Money & costs
Prices in Guatemala are among the best in Central America. Beds in hospedajes (budget hotels) normally cost US$4 to US$5 per person. Markets sell fruit and snacks for pennies, cheap eateries called comedores offer one- or two-course meals for US$3 to US$4, and bus trips cost around US$1 per hour. It’s completely realistic to spend US$15 a day in Guatemala without too much hardship. If you want more comfort – nice rooms with private hot-water bathrooms and well-prepared food in pleasant surroundings, you’ll still only pay around US$35 per person for a room and two – or even three – meals. Add in transportation, admission fees, some shopping and a few beers and you’re looking at a total of around US$60 a day.
There are few bargains for solo travelers, as there often isn’t much price difference between a single and double room. If it’s practical, hook up with some other folks to defray room costs. Many places have rooms for three or four people, where the per-person price drops dramatically. In restaurants, you can save money by opting for set two- or three-course meals (the menú del día). On the road, public buses are far cheaper than the more comfortable tourist shuttle buses.
A 10% tip is expected at restaurants and automatically added to your bill in places like Antigua. In small comedors (basic, cheap eateries) tipping is optional, but follow the local practice of leaving some spare change. Tour guides are generally tipped, around 10%, especially on longer trips.
Guatemala’s currency, the quetzal (ket-sahl, abbreviated to Q), is fairly stable at around Q7.5 = US$1. The quetzal is divided into 100 centavos.
You’ll find ATMs (cash machines, cajeros automáticos) for Visa/Plus System cards in all but the smallest towns, and there are MasterCard/Cirrus ATMs in many places too, so one of these cards is the best basis for your supplies of cash in Guatemala. In addition, many banks give cash advances on Visa cards, and some on MasterCard. And you can pay for many purchases with these cards or with American Express (Amex) cards.
If you don’t have one of these cards, a combination of Amex US-dollar traveler’s checks and a limited amount of cash US dollars is the way to go. Take some of these as a backup even if you do have a card. Banks all over the country change cash US dollars, and many of them also change US-dollar traveler’s checks too. Amex is easily the most recognized traveler’s check brand.
In many places you can make payments with cash dollars, and a few places will accept traveler’s checks. Currencies other than the US dollar are virtually useless in any form, although a small handful of places will now change cash euros.
Banks generally give the best exchange rates on both cash and traveler’s checks. If you can’t find an open bank you can often change cash (and occasionally checks) in travel agencies, hotels or shops.
Some towns suffer from change shortages: always try to carry a stash of small bills.
At the airport, Banquetzal (7am-noon & 2-5pm) changes US-dollar cash and traveler’s checks. Banrural (Avenida Flores), just off the Parque Central in Flores, changes US-dollar cash and traveler’s checks.
Other banks are on 4a Calle in Santa Elena. The following all change cash US dollarsand at least American Express US-dollar traveler’s checks:
Banco Agromercantil (9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat) Has a MasterCard ATM.
Banco Industrial (9am-7pm Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm Sat) Has a Visa ATM.
Banquetzal (9am-1pm & 2-5:30pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat)
Many travel agencies and places to stay will change cash US dollars, and sometimes traveler’s checks, at poor rates. San Juan Travel will also change Belize dollars and Mexican pesos, and give Visa, MasterCard, Diner’s Club and American Express cash advances.