala Trip Information
(Carry this sheet with you and give a copy to family at home.)
To Guatemala from the US, dial 011 and then country code 502 (Give this info to your emergency contact.) To call the US from a Guatemalan cell phone dial 001-area code.
Trip Coordinator Contact Info: Penny Rambacher www.MiraclesinAction.org
Penny’s cell in Guatemala 011-502-5057-3797, Penny’s home in Antigua, Guatemala 011-502-7832-6301.
Magic Jack US phone number to Antigua 941-525-9864
Penny’s home/office in FL - 239-348-0815 and cell in US 954-557-0816 241 Countryside Dr., Naples, FL 34104 Email: Penny@MiraclesInAction.org
Weather and Packing: It can get cool in the evenings due to their higher altitude (about 4,500’ above sea level). You probably won’t need a sweater during the day. It should be warm and sunny (70-80s). I recommend packing light weight cotton pants, jeans, and if you like shorts – bring longer ones (the Mayan people do not wear shorts, and are more conservative). Please – No tight, low cut tank tops. You can bring a hat for the sun. When we go out to eat at night, you can wear nicer slacks, skirts and long sleeve tops. You may need a fleece, sweater or jacket at night. (medium weight in winters, light weight in summers).
In tourist towns, there are great restaurants with wonderful food and atmosphere. Panajachel (on Lake Atitlan) is more casual than Antigua. Yes, you can swim in Lake Atitlan, but I think it is a bit cool, coming from FL.
Most people pack their personal clothing in a roll aboard suitcase and take it as a carry-on. This way they can check 1 or 2 duffels or suitcases of humanitarian aid (up to 50 lbs each). Bring a day-pack to carry your personal things (camera, film, water, tissues, hand sanitizer, snack, copy of your passport, sunglasses, sunscreen, small amount of money, this itinerary, map,..). Larger amounts of money and your passport should be carried in a money belt, or left locked in your suitcase. NO PURSES OR JEWELRY!!! Bring small lock for your suitcase. Anyone staying at Penny’s house does not need to lock their suitcase, but you should not leave money laying out.
Bring something warm to sleep in, because it can be chilly at night from Nov.- March. Also, bring earplugs. There are lots of barking dogs, roosters, church bells, buses, and fireworks at all hours. Trust me on this one! I have extra pairs at my house.
We prefer you do NOT bring candy for the kids. You can bring raisins, dried fruits, nuts, granola bars, protein bars, and healthy snacks. Keep candy to a minimum and save their teeth. Do not hand out anything to children, until our host director arranges how donations will be handed out fairly and safely. Most of the time we prefer to give the aid we bring directly to the partner charity, rather than teaching people they get hand-outs when they see a gringo. (See Packing List for more info).
TSA (Transportation Safety Admin) will not allow sharp items (even children’s scissors) and liquids on board the airplane. You should put your liquids, gels, and toothpaste in to one clear quart bag. No container can be more than 3oz size. Or check your liquids in one of the bags of humanitarian aid. (Penny has shampoo, toothpaste, etc in each bathroom at her house, and the hotel has amenities as well).
The airline will give you two forms to fill out in the airplane. One is for Immigration, and one for Customs. The smaller Immigrations form is given to the Immigrations official with your Passport. Then, proceed to Baggage Claim, and collect your bags. You should leave the baggage area and proceed to Customs/SAT alone or in groups of two, not as a mission/tourist group. Customs will thoroughly inspect the bags of large groups.
(Do not declare anything on this form). You are a tourist and all your bags contain personal items, duty free.
The forms ask where you are staying – just write “Antigua” or Lake Atitlan. Keep it simple.
When you hand your Customs form to the Customs Official, and you are traveling alone with little luggage, they generally point straight ahead to the exit door – keep moving and go out and wait in the lobby for the others. If they point to the line for the x-ray machine, you may be asked questions or they may look inside your bags. Best to say very little. Never tell them they are donations. Tell them everything is your personal items. If they see school supplies or toys, and ask, tell them they are for your host’s kids and neighbors. If they insist you pay SAT duty, they will ask you for a receipt or invoice for the items. If you do not have one, they will estimate the value, and charge 30%. If you brought a lot of aid, I can make you an invoice of low value. I have found it is best to say very little, unless asked, and give short responses, and never use the word “mission” or “donations” – because then they must charge you duty on donations.
