The US dollar is widely accepted in Guatemala, but it is still recommended to have Guatemalan quetzals on hand at all times. It can be difficult to break larger bills (like Q100) in smaller towns and at local restaurants—for this reason it is always a good idea to keep some smaller bills in your wallet.
The country boasts the largest economy in all of Central America, and though the government is not without its issues, it is stable. Guatemala's government and economy should cause you no concern when you plan your trip to this beautiful nation.
Guatemala is one of the most affordable countries in Central America. You can travel very cheaply or spend a little more and live in real comfort or luxury. Budget travelers can get by on as little as $20 a day, while $70 a day will allow you to travel reasonably well. In tourism destinations, things tend to be slightly more expensive, although there are usually inexpensive hotels and restaurants here as well.
Cheap restaurants, known as comedores, sell meals for under $5. In nicer restaurants, expect to pay $10–20. Snacks and fruit are very cheap. Traveling as a couple is usually cheaper than traveling alone, as there generally isn’t a significant price difference between single and double rooms. There are plenty of affordable tours and educational experiences for a family vacation for all ages.
Banks and ATMs
Banks are fairly widespread in Guatemala. Most keep long hours and are secured by armed guards. Banks are often open from 9 A.M.–6 P.M. Monday through Friday, and from 9 A.M.–1 P.M. on Saturday.
ATMs are available throughout most of Guatemala and are easily accessible for international travelers. It is recommended that you have some cash for everday spending like food, tipping, or tours and activities. ATMs usually charge a fee for foreign credit and debit cards. It’s a good idea to notify your bank in advance and tell them that you’ll be traveling—if they don’t know you’ll be out of the country and see a withdrawal abroad, they may put a hold on your account.
Exchanging money and travelers checks at banks in Guatemala is fairly easy. You’ll be asked to show proof of identification (a passport or passport copy is best). In border areas, you may be approached by money changers who may have better rates than banks. It is safe to change your money with them, but try to only exchange what you need for the next day or so.
Credit cards are increasingly being accepted throughout Guatemala. Even so, they are still mainly only accepted in larger cities, major tourist destinations, and at upscale hotels, restaurants, and shops. Smaller businesses may charge a fee (usually 7–10 percent) to offset the amount that they are charged by the credit card companies. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards.
Traveler's Checks and Wire Transfers
Travelers checks are a safe way to carry money abroad, but in Guatemala you’ll only be able to cash them in cities and at tourist destinations that have full-service banks. American Express is the most widely accepted kind of travelers check, but even with these, you still may have to show a receipt from your original purchase.
If you run short on cash while traveling in Guatemala, you may be able to have money sent to you via a wire transfer. Many businesses and banks in Guatemala are affiliates of Western Union and can accept wire transfers. The fees for these services are high, however, and you often get a poor exchange rate for the money.
Taxes and Tipping
A 10 percent sales tax is usually included in the price of hotels, restaurants, and shops. The 12 percent hotel tax is usually included in the rates of budget and midrange hotels, but is often added on as extra at luxury hotels.
At small comedores, tipping is optional but it’s common practice to leave some spare change. At nicer restaurants a 10 percent tip may be automatically added to your bill. Tour guides are usually tipped 10 percent.