By: Tom Lingenfelter from Xela Pages Travel Guide

Registration Fees and Tuition Information
San Pedro Contact Details
Guidebooks to Guatemala
Discussion Boards
Travel Insurance
Airport Arrival and Safety
Transportation to Schools
Before Your Trip to Guatemala
Packing for Guatemala
Internet and Mailing Services

How To Get To Our Schools

Registration Fees and Tuition Information

Please remember that when your credit card statement arrives, the US$40.00 Registration Fee will show up as a charge from "GuatePay." This fee is not part of your tuition. It is an administrative fee not a tuition deposit.  You should have already received a copy of the invoice from Mary in your email box.  If you did not receive this invoice please contact me.

For Your Information: 25% of your registration fee goes directly to support Niños Del Lago San Pedro Spanish school's social project. More information about this can be found here or at: www.ninosdellagosanpedro.org  It is possible to volunteer while you are studying at the school.

You will need to pay your weekly tuition directly to the school upon arrival you can pay one week at a time or all at once it is your choice.

Ramon, the director Study Spanish in Guatemala will be contacting you with a confirmation email.  If you need to secure travel plans please do not wait. Your space at the school is GUARANTEED by Xelapages.com.

 

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Location:
San Pedro Spanish School (main admin. centre for all 3 schools)
San Pedro la Laguna
Lake Atitlan
Solola
Guatemala C.A.

Contact:
Office: 502 5715 4604
Cell: 502 5966 2072
Email: info@studyspanishinguatemala.com

Important: If you do not hear from the school in 3 business days, not counting weekends, please email me so I can contact the school again.  All the schools have an email account, but they may not be able to check them or respond everyday.  I check my email daily and if needed I can call the school and let them know you need more information

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Guidebooks to Guatemala

If you have not already purchased a Guatemalan guide book I HIGHLY recommend that you get one before you leave.  You can read about Antigua, Quetzaltenango and the Highlands where San Pedro, San Marcos, San Juan and Lago Atitlan are located as well as what there is to do in the surrounding areas and around the country.

Two of the best guidebooks are...

Lonely Planet Guatemala 2015 Edition
You can find it on www.amazon.com 

Rough Guide Guatemala 2015 Edition
You can find it on www.amazon.com

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Discussion Boards

Xelapages.com has a very active message board system dealing with all kinds of topics from Volunteering to what type of clothes to bring. Please join in on the discussion! Click Here

Lonely Planet Thorn Tree - Central America is a great discussion board for all Central American Travel.  Lonelyplanet.com look for The Thorn Tree.

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Travel Insurance

It is recommended that you check your health insurance coverage before you travel.  Most US policies do not cover you while traveling.  It is important to ask your carrier what they will and will not cover while you are in Guatemala.  If you find out that you are not covered it is recommended that you purchase travelers' insurance before your arrival.

Travel Insurance - Great Rates!
InsureMyTrips.com

World Nomads - Excellent prices
WorldNomads.com

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AIRPORT ARRIVAL AND SAFETY

Here is some general information about arriving at the La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City and getting to San Pedro/Lake Atitlan.

AIRPORT: When you arrive at the airport you will need to pass through immigration, show your passport and tell the agent how long you are staying. The maximum stay is 90 days. If you wish to stay longer than 90 days you will need to leave the country and return to get a new visa stamp.  This can usually be done in 1 or 2 days.  The closest border crossings to San Pedro are Tecún Umán, GT/Ciudad Hildalgo, MX, El Carmen, GT/Talisman, MX and La Mesilla, GT. You can also make a trip to the immigration office in Guatemala city to renew your visa.

BAGGAGE CLAIM: Once you pass immigration go to the right to a small baggage claim area, pick up your bags then pass through Customs.  If you are travelling with just your personal belongings tell the agent you have nothing to declare and hand in your declaration form.  The agent may or may not ask to see what is in your bags. This entire process takes about 30 to 45 minutes to complete, depending on how many people are on your plane and how fast the bags are delivered.

BANK CHANGE MONEY: Once you pass Customs you should look for the ATM or a bank as you walk
to the exit.  The bank at the airport typically has lower exchange rates than banks in the city.  So it is best to not change a lot of money with them. Just enough to get you to your destination. In this lobby area you will find an INGUAT (National Tourist Service) booth. They gladly answer all questions. Recently I noticed that they removed the ATM in the lobby, however, there is one on the 2nd floor of the airport all the way in the back behind the money changing booth.  You have to exit the airport and go to the 2nd floor.

