By Sarina R., guest blogger studying Spanish at AmeriSpan's Antigua Spanish school
Today, a bit on packing and general safety for travel in Guatemala.
In preparation for the trip, I scoured Lonely Planet, Moon, the internet, etc. for packing tips in the rainy season. Yet despite my research, I found specific and useful information hard to come by. As a result, I went the ¨pack a little bit of everything¨ route, and it ended up being a pretty good decision. A few pearls of wisdom..
Other stuff: Let´s be honest, Antigua hosts a subway, a large market, and dozens of English speaking bars. So it´s no surprise that it´s pretty easy to find almost anything you need, even for the most basic Spanish speaker. That said, there are a few essentials that I would highly recommend bringing from your home base.
- Insect repellent with DEET -- While Antigua experiences less of a mosquito issue than I was expecting, let´s just say that limbs absolutely covered in bites are a souvenir you should expect on most weekend excursions. I´ve been using repellents with 25 and 40 DEET, and get absolutely demolished at night outside the city if I´m not completely covered in spray. I´m sure you can repellent in Antigua, but I imagine it´s more expensive (and you´ll want it from day 1).
- Shoes for walking -- Roads here are bumpy and school can be a 10 or 15 minute walk from home. I´ve been wearing my Toms every day (literally) and have so far avoided an embarrassing nose dive. I have not seen other decent walking shoes for sale, thus far.
- A bag with a zipper -- School provides books for homework. You´ll want a small bookbag or a large purse (or messenger bar) that zips to prevent theft and rain damage. Another larger bag for weekend trips outside Antigua is also useful. I have a large tote for that and love the fact that my gigantic backpack stays home.
- Allergy medicine -- I´ve asked around, and apparently my issue with allergies here is the norm. If you have dust, mold or pollen allergies, I recommend plenty of medicine.
- Traveler´s Checks -- I´ve been taking my chances with ATM thus far, but I´ve heard several stories of theft occurring at the ATM. Guatemala is having an issue with a problem referred to as skimming, where people will steal pins and bank account information from the ATMs. It´s also possible to take money out of the bank directly, but travelers checks are a good idea in the event that you do become a victim of skimming, and need some money to tide you over until you can get your new card. Banks here do accept travelers checks to exchange for dollars or the local currency.
- Smart phone or laptop -- I chose not to go this route, but many students bring their smart phone or laptop since wifi is plentiful. Most hostels, many bars and restaurants, and some homestays have wifi for use. It´s also possible to use internet cafes (I do every day), but particularly during travel on the weekends, access to email at your hostel can be a boon. That said, theft is always a possibility.
- Expensive jewelry -- Leave it at home.
And, finally, safety.
I was concerned about the safety situation here before I left. And, while there certainly are safety concerns, smart packing (ie a good secure bag, pants for carrying cash and your cell phone, travelers checks just in case) and common sense go a long way. It´s generally accepted here that women in particular should never walk alone at night after 9 pm. After bars close at midnight, anyone should take a cab. Other than that, general city precautions such as not flashing wads of cash, wearing expensive jewelry, or carrying a camera in your hands, should suffice. Luckily, the school goes over safety concerns on your first day, and homestay families are more than happy to answer questions about specific areas of the city and country.
Photos: I was glad about my last minute decision to pack my Kindle, since Guatemala hosts many tranquillo travel spots perfect for a good book, or two...or three. During my weekend in Monterrico (on the Pacific), it got a lot of use!
Read all of Sarina's blogs from Antigua
Find out more about AmeriSpan's Antigua Spanish school