American Express -- Clark Tours (tel. 502/2412-4848; www.clarktours.com.gt) is the representative of American Express Travel Services in Guatemala. Their main offices are in Guatemala City at Clark Plaza, 7a Av. 14-76, Zona 9. They also have desks at the downtown Westin and Marriott hotels. To report lost or stolen Amex traveler's checks within Guatemala, dial tel. 1800/288-0073, or call tel. 801/964-6665 collect in the U.S.
Area Codes -- There are no regional area codes in Guatemala. Most phone numbers are eight digits. However, there are some anomalies. Some toll-free or public service numbers may be three-, four-, or six-digit numbers.
Business Hours -- Banks are usually open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm, although many have begun to offer extended hours. Offices are open Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm (many close for 1 hr. at lunch). Stores are generally open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm (many close for 1 hr. at lunch). Stores in modern malls generally stay open until 8 or 9pm and don't close for lunch. Most bars are open until 1 or 2am.
Drinking Laws -- The legal drinking age in Guatemala is 18, although it's almost never enforced. Liquor, everything from beer to hard spirits, is sold in specific liquor stores, as well as at most supermarkets and even convenience stores.
Drugstores -- Called farmacias in Spanish, drugstores are quite common throughout the country. Those at hospitals and major clinics are often open 24 hours a day.
Electricity -- Guatemala uses standard U.S.-style two- and three-prong electric outlets with 110-volt AC current. Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.
Embassies & Consulates -- All major consulates and embassies, where present, are in Guatemala City. Canada, 13a Calle 8-44, Zona 10 (tel. 502/2365-1250; www.guatemala.gc.ca); United Kingdom, Avenida de la Reforma and 16a Calle, Torre Internacional, Zona 10 (tel. 502/2367-5425; www.fco.gov.uk); and the United States, Av. de la Reforma 7-01, Zona 10 (tel. 502/2326-4279).
Emergencies -- In case of any emergency, dial tel. 1500 from anywhere in Guatemala. This will connect you to Asistur, which will have a bilingual operator, who in turn can put you in contact with the police, fire department, or ambulance service, as necessary. Alternately, you can dial tel. 110 for the National Police; and tel. 125 for the Red Cross (Cruz Roja, in Spanish). Moreover, tel. 911 works as an emergency number from most phones in Guatemala.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- Gasoline, or gasolina in Spanish, is sold as normal and premium; both are unleaded. Premium is just higher octane. Diesel is available at almost every gas station as well. Most rental cars run on premium, but always ask your rental agent what type of gas your car takes. Gas stations are widely available along the highways, and in all major cities, towns, and tourist destinations. When going off to remote places, try to leave with a full tank of gas because gas stations can be harder to find. At press time, premium cost Q35 ($4.65/£2.35) per gallon.
Holidays -- Official holidays in Guatemala include January 1 (New Year's Day), Thursday and Friday of Holy Week, June 30 (Armed Forces Day), July 1 (Day of Celebration), August 15 (Virgen de la Asunción), September 15 (Independence Day), October 20 (Commemoration of the 1944 Revolution), November 1 (All Saints' Day), December 24 and 25 (Christmas), and December 31 (New Year's Eve).
Hospitals -- The country's best hospitals are in Guatemala City. Hospital Centro Médico, 6a Av. 3-47, Zona 10 (tel. 502/2279-4949), is an excellent private hospital, with English-speaking doctors on staff. Alternately, the Hospital General San Juan de Dios, 1a Avenida and 10a Calle, Zona 1 (tel. 502/2220-8396), is the biggest and best-equipped public hospital in the city.
Internet Access -- Internet cafes are very common in all the major cities and tourist destinations around Guatemala. Rates run between Q3 and Q15 (40¢-$2/20p-£1) per hour.
Language -- Spanish is the official language of Guatemala. English is spoken at most tourist hotels, restaurants, and attractions. Outside of the tourist orbit, English is not widely spoken, and some rudimentary Spanish will go a long way. Some 23 Mayan dialects are also widely spoken around the country. In many rural areas, many residents speak their local dialect as their primary language, and a certain segment of the population may speak little or no Spanish.
Legal Aid -- If you need legal help, your best bet is to first contact your local embassy or consulate. See "Embassies & Consulates" above for contact details. Alternately, you can ask at your hotel, or at a local tour agency that works frequently with foreign visitors.
Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two.
To report a lost or stolen American Express card from inside Guatemala, you can call tel. 336/393-1111 collect in the U.S.; for MasterCard, tel. 1800/999-1480, or call tel. 636/722-7111 collect in the U.S.; for Visa, tel. 1800/999-0115, or call tel. 410/581-9994 collect in the U.S.; and for Diners Club, call tel. 502/2338-6801, or call collect to tel. 303/799-1504.
If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 502/2360-1737 in Guatemala; www.westernunion.com).