Re-group after Customs in the lobby. The airport is hectic once you leave the building. And, porters will try to take your cart with your bags to help you. Unless you want their help, tell them NO. You do not need to use their services. Keep watch on the baggage and your backpack. Remember do NOT bring or wear any jewelry or purses. Small daypacks or backpacks are the best way to hold larger valuables, and money belts or zipper pockets in pants, are best for passports, credit cards and cash. They are very talented at creating a distraction, slitting open backpacks and purses, or zipping open your purse, without you even knowing – so be alert and stay together watching your buddies. (Pick-pocketing is no different than in Europe where gypsies do the same thing, or NYC subways. Miracles in Action has never had a problem with this, because our travelers follow this advise.)
TIPS for Porters: Before you hand out tips, ask the others if they have already tipped your porter(s). – they “double-dip”. To prevent this, one person should handle the tipping, after everything is on the van or truck. Remember who helped you, since “others” will stand by, hoping for a tip too. If you have used one porter from Baggage belt to van, and he helped load, his tip should be about $2-3. They take USD$. This is not NYC where they expect $20 tips.
BANKING: Because of the recent problems of electronic fraud on ATM transactions, we no longer recommend using your ATM card in Guatemala. There is no way to protect yourself on account theft, so best to avoid them, except for emergency use, and never in Antigua.
Do Not change your US dollars at the currency exchange desk at GUA, because the rate is awful. There are banks in the departure area, upstairs, but many people will accept dollars. There are banks in Antigua and Panajachel to exchange dollars. Most require a passport. Exchange about $200, and this will give you about 1500 Q to cover food, tips, gifts, and hotels for several days. Use a money belt or secure place (Zipper pockets) for your cash. Remember that most hotels and restaurants either do not take credit cards or they charge you 5-10% for using one. Most places take cash in USD or Q. Smaller restaurants are easier to pay in Qs. Only really nice restaurants take credit cards. If you have Quetzals left at the end of your trip, I am happy to buy them back.
HOTELS and TOWNS:
1. ANTIGUA - 40 minute drive from GUA airport.
Antigua is a fun town to explore with cobblestone streets, colonial buildings, ruins, and surrounded by 3 volcanoes (one is active and is sometimes seen red at night – it is called Fuego (Fire) and it is not dangerous). Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a great place to take Spanish lessons and have your own teacher for very little cost. You can get an inexpensive massage, manicure or pedicure in Antigua. Elizabeth Bell gives great walking tours Tues., Wed., Fri. and Sat. 9:30-12:30 from the central park. There are lots of American, Canadian, and European tourists, and some have made Antigua their permanent home. Many of the buildings have charming courtyards with gardens, fountains, etc. Keep your eyes on the doorways as you pass, and pop inside for a quick look. Do not wear heels – it is tough to walk on cobblestones and the sidewalks are uneven and the windowsills extend out, and you can easily hit your head in to them. When you go out to dinner, bring your flashlight, so you can see the uneven sidewalks in the dark. Do NOT walk alone at night, and do not carry valuables – there has been an increase in robbing tourists of backpacks, fanny packs and the “forbidden purses”. www.aroundantigua.com/antigua.htm
Casa de Milagros (Penny’s house) – Calle Espiritu Santa, Residenciales, 37A, Ermita Santa Lucia, Casa #13 (house 13). It is a yellow house at the end of the street heading toward Agua volcano. Guards 7832-7568 phone – if your driver needs directions in Spanish. Near market on the Alameda (divided blvd), at the end of the blvd is a church on your right. That is Santa Lucia, and the entrance gate (yellow wall with black rod iron gate) is one block in from this church. See map for complete directions. You can show it to taxi or Tuktuk drivers. Always carry the map with you, in case you get lost. My house phone is 7832-6301.
2. LAKE ATITLAN:
Panajachel - Pana is 2 ½-3 hours from Antigua, and is the main tourist town on Lake Atitlan.