Current Exchange Rate: US$1.00 = approximately 7.50quetzales.

SAFETY: Before we leave the airport let's talk about safety.  As I am sure many of you have read, hear or been told by others Guatemala is a "dangerous" place.  This can be a true statement; however, it does not have to be if you will use common sense and take some simple precautions. Most crimes against tourists are opportunity crimes so if you do not give the criminal the opportunity it should lower your chances of becoming a victim.
 

  • Do not travel at night - Overnight-direct buses to Tikal/Peten are frequent and generally safe.

  • Do not hike the volcanoes alone

  • Do not walk around at night, take a taxi.

  • Leave expensive jewelry, watches, rings, gadgets at home.

  • Dress conservatively.

  • Be aware and alert of your surroundings at all times day or night

  • Avoid dark lonely streets.

  • Avoid large crowds of people protesting.

  • Be polite and try to speak Spanish even if it is not so good.

  • Know the words for help - "Ayudame" or "Auxilio" and use them if you get into trouble.

  • Worth repeating... 

  • Do not walk around late at night.  Most crimes happen at night!!


PICKPOCKETS: We are seeing more and more tourist come to our office with stories of being pick pocketed.  The pickpockets are VERY good at what they do. They can get your front pocket as well as you back pocket and have been known to get their hands in your bags also. Amazon.com has a bunch of good Money Belts for sale online.  These simple devices can stop a pickpocket who will look for easier prey elsewhere.

Cotton Money Belt and Passport Holder $6.99 - $25.99
You can find it on Amazon.com 

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Transportation to Schools

TAXI SERVICE: When you exit the airport there will be a bunch of people asking you if you want help with your bags or a taxi. If you need help pick one and let him help. I prefer to carry my own bags when possible and suggest you do the same. If you do ask someone to help the normal tip is Q5/bag.

Taxis are lined up on the other side of the street once you get outside the airport. Cost of a taxi to bus station is Q60 to Q80 and takes about 20 minutes.

Always negotiate the price of your taxi before you enter the car. The taxis on the 1st floor of the airport are all legally registered taxis. They cost more because they pay special fees to line up on the 1st floor awaiting exiting passengers. 

BUS AND SHUTTLE SERVICES: This information is found further down this page....

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BEFORE YOUR TRIP TO GUATEMALA

TRAVEL DOCUMENTS: Citizens of most countries, including the United States, Canada and most of Europe need only a passport to enter Guatemala.  It is best to check the Guatemalan Consulate's website which has a complete list of travel requirement for all world citizens: 
Guatemala-embassy.org/

VACCINATIONS: There are no required vaccinations to enter Guatemala; however, it is best to consult your local doctor or international travelers' clinic to learn about recommended vaccines.  You may also want to consult the Center for Disease Control website Cdc.gov/travel

MEDICATION: 
Prescription Medications: Please bring an adequate supply of any prescription medicines that you will need during your stay here. While there are many pharmacies here that sell a wide variety of medication, it is possible that you will not be able to find what you need. Also, bring a copy of your prescription with you and make sure you have the generic name of your medication if possible. It is possible that your medication is known only by the generic name here in Guatemala not the name the pharmaceutical company gives it.

Over-the-counter items: San Pedro, San Juan and San Marcos have a few pharmacies, but it best to bring what you need. You can also buy over the counter items in the small 'tiendas' (shops) around town.

HEALTH CONCERNS: It is very common for foreigners to experience stomach problems while travelling. Even though families take precautions you can still be sensitive to all the new bacteria. The most common is travelers' diarrhea, but you can also easily pick up some not so friendly forms of parasites, amoebas, or other bacteria. There are many medications available here in Guatemala to fight these illnesses however, you might consider talking to your doctor about some medication you can bring with you. I have found that 750mg of Cypro and 2 Imodium AD tablets can give you fast relief.

If you do begin to get sick it is best to seek medical attention quickly. The normal process is easy. Go to the local laboratory give them a stool sample. About 1 hour later they will give you the results which you can take to a local doctor who can prescribe the correct medication. If treated quickly your stomach problems can be fixed in 24 to 48 hours.

