Travel Tips

 

Traveling in Guatemala, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands is an adventure, and our goal is to make your time spent there a memorable and positive experience. The most important tip to remember is to bring a positive attitude and do not expect perfection; it´s best to be prepared for inconveniences and surprises; expect the unexpected – we are in third world countries. Bring your smile and someone you love.

Pre-arrange (per phone numbers listed in your itinerary) for people from the States to contact you in Guatemala or Ecuador, as calls from these countries are more costly. E-mail and internet cafes will be available so bring your e-mail contacts.

Passports Luggage Packing Clothing
Location Specific Clothing Weather Health Altitude
Personal Safety Money Tipping Taking Photos

Passports:

  • You will need a current passport, valid for six months or longer than your planned travel.
  • If you already have a passport, check its expiration date. If you don’t, do not put off applying. With homeland security issues etc., it has become difficult to know what to expect from the state department.
  • In the event you lose your passport, you will need to contact the American Citizen Services (ACS) unit at the U. S. Embassy in Guatemala City or Quito. You will be required to submit proof of identity and citizenship: copy of your passport, two passport size (2”x 2”) photos, and a completed passport application. This process could be very time consuming.
  • We recommend you make two photocopies of your passport. Leave one copy at home, and carry one copy with you at all times, (in case you need it when making financial transactions).
  • Put your original passport in the safe or lock it in your suitcase upon arrival at your hotel
  • Do not take the chance of losing your passport by carrying it around with you, and never keep it in the same place as your money. These are poor counties and your money is the target for pickpockets, not your passport but if they are together, you may lose both.
  • It is a good idea to leave copies of important documents and numbers with a relative at home, or store them in a password protected email account, such as Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail, that you can access from anywhere.
  • Be sure to bring pertinent contact numbers for appropriate banks or agencies in the event you lose any items such as credit cards, traveler’s checks, etc. (keep these numbers in a separate place).

Luggage:

  • It is highly advisable to bring only one suitcase per person, plus an extra fold-up bag for additional purchases. There is same day laundry service available almost everywhere.
  • You will need a small back pack/day pack for sweaters, cameras, sunscreen, etc.
  • Bring luggage locks for your suitcases to lock your suitcase while leaving it in your hotel room.
  • Always check with your airline for the latest airport screening procedures and luggage regulations including excess baggage limitations for the return trip. In addition, it is good to check the TSA website for current airport and security issues.
  • Hand carry any items you cannot do without; i.e. medications.
  • Place your name and address on the outside and inside of your luggage, along with a copy of your itinerary.
  • Never leave your personal belongings unattended and always check twice before you leave a bus, plane or hotel room for any forgotten property. If you do leave something behind consider it a “donation”.
  • Galápagos Travel no more than 20 Kilos (44 pounds) of luggage (one suitcase) may be checked on flights to or from the Galapagos Islands. Additional luggage may be stored at your hotel. These restrictions do not include small carry-on flight bags or camera cases.
  • Tikal or Copan Ruins Travel – we suggest you only take a small bag with your overnight (or two night) necessities and leave the bulk of your luggage in Guatemala City. We will have a secure place for luggage left behind.

Packing:

Safety begins when you pack. Bring suitcase locks and use them to lock your suitcase while left in your hotel room. Also, think comfort and practicality over style as you decide what clothes and shoes to bring.

  • Most hotels have hair driers in the rooms, or they have one you may borrow.
  • The electrical current in these countries is 110, same as the U.S.
  • Not all hotels offer washcloths so if you must have one, you should bring it.
  • Birders bring your binoculars.
  • Be sure to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat as you will be close to the equator.
  • Compact fold-up ponchos are advised.
  • Camera – there will be plenty of photo opportunities so be sure to bring the film, memory cards, and batteries you will need, since they are twice as expensive in these countries.
  • Do not bring jewelry unless you absolutely must. Please leave the diamonds at home. They get lost, attract attention, change the prices of things you want to buy, make people envious, and give people the wrong impression… The list goes on. Buy some beaded bracelets and necklaces in the local markets.
  • Calculator – a small one will be very useful when negotiating in the markets.