Mail -- A post office is called correo in Spanish. Most towns have a main correo, usually right near the central square. In addition, most hotels will post letters and postcards for you. It costs around Q5 (65¢/35p) to send a letter to the U.S. or Europe. Postcards to the same destinations cost Q3 (40¢/20p). However, it's best to send anything of any value via an established international courier service. DHL, 12a Calle 5-12, Zona 10 (tel. 502/2379-1111; www.dhl.com), UPS, 12a Calle 5-53, Zona 10 (tel. 502/2421-6000; www.ups.com), and Fed Ex, Diagonal 6 12-20, Zona 10 (tel. 502/2411-2100; www.fedex.com), all have offices in Guatemala City, with nationwide coverage for pickup and delivery. DHL also has offices in Antigua and Panajachel.
Maps -- INGUAT (Guatemalan Tourism Commission; tel. 502/2421-2800; www.visitguatemala.com) will provide you with a pretty acceptable map that has the entire country on one side, and Guatemala City and Antigua on the other. The map is free, and you can pick one up at their booth at the airport, or by visiting their downtown Guatemala City office at 7a Av. 1-17, Zona 4.
Measurements -- Guatemala uses the metric system, although gasoline is sold by the gallon.
Newspapers & Magazines -- La Prensa Libre is the country's most highly regarded daily newspaper, with an outstanding investigative reporting staff. The lower-brow Nuestro Diario has the highest circulation. There are several other daily papers, including Siglo XXI. There are currently no English-language newspapers. The free, monthly, English-language Revue Magazine (www.revuemag.com) is the most valuable information source for most tourists, with museum, art gallery, and theater listings. It is widely available at hotels and other tourist haunts around the country.
Police -- In case of an emergency, dial tel. 1500 from anywhere in Guatemala. This will connect you to a bilingual operator at Asistur who can put you in contact with the police, fire department, or ambulance service. Dial tel. 110 or 120 for the National Police, and tel. 125 for the Red Cross (Cruz Roja, in Spanish). As in the U.S., tel. 911 works as an emergency number from most phones in Guatemala.
Smoking -- While not as bad as most of Europe, a large number of Guatemalans smoke, and public smoking regulations and smoke-free zones have yet to take hold. Restaurants are required by law to have nonsmoking areas, but enforcement is often lax, air circulation poor, and the separation almost nonexistent. Bars, discos, and clubs, on the whole, are often very smoke-filled in Guatemala.
Taxes -- There is a Q225 ($30/£15) tax that must be paid upon departure. This is often included in your airline ticket price. Be sure to check in advance. If not, you will have to pay the fee in cash at the airport. There is an additional airport security fee of Q20 ($2.65/£1.35).
A 12% IVA (value added) tax is tacked on to the purchase of all goods and services. An additional 10% tax, on top of the 12% IVA, is added to all hotel rooms and lodgings.
Telegraph, Telex & Fax -- Most hotels have fax machines available for guest use (be sure to ask about the charge to use it).
Telephones -- To call Guatemala: If you're calling Guatemala from the United States:
1. Dial the international access code: 011.
2. Dial the country code 502.
3. Dial the number. The whole number you'd dial for a number in Guatemala would be 011-502-XXXX-XXXX.
To make international calls: To make international calls from Guatemala, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next, dial the area code and number. For example, if you want to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., dial 00-1-202-588-7800.
For directory assistance: Dial tel. 2333-1524 if you're looking for a number inside Guatemala, and dial tel. 147-120 for numbers to all other countries.
For operator assistance: If you need operator assistance in making a call, dial tel. 147-120 if you're trying to make an international call, and tel. 147-110 if you want to call a number in Guatemala.
Toll-free numbers: There's no hard and fast rule about toll-free numbers in Guatemala. Numbers beginning with 0800 and 800 are almost always toll-free. However, some toll-free numbers are anomalies. Three-, four-, and six-digit phone numbers are also often toll-free. Calling a 1-800 number in the U.S. from Guatemala is not toll-free. In fact, it costs the same as an overseas call.
Time -- Guatemala is 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, which is equivalent to Central Standard Time in the United States. Daylight saving time is observed by setting clocks ahead 1 hour from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.
Tipping -- While there is a 12% IVA tax on all goods and services, none of this counts as a tip. In restaurants, a minimum tip of 10% is common and expected. Tip more if the service was exemplary. Taxi drivers do not expect, and are rarely given, a tip.
Toilets -- Public restrooms are hard to come by in Guatemala. You must usually count on the generosity of some hotel or restaurant, or duck into a museum or other attraction. Although it's rare that a tourist would be denied the use of the facilities, you should always ask first.
Useful Phone Numbers -- U.S. Dept. of State Travel Advisory tel. 202/647-5225 (manned 24 hr.); U.S. Passport Agency tel. 202/647-0518; U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Traveler's Hotline tel. 404/332-4559.
In Guatemala, for directory assistance, call tel. 2333-1524; for an international operator and directory assistance, call tel. 147-120. To dial a direct international call, dial tel. 00 + the country code + the area code + the phone number. To get the current time, dial tel. 2333-1526.
Water -- Drink only bottled water within Guatemala City and be especially careful to do so when traveling outside the capital, as waterborne diseases are very common in this country.