Before leaving Canada, I configured my debit card for use in Guatemala and arrived confident that I'd be able to draw whatever cash I needed. Hah! First, I was given blood-curdling warnings about there being only ONE safe (i.e. non-compromised) ATM in Antigua (at the "Hotel Museo Casa Santo Domingo"). ALL the other ATMs are considered at high risk of being comprised and leading to your bank account being raided.
When I tried to use the "safe" ATM, it would not accept my card. This was a problem...
Fortunately, I'd brought some travellers cheques with me. However, after trying several banks, I was only able to find ONE bank which would cash them - the BAC Guatemala bank on the west side of the Parque Central.
So, in summary: bring travellers cheques but be prepared to have a challenge in cashing them. Also, while I've seen VISA and some AMEX card signs, I'm told that using credit cards leads to a levy being applied by the vendor.
Update: I eventually sorted the issue out. It seems that ATMs showing both VISA and MasterCard badges are problematic for me. I can only use machines dedicated to the VISA network.
How romantic! And a total waste of your time and MONEY. I have rushed into the Antigua Guatemala post office in February, 2010. Attached proper postage to 7 postcards to the U.S.A and a European country. Well, folks!.... we're in September 2010 now! My cards are still "traveling". Most likely on the bottom of a Guatemalan thrash can, 'cause why to bother?! For a record: I have mimicked the above behavior in the neighboring Honduras. No problems there. Cards arrived at their destinations! Happy travelling!
Watch out! Keep your valuables safe as there are teams working at the local mercado who slash bags and pick pockets! This happened to my wife recently. They take credit cards and use them to make purchases very quickly. They work in teams which include vendors where they use the credit cards. Try not to carry important documents with you, if you have more than one credit card split them up i.e. leave one in a safe place when you go out or carry them on different parts of your person. Antigua feels safe but thiefs are watching you. Beware of being crowded out by people when you are on the street & near tourist atractions. Local police are helpful and will let you use their phone to report stolen cards.
Avoid the mercado on Saturdays!
Take care and have fun.
Ever present from all vantage points during a clear day, the reason for Antiguas' frequent earthquakes is obvious. Antigua is ringed by active volcanos. The closest of these is the Agua. Its height towers to 9,000 ft above the city.
Don't walk around at night - take a taxi or a tuktuk (though don't get in one if the driver looks dodgy). If you're staying any further than a couple of blocks from the main square just don't risk walking around after dark - it really isn't advisable. Muggings are very regular and if you don't have anything on you worth taking, things could get nasty. Street crime increases around the build-up to Easter's Holy Week (Semana Santa) and other religious festivals, when people need money to pay for the festivities.
Don't take risks just because everyone else does.
Don't pay more than 10Q for a Tuk Tuk. They will try and charge you 15Q if you are a gringo/a but it should never be more than 10Q. If you start at the beginning of the line in front of the ones at el mercado, and the first guy says 15Q, if you go to the next one he will not say less. ALWAYS ask before you get in otherwise you had better be able to argue in spanish!
Watch out on the chicken buses also. And in el mercado. They will ALWAYS try and charge a gringo/a more. Ask an ex-pat before you go.
We awoke in the middle of the night to the rattle of the windows and door. Actually the whole building shook....and that's saying something as its made of thick stone walls. It was an earthquake...no big deal to the locals. It gave us reason to pause however....since we had just spent the whole day veiwing ruins!!
Be prepared for long lines at empty ATM's and long lones at banks. We waited an hour and a half at an ATM , only to find it was out of cash! We later learned all the ATM's were out of cash for the whole weekend. Also they wouldn't accept our visa or bank card at some banks . We found the Bank Industrial that would give us a cash advance on Visa . We should have had some extra US dollars or travellers checks!
I have been to many developing countries and have see human waste on the streets before, but in Antigua I also saw people doing it in front of me:) So, just a word of warning...it is common in this town.
When browsing in Antigua it is useful to watch one's step. As you can gather the sidewalks are narrow and the they are not all even leveled. Furthermore the window bars protrude outside the house and you may get hit in the head if you are not careful.
Be wary of taxis, especially in Guatemala City. Be sure to negotiate a price before being delivered to your chose destination.
Also, it is not considered offensive to ask to see a room at an inexpensive hotel before paying.....that is a good idea in some places.
Beware of taking pictures with indigeans..... some are just plain shy and won't wannu; but others have learned that they can ask you for money to have your picture taken with them!!!!! I just don't like some of them's attitudes... This girls on picture were fantastic about it, saw them on side road on the way to Antigua and didn't ask for any money, so I gave them some. I guess I contradict myself because in doing so I was reinforcing the begging and maybe now they'll ask for money next time someone else wants a pic with them.... :o( oops! But anyways, just in general.... lots of beggars and lots of people trying to sell you their little crafts, etc; even if you repeteadly tell same one that you don't want it, or that you already got one..... they'll ask for you to buy another one, or plainly ask you to: 'give them some food money then!'
Although we had no problem at all , we were warned by our hotel to leave expensive jewellery and watches locked away. It is a poor country and it makes sense to take steps to prevent theft!
The roads and lanes are all cobblestone . There the real thing too, very rough...not set up for tourists. Often there are stones missing or raised . You have look down or you could end up in a heap!
Antigua is a very secure city. The perfect place to start your journey. Make in this city, your hub in your Guatemalan vacations.
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