Guatemala City: Firsthand tips for visiting Guatemala’s capital

Spanish architecture in the heart of Guatemala City

Spanish architecture in the heart of the city ©iStockPhoto.com/benkrut

Insights and advice are provided by Juan Antonio Nino, president of Active Capital Reinsurance, Panama City, Panama, and by Monti Castaneda, research coordinator for the NYU Cancer Center, New York City, USA, and a pro-bono collaborator with Naturopathic Medicine for Global Health, Princeton, USA.

Latin Trade: What do you like best about traveling to Guatemala City?
Juan Antonio Nino:
The people, the professional climate and the weather.
Monti Castaneda: Overall, what I like about Guatemala is its color and landscape. The color is in the gardens — Guatemalans love landscaping with flowers — and its weavings.  The mix of the indigenous Maya culture with the Spanish colonial influence is everywhere– in the architecture and how things are decorated. Also, you cannot escape the view of a volcano from anywhere in and outside the city.
Guatemala has more than 20 volcanoes, and they always seem to be present as a backdrop that heightens the natural beauty.

LT: What do you like the least?
Nino: The street crime.
Castaneda: That’s easy: traffic and crime. Getting anywhere within Guatemala City, especially during rush hour, can be a test of patience and perseverance. Unfortunately, crime is also a way of life, from petty theft, like taking your wallet, to major crimes. It is not unheard of for civilians to get caught in the crossfire of the drug cartels, or some idiot looking to settle an issue with a gun. Crime is especially high in Guatemala City, and you must be careful. It would be wrong not to mention this.

LT: What are your preferred hotels when visiting Guatemala City?
Nino: The InterContinental. It’s well located, offers good service, and it’s close to the airport.
Castaneda: I have stayed in nearby Antigua, 45 minutes outside Guatemala City, and these would be my recommendations, listed from high-end to least expensive, but comfortable: Casa Santo Domingo, Hotel Antigua, Posada de Don Rodrigo, Hotel Casa del Parque.
They are all centrally located in Antigua, with access to everything. Hotel Casa del Parque especially is inexpensive, no frills, but located half a block from the central plaza. Sometimes people stay at inexpensive hotels on the outskirts of town, but at night the streets can be poorly lit.

LT: What restaurants do you recommend in Guatemala City?
Nino: Splendido, Jake’s and Jean Francois.
Castaneda: I have been to Tamarindos and Hacienda Real and have enjoyed their menu. Jake’s and Pecorino have also been recommended to me.

LT: What practical advice would you offer someone who is visiting Guatemala City for the first time on business?
Nino: That you organize your meetings ahead of time, according to the locations you have to visit, and that you always use taxis provided by your hotel.
Castaneda: Punctuality and safety are the two words that come to mind. Guatemalans have a very different sense of time and may miss the concept of punctuality altogether, especially in the social arena. This is less true in a business setting, however; people do still tend to be late. Bankers are the only ones who seem to keep a schedule, and they have a reputation for arriving on time. Other than that, time is given as an approximation. Although it is true that traffic is a big factor, causing delays, it is also very cultural.
As stated, security and safety also are major concerns for people living in Guatemala City and anyone on business travel should be mindful of this. In terms of practical advice, I recommend that people leave their expensive jewelry at home. Don’t be loose with your cell phone and laptop. Be aware of your surroundings at all times.

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