 

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PACKING FOR GUATEMALA

BEFORE YOU ARRIVE: One way you can prepare ahead of time to help your stomach adjust is to begin eating more beans, especially black beans, before you arrive. Black beans are served with just about every meal in Guatemala. Another trick is taking acidolpholous pills (look for them at a GNC or healthfood store) or eating lots of yogurt before arrival. This helps set up good bacteria in the digestive tract to help fight off the unusual bacteria you will encounter. Yogurt is also here in Xela.

ONCE YOU ARE HERE:

  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been purified (boiled).

  • Do not eat food from street stands.

  • Always wash your hands before eating. Instant hand sanitizing lotion is nice to have.

  • Do not eat raw and unpeeled or unwashed fruits or vegetables.

  • Do not eat salad or lettuce unless you are sure it has been disinfected properly.


INSECTS: San Pedro is not in a malaria area. If you will be traveling to the Pacific coast or to areas such as Peten, where there are lots of mosquitoes, you may want to consider bringing a strong bug repellent that contains a high amount of 'DEET'. And/or taking Malaria medicines.

PACKING SUGGESTIONS:
 

  • Good shoes or boots for walking and hiking.

  • Pant and shorts

  • Long and Short sleeve shirts.

  • A warm jacket for chilly nights and mornings.

  • One or more warm sweaters or fleeces.

  • Your own bed sheets - Nice for staying in "budget" hotels!!

  • Warm socks.

  • A hat: good for keeping off the sun during the day, and keeping you warm

  • at night

  • A scarf.

  • Gloves.

  • A bathing suit (there are a couple of 'beaches' on the lake...)

  • A rain jacket and/or umbrella if you will be here during the rainy

  • season (May-Nov)

  • One nice outfit for a night out dancing

  • A towel/face-cloth

  • Flashlight / torch

  • Laundry bag

  • Sunscreen

  • Mosquito repellent

  • Day pack

  • Medicines

  • Eye Glasses


APPROPRIATE CLOTHING: Guatemala is a fairly conservative country. Although you will see Guatemalan women dressed very modern at times, more conservative looks are common.

For women: as foreign women you will receive attention that you may not want. It usually consists of whistles or comments on the street. It is best to just ignore and keep walking. Wearing tight or revealing clothing may only bring more unwanted attention. Tank-tops are fine and skirts, but not too short. It is perfectly acceptable for women to wear pants and jeans; however, a skirt or dress is nice to have for an evening out.

CLASS MATERIALS: Some materials for class are provided for you, except for writing utensils and paper.  It is easy to buy pens, pencils, and notebooks at local book-stores. These supplies are quite inexpensive. It is recommended that you bring your own Spanish/English dictionary and small version of a verb conjugation manual. If you have any specific textbooks or materials you would like to use in class, please bring them and your teacher will be happy to incorporate it into your studies.

GIFTS: It is not necessary to bring gifts for your host family or your teachers. However, many people like to do this in order to say an extra-special thank you.  If you do bring gifts, it is very nice to try to give things that may be a reflection of the culture or place that you come from. Here are some examples and ideas:

A product for which your town or region is especially known for example, Ghiradelli Chocolate from San Francisco or Maple syrup from Canada. Postcards and pictures of your home town and family are great ice breakers as well as key chains, stickers, baseball hats, t-shirts which have logos of your state.

Small games/toys for kids or adults, such as yo-yo's, Frisbees, or slinkys.

Of course, you can also wait and get to know your host family and buy them something here that you realize they may need or would enjoy.  You will also know the ages of the kids and could buy storybooks or educational toys at a local book-store.   If you are into cooking, you can prepare dinner one night for the family.  Or maybe you have another talent or speciality that you can share with them.  Finally, if you take pictures with the family while you are here it is nice to leave them copies or send copies to them soon after you get home.

FAMILY HOME STAY (excluding San Marcos): Many of you will choose to live with wonderful Guatemalan host families. Your family will provide you with:

  • Potable drinking water

  • Hot water for bathing

  • 3 meals a day

  • Linens and blankets for your bed

  • Toilet Tissue


Your family will not provide you with a towel or face-cloth. You will need to bring your own or buy one here.

The families are very different in make-up and personalities. Some are single moms and may or may not have another job outside of the home. Extended families living under one roof is common.  It is likely there may be a cousin or grandparents in the home as well. Most homes are simple, but clean.  Sometimes, however, you may have to readjust what your idea of 'clean' may be. The ultra cleanliness in many homes in other countries may not exist here.

