Guatemala’s currency is the quetzal, which is pegged to the U.S. dollar and denoted by Q. The exchange rate was about Q7.68 to 1 US$ and it has remained at about the same rate for several years now. Bills come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 quetzales, though at last report the Central Bank was planning to issue new Q1 bills printed on a polymer hybrid form of paper in addition to Q200 and Q500 quetzal notes that might be in use by the time of your visit. Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 centavos (Q0.01, Q0.05, Q0.10, Q0.25, Q.50) and Q1, though other than the one-quetzal coin they are more of a nuisance than anything else. Often, if your change is a few centavos, the merchant will keep it.
In smaller towns and villages, you might have trouble breaking Q100 (or larger) notes, so bring smaller bills with you if possible.
Travelers have the option of getting around with cash U.S. dollars (which you will need to at least partially exchange for local currency), travelers checks (American Express being the most widely recognized and accepted), wire transfers (most expensive option), Visa or MasterCard cash advances (watch those interest rates), or through ATMs linked to international networks (recommended).
Banks in Guatemala tend to keep long hours, typically 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Monday–Friday and 9 a.m.–1 p.m. on Saturday. Changing money and travelers checks at banks is relatively painless and routine, though you’ll probably be asked to show your passport or at least a photocopy of it for identification. You’ll also notice that banks, like convenience stores and other businesses, are heavily guarded by armed watchmen.
In border areas, you’ll typically be approached by money changers offering slightly better rates than local banks. It’s perfectly safe to change your money with them, though it’s probably a good idea to exchange only what you might need for the first day or two in the new country. Try not to pull out a wad of bills for all to see.
This is still the safest way to carry money during your travels, though you’ll be able to exchange them only in urban areas and tourist destinations with full-service banks. There’s also a bit more bureaucracy involved in exchanging travelers checks and you might be asked to show your original purchase receipt. American Express is by far the most widely accepted type of travelers check. The local American Express representative is Clark Tours (7a Avenida 14-76, Plaza Clark, Zona 9, Guatemala City, tel. 2412-4700, www.clarktours.com ).
Because of the widespread phenomenon of remittances sent home by Guatemalan nationals living abroad, several companies have set up shop all over Guatemala. This may be your best bet if you happen to run short of cash during your travels. Many local banks and businesses are Western Union affiliates. For a list of these affiliates in Guatemala, visit the website at www.westernunion.com . You can also send money via American Express MoneyGram. Keep in mind these companies make their money off exorbitant fees charged for their services in addition to a poor exchange rate for the money, which you’ll end up getting in local currency.
Credit cards have become more and more commonplace in Guatemala, though they are still accepted mainly in urban centers, major tourist attractions, and luxury hotels or expensive restaurants and shops. Some smaller merchants may charge a fee, usually 7 to 10 percent of the transaction amount, the justification being that they are charged this amount by the credit card companies and can’t afford to absorb the cost because of their smaller sales volume. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted.
ATMs in Guatemala are hooked up to international networks and most travelers have no problems accessing their bank accounts in this way. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on transactions online while you’re on the road if you’re able to and report any inconsistencies immediately. You will never be required to enter your pin number on a pad to enter an ATM kiosk, a common scam to steal card and PIN numbers that has fooled some travelers. Always be aware of your surroundings and try not to visit the ATM at night or unaccompanied.
You can search for Visa ATM locations in Guatemala online at http://visa.via.infonow.net/locator/global/jsp/SearchPage.jsp  and MasterCard ATMs at www.mastercard.com/atm . A useful listing of Banco Industrial Visa ATMs throughout Guatemala can be found at www.bi.com.gt . This will give you an idea of the availability of ATMs along your planned travel route.