Written by Kweartz on 01 Nov, 2004
Not being worldly travelers, this was the first time we had flown into a foreign country, so the Guatemala International Airport (Airport code GUA) was a different experience for us. The airport is small compared to the airports we came thought to get there…Read More
Not being worldly travelers, this was the first time we had flown into a foreign country, so the Guatemala International Airport (Airport code GUA) was a different experience for us. The airport is small compared to the airports we came thought to get there (Atlanta and Cincinnati are both major Delta hubs). It would seem that the airport is also a military base; we passed several military aircraft taxing to the terminal.
If you want to exchange your American money for Guatemalan money, you can do that right at the airport, on the left side as you exit. Right next to the exchange place you can also get a taxi ticket for a reasonable price without dickering with a cabbie, but the hotel we where staying at sent a shuttle so we did not have to bother with a cab.
Expect to find a horde of people (many waiting for travelers, many looking to earn some cash-legally, illegally, and semi-legally) at some point between customs and the street outside the terminal. Just knowing that you will encounter this crowd and that it appears intimidating, but is really just a busy, chaotic scene, may help.
If you are not being escorted from the airport, here are a few tips. After getting through customs, take a few minutes to compose yourselves and plan your next few steps. You are likely in a protected area of the airport, so use the restrooms, splash some water on your face to get refreshed, etc.
There is likely a tourist info booth nearby. Stop by, collect some maps, ask some questions about ground transportation--like how much it should cost for a cab to your hotel and how to choose a reliable one.
Then, gather your resolve with a tight grip on your belongings and stride confidently through the crowd. Plan on saying, "NO, gracias," firmly to offers in the crowd. Be polite, but firm, or you'll continue to be asked. Don't get flustered if you get followed or pestered. Persistence often pays off!
Everyone knows you are a tourist and that you'd gladly get a kid off your back for a quarter (but you'll have 10 more after you if you do!). If you can pick a cab driver quickly, he (and his helpers) will ferry your belongings to his car. So, try and spot a cab or driver quickly, and head determinedly in his direction. If you can signal him, or make eye contact, he can help clear the crowd around you. You can hail the cab, merely by saying the name of your hotel, but make sure you agree on the fare before leaving the airport.
Departing from Guatemala is a little less stressful. Once you arrive at the airport, you will be greeted by a bunch of guys with carts that want to ferry your belongings in to the airport for you. Since we only had carry-on bags, we polity said, "No, gracias," and kept on going. We arrived at the airport very early, over 3 hours before our flight, but unfortunately the Delta counter was not open yet, and we had to wait almost an hour for it to open. Delta only has one flight in and out of Guatemala each day, so the Delta counter has very limited hours. Once the counter opened we checked in; checking in is the same as in the United States, except they do a hand inspection of your bags also.
After we checked in and got our boarding passes we went down stairs to what I would call the main part of the airport. This section of the airport is open to the public and has many different shops and food/snack stands. But since it is open to the public, it is not the cleanest place and the bathrooms where very dirty. This area is also not air-conditioned, so all the windows are open and the smell of jet fuel can be very strong when planes are being refueled. I would recommend heading to the internal flight concourse right away.
This area is only accessible to people with boarding passes, so it is a lot less crowded. You will go though a security station with the usual metal detectors and x-ray machines, but once you pass the security station, you will notice a world of difference from where you just came from. This area is air-conditioned and very nicely kept up. Along the concourse are duty-free shops and restaurants; some of the shops are very upscale. Between the shops are waiting rooms for the outbound flights. Each waiting room is also a secure area, which means more metal detectors and x-ray machines. Our bags where also hand-inspected again when we entered the Delta waiting area, but the waiting areas are very nice with plenty of seating, bathrooms, and flat-panel TV’s.
Guatemala City Airport, Guatemala
Direccion General de Aeronautica Civil
Aeropuerto La Aurora, Zona 13
Guatemala CA 01013
Written by Kweartz on 15 Oct, 2004
The mall is located in the center of the Zona Viva, and is one of the largest and most modern shopping malls in the city. You can find anything from clothes and shoes for the whole family, to furniture and electric supplies. There is also…Read More
The mall is located in the center of the Zona Viva, and is one of the largest and most modern shopping malls in the city. You can find anything from clothes and shoes for the whole family, to furniture and electric supplies. There is also a food court that has a McDonald’s and several other fast food type restaurants in it.
The shopping mall was located a couple blocks away from our hotel easily with in walking distance; we walked over to it a couple times. The mall is a 3-story open-air mall, basically it is open on the north and south sides, but totally covered. Some of the stores are air conditioned, but most are not, so if heat and humidity affect you, this is not the place for you. A few of the stores that we went to are:
This department store was by far the largest in the mall, it reminded me of a Sears. Its three levels contain every department from men's, women's, and children's clothes, to furniture and electric equipment for your home. They stock a variety of articles for your home, books, sporting goods, baby goods, shoes, jewelry, perfumes, and personal accessories. Most of the brands where the same as you would find back in the United States. The staff was very friendly and helpful, but they do not speak English, whish was not too much of a problem. Also if you purchase some thing use the local currency or a credit card, they take American dollars, but it will take awhile to check out, because they have to convert the price to dollars, they convert the change back to quetzals.
