If you ever decide a holiday in Guatemala is for you, you’ll use the quetzal while you are there. While this may sound like an odd name it is actually the name of a bird – none other than the national bird that represents this country. It has a connection with ancient Guatemalan people too, since they used to use the tail feathers of this particular bird as a form of early money. Really when you think about it, there is no other word that could have been used for the Guatemalan currency, is there?

What coins and notes are available for this currency?

The quetzal is a decimal currency and it is divided into 100 centavos. Thus you will find a one quetzal coin in use when you go there, but you will also find lots of other coins denominated as centavos. These are the 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 centavo coins.

There are also banknotes available and these are denominated in 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 quetzales (this is the plural for quetzal). You will notice then that you have a single quetzal coin as well as a banknote for the same amount.

From past to present – the history of the quetzal

Before 1925 Guatemala used the peso, a local version of the familiar peso currency that is used in various forms around the world today. The Guatemalan peso was used between 1859 and 1925 before the quetzal came into being.

The quetzal has been used ever since and is not far from celebrating its 100th anniversary. Some countries nearby have had monetary issues but this doesn’t seem to have affected the Guatemalan currency.

How to get hold of the Guatemalan quetzal

It is a good idea to get your quetzales before you enter the country as it can be problematic trying to do it when you are there. The currency they are most likely to exchange with the least problems is the US dollar. You should also get a fairly decent rate if you do this.

You should also bear in mind that traveller’s cheques are a bad idea. Many places won’t accept them so you could find you take them and never use them. If you do take them, again, take them in US dollar denominations. Card payments can also be problematic but it does depend on where you go. Credit cards generally are easier to use at cash machines than debit cards, but make sure you have more than one in case you can’t use one of them. Getting cash out of cash machines is easier and safer if you can choose a built-up area with lots of people around you. If you can possibly use a machine inside a bank, so much the better.

How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Guatemalan quetzal

Find your favourite online currency converter or choose the app you normally use on your phone. All you need to do is enter your own currency and then find the Guatemalan quetzal to work with. You can either find out what one unit of your own currency is worth against the quetzal, or you can choose to convert however much cash you wish to take with you in the form of the quetzal.

One thing you should remember is that bureaux de change have their own exchange rates that are based on them making a profit from the exchanges. So the rate you get online won’t be the same as the exchange rate you are offered. You just need to use it as a yardstick to go by.

If you want to find out anything about visiting Guatemala you can run their website through an online translation tool. The website is at http://www.reinounido.minex.gob.gt.

Travelling safely with the Guatemalan quetzal

Because of the location of Guatemala and the natural disasters that can sometimes occur there (such as earthquakes for example) it is always best to check the latest travel information prior to going to the country. There are also volcanoes in the country and some of them are quite active, so staying safe in this sense is extremely important. Be aware that the situation can change.

Guatemala does have a high crime rate as well, especially with regard to violent crime. Several thousand people from Britain visit the country annually but thankfully most of them come home safely and do not experience any problems while they are there. It is simply wise to remember how important it is to consider the potential dangers so you know how best to avoid them.

In terms of carrying your money around safely, make sure you use a money belt if you possibly can. It can also be a good idea to split up any cash you don’t have in your money belt into separate pockets. This way if someone did pick your pockets you wouldn’t lose everything. They don’t tend to pick more than one pocket of one person.

You should be on your guard whenever you need to use a cash machine too. In fact according to the UK government website it is generally safer to change money in hotels and banks and to avoid cash machines altogether. You just never know whether one has been altered to swipe your card and PIN details. Aside from this you could also end up being robbed when using the cash machine. Don’t be tempted to exchange money with an individual who offers you a great exchange rate either. This is an example of the type of scam that can go on in this country.

Where to spend your quetzales in Guatemala – and what to spend them on

Guatemala can be found in Central America and it shares borders with four countries – Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. Its capital is Guatemala City. This alone has some great attractions that tourists tend to flock to. These include La Aurora Zoo, which offers the chance to enjoy a variety of animals including wildebeest, tigers and marmosets among others. Elsewhere you might like to visit the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, which sheds light on the history of the city and the country as a whole.

One must-see place you have to go to in Guatemala is called Flores. This looks pretty amazing from the air because it is a piece of land jutting out into Lake Peten Itza. It looks like an island but actually a small causeway is all that connects it to the mainland. The area has wonderful colonial buildings and makes for a great destinations for an afternoon drive.

Some more brave people head for Pacaya, the volcano that is actually erupting at the time of writing this. If you do decide to take a closer look you should go on a proper tour so you know what to expect. Not all the eruption activity results in lava flows flooding down from the volcano but there are some lazy lava rivers there that have been ongoing for some time.

Antigua in Guatemala is another great destination many people go to. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and that should immediately make you sit up and take notice. This type of acknowledgement of an area’s importance is not granted lightly. Antigua used to be the capital of the country but it was all but wiped out when a devastating earthquake ripped the area apart in 1773. Eventually people returned to the abandoned area and started building their lives here again. It hasn’t returned to its capital status but it does boast many charming sights that are well worth seeing. One of these is the Santa Catalina Arch. It is painted yellow and looks quite stunning.

There are lots of other sights in Antigua as well, although three of the most important ones in the area lie just outside it. Antigua must surely be a rare place as it is surrounded by no fewer than three volcanoes. None of these are the one we mentioned earlier, and that should give you an idea of how active a part of the world Guatemala actually is. Volcan de Fuego translates into Volcano of Fire, and the name of this particular one has been well-earned. You will see gas coming out of the top every single day, accompanied by steam, although nothing much else seems to happen here. One wonders whether this will always be the case, or whether the day will arrive when Antigua is once again taken by the wonders and devastation nature can wreak.


Guatemala has plenty to offer the visitor who doesn’t mind visiting one of the more active parts of Central America. If you want to make the most of your time in the country be sure to plan ahead so you can see all the best sights, such as those mentioned above. You will find many ways to spend a few quetzales while you are there, whether it involves a visit to a zoo or a market, or simply enjoying a local meal. Wherever you go make sure you get the most from Guatemala.

Guatemala Quetzal – GTQ

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