Clothing:

  • Always check the weather report before your departure (see Weather links below).
  • For travel in the highlands, informal clothing is suitable.
  • Slacks, jeans (no shorts please as local people dress more modestly) and comfortable apparel are the order of the day.
  • Dressing up for dinner is not required however; you may feel more comfortable wearing a little dressier attire in the evening.
  • Temperatures vary from cool in the morning to warm at midday with very chilly evenings; it is wise to dress in layers, perhaps a sweater over a shirt and a tee shirt.
  • In Ecuador, lightweight woolens are ideal for the highlands; and warm jackets are essential after dusk at high altitudes.  Here you can experience all four seasons in one day; dress in layers.
  • Bring sturdy, comfortable walking shoes or tennis shoes for walking on uneven terrain.
  • In Guatemala at lake Atitlan and Finca Los Tarrales (both areas surrounded by coffee plants), you will want to wear socks to protect against the bites of coffee flies (sort of like no-see-ums or sand fleas).
  • For health reasons, closed shoes are more suitable for areas such as markets where the ground is dirty.
  • Most hotels have a pool and/or a Jacuzzi, so if you want to enjoy the water, bring a swimsuit.

Location specific clothing notes:

  • Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, keep in mind, the tropical heat is tempered by Pacific breezes. Clothing essentials include sneakers (most walking ashore is over rocky lava terrain), shorts, long- and short-sleeve lightweight shirts, bathing suit (wet suit optional), a wide-brimmed hat, lightweight long pants, and a windbreaker or light jacket for evenings. Snorkels and fins are provided, but I always like to take my own when traveling, they fit better and are more hygienic. For those who wear glasses, you may want to bring a prescription dive mask. A wet bandanna will help to keep you cool.
  • Guatemala’s Tikal,  Copán in Honduras, and Finca Los Tarrales, the rainy season is from June to February. For travel in these hotter, more humid lowland regions, light-colored, lightweight, cotton clothing is most comfortable and you will want to bring a bandanna to wet and drape over your neck to help keep cool. We recommend long sleeve shirts and pants.

Weather:

Guatemala-

In Guatemala, temperatures vary from cool in the morning to hot at midday with very chilly evenings. The sun is very strong so bring a hat and sunglasses. The rainy season is mid-May through mid-October and occasionally in January.  Check weather here for Guatemala, If traveling to Copan Check weather here.

Ecuador-

The weather in Ecuador is exceptionally difficult to predict. There are virtually countless microclimates due to extremely varied topography that cause varied weather in neighboring geographical locations. One generalization that can be made is that the temperature is usually colder the higher the altitude. People in Quito and much of the Andes have a saying, “We have four seasons in a single day.” Although the temperature does not vary much throughout the course of the year – the country does straddle the equator – Ecuador’s rainy season coincides with winter months in the northern hemisphere. Check weather here for Quito, If traveling to the Galapagos Islands Check weather here.

Health:

Please note! There will be a fair amount of walking on our trips. The streets of Antigua, Quito, and other towns throughout Guatemala and Ecuador are cobblestone, some of the streets in villages we visit are steep, and there are several places where walking up and down steps is required. There are plenty of pharmacies in urban areas. Good medical care is available in most of the big cities. Medical facilities outside the major towns are limited. Acute surgical and cardiac services are not available on the Galápagos Islands; therefore, for more serious illnesses, patients may be evacuated to the USA. Health insurance (to include emergency repatriation) is strongly recommended.

  • Drink (and brush your teeth with) only bottled water available everywhere.
  • If you have a finicky stomach, bring Pepto-Bismol tablets and chew one or two tablets one hour before each meal.
  • You may also want to bring Imodium in case the change in bacteria – not necessarily bad bacteria – causes you to have a “loose stomach”.
  • Bring insect repellent.
  • If you are prone to upper respiratory problems or allergies, please note that crop burning is practiced in Guatemala and at certain times of the year the air is smoky. In addition, occasionally the wind can be very strong and kick up dust and, during the rainy season, there could be humidity with molds (these are all just precautions for those who are particularly sensitive.
  • You should bring all your medications for the entire trip including supplies for contact lenses.
  • Carry alcohol-based waterless hand sanitizer with you and use it frequently, especially after being in the markets or handling money and ALWAYS before eating.
  • While no special immunizations are required for either country it is advisable to keep up your tetanus shot (booster every ten years). The areas of travel for us do not take us to places where Malaria or Yellow Fever is an issue. We do, however, recommend you consider the following inoculation chart and check with your physician for his/her recommendation. You might also want to look on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for the country you will be in.

VaccinationsDiptheria Hepatitis AMalariaRabiesTetanus

Typhoid

Yellow Fever

Special PrecautionsYes YesSometimes*SometimesYes

Yes

Sometimes**

Inoculation regulations can change at short notice. Please take medical advice in the case of doubt. Where ‘Sometimes’ appears in the table above, precautions may be required, depending on the season and region visited.

