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Work & Costs

The currency in Guatemala is the quetzal, and you get about 8 of them to the dollar. Travelling in Guatemala is fairly cheap and you can get by happily on $10 a day, though you’ll probably need a bit more if you’re a heavy drinker, and quite a lot more if you get addicted to cocaine. As far as general costs go, in most places you can find a bed for 20Q-30Q, a restaurant meal for 30Q, good street food for 10Q, and an hour bus ride for 15Q.

Finding work in Guatemala is surprisingly easy, though don’t expect to get rich off it any time soon. Depending on how much you drink, you’ll either make just enough to cover your living costs, or enough to make a slight dent on your bar tab. About 50Q a day is fairly standard. Ask around in the bars and restaurants in touristy places such as Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Quetzaltenango, and you should come up with something pretty quickly. A bit of Spanish will help, but is not always essential. The easiest place of all to get work is in San Pedro Atitlan, where they would probably give your dog a job as long as it was prepared to accept long hours and utterly shit pay. You’ll make it up in tips though, as long as you’re not too hung-over to be nice to the customers, and probably have fun for a few weeks. They won’t expect you to stay any longer than that. Most people don’t.

Around these places, you can earn just about enough to live selling artisania. If you spin poi/staff/hoop/whatever, there are also a few bars that offer free drinks in exchange for fire shows. Ask anyone with dreadlocks; they’ll tell you where.

If you want to save some money, and are not adverse to ritual humiliation, your best bet is to go for a staff job at one of the cutesy backpacker compounds. These places tend to use broke travellers as cannon-fodder for their quiz/speed dating/fancy dress nights, and your job is essentially to be so “kerrr-azeee!!!” that the tribes of gap year kids passing through don’t notice that they’re pissing away all their money and precious days of their lives in a place of about as much cultural interest as a McDonalds. They still don’t pay well, but offer free accommodation, food and some drinks as well, so whatever pay and tips you do get you can save for when you move on.

Teaching English is an option, though there are so many volunteers doing it for free that paid positions in the nicer areas are limited. But there are some schools in the cities that pay staff. They don’t usually demand qualifications, but they do like you to make a commitment of a certain number of months. Ask around the English schools in Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango if they have any positions free.

Another option is to get some volunteer work which provides you with food and board in exchange for your efforts. This is hard to find from your home country as almost all charities which promote their volunteer opportunities abroad whack on massive administration fees, but talk to people in Guatemala and you might get lucky. Quetzaltenango is a good place to start, as many local charities have their bases there. Try EntreMundos, an organisation that specialises in connecting travellers with suitable volunteer placements. Specialist skills aren’t essential but, as always, they help.

Cat Rainsford