Although Guatemala is small, it offers a diverse terrain. From the jungles of Tikal, the cloud forests and mountain highlands to the beaches, lakes and rivers, and volcanoes, there’s a lot here in this tiny country the same size as the U.S. state of Tennessee.
Surprisingly, we haven’t discovered a lot of wildlife here. Most of the animals are domesticated, although we have heard about coyotes (that’s a funny story!), and we’ve seen some squirrels and birds… but that’s about it. (Not a whole lot, especially when we think about all the wildlife in Costa Rica.)
Safety & Visas
In the past, Guatemala endured a violent civil war and may have not been a safe place to visit. But today, this country is heavily protected by police and a very safe place. We frequently see policia patrolling the highways, streets and neighborhoods, and they are always very friendly and protective of foreigners. While theft can and does occur (like the morning we got robbed) we’ve never felt unsafe, even walking the streets at night here in Panajachel. The overall atmosphere is friendly and harmless.
If you’re a foreigner, Guatemala will give you a 90 day visa when you arrive (part of the CA4, which includes El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua). When that 90 days is up, you have to renew the visa (if you don’t leave the country), along with vehicle permits, if you drive in.
Technically, you’re supposed to leave the country for 3 days (going to either Mexico or Belize, since the countries in the CA4 don’t count for renewing visas). But, if you talk to the right people, and have Q100 per passport, then you can get renewed without the 72-hour departure.
I’ve also heard you can renew visas and vehicle permits in Guatemala City, but we don’t have any personal experience with that.
When I wrote about our time in Mexico, I really spent some time raving about the food – tacos, tlyudas, tortas, tamales and much more.
I’m not sure that I’ll have as much to say about the food in Guatemala…
There are some meals that are quite tasty — caldo (a beef or chicken broth with vegetables), guisado (a beef or chicken stew), dobladas (meat & veggies fried in masa - a corn flour dough), pollo encebollado (chicken in onions), asados (grilled chicken, beef or pork – usually with green onions) and pupusas (which are actually Salvadoranian.)
There are also some things I’m just not fond of… chuchitos (a kind of tamale made from corn flour and wrapped in corn husks), tamales (made from rice flour and wrapped in ‘banana’ leaves, and usually mushy), fried chicken and french fries (okay, this is good when I’m craving something unhealthy). And the corn tortillas. The staple in Guatemala is corn tortillas, and while I loved the corn tortillas in Mexico (we would heat them plain, hot, and fresh off the fire), the tortillas in Guatemala have cal in them (crushed limestone) and aren’t as delicious…at least to me.
To be fair, there are a lot of dishes I haven’t tried. Since we’ve spent most of our time at Lake Atitlan, we’ve only tasted what they have to offer around here. Other destinations in the country offer different fare — like iguana stew (something our friends tried when we visited Xocomil)
While I may not rave about the tipica Guatemalan food like I did Mexican food, don’t worry, we’re not going hungry. There’s still plenty of good things to eat, not to mention all the fresh fruits and vegetables! Mangoes, bananas, papaya, pineapple, watermelon, melon, strawberries, apples, lychee, zucchini, carrots, broccoli, plus things you’ve never even heard of before — and so much more — much of it local and cheap, cheap, cheap.
Cost of Living
Just like many places you travel to, you can live inexpensively in Guatemala, and you could also live expensively. It all depends on you.
Just here in Panajachel, you can rent a house for $200 a month, up to (I think the highest I heard) $7000 a month. It all depends on what you’re looking for, and what sort of lifestyle you’re after.
Here’s a sample of what you might spend in Guatemala:
- Mangoes (first because they’re my favorite) – 3/$0.65 (when they’re in season)
- Watermelon – $1.30
- Papaya – $1.68
- Bananas – $0.77/dozen
- Carrots – $0.78/dozen
- Zucchini – $0.26/each
- Eggs – $4.38/30
- Milk (in a 1 liter bag) – $1.00
- Apples – $1.16/lb imported; $0.39/lb local (when in season)
- Pears – $1.16/lb imported
- Can of tuna – $1.98
- Black beans (dry, 1lb) – $0.65
- Tortilla chips – $2.10
- Loaf of whole wheat bread – $2.97
- Diapers – $7.74 to $11.61
- Pack of 80 wipes (Huggies) – $1.94
- Diesel – $4.25/gallon
- Dinner for two – $5 to $18 (depending on what kind of food you want)
- Dinner for seven – $14 (because we usually eat at the market, or get pupusas, where you spend $2.00 a plate)
Cost of living comes down to what your lifestyle is about. If you want to live on fresh fruits and vegetables, and local foods, and in simple accommodations, you’ll live inexpensively.
If you’ll be continuing your diet from ‘home’, with imported foods, and living in a pricey expat neighborhood, you’ll spend a lot more. It’s all up to you.
Guatemala is a great country. I don’t have the slightest hesitation in recommending it as a destination for travel, vacation, retirement or raising your children.
We never thought we would be here this long, but we’re really enjoying it.
So why are we still here — we who are supposed to be nomadic, driving from Alaska to Argentina?
Well, there’s 3 main reasons:
Somehow we’ve found (or attracted) a really great group of friends. Currently there are 5 families here in Pana (including ours), and between us we have 22 kids ages 2 to 16. We share similar values and have a lot of fun together.
Each of us homeschool following similar methods, so we do book clubs, art and music classes, sign language and cooking lessons, not to mention all the cool ‘field trips’ we do together, and weekly date nights for the adults. Overall, we’re just having a really great time.
For everything there is a time and season, and right now this is the season of friendship and learning.
After the success of our perpetual self-reliance project, we’ve explored ideas that would take it to a community level — creating a local ‘model’ homestead where the local Guatemalans could come and ‘learn and earn’. There would be hands-on work, and live demonstration where they could ‘catch the vision’ of ideas that can help to improve nutrition, create more self-reliance, PLUS protect the lake from the onslaught of pollution that comes from sewage and gray water runoff. Stay tuned for more information on this.
I’ve been taking part in weekly business mentoring through an ‘online reality show’. It’s keeping me busy, and helping to grow our business, which will solidify our long-term sustainability for the rest of our traveling life. As romantic as the notion of ‘working from anywhere’ sounds, it’s not a feasible option. To work consistently on something that will bring the results you want, you need scheduled time, consistent internet, and a place to do it. All of those things are difficult to do (consistently) when you’re on the road.