* In Ecuador, malaria risk exists throughout the year below 1,500m (4,920ft), with moderate to high transmission risk in El Oro, Esmeraldas, Guayas, Los Rios, Manabi, Morona Santiago, Napo, Orellana, Pastaza, Pichincha and Sucumbios. There is no risk in Quito or the highlands where we will be. * In Guatemala, the only place we travel where there is any risk at all is Tikal and Copan. Mosquitoes are minimal or not out during the midday hours, however, as a precaution we recommend long sleeve shirts and pants, as well as insect repellent.
** A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travelers over one year of age coming from infected areas. Vaccination against yellow fever is recommended if travelling to the east of the Andes. There is no risk in Quito, the Galapagos Islands or anywhere we will be traveling.

Altitude:

Guatemala-

For those who have a concern about altitude – Guatemala City, Antigua, and Lake Atitlán are around 5000 feet altitude. Chichicastenango is around 7200 feet and we usually spend 4-6 hours there (unless it is in your itinerary to spend the night). Most medical authorities indicate that altitude is usually not an issue until you are over 8000 feet, but if you have a concern please consult your physician.

Ecuador-

Altitude sickness usually manifests itself in insomnia, headaches, and/or nausea. To prevent altitude sickness, or to at least stave off some of its effects, ascend gradually to provide your body with time to adjust to the change; obviously, if you are flying into Quito this will be impossible. In the event that you do experience symptoms of altitude sickness, in most cases, they can be remedied by drinking lots of water, getting lots of rest, and taking aspirin. If you are more than a little fatigued or if you experience mild headaches, taking DIAMOX is an option. DIAMOX is a drug that increases oxygen profusion. You can buy DIAMOX, or its equivalent, in most major cities. If you forget to bring your DIAMOX it is readily available in Quito pharmacies.

Personal Safety:

In our experience, Guatemala and Ecuador is as safe as any large city in the United States. We know where and where not, to travel. Common sense and awareness of your circumstances and who is around you are the best personal safety practice. These are third world counties and you should be very cautious of your valuables.

  • Avoid being a target by dressing conservatively (avoid the appearance of affluence), and acting respectful.
  • Do not walk alone in isolated areas and never walk in the streets after dark.
  • Only take a taxi recommended by the hotel or establishment you are in. Do not bring any valuable jewelry on our trips. Carry with you only what you can afford to lose.
  • Carry your extra money inside your shirt, trousers, or shoes, not in pockets, fanny packs, purses, or backpacks (which are easy targets for pickpockets).
  • Leave your passport, airline ticket, any money not needed for that day, in the hotel safe or locked in your suitcase.
  • Do not allow yourself to be distracted by any surprising event, which would allow someone to grab your valuables.
  • Beware that the most crucial time for theft is when one is caught up in the crushing crowds of the markets, crowded tourist sites, festivals and the outskirts of cities. If you are confronted, do not fight back! Give up your valuables – they can be replaced.
  • Never share your itinerary or travel plans with strangers or any other private information.
  • Be aware but not paranoid and remember that it is up to you to be a responsible tourist regardless of where you are traveling.

Money:

  • Bring as much money as you can afford to spend. If you like handmade textiles, you will spend it.
  • Do not bring 2001 $100 bills, torn, or old bills as they will not be accepted in Guatemala or Ecuador. Cash is easiest to deal with but Credit Cards (Visa, MasterCard) are accepted in most establishments; however American Express is not widely accepted and transactions often take more time than we are used to.
  • It will not be possible to use your credit card with the street venders and in the village markets.
  • There are banks and ATMs everywhere; however, there sometimes can be problems for anyone wanting a cash advance on their credit card.
  • It is advisable that you contact your credit card company before you leave on your trip to help any possible transaction go more smoothly.
  • The Quetzal (ket-ZAL) or Qs for short is the local currency of Guatemala and a bank is the best place to exchange your U.S. Dollars.
  • The U.S. dollar is the official currency of Ecuador.

Tipping:

It is customary to tip 10% of the total bill when dining out. Always check your bill to see if the tip has already been added (it usually is). Alcoholic beverages are not included in the price of the trip so please do not forget to leave a tip when you consume these beverages or when meals are on your own.

May I take your photo?:

  • When taking photographs, please act respectfully and ask permission before photographing someone. Remember, that individuals that you see in markets or on the road are simply living their daily lives – and are most certainly not actors performing for tourists! They may feel uncomfortable having their picture taken – just as you might if you noticed strangers taking photos of you.
  • If you ask to take a photo of someone, they may request a donation for a picture. It is up to you whether the photo is important enough for you to pay for it. If you tip for a photo in Ecuador, 50 cents to a dollar is appropriate, in Guatemala, 3 to 5 Quetzales.