Guatemala Feature



Is it safe to visit Guatemala? Yes … mostly. This is probably the most frequently asked question about travel to Guatemala. We admit that the U.S. State Department information about the country sounds downright scary in places, but Guatemala is far safer than it was a decade ago. Much travel here entails standard, common-sense safeguards: leave the flashy jewelry and camera equipment at home; take taxis after dark; keep passport, credit cards, and cash well hidden. But Guatemala has a few unique "Never Do" precautions, too: don't hike volcanoes or the Cerro de la Cruz above Antigua or the remote reaches of Tikal on your own (go with an escorted group); don't ride the city buses in the capital; don't photograph children you do not know. Remember though: Most visitors have a safe and terrific trip.

My schedule will allow me to travel only during the rainy season. Will I regret that? Not at all. Guatemala's countryside is lush and green and the air is fresh during the May–October wet season. In a normal year, rain lasts an hour or two each afternoon or evening; make plans to be indoors at that time. Rains do become more prolonged in September and October—you might want to reconsider traveling then—but the standard North American summer vacation season makes a wonderful time to visit.

What's the best way to get around? You'll probably use a combination of transportation. We're big fans of the tourist shuttles, minivans seating 8–15 passengers that bop between tourist destinations. If your itinerary takes you on the standard Antigua–Lake Atitlán–Chichicastenango circuit, they'll serve you well. Make reservations at least a day in advance, and they will take you from hotel door to hotel door in far more comfort than a public bus. The buses are OK though. If you can, opt for the pullmans, the generic term Guatemalans use for Greyhound-style vehicles. You'll have more room and less commotion than on the smaller, much more crowded camionetas. Tikal, of course, is farther afield, so flying is the quickest way to get there. (It's about 10 hours overland from Guatemala City.) As it does anywhere, your own vehicle gives you maximum freedom, but it is entirely possible to visit Guatemala and never rent a car.

I've heard about Guatemala's chicken buses. Will I really be traveling with farm animals? The converted U.S. school buses, or camionetas, which generations of budget travelers have affectionately dubbed "chicken buses," will pack you in like livestock, but your fellow passengers will all be human.

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