FOOD: The diet in Guatemala is basic and unless you are a vegetarian you will be given the same as what the rest of the family eats. Normally, families eat a lot of black beans, eggs and rice. They may not eat as many vegetables or the same kinds as you may be accustomed to. Fruits are plentiful here in Guatemala, but they are more commonly prepared as beverages for the noon meal or as fruit smoothies and for snacks.

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES: Please remember when you stay with a host family that there will be significant differences from your own home and culture, especially in your living environment. Please try to be flexible and understanding and take the opportunity to turn what may be some uncomfortable moments into occasions for learning and self-reflection.

CHANGING MONEY: What currency to bring? The easiest currency to change into Guatemala quetzales is the US dollar. You can change US dollars in any bank throughout the country, at border crossings with private money changers, and in the Guatemala City airport. In San Pedro and San Juan it is relatively easy to change US dollars at BanRural located five minutes from most home-stays. San Marcos itself does not have a bank at this time.

USING CREDIT CARDS and ATM: In San Pedro, you can use your Debit card, Visa or your MasterCard to obtain money from bank or ATMs. This is the most common way tourist receive local currency while travelling.

Visa is more widely accepted at ATMs and banks and at a few local hotels, bars, stores. At times there is an additional charge for using a credit card and not all places accept credit cards.

Please keep in mind that while many students have had no problem using their bank cards to obtain money, others have had difficulties. Consequently, it is best not to rely on an ATM as your only source of getting money.

The banking system in Guatemala is modern and computerized and is therefore able to make most kinds of international financial transfers quickly. However, it still seems to take a lot of typing and waiting to get money changed, so have patience!

The exchange rate between US dollars and Guatemalan quetzales has been changing rapidly lately in favor of the dollar.  It is currently at about 7.50quetzales per US$1 dollar.  If you want to know what the exchange rate is, ask ¿Cual es el tipo de cambio?"
 

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INTERNET AND MAILING SERVICES

INTERNET, FAX, PHONE AND MAIL SERVICES: There are many Internet Cafés in San Pedro, San Marcos and even San Juan.  Most of them offer Internet access for less than $1.00/hour.  Many of these same cafés offer inexpensive calls/faxes to the USA and Europe. Most restaurants and regular cafes also have good Wifi nowadays

Most of the host families will have telephones; however, it is not recommended that you use their phone for outgoing calls. There have been problems in the past with unpaid phone bills left by students.  It is possible to receive incoming calls, but it is best to ask your family first.

The Guatemalan Mail System "El Correo" is much less reliable these daysfor sending postcards and letters home to your family members. We suggest you discuss with your chosen school how things are, if you would like to send items by post.

For important documents there are other companies like DHL, King Express, UPS, GuateEx..etc which can guarantee delivery with package tracking.

If you have any questions about the sites in Guatemala or around San Pedro don't be shy, email me and I will do my best to get you an answer.

Happy Travels,

Tom Lingenfelter
http://www.xelapages.com
 

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To San Pedro, San Juan or San Marcos
The best and safest from the airport to San Pedro (firstly) is on a shuttle. The shuttle service can be arranged from Monday to Sunday from 7am to 1pm. If you are going to San Marcos, you will get there by lancha (lake boat) from San Pedro; about 10 minutes across the lake. For San Juan there are frequent tuk-tuk taxis going between San Pedro and San Juan for 10q per direction.


If you are arriving after 1pm, you may take a taxi or a private shuttle at any time you arrive. We can also arrange accommodation in Guatemala City or Antigua for the night. Shuttles depart directly from the hotels.

Shuttles, Taxis, Hotels
The airport shuttle service costs $30 per person to San Pedro. A private taxi to San Pedro costs 800GTQ/US$115 approximately. Alternatively, if you want to stay for a night in Antigua, rooms cost $15, and we can make the reservation. It is important to book for both services (shuttle/taxi and hotel) in advance. Please send the necessary information from your airline ticket: the airline, the flight number, and the arrival time. 

Recommended Hotels 
In Guatemala City, Alberto from the Patrician B & B will pick you up at the airport and take you to the hotel. Another good hotel is Hermano Pedro. In Antigua, we suggest Yellow House, The Terrace, Black Cat and Casa Cristina. 

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Photography by Rene de Carufel / additional images by Martin Gray

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