Here you will find a great variety of computer games for children and adults. They had a pretty big selection with games for entertainment as well as educational ones. They did not have any game system games, but one of the staff said they are soon going to start selling Playstation and Nintendo 64 games soon. They also have accessories such as joysticks, cables and every accessory for Playstation and Nintendo 64, just no games yet.
There where also a bunch of clothing and shoes stores. Along with bookstores, kids’ clothing stores, jewelry stores and a bunch of other specialty stores. There is also a movie theater that was showing pretty current movies, it did not seem like they had movies that just opened in the United States.
One place that we found nice was American Donut, it sells just what you think, donuts. But it has a great kid play area, something like what McDonald’s has up here, but a little bigger. Since we where adopting a 4 year old, this was a great place to let her play.
Address: 16th Street 2-00, Zone 10 'Los Próceres' Boulevard
Phone: +50 2 332 8742
Hours: 10am-8pm Mon-Sun; 11am-7pm public holidays
Written by Iximxe on 16 Apr, 2005
Monday morning in Guatemala City, and we’re waiting for Lionel, our driver, to arrive and take us up to Solola, about a three-hour drive. The hotel is the Casa Grande, an old converted townhouse of planters located in the Zona Viva and next door…Read More
Monday morning in Guatemala City, and we’re waiting for Lionel, our driver, to arrive and take us up to Solola, about a three-hour drive. The hotel is the Casa Grande, an old converted townhouse of planters located in the Zona Viva and next door to the U.S. embassy. The Reforma is a busy thoroughfare blanketed with tropical trees and flowers but choked with urban buses and car traffic. No flowers are smelled—only diesel exhaust. Out for a walk in the rush hour, I see young Guatemalans on their way to work and school. Some are already at work cleaning sidewalks, shining shoes, delivering to stores and restaurants, and standing guard over it all are the ubiquitous security men with black pistol-grip shotguns and automatic pistols. In front of the U.S. embassy, a long line of visa hopefuls await their ticket to prosperity, around them policemen, soda venders, and a couple of old men, dirty, sitting on curbs with manual typewriters ready to prepare necessary documents. A couple of blocks away, another equally long line of well-dressed young people fill out applications for jobs with Pollo Campero, a local fried chicken fast-food chain. There too, armed guards stand by.
My brother and I pass by the Capilla de Yurrita, a chapel built in the early 20th century and dedicated to the victims of the volcanic eruption of Santa Maria in 1902. The Capilla is baroque bright red-orange and is surrounded by high iron fences topped with concertina. Embedded in the sidewalk are chunks of volcanic debris and a sidewalk of obsidian probably produced by the volcano, which by presidential decree of the time didn’t occur. We wander a few blocks further down the busy Septima Avenida to the gun shop. It's very early, but the owners seem glad to see us. I inquire about the price of a black stubby shotgun on the wall. The salesman, in glasses and polyester shirt, takes it down and gives it to Dave. I hold it all wrong and tell him I know it's all wrong. At least I have muzzle control.
He tells me that it is difficult for a gringo to get a gun these days. The government agency—while no law exists prohibiting the sale of arms to foreigners—has not been willing to issue permits, although recently, "una israelita" got one. I ask whether "una venezolanita" or other attractive female foreigner might succeed, and he concedes it's possible. Rifles he expects in a few weeks and a new policy with respect to foreigners in 4 to 6 months. He fluffs off my question as to whether "special transactions" might succeed. He tells me that a Guatemalan with the right documents could get the task completed in no more than 3 days. I am surprised by the relatively tight control over weapons here. One would think it would be very easy, but obviously it's not. Walking away from the shop, I wonder aloud to Dave whether selling guns in a country so full of guns might be a difficult business. We laugh about whether it is possible to rent a helicopter gun-ship for safe touring.
The hotel is the favorite of Americans and other foreigners seeking to adopt Guatemalan babies. The dining room in the enclosed courtyard (burdened with the screech of jets landing at nearby la Aurora) is the feeding place for these new parents. They are stiff with their new babies, overly cautious and not comfortable. Some look ridiculously old and only thinly bearing the look of desperation over mortality. The babies howl when they’re put down and seem thrilled to be held and fed and loved unconditionally, desperate as lottery winners holding their tickets to immortality.
