Is Spanish necessary for traveling in Guatemala?
Replies: 14 - Last Post: Mar 11, 2013 5:20 AM Last Post By: MikeTO
Nov 26, 2012 6:30 PM
Nov 26, 2012 7:24 PM
1If you stay on the main tourist trail - Antigua, Atitlán, Tikal - you shouldn't have any trouble getting around. I have found, though, that the more Spanish I know the easier it is to get around, especially off the beaten track, and the more enjoyment I get out of my travels.
Nov 26, 2012 7:51 PM
2agreed - it completely depends on what you plan to do. If your plan is like that of many faux-backpackers these days (Shuttle to hostel. Eat, sleep and drink inside hostel. Only leave hostel on tours organized by hostel. Book shuttle to next hostel through current hostel. Repeat until end of trip.) I would argue that you don't need any Spanish at all.
If, on the other hand, you plan on getting out and actually experiencing the country you will need some.
The up side is that Guatemalans are incredibly patient and your basic needs (bus to destination, food, drink, bed) are easy enough to communicate, especially given the context (you are unlikely to be asking about brain surgery at hotel reception, for example). Even if you arrive with a ten word vocabulary you will not be speaking the worst Spanish that locals have ever heard.
Nov 26, 2012 7:53 PM
3Thank you for your response. I have seen your posts to other questions about Central America and it seems like you have a lot of expertise so I appreciate you answering my question. Do you have any tips for safety? One of my friends is very concerned about after reading up on the internet. I read we shouldn't flaunt jewelry, ride buses in Guatemala City at night and be wary in the northern rain forest area. Do you have any advice for my friend to be safer/ prepare better for a our trip?
Nov 26, 2012 8:11 PM
4Here are my personal safety guidelines, saved from a previous thread - this comes up a lot.
Sometimes I travel alone, sometimes with one or more of my kids and/or my husband, sometimes with a group in tow. I don't feel overly paranoid but have never had a problem and would like to keep it that way.
Here are my concessions to safety when I travel in Central America:
:: I avoid the big cities as much as possible
:: I don't "party"
:: Where recommended I take specific transportation (ex: Hedman Alas in Honduras, avoid chicken buses on the mountain runs in Guatemala, take taxis after dark)
:: I know where I am and where I'm headed and make major transitions with plenty of daylight left
:: I don't wear jewelry (not even my wedding band) and try not to flash camera equipment or money around
:: Some trips I carry a “throw down wallet” with an expired card or 2 and the day’s cash in it
:: I keep important documents and cash under my clothes (except what I need for shopping, buses, etc. for that time period) and keep close watch on my things, especially in crowded places and when I’m tired
:: I ask locals about safety in an area - evenings, hiking, etc.
:: I travel really light so I don't feel vulnerable getting my bag off and on buses, shuttles, etc.
:: I continue to build skills in Spanish (doesn't apply to Belize)
Nov 26, 2012 10:05 PM
5Get a guidebook and stop relying on " I heard" or " read on Internet"....
The safety question comes op the Guatemala branch all the time, just read back. Central America has its risk, don't take what you can't afford to lose, and stay clear of big cities and the capitals when possible, always use taxi at night, and don't hike trails alone or unguided unless lodging or outfits say its okay. Go out door with only money for day, leave all valuables and Passport in room secure.
99 percent of tourist and foreigners visit Guatemala and CA with no issues at all.
Guatemala has a great network of shuttles and top notch bs companies to get between all areas on the tourist circuit...get the Moon or LP guidebook and start reading, or read this forum, very question you could ver ask, has been answered here a million times.
Nov 26, 2012 11:05 PM
Nov 27, 2012 8:46 AM
Nov 27, 2012 8:52 AM
8#7, i was telling my friends here in Nicaragua that exact story! timbo, you have made it travelling about and not speaking spanish, correct?
Nov 27, 2012 8:57 AM
Nov 27, 2012 3:01 PM
Dec 1, 2012 10:19 AM
11Try some great lessons via skype with my Guatemalan teacher Marco Antonio Tabin Garcia! I love paying him directly rather than a for-profit school which is a great benefit to his family. You will be amazed at how much you learn in a short time. You don't need much Spanish to travel well in CA but the more you have the more meaningful your interactions which make any trip better.
He has a website: www.spanishteachermarco.com
You will love it! Plus he speaks English pretty well and has a wealth of cultural information.
Have fun - Guatemala is one of my all-time favorite places. As for safety - be smart and careful like all the above comments and you will be fine.
Edited by: knottsl
Dec 3, 2012 2:50 PM
12You should get some basics in. I just came back from Guatemala with minimal Spanish and really wish I tried harder to learn some before I left. I wish I knew more directions, my numbers to shop, general conversation. Even if hotels book the shuttles for you, the drivers don't always speak English or drop you off directly at your hotel so you have to ask for directions. My guide for a volcano hike didn't speak English. I was lucky I met people who spoke Spanish so hung around them a bit. There were times when I was left behind the group and had to hang out with the locals and could not converse. I felt dumb! Or even meeting locals wanting to chat and not being able to. There is only so much you can talk about! Translator books are better than nothing. Mine helped, but I still wish I knew more.
Jan 17, 2013 7:19 PM
13We are traveling right now and our Spanish is really not good at all. I know we are missing out a lot because of our lack of Spanish but we are doing ok. We do know the numbers, some basic food items so we can eat, thank you, how to ask people's names and saw ours, and basic greetings etc. What we do a lot is if there is wi-fi, we write down what we need or want to find out, plug it into the translator on google and then try to say it. We usually make the person laugh, they read it, tell us how to say it and then give us the answer. We also right down where we want to go in a note pad so we can just ask the bus driver when we get on to make sure we are on the correct bus.
Mar 11, 2013 5:20 AM
14You can get by without Spanish in most places, but when traveling anywhere in S.A. it is good to have at least a bit of Spanish. Makes life so much easier. Use Skype sessions. Very convenient and you can get a teacher knowledgeable in the country you're visiting. There can be major differences from one to the next in vocab and pronunciation. So different in Argentina. Also good to ask them for places to go. Good way of avoiding tourist traps. I use http://www.121spanish.com/ The teachers are from different areas of S.A.
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