This page is not intended to offer details but rather give you an idea what you can find in the area. Many of the specific examples are from Panajachel.
Banks and Money
There are multiple banks in the region as well as financieras (Credit Unions). Virtually all with exchange money between US dollars and Quetzales, pretty much universally better than some of the businesses that do this. The exchange rate has not changed a lot for years so expect rates between 7.5 and 8.0 Quetzales for the US dollar.
The bank with the most branches in the country is BanRural. As you might expect from their name, their emphasis is rural banking so don’t be surprised if ten (or 50) people in indiginous dress are in front of you in line doing transactions of $20 or less. What they are bad at is US$-based transactions. For example, while there are two BanRural offices in Panajachel, neither can give you a check in US dollars. In fact, only one of the two branches in Sololá can do that for you.
BAM and Banco Industrial seem better on dealing with US$ and BAM will even cash traveler’s checks. Other banks, such as Banco G y T, seem somewhere in between.
For money transfers, BAM offers Western Union services. Banco G y Y offers MoneyGram. There are other options.
You find ATMs (called Cajeros) here from Banco Industrial, BAM and 5B which is a network for five banks. Each has their own fees. I you are from Gringolandia, a friend suggests that you can get an ATM card from Charles Schwab where they will refund all ATM fees.
If you want to use a credit union, I suggest COLUA. It is part of a group of other credit unions. Stable with a 50 year history.
In Panajachel you have lots of options with Sandra’s, Chalo’s and Almendros have assorted cheeses, imported pasta and even tofu. Then there is Dispensa Familiar for those willing to shop at WalMart and the public market for the rest of us. Then there are all the little tiendas that have pop, beer, junk food in bags and a few semi-real things.
In San Antonio Palopó, the selection is much more limited. There is a public market with fruit and veggies and sometimes meat but the selection varies from day to day. In particular, don’t expect to find much on Sunday because many people take a boat to San Lucas for the huge Sunday market (including me). Beyond that there are some little tiendas within the market building and then assorted tiendas spread out around the town. Expect to find pop, beer in some, cooking oil, coffee, sugar, salt, canned beans and sardines, detergent, sanitary napkins, small bags of various kinds of chips and little more. If you are staying in the studio apartment in Casa Colonial, I recommend you make a grocery stop in Panajachel.
By this, I mean stores that have non-local products/products that specifically have Gringo appeal. On the grocery store list in Panajachel are Chalo’s, Los Almendros and Sandra’s (two locations). You will find some locally-produced products such as bagels, tofu and tempeh, assorted packaged goods such as quinoa and Campbell’s soup and essencial oils. There is even a health food store in San Pedro.
There are lots of stores with used items. They are generally called pacas because what they are selling is stuff sent in bundles from US-based thrift stores. Because what people are looking for is different here, you are likely to find strange items. Some of these stores are really no more than junk stores, others are very well organized. There are lots so look around.
The photo on the left is Rocio in a dress she found in a used clothing store. She paid Q10 for it but it was a bit big. So, she took it to a tailor (she knows the good ones that don’t charge Gringo prices) and, for Q10, he altered it. Not bad for about $2.50.
Mail and Shipping
There are lots of options. You don’t need to be disconnected while you are here.
- You can send mail through Correos. That’s the post office but it is now privately run.
- You can receive mail through Correos by having it sent with your name to “Lista de Correos” with the city name, postal code and department (state) name. Not fast but it does work.
- You can receive packages through Correos but if the customs folks decide a duty needs to be assessed, you will need to go to Correos in Guatemala City with an invoice and negotiate. (Correos claims they will do this for you for a Q75 fee but the reality, at least in Panajachel, is different.)
- All the major couriers have offices somewhere in Guatemala but if they don’t have a local office, they can be problematic. They will find a local delivery option but dealing with duties can be a real issue. (DHL is the only major courier who has an office in Panajachel.)
- There are other services to get your stuff here. Aeropost.com being one option If you plan to import big things, TCI Express is a good option. (Unfortunately, their web site is not working now but email to firstname.lastname@example.org should get you in touch with them.)
Because lots of labels on packages and lots of slogans on clothing are in English and bi-lingual here generally means Spanish and Kachiquel, you see some humorous purchases.
In this particular case, Rocío shows up with this hat and says “My brother bought it for me because he liked what it looked like.” Apparently I made a funny face — funny enough that she asked me what was wrong.
I said nothing really other than did she really want to wear a hat that effectively meant “available”. So, now, she and her brother know a bit more English. I don’t think it is a bad hat but probably more appropriate for a 19 year old instead of a 16 year old.