Although Guatemala produces some of the world’s finest coffee, most of it is set aside for export. Still, you can find an excellent cup of java in Antigua, Guatemala City, Cobán, and other tourist places, though the coffee served at many less expensive restaurants is not usually the greatest. There’s almost always at least one decent place in town for coffee.
With the wide variety of fruits available in Guatemala’s myriad vegetation zones, fruit smoothies (often made with milk and called licuados) are common beverages. At simpler smoothie stands, you should always be careful to make sure the water used in making your drink is purified. Also, try to get fruit smoothies made from produce that requires peeling, rather than from fruits that are found on or close to the ground. Good, safe bets are pineapple or cantaloupe (or, even better, mixed together). Strawberries sold locally are notorious for carrying amoebas and other parasites, so unless you plan on disinfecting them yourself or are in a place where you have assurance that this has been done, stick to fruits with peels. Orange juice served in Guatemala is often freshly squeezed and delicious, a delightful surprise for North American palates that have become all too accustomed to the taste of juice made from concentrate.
Sodas and carbonated beverages are widely available, as you’ll guess from the ubiquitous advertising on town walls. Although plastic soda bottles and cans have become more widely available in recent years, you’ll still see plenty of glass bottles in use. If you plan on buying a soda and taking the glass bottle with you, you’ll have to fork over a few extra bills for the glass deposit. Otherwise, you can have it put in a sandwich bag with a straw, which is a bit unnerving for first-time visitors but perfectly normal and hygienic.
Guatemala’s eastern region produces Zacapa Centenario, a highly acclaimed rum that has won numerous international awards. It makes a great gift for folks back home. If you’re not heading to the eastern lowlands of Zacapa or don’t want to lug your purchase around the country during the rest of your travels, keep in mind the La Aurora International Airporthas a Zacapa Centenario Duty Free shop where you can buy a bottle or two on your way out of the country. In the Mayan highland towns and villages, the liquor of choice is aguardiente, locally made moonshine also known as guaro. Popular brands include Quezalteca Especial and Venado. Rompopo and caldo de frutas are two types of alcoholic beverages made in the town of Salcajá, near Quetzaltenango. The first is essentially a spiked eggnog and the latter is made from fermented fruits.
Cervecería Centroamericana produces most of Guatemala’s beers from its brewery in Guatemala City, including Gallo, a lager that is Guatemala’s national brew. You can find it in the United States under the name Famosa, as Ernest and Julio Gallo Wines holds the rights to the use of the Gallo name in North America. “Gallo” means rooster in Spanish and the beer is easily identifiable by the stylized cock on its label. Other beers brewed by Cervecería Centroamericana include Dorada Draft, smooth export pilsner Monte Carlo, and dark beer Moza. Brewed by Cervecería Nacional and available only in and around Quetzaltenango, Cabro is another good beer. Cervecería Centroamericana once enjoyed uncontested dominion of the Guatemalan beer market but has seen competition in recent years with the arrival of competing brands, most notably Brazilian Brahva.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com