Initial Thoughts on Guatemala

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Now that I’ve been in Guatemala for awhile — longer than most “normal” trips I’ve taken — I think it’s fair to share a few of my initial thoughts and impressions.  I’m sure my views will change as I experience more things and settle in more fully and I’m excited that for once I’ll be here long enough to have that opportunity!

1. The New Normal

armed guards guatemala

Sure, a few things are “just like home”, but Guatemala is certainly not the same as the United States.  In the past 48 hours alone, I’ve lost access to water once and power three times.  Unphased, I simply shrugged each incident off.  What else is “normal” now?  Young boys carrying turtles on the street, a man shaving in central park, and armed guards outside of most banks and stores.

2. Different Regions are…Different

antigua guatemala la merced palm sunday

Perhaps I’ve just stated the obvious, but regions here aren’t just nuanced, they are whole different worlds.  From family make-up to economic status to languages spoken, you’ll find yourself in an entirely separate location by heading just 30 miles away.  I’ve visited five places now (Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango, Antigua, Monterrico, and Guatemala City) and all five are entirely different.

3. People Are the Same Everywhere

My "niece" at a Guatemalan homestay
My “niece” at a Guatemalan homestay

Does this point completely negate the point above?  I’m not sure, but I love that in every town you’ll find people doing the same things you would do.  So far I’ve watched community soccer games, school basketball games, marching band practice, children at playgrounds, families eating together, and a million other things.

4. Guatemala City is Interesting

Cayala, Guatemala City
Cayala, Guatemala City

A ton of travelers bypass Guatemala City altogether when they visit the country and I think it’s a shame.  I only spent 48 hours there, but I really liked what I saw, despite staying almost entirely in Zona 16.  It’s on my list to return to at the end of my trip so I can see other Zonas.

5. I Miss Home

Suicide showers are neither safe nor effective.
Suicide showers are neither safe nor effective.

I don’t miss the United States exactly, but I do miss meals with lots of vegetables instead of carbs, hot showers, and spending time with my husband.  However, there’s plenty I enjoy about Guatemala and wish we’d do more of in the USA: living close to family and walking everywhere instead of driving are first on my mind.

6. Homestays Are Not For Me

My room in San Pedro La Laguna (Lake Atitlan, Guatemala)
My room in San Pedro La Laguna (Lake Atitlan, Guatemala)

I’m not really surprised by this realization: I like my “me time” so even though it’s incredibly generous to be hosted by a local family, I’m not hugely thrilled by it.  I’m sticking out my current homestay for the next five nights, but think it’s unlikely I’ll seek another.

7. I Did A Good Job Packing

What I Brought to Guatemala
What I Brought to Guatemala

I was a little worried about whether or not my packing list would be sufficient, but I haven’t needed anything that I didn’t bring and I’ve used just about everything I did bring.  The one exception?  I think I’m ready to ditch the laptop bag and instead use my backpack and the collapsible mini backpack I brought.

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4 thoughts on “Initial Thoughts on Guatemala”

  1. This is great, thank you for your updates. I’ve been learning Spanish for a few semesters now, and I’m planning a trip somewhat like a shorter version of yours. Did you find a teacher / guide for part of your trip? If so, how did you go about it? I will be headed to Guatemala or Costa Rica.

    Thanks again!

    1. @Matthew, Every Central American country (and most, if not all, South American countries) have Spanish schools, some with group lessons and others with private instructors. I did a bunch of Googling before finding a few that seemed up my alley and had good reviews. So far, I’ve studied with 3 teachers through 3 different institutions, all in Guatemala. Top of my list is Ixchel School in Antigua, Guatemala if you’re looking for a recommendation.

  2. The concept of a homestay is interesting. In the US, is it possible to host someone from a foreign country? What website can I visit to find someone to host?

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