Lake Atitlan is a spectacular, 1,000’ deep crater lake surrounded by 3 volcanoes and by a dozen Mayan villages, several only reachable by boat. The scenery and hiking are the best in the world. There is wonderful shopping in “Pana”, and a bit less expensive than in Antigua. You can visit by boat several of the villages. In Santa Cruz, home of our vocational school, there are several inns and restaurants along the shore. In Santiago de Atitlan (one hour across the lake) we have friends at ADISA beading workshop and disability project. This is where we funded the building of a carpentry workshop for disabled men to make frames for artwork. There are many quaint, charming villages to explore along the lake.
FOR OUR TRIPS TO THE VILLAGES: Wear sturdy walking shoes or sneakers, long shorts or cotton pants. (It will be hot during the day, with no AC, and it is likely to rain if it is summer). Bring backpack with personal items like water bottle, sunscreen, camera, hand sanitizer, small amount of money, pocket raincoat – just in case. Leave your passport, credit cards and most cash locked inside your suitcase in the hotel or Penny’s house. Hide it in a sock so it is not visible, in case someone should get in to your suitcase. I have never had problems, however, I always take precautions when I travel to any country. BRING A LOCK FOR YOUR SUITCASE.
WATER: Do not drink the tap water. I recommend you bring 1 plastic bottle of water, and keep refilling it from the hotel’s water cooler or Penny’s or Augusta’s house. Keep a bottle at your sink for brushing teeth. I have a first aid kit with Pepto Bismal and other remedies. Drink plenty of bottled water, and always bring 1 full bottle with you.
FOOD: In nicer restaurants run by Europeans, Americans, and savvy Guatemalans, they have trained the staff to wash foods, their hands, and the kitchen, so that tourists will not get sick. In these restaurants you can eat the salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, and the ice is pure. Only drink bottled water in any restaurant.
In small cafes or Guatemalan family type restaurants, you can NOT eat any raw, uncooked vegetables and salads, and the only fruit you can eat is fruit that you peel yourself. Good bets are to order soup, beans and rice, fried plantains, cooked meats and eggs (beef is not always the best quality), tortillas, and anything on the menu that does not have lettuce or raw vegetables on the plate. If you buy fruit, it must be peeled, or it must be soaked in bleach water first before eating the skins – better to just stick with bananas, peeled mangos, pineapples and oranges, or fruit from safe restaurants. NEVER EAT FOOD FROM STREET CARTS AND VENDORS. Generally, we bring heavy snacks and travel-well foods for the bus and for our lunches away from the nice restaurants (peanut butter, dried fruits/nuts, granola bars, cheese, trail mix, banana bread from Dona Luisa Bakery, crackers, etc.).
VILLAGE FOOD: The villagers will want to serve a meal or snack for our visits. Again, if the food is cooked, it is probably OK. Raw food should not be eaten. (Usually they make a soup, tamales, chicken and cooked vegetables, or a stew). They usually offer us sodas, canned fruit juice or bottled water.
RESTAURANTS – Safe bet (Antigua):
1.Café Condesa – Safe, organic vegetables, bakery. Quaint courtyard location. Good for 7 AM breakfast and lunch. West side of Central Park. Everyone goes there.
2. Don Luisa’s restaurant – good breakfast. Courtyard. Bakery. 4a Calle Oriente No.12 7832-2578
3. Panza Verde – fabulous dinner and setting http://www.aroundantigua.com/hotels/panzaverde.htm
5 Av. Sur No.19, 7832-2925 reservation rec.
4. Las Palmas – breakfast and dinner both good, nice atmosphere, reasonable prices, wide selection. 6 Avenida No.14 7832-9734 Open M-F 12-10PM, weekends 8:30AM-10PM.
