Yolkobsens travel to Guatemala with a few hundred US dollars

Credit cards

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Mayan market days in Guatemala

Calle Santander in Panajachel, Sololá departme...

Image via Wikipedia

Yolkobsens love a good market even when we don’t want or need another thing.  It’s the experience of going to the rich and varied market days in Guatemala that never disappoint us.  Mayan market days in Guatemala are rich in history and full of flavour, textures, colors and scents, many of which you will find nowhere else in the world.  If only I could get Mr. Y to stop buying pork rinds and every fresh fish he sees.

For my part, I must own at least 25 handcrafted scarves in traditional Mayan weave, my weakness.  They are like vases, no matter how many you have, you never quite have the right one.  I am convinced that the market days in Guatemala will finally produce the magic scarf that goes with everything.  But we must all deal with our obsessions.

To be honest each and every day across the towns and villages provide market days in Guatemala. Sadly, for the traveler, the markets promoted to tourists are not always the best or most authentic ones. Here we’ve provided a sampling of our favorites.

Chichicastenango, located about 140 km and 2-3 hours drive northwest of Guatemala City, is home to what is surely the most colorful native market in North and Central America, perhaps in all the Americas. Market days are Sundays and Thursdays, and draw not only the K’iche’ Maya of the surrounding region, but vendors from all over Guatemala, representing many of Guatemala’s linguistic groups such as Mam, Ixil, Kaqchikel and others, each hawking his or her products in a riotous cacophony of color, dialects and costumes, smoke, and smells. Though it’s hugely promoted as a tourist destination, it’s still worth taking in the market days in Guatemala via “Chichi.”

Vendors begin setting up portable booths in the main plaza and adjacent streets of Chichi the night before and set-up continues in the early daylight hours. Cohetes (homemade rockets) carrying aloft loud bombas (firecrackers) commence early in the morning and continue sporadically through the day, adding the smell of fireworks to the incense burned in copious quantities on the steps and in the nave of the 400-year old church of Santo Tomás.

Solola, holds market days on Friday. It’s market draws a crowd since Solola is the capital of the department of Solola, an area that includes 19 municipalities around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.  The majority (approximately 90%) of the city’s inhabitants are Cakchiquel Indians who proudly retain their heritage.  It is one of the few municipalities where both men and women routinely wear their traditional Mayan dress.

Women often carry their wares in the traditional Mayan market basket, balancing a few vegetables from their garden, tortillas, textiles or even a couple of chickens that they hope to sell at market. The common blue plastic pans are scales used to compare the weight of different products.

Panajachel (Pana) is a town in the southwestern Guatemalan Highlands, in the department of Sololá. It serves as the administrative centre for the surrounding municipality of the same name. The altitude is 1,597 metres (5,240 ft). The population is 11,142.

The town of Panajachel is located on the shore of Lake Atitlán, and has become a centre for the tourist trade in the area as it provides a base for visitors crossing the lake to visit other towns and villages. In Pana, every day is market day in Guatemala as the main road into Pana and lake is lined with hundreds of vendors selling mostly clothing. This is more of a tourist market which requires bartering for goods. Pana also has a fresh produce and meat market that offers the best in produce grown locally in the region.

Antigua Guatemala is no exception to the joy that Central American markets provide the visitor. The fraternity of market days in Guatemala have a fine member in good standing in the Antigua Guatemala market.  Its filled with fresh produce and an assortment of delicious foods being prepared.  Right on the edge of the ‘tourist’ part of town, the market attracts Antiguenyos as wells as people that live in nearby towns and tourists alike. It’s an unmissable experience to get in there immersed in the thick of it in order to load up on fruits, vegetables, spices and whatever else you require to make your favourite dish. Markets are also a great way to support the locals, instead of spending your dollars at the corporately-owned supermarket. You’ll often find eager shop owners down for a friendly chat to go along with your sack of exotic fruits.

Antigua Guatemala is connected | Rental Villa Reviews

Hill of the Cross, Antigua, Guatemala, 2009

Image via Wikipedia

Like you, Yolkobsens like to stay connected to friends and family back home. We’ve found that the Internet cafes in Antigua Guatemala provide a good service to people on the road who find themselves needing a communications fix to get themselves up to speed on the gossip at the home front or to plan and book via Internet the next phase of their trip.

Antigua Guatemala is connected. You can find a lot of cyber cafes and Internet computer cafes where you can type and click away much the same way you do anywhere else.

A lot of hotels and restaurants also offer Wi-Fi in their public spaces for guests. The Internet speed in Antigua is getting better and a lot of telecom services are available and are provided by a growing number of  local companies.

Walking through the streets of Antigua Guatemala you will find some calling shops where you can use VOIP and normal landlines to call other countries. Come to Antigua and don´t worry about staying connected. You will find a lot of places to chat and email.

Costs are about $1.00 US per hour. Most Internet cafes in Antigua Guatemala have high speed and Wi-Fi connections.

Café Barista is my default location. It’s the character of the place that really makes me attached to it.  For one thing,  the bandwidth sucks. The router is located underneath the cash register which isn’t really ideal placement since everyone sits on the other side of the cafe, behind a thick block construction wall.

Anyway, I like Barista because it feels like an airport: shiny, clean and bright. There’s also a guard who watches me write HTML over my shoulder and I swear he must be able to go home and bang out markup by now.

Bagel Barn has two wireless routers, which is such a good idea you’d think other places would do it. The vibe here is free-spirit backpacker, which I can do every now and then. What I can’t do is hot. The Barn heats up like a mini-Petén. Beware of skype’ing gringos siphoning off the bandwidth to a measly dribble!

At Café Bourbon is an Internet cafe in Antigua Guatemala that is totally all-business and completely desolate during the day, just the way you’d like it for sheer efficiency’s sake. The bandwidth is good, however, we heard that they sometimes tell people they can only sit for an hour so better get your business done fast.

Rainbow Café is another Internet cafe in Antigua Guatemala, but the Wi-FI is not really great. However, the food is totally awesome and there’s a lot of socializing that goes on among trekkers, hippy chicks and so forth to make this a place to do old fashioned communications.  I’m like, “let’s talk and get to know each other face to face.”  Forget the online here, though.