Yolkobsens always travel to Guatemala with a few hundred US dollars in cash. Not too much and never flashed around. But it’s worth going to the currency exchange before you leave home and getting some Yankee greenbacks to take along to Antigua Guatemala and anywhere else you might want to travel in the country. It’s a good idea since most places accept both Quetzalesand dollars and there will be those inevitable days when the entire country’s ATM machines go on the fritz.Yolkobsens have found this usually happens during peak holiday times such as La Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week) and around Christmas and national holidays. Don’t bother looking for an official currency exchange office during these episodes; they are all at home feasting and/or nursing hangovers. During these festive times, the ATMs simply run out of cash and the people who stock the dough in the machines are, well, on holiday. Also, if disasters such as earthquake or roads washed out by tropical storms or hurricanes happen, the armed cash trucks can’t get through, leaving the ATMs empty.
A word to the wise when it comes to currency exchange in Antigua Guatemala or elsewhere in the country, the US dollar still packs a mighty punch. Also, almost none of the truly interesting places take credit cardsand a lot of the banks, which often run out of cash since they get it from the same source as the ATMS, won’t give you cash from your credit card. That’s kind of hit or miss. Some banks say, “si” others don’t. Be warned.The official currency is the Quetzal (GTQ) divided into 100 centavos. In 2001 the US Dollar became the second official currency alongside the Quetzal and both are accepted.
The Quetzal (local pronunciation: [ke’tsal]; code: GTQ) is the currency of Guatemala.It is named after the national bird of Guatemala, the resplendent Quetzal. In ancient Mayan culture, the quetzal bird’s tail feathers were used as currency, one of the early currency exchanges. It is divided into 100 cents, called centavos in standard Spanish or lenes in Guatemalan slang. The plural can be either Quetzales (as it is in Spanish) or quetzals (in a slightly anglicized form).
Travelers cheques and major credit cards are accepted, though some more than others. It is recommended to take travelers cheques in US dollars. Cash exchange is easier, but more risky. Visitors are not advised to trade money at the informal currency exchange booths on the street.
There are ATMs in the towns and cities, which accept American Express and Visa. MasterCard and Diners Club have a more limited acceptance. In simple currency exchange conversion terms, you can use 8 Quetzales to one US dollar. This is a good rule of thumb.
Note: Arriving in Guatemala if you have come with money from other countries other than the US you will have a hard time with currency exchange.
Money changers do exist in areas such as Livingston, Belize and Honduras borders. However, this is risky and the exchange rates while good caution is highly suggested.