5. La Fonda – there are three of them. More traditional Guatemalan food.
6. Welton – pricey, fine dining, fabulous setting w/ petals pool, 4a Calle Oriente No. 21 7832-0630
7. Como Como – new, great European food, quaint 6 Calle Poniente No.6, 7832-0478
8. Rainbow Café – 7 Av Sur. No.8 Mon-Sat. 8am-midnight. Music, casual, learn about Guatemala lectures
9. Fridas – Mexican 5a Avenida Norte #29 (near the arch) 7832-1296 casual, big screen TVs.
10. Tartines – French view over-looking Cathedral ruins. 4 Calle Oriente No.1c 7832-4606
11. Bagel Barn good for wireless and breakfast.
RESTAURANTS – Safe bet (Pana)
1. The Deli – there are two on Calle Santander (both good for breakfast or lunch)
2. The Bistro – good Italian and other, pleasant
3. Sunset Café – the view at sunset is great, and they often have music (which is usually too loud). Their food has declined and unsafe, so that now we only go for the view and a Gallo (local beer).
4. Chez Allen – higher prices. Probably one of the better places in Pana.
5. Bombay – Indian and vegetarian foods – very good.
6. GuaJimbos – like their pancakes with fruit. Good place to people watch and have a coffee or beer.
Phones: Do not dial direct from hotels. It is very expensive. To communicate home, use Skype or the internet. It runs 6-10Q per hour (about $1). There are lots of internet cafes. You can give your family my cell in Guatemala, or you can call them on my cell (about .15/minute). My cell takes TIGO minutes and the cards are 10Q, 25Q, 50Q and 100Q. Penny’s house has wireless internet which you are welcome to use and can make Skype or Magic Jack calls. Skype to Skype is free. Skype in Guatemala to a phone in the US is 2.1 cents per minute. The Magic Jack number is a US number to my laptop in Antigua at the house. 941-525-9864
Toilet Tips: In all bathrooms, except at Penny’s and Augusta’s house, do NOT put toilet paper into the toilets. There is a trash can for this. I know this is disgusting, but plumping throughout Guatemala is not able to handle it. Carry some toilet paper or tissues in your pocket for our trips out to the villages. They probably use an outhouse, which may or may not have toilet paper. Bring your hand sanitizer. The plumbing at Penny’s house can handle toilet paper (it is new construction with larger pipes).
When we leave for the day, please be ready and on time, with your personal backpacks with supplies, and use the bathroom before leaving. It is not always easy to find a decent public bathroom.
CURRENCY EXCHANGE: (print and cut this out, and carry with you)
Bills you will see are bolded. It is easy to mix up 10Q bills with 100Q, because the colors are similar –
be careful to check.
Q or Quetzal (currency name and also Guatemala’s national bird) Conversion:
1 Q = $.13 Exchange rate 7.6 Q = $1.00
2 Q = $.26
3 Q = $.39 9 Q = $1.13
4 Q = $.52 10 Q = $1.30
5 Q = $.65 20 Q = $ 2.60
6 Q = $.78 50 Q = $ 6.50
7 Q = $.91 100 Q = $13.00
DO NOT convert dollars to Quetzals at the Airport, unless it is at the bank just before Immigrations. Most small vendors can not give you change for 50 and 100Q bills. Ask for smaller bills at hotels, restaurants, banks, etc. We suggest bringing US dollars and travelers checks, as a second source. People in Guatemala do not like accepting credit cards or travelers checks, and will charge you 5-10% extra. Some small stores and all hotels will accept US dollars. Travelers Checks are sometimes more difficult and costly to exchange. The best source of funds is US cash, with part exchanged in to Quetzals.
Tipping: Usually 5Q bill is sufficient. You can also give $1 USD. Do not give US coins because they can not use them. At restaurants, check if a tip (propina) or service is included. If not, you can leave 10% tip.
Conclusion: Please print this and bring with you. Antigua can be confusing, and all the little posada type hotels look alike. Don’t leave the hotel or my house without the map, because finding your way back could get confusing.
I have given you lots of information, and some of it health, safety and security related which may make you nervous. In all the missions and trips I have made to Guatemala, and to other developing countries, I have not had a bad incident, and neither have the other participants. I believe it is, in part, due to taking these precautions. Everyone who has gone on a mission with me to Guatemala has said it was a life-changing, unbelievable experience that they learned a lot, laughed a lot, and even shed a few tears.
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