Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Day in One Place - Guatemala

A Day in One Place - Guatemala

If you're fortunate enough to have the easy hop from IAH to GUA then you will most likely have arrived and have enough time to see quite a bit of Guatemala City in one day. Just prior to landing you will be given a customs card to fill out. I suggest getting two because you will need to fill out another one once you check-in and before you head out through GUA immigration. Immigration is rather easy and quick. Make sure they stamp your passport, however. You will then proceed to baggage which is also as easy then get in line to have your items scanned at customs. There are a few third party agents at baggage who will check your claim ticket against your luggage so keep that claim check handy. I just showed them my ID.

One hotel I enjoyed was the Mercure Casa Veranda. You can set up a shuttle pick up by emailing the hotel. They will send you a confirmation email and bill it to your room. The shuttle driver will be outside the airport doors with a sign and YOUR name on it. The hotel will charge you approximately $5 USD for this service both ways. I tipped USD and then was able to get a few Quetzals at the hotel. The hotel is located in a pretty cool and hip area called Zona Vida. There's quite a few hotels including the Best Western, Days Inn, Crown Plaza, Westin, Holiday Inn, Intercontinental and others. Once you have checked in, it's time to return to the lobby and request a cab to the city center or Capital de Cultura. There is a "cab manager" out front that will work with the hotel to get you a cab that takes a credit card. They are either green or yellow. Indicate you want a cab that takes credit cards (unless you are using Quetzals) and that you either want it to wait or come back and get you at a mutually agreed upon time and spot. My cab cost $80Q which is about $9-11USD with a time frame of about 2 hours. Have the cab first drop you off at the Iglesia Metropolitan. This is a large church in the square. You will notice it by its size as well as the giant Guatemalan flag in the center of the square. Spend some time visiting the church and the square area. There may be a "pigeon man" in a little box (no kidding) who sells pigeon food. And you will see ALOT of pigeons. EWR has nothing on this square. There are also some street vendors that sell ice cream, fruit and religious trinkets out front. They take Quetzals and some will also take USD. I bought a religious figure for like .89 USD. If you are in the church, exit the church and make a right onto the sidewalk. 

Go to the next street and turn right. Go up about maybe two blocks to the Central Mercado on your right hand side (under a parking garage). You may see some fruit vendors outside. Take the stairs down and explore. Just remember which side you entered it as this is also a good spot to have you picked up. I initially went into the church, took a few photos, then returned to my cab out front who then drove me to the market literally two blocks away. He returned to pick me in front of the mercado when I was finished. I then walked back up the street back to the square to explore. (This is an option). In the mercado, they sell meats, fruits, snacks, party supplies, candles, etc. I also sat at one of the many food stalls and ate some delicious food and had some tamarind juice. The whole thing was like $1.99 USD. It's like eating with family. You don't need to speak the language. After I finished with the market, I went back up the stairs I came down and turned right to the next street, then right again (You should see a McDonald's). This street has a ton of vendors and you can pick up some very inexpensive souvenirs. There are also bakeries and other eateries. Don't be afraid to try the fruit or horchata or other food offerings. Be careful both on the street and market about taking pictures. Some do not want their picture taken. After you are done, walk back to your designated pick up area (or call your cabbie when you are ready). I felt safe and kept my small purse as a cross-body close to me. I was told by one of the food vendors that thieves would cut it if it's on your side. Just use caution. There is also a presence of tourist police and police with automatic rifles. Just don't be "that" tourist!

Back at the hotel, I got ready for the evening. Exit the hotel and go right and walk to two lights then make another right and explore. I dined at Tacontento and had like four tacos for cheap. Gallo is also the national beer apparently. They also take AMEX. Other choices in the area include San Martin Restaurant and bakery (great to pick up that croissant fix for like .89). There's also Kloster, BBQ Barn, Jack Russell Burgers, Pitaya Juicery, Dunkin Donuts, McDonald's, Applebee's, TGIFriday's, Hard Rock Cafe plus a few along your walk. I found chocolate at Zurich which is also a cafe. There are also a bunch of small "tiendas" or stores to get snacks and water. However, most did not take credit cards. There is another shopping center called The Plaza Village. There is also a Starbucks in a fancy mall called Fountainbleu, I think, with additional restaurants and wine bars. Again, I felt safe walking around and returned around 8pm. Depending on the day you are at the hotel, there may be music in the bar/lobby area. You should be able to see the Mercure above the buildings to guide you back if you get lost. Try and skip the chains and eat outside of your comfort zone.

The morning of your return to the airport, the shuttle leaves at the top of the hour every hour. Just be down a few minutes before and to settle your bill. The shuttle drops you right in front and I tipped him the remaining Quetzals I had. Also in front are street vendors. This is a good place to pick up really cheap items before getting in the airport. There is security before you enter the terminal checking passports so have it ready. Once you have checked in, you will go through immigration with your second form then security. However, there are a row of shops just before this that you can pick up some additional items. I found them cheaper then actually the shops by the gate. They take credit cards. Also, you will need to take off your shoes. I had the fun experience of watching them take every single item out of my backpack one section at a time. There is a small food court between gates with a McDonalds and a coffee and snack place. There are a few beer kiosks as well and additional shops. I had no issue taking water on the plane. Now might be the time to try some Guatemalan coffee if you haven't already. Some of the duty free stores were not open when I was there but there's plenty to see. Oh, and I was able to get Wi-Fi only at the gate under "Claro". It was free. I could not get it anywhere else in the airport. Board your plane and off you go!

Viajes Seguros!


Items to buy: Coffee, chocolate, little woven items such as coin purses, belts, sandals, little Guatemalan dolls, flutes, toy guitars

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