Guatemala – Life and living


Guatemala – Life and living

Guatemala City and General || Life, living and Tips ||  First Antigua Ride with Backshop Bikes || Second Antigua Ride with Backshop Bikes  || El Zur with Old Town Outfitters ||  Lake Atitlan with Old Town Outfitters ||  Rio Dulce with Old Town Outfitters ||  Tikal ||

Guatemala is an amazing country replete with variety. There are coastal lowlands, the Pacific, the Carribbean, the cities, the countryside and the highlands all in one small but diverse package.  The country is densely populated – with 17M people living in an area of 108,000 square km.  To compare that’s a little bigger than the state of Oregon where 4 million people live.   However since most of the population live in cities in the rural areas where trails are located there wasn’t a huge amount of traffic.

However there were a few things common to Guatemala that we enjoyed experiencing. The people and the food certainly spring to mind. Here’s a bit more about Guatemala and generally living in Guatemala.

Comida Tipica and avocados

Avocados in Canada aren’t cheap. Guatemalan Avocados are inexpensive and just lie on the ground or on trees waiting to be picked (5 avocados for 10Q. 5Q to 1 $Cad). To a northerner it’s a miracle! Comida Tipica roughly translates to “Typical food” and is extraordinarily good. Restauarants are also inexpensive and food is good (sizeable comida tipica dinner for 20-30Q).

Also if you get a chance to have a home-cooked meal by an Antigueno (local resident of Antigua) DO NOT PASS UP THE CHANCE!


Avocados on the ground at the Good Life Guatemala organic farm in Antigua

Comida Tipica at Comedor Tikal

Pepian at the home of PJ and Luz Morales who own Good Life Guatemala_


Local Markets and Streetlife

You are missing out a lot if you don’t experience this part of Guatemala. The markets are busier on the weekends but they go all week including on weekdays. Street food in particular at markets are delicious and cheap (try 3 tacos for 5Q) and is cooked right in front of you by some local who’s happy that you’re happy and loving her/his food! Wander around and see what there is for sale. Even in Ciudad the vendors weren’t pushy and were happy to talk about what they have for sale whether in Espanol or our lamentable Spanglish

Mercado Central in Ciudad is packed on a weekday

Open air market at Santa Maria de Jesus. Two huge sub sandwiches with fresh bread for 15Q

Open air market at Santa Maria de Jesus.

Open air market at Santa Maria de Jesus.

Making fresh tortilla at Gabys Churrascos in San Lucas de Sacatapequez

She happily served me some delicious tacos just outside Flores Airport – 3 for 5Q. Meanwhile the Pizza Hut just next door was serving a small pizza for 45Q.



Many people use motorcycles in Guatemala to get around. Many use taxis and pack them full. There are lots of private cars too but they tend to be small. Bottom line is that the income level in Guatemala isn’t high so people will use what they can to get around. On bikes we found that people were really respectful and gave us a wide berth and it wasn’t just because we were turista gringoes but just because Guatemalan drivers don’t appear to be stressed out – something which isn’t true for all countries in Central or South America (or for that matter in North America)

Somethings are worth repeating. The Green bus lines in Ciudad are awesome – clean, cheap and reliable. The red buses are unfortunately run by gangs (Salvadorean drug gangs specifically and you can expect a high degree of probability of being robbed when taking one). For intercity transport the tourist airconditioned buses are more expensive as are taxis but are direct and more comfortable. The La Camioneta (chicken buses) are a cultural experience in themselves and a lot less expensive (a third to a tenth of the cost of the tourist buses and taxis) but schedules are optimistic and variable and can be packed. Good luck with them if you have lots of luggage as they get crammed full of people

Colourful La Camioneta – Volcan Pacaya

Colourful La Camioneta – Volcan Pacaya

Colourful La Camioneta – Volcan Pacaya

La Camioneta on the commute to Ciudad with people hanging off the back

Pablo Jose’s awesome Kia truck which transported us in the back

Tuk tuk taxis representing Iron Maiden. They’re supposed to be in the city and not in the highway due to speed limitation but that rule is sometimes/often not followed

Burros are often used to transport stuff – Santa Maria de Jesus

Human transportation for cut firewood – Atitlan

Crazy traffic in Fronteras near the head of the Rio Dulce. No-one honking. Not much stress. Why is Guatemalan traffic so tranquillo?