Lionel shows up in his Lancia cab, and we begin our road odyssey to Pana. First, we visit the Hiper Pais supermarket, and I am reminded of the shopping in Guadalajara, only here, the parking lot has dozens of armed guards in camouflage. The store is of Wal-Mart proportions and has un poco de todo, but no Crisco. We stock up on bottles of hot sauce and cans of Coke and pile back in the car. Piled in the car with our quickly gotten bags of groceries, I am reminded of the recent film 28 Days Later, where a group of live people squeezed into a London taxi drive through the English countryside seeking others like them in a land of people infected by the horrible Rage virus. We feel different here and somewhat under siege and in danger. The embassy has a posting on its website called "Recent Accounts of Crimes Against Foreigners." With very little context on several levels, the site is a listing of serious crimes that have occurred over the past two years or so where "foreigners" were victims. The crimes range from muggings to murders and everything in between. Most worrisome to me is that there is a disproportionate number of these events which involve tourists in a cab or bus traveling the highway we are about to set off on. These crimes, the site points out with its Joe Friday matter of fact tone, can also occur in broad daylight.
Then we’re on the road. Up the Calzada Roosevelt, around its bends, now only barely showing the painted words on the high soil walls: "En obras como este invierta el Gobierno sus impuestos..." and "No criticamos el Gobierno," it used to say. Since the last time I came here and the first, 20 some years ago, it's changed markedly. Many more people and lots more houses and stores, but strangely, I can still remember vividly the first time I traveled up this road on a bluebird bus, its stereo playing a song by Camillo Sesto called "Preguntame", the feeling of excitement of the new life I was building ahead of me, accentuated by the roller coaster ride up the mountain switchbacks in this old school bus. I would not then have imagined that 21 years later, I would be coming up this road again. Lionel tears through the traffic narrowly, missing one disaster after another and now grateful for the National Police presence I used to dread. I wave to them as though to encourage them to watch out for us and keep the robbers at bay. In the early '80s, the National Police were considered corrupt and an instrument of national oppression. Their registros and those done by the army along this road bewildering long ordeals where all of us would have to get off the bus. They would search through the bus and then frisk the male passengers. On one especially eerie occasion, they brought along a man wearing a dark hood, only his eyes visible, who walked along like a trained dog, sniffing, and looked at each one of us, probably to recognize "subversivos".
The condition of the highway is remarkably good. Much of it has been widened and repaved in the last 10 years and feels like a relatively expeditious and safe travel. In the higher elevations around Tecpan, the population is very thin, and only small villages are found, little huts in the midst of hillside fields; these are not homes, but camps for these farmers to sleep when their crops are near ready, and they can work longer hours and prevent thefts. Many of the fields along the route grow large watermelon-sized and shaped squash. Many others appear to grow broccoli and cauliflower, principally for export to North American markets. Just before los Encuentros, we encounter a burning "landfill", which is just a ravine off the side of the road where municipal trash is dumped and incinerated. It's a project, surprisingly, of the national environmental protection agency, I learn later.
Written by Kweartz on 08 Oct, 2004
Since our main purpose for being in Guatemala was to finish adopting our daughter, a trip to the US Embassy was in order. Unless you have official business at the embassy, you are not going to get in; security is very tight, with lots…Read More
Since our main purpose for being in Guatemala was to finish adopting our daughter, a trip to the US Embassy was in order. Unless you have official business at the embassy, you are not going to get in; security is very tight, with lots of armed guards and metal detectors.
It's a bit intimidating entering, because you go in front of this huge line of Guatemalans, flash your passport and are escorted into security. Just like airport security, but in much smaller space. Feels like a cattle run. The security people are quick, efficient, and very mellow about the whole thing. Make sure you do not bring any electronic devices, such as cell phones, PDAs, cameras, or laptops, as they will not allow you in with them. As with any government building, no knives or guns are allowed; also, no keys are allowed. If you do bring any of these items you will need to leave them in a cubby--they will give you a claim tag (when you leave the embassy, you have to leave the secure area and go back to the chained-off area near where you entered to turn in your tag and retrieve your things).
In other words, bring just what you need and nothing else. The downside to bringing very little is that the embassy is very boring. We had to wait for about three hours to get our daughter's visa, and the only reading material in the waiting room was the instruction book for the 1040 tax form (not very interesting reading). They did let us bring in some crayons and a coloring book for our daughter, after searching the box of crayons.
The weird part is that, after security, they tell you to keep going, but where? It doesn't look like the pathway leads to anything. What happens is that it leads to an outside door that is INSIDE the compound. So you go through security, then outside and up some stairs to the second floor. Then you really get the governmental feel of it all.
The main waiting area is rows of chairs. Depending on what day and how many people are processing visas, you may go into an interview room, but most of the interviews are held at the windows in the lobby. There may or may not be a line of Guatemalans inside the same area (but different waiting area). The restrooms are in the area for the Guatemalans. The other waiting area is behind the rows of chairs. There is a sign with an arrow that says something like "American Services Only". Something about "Americans only" on it, at any rate.
On the whole, the embassy is just like being in any other federal government building back in the States. The staff was nice, they know their job well, and they all spoke English.
One thing to keep in mind is that the embassy does not take personal checks, and they just started taking credit cards, but cash (either American or Guatemalan) is preferred, in small bills. We made the mistake of using $100 bills; about four people examined the bills with magnifying glasses.
The American Embassy is located at 7-01 Avenida de la Reforma, Zone 10, Guatemala City
Phone Number: 011-502-331-1541