Despite these precautions, many travelers to Guatemala  might find themselves experiencing a classic case of “the runs” as their digestive tracts adjust to new flora. This usually lasts only a day or two. If the problem persists, it may be a sign of more serious issues. In some cases, it may be food poisoning, which can occur just as easily back home. If this is the case, drink plenty of water and get some rest. You’ll probably end up just having to ride it out for a few days and may want to take an anti-diarrhea medicine such as Pepto Bismol or Lomotil.
In addition to diarrhea, symptoms of this often-acquired malady include nausea, vomiting, bloating, and weakness. The usual culprit is E. coli bacteria from contaminated food or water. It’s important to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and clear fluids and keep your strength up by eating bland foods such as crackers or steamed rice. As with food poisoning, you may want to take some over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medication.
Characterized by many of the same symptoms as described above, along with the possibility of bloody stools and generally prolonged malaise, dysentery comes in two flavors: bacillic (bacterial) and amoebic (parasitic). The onset of bacillic dysentery is usually sudden, characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Treatment is via antibiotics, to which it responds well. Amoebic dysentery, on the other hand, has an incubation period and symptoms may not show up for several days. It’s also harder to get rid of. It is usually treated with a weeklong course of Flagyl (Metronidazole), an extremely potent drug that will wipe out all intestinal flora—good and bad. It also has some marked side effects, such as a bitter taste in the mouth, irritability, and dizziness. You should avoid alcohol while taking this drug, as the combination can make you violently ill.
As with all gastrointestinal issues, it’s very important to stay hydrated. Also, see a doctor to get an exact diagnosis. Because of the prevalence of gastrointestinal diseases among Guatemalans, most cities have at least one clinic that can take a stool sample and diagnose the exact nature of the problem.
Not entirely unheard of in Guatemala, cholera can be an issue in poorer neighborhoods lacking adequate sanitation, which are usually not visited by foreign travelers. Today’s cholera strains are not nearly as deadly as those of the past, though there have been outbreaks in Guatemala in years past. It’s best to avoid raw fish and ceviche, a marinated raw-seafood salad popular throughout Latin America.