Dress and Appearance
Guatemala is in many ways a rather formal and conservative country, probably owing to its legacy of colonialism and its status as the main base of regional power for the Spanish colonial aristocracy. It’s a very class-conscious society, with good grooming, neat dress, and cleanliness expected.
In many instances, the way you look is the way you’ll be treated. You’ll notice this the first time you go to a Guatemala City shopping mall (especially on weekends) and see well-dressed urbanites going for a cup of coffee or heading out to see a movie. Sneakers and shorts are considered much too casual for many events foreigners would find perfectly acceptable. This is starting to change, however, and you’ll also see younger Guatemalans wearing shorts, T-shirts, and flip-flops typical of the Abercrombie & Fitch look that is also wildly popular with Guatemalan youth from wealthy families.
If you plan on going out to dance clubs, be sure to bring a good pair of shoes, as you won’t make it past the front door wearing sneakers. Dress is much more relaxed at the beach or in the countryside.
For business travelers, suits are still very much the norm for men. Professional women tend to wear conservative dresses or two-piece suits. The less affluent will pay careful attention to dress as neatly as possible, especially for trips to the capital or other urban centers.
Backpackers, known as mochileros, often get a bum rap as an unkempt group who contribute very little to the economy and only cause trouble for hotel owners and tourist service operators. This is generally manifested as a form of marked distrust, though this is usually not the case in places that cater to these types of travelers as their main clientele, such as budget hostels.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com