Q&A with a Reader
My wife, young daughter and I are looking to do our first out of country trip. We are looking to spend a month learning about Latin American culture.
We like small towns and because we are bringing a child along, safety is our number one priority.
We are looking at the San Pedro Spanish school to do a home stay with a family there and take day trip from there. However, we are open to other options.
Sounds like you know this area well. Can you make any suggestions or direct us to previous articles that may guide us?
Thank you so much!
Thanks for taking the time to write.
What an exciting trip you have planned!
First, I would recommend our book, The Adventurer’s Guide to Pana Living. It will give you the ins and outs of the Lake Atitlan area which is a real heart of the Maya culture.
If this is the first out of country trip you have ever done, please realize that Guatemala – while having the ultra-modern city of Guatemala City, and the gorgeous Colonial city of Antigua – is fairly rustic. I would bring with you a few things like Dramamine (or the seasickness preventing aid of your choice), baby wipes to wash your hands often, Imodium and a vegetable laxative so you have both sides of the “colon issue” covered. I would also bring some sort of mosquito repellent. It’s the rainy season here now, and hence, more mosquitoes.
Bring a hat or ball cap, a light jacket in case of wind, and some sunscreen for your nose and face. Bring some solid shoes for you to walk the cobblestones and for perhaps walking around the volcanoes (with a guide).
Make sure your debit card (for use in the ATMs) uses the Plus, Star or Cirrus systems. This is how you will obtain local currency, about $280USD per withdrawal. I wouldn’t plan on using your credit cards for much of anything. Local businesses are pretty small, and from what I have seen, those who use their credit cards have been subjected to a 25% surcharge on their purchase. Most businesses (unless it is a hotel or a larger import-export business) have no means of accepting a credit card.
Do not drink water out of the tap. There is bottled water available everywhere.
There are several Spanish schools located in San Pedro and there are schools located in Panajachel also. San Pedro is a little funky hippy-style town with a lot of young 20-30 year old tourists. Pana is a little more sophisticated, with a wider choice of banking, ATMs, restaurants and markets to purchase foodstuffs. Each town around the lake has its own flavor.
So long as you don’t take off hiking on your own into the mountains (hire a guide) you should be fine in regards to your safety. If you have computer gear, make sure you have something like a PacSafe to lock up your valuables, including your passport.
There is a lot to share with you about traveling to Guatemala, but if you take a look at the above links, this will give you a good start.
Have a GREAT time in Guatemala. Enjoy the people and the stunning natural beauty here at the lake.
My Best Regards,