Whatever you do, pack light—casual, comfortable, hand-washable clothing. T-shirts and shorts are acceptable near the beach, while more conservative attire is appropriate in smaller towns. If you're heading to Antigua, the Verapaces, or the highlands, especially during the winter months, bring a sweater or jacket, as nights and early mornings can be chilly. Sturdy sneakers or hiking shoes or boots with rubber soles are essential. A pair of sandals (preferably ones that can be worn in the water) are indispensable, too. Jewelry—even the fake stuff—only attracts the wrong sort of attention. Scarves or beads are safer accessories.
"Insect repellent, sunscreen, sunglasses" is your packing mantra, and an umbrella or stashable raincoat are handy, too. Long-sleeve shirts and long pants will also protect your skin from the relentless sun and ferocious mosquitoes. Tissues and antibacterial hand wipes make trips to public toilets more pleasant. A handbag-sized flashlight is also very useful: blackouts and streets without proper lighting are commonplace. In the jungle, a camping mosquito net is invaluable when staying at places with no screens on the windows (or no windows at all). Snorkelers should try to bring their own equipment if there's room in the suitcase.
Passports and Visas
To enter Guatemala all U.S. citizens, regardless of age, need a passport valid for at least six months beyond their arrival. You are automatically granted a 90-day tourist visa at immigration. You may be asked to show a return or onward transportation ticket. Guatemala participates in a joint-immigration agreement with El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Any side trips to those neighboring countries count toward your 90 days, too. If you plan to stay longer, you either need to leave that four-country region for 72 hours, or renew your visa at the office of the Departamento de Extranjería, a division of Guatemalan immigration, in the capital. This takes five days, and you'll need to leave your passport there. You can take that step once.
Departamento de Extranjería. 7 Av. 1–17, Guatemala City, Departamento de Guatemala, Zona 4. 2361–8476. www.migracion.gob.gt.
U.S. Passport Information
U.S. Department of State. 877/487–2778. travel.state.gov/passport.