Talk about tranquillo. Young men commuting to work in their work truck on the highway through Chimaltenango

Ciudad cops commuting to work. They smiled and waved as we took pictures and later posed for pics next to the truck

Fully loaded motorcycle on the road near Escuintla. Motorcycles are the most popular transport. Photo – Juan Delaroca

Traffic jam on the road from San Lorenzo del Cubo to Antigua. Everyone tranquillo. Everyone gave us on bikes lots of room

Traffic jam on the road from San Lorenzo del Cubo to Antigua. Everyone tranquillo. Everyone gave us on bikes lots of room

Cops in Antigua use bicycles to get around. They’re about as fast as one gets on the cobblestone roads

Antiguan bicycle cops


Kids and bikes and stoke

Kids are the future of Guatemala. While that’s true of many other countries there’s general optimism for the future of the country which was so very recently wartorn and still recovering from a 36 year long brutal civil war. While the kids don’t remember the war their parents certainly do and its perhaps why the kids are so cherished, loved and so stoked. Kids love bikes in particular and if you’re riding a bike they might ask to take it for a spin. The joy on their faces pedalling around is contagious and one hopes it catches.

Son helping out his father at a trailside stall on the Volcan Acatenango hike during his school break.

These kids were helping their mother out on a trailside stall at Volcan Pacaya and wanted to try the bikes

Volcan Pacaya and an inquisitive young Guatemalan

Another stoked kid on my bike on the Volcan Pacaya ride

Big kid (Pablo Jose) and littler kid at Santa Maria de Jesus

Brother taking care of his siblings in Atitlan

Kids hanging out on the Atitlan waterfront looking sharp


Panaderia ie Bakeries

Having talked about a bit (a lot) about Guatemalan food lets delve further into a subset of the food – to whit their panaderia or bakeries. Guatemalan baked goods are fine stuff. Inexpensive, fresh and there are literally bakeries everywhere. There are literally too many to count but to give one an idea when on our first day in Antigua we walked and did a mini Tour de Panaderia and marked over 20 bakeries on the walking tour.

There are too many to mention. The finest bakery in the world I have ever had occassion to visit in Panaderia Se Llama Betty. It’s 5 minutes drive off the highway from Antigua to Ciudad literally 15 minutes out of town. Literally giving away huge Pan Chocolate (3 HUGE pieces of fresh chocolate bread for 10Q for example.
Another fine candidate is a small Panaderia in the main square of the town of Parramos just north of Antigua. Pan Dulce that melts in your mouth – we cleaned them out.

Also not to be missed and with discounted items once you get to the last hour of closing is Panaderia Dona Luisa in the heart of Antigua. Running in for amazing baked goods but watch for it to be cleaned out late in the day is Panaderia San Antonio in Antigua in the west part of town

Pan from Panaderia Se Llama Betty

Pan from Panaderia Se Llama Betty

Panaderia in Parramos. The shelves are bare after we bought everything


Traditional Dress

One other item of note was how well Guatemalan women (in particular) dressed. Traditional dress is used as part of everyday life; is colourful, practical and worn with style and pride. Of course, ask before taking a picture and the women will oblige with a laugh and smile.

Atitlan and La Soledad (L to R)

Rio Dulce and Ciudad (L to R)


Santo Tomas – photo Wes Butler


Some other tips and tricks for Ciudad Guatemala and Antigua to make your life easier

1. The currency in Guatemala is the Quetzal. When we were there the exchange was 7.5Q to $1.00US. Bring USD if you want to have cash and change to Qs. Many cambios (exchange houses) will change from CAD or EUR to Q but the USD is still the easiest currency to change. But see caveat below

2. The exchange houses give pretty poor exchange rates. The first cambio you’ll see as enter Guatemala International Airport is actually the worst rate. The cambio in the lower floor as you get to the exits is the best rate. You will get a way better rate at ATM’s.

3. Card skimming is a problem at ATMs. Use an ATM at a place with a security guard in front. Pharmacy’s tend to have ATMs and security guards.

4. Tourism is so big in Antigua that ATMs tend to run out of cash on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If you need Qs get it early on Friday.

5. Theft is hyped in Guatemala City. We didn’t have a problem with thefts, just be normally cautious. And whatever you do DO NOT use the red buses. Those are reknowned for muggings and pickpocketing


6. The temps were 15 deg C to 25 deg C so you don’t need a lot of warm clothes. The exception are the high volcanos which can get chilly with temps approaching freezing at night

7. Drink bottled or filtered water. The major cities have better water but even so filtered water is adviseable.

8. Guatemala City gets a bad rap. Street life and people watching in “Ciudad” is pretty fun. However, traffic sucks ass in Ciudad and you will hate life if you’re stuck in one of their interminable traffic jams. If you have to get in or out of Ciudad leave lots of time. For example. If you have to catch a flight you’d be best off to either get there the day before or make sure you leave hours and hours to make your flights.

Traffic jam in Zona 8 near Ciudad. We moved 1km in 2 hours and this was around 6pm so not even rush hour

9. Everyone seems to have a cell or smartphone in Guatemala. If you need a phone you can get one from Tigo, Movistar or Claro. Tigo seems to have the best rural coverage. Claro has the best urban coverage and Movistar is a solid meh all around. Air time is cheap and you easily get more minutes at many locations. If you have unlocked phones from your local carrier you can get a SIM card, plug it in and away you go. Check that your handset works with the providers here




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