Al Argueta is one of the premier Guatemala travel experts, now working on the third edition of Moon Handbook Guatemala and a contributor to our luxury Guatemala hotel reviews. He first traveled to Guatemala with his father and later moved to the country for two years, allowing him to formally learn Spanish and experience Guatemala's culture firsthand. His new book is a guide to experience this yourself: Living Abroad in Guatemala.
What are some advantages of living in Guatemala in terms of having a vacation home or a retirement home? How do prices compare to Mexico and other countries in Central America?
Probably the biggest advantage is the lower cost of living. You can still get land for relatively cheap, especially compared to other destinations in Central America such as Panama and Costa Rica. It's also much less overrun with tourists. Another huge advantage here is the weather. It's quite simply perfect most of the year.
What are some of the most popular areas for foreigners?
Colonial La Antigua Guatemala has always been a favorite due to its charming atmosphere, dramatic volcanic backdrop and proximity to the capital. Lake Atitlan is another popular locale due to the rugged, sheer beauty of it, though lately there have been concerns with the lake's eutrophication. Guatemalans and expat residents alike are in a fight to save the lake from pollution and a cyanobacteria algae growth now covering part of its surface. Guatemala City is popular because many international corporations have offices here and so executives often need to move here. A number of other Guatemalan locales have become increasingly popular over the years, as people seek places off the beaten path. Guatemala seems to have something for everyone.
Are there restrictions on what kind of land you can buy as a foreigner? (And are there any ways to get around them?)
There are restrictions on land adjacent to waterways, which includes the coast lines, rivers and lakes. You can't outright own these areas, just lease them from the government for 30 years at a time. This applies to foreigners and Guatemalan citizens alike. Foreigners can't technically own land in areas considered national parks (Lake Atitlan is one example), though the easy way to get around this is to invest via the formation of a Sociedad Anonima (S.A.), which is similar to a U.S. corporation. You'll need at least one Guatemalan among your investors, though their role can be limited to that of just a front-man for your S.A.
What can a potential buyer expect in terms of infrastructure, things like high-speed Internet, air connections, and road conditions?
Internet in Guatemala is highly competitive, with various providers available. You'll find almost every town or village has internet service. Similarly, cell phone service is widely available and there are numerous competitors. Unlike in say, Costa Rica, internet and cell phone service have been deregulated in Guatemala since the 1990s. These are no longer a government monopoly and so free market economics have prevailed. You'll find your iPhone 3G also works in Guatemala and is available with three different carriers, unlike in the U.S.
Guatemala City's international airport was remodeled and expanded two years ago and is now the region's most modern. It's also one of the largest and there are multiple daily flights to a variety of U.S. cities on several U.S. carriers. Europe is served via a direct flight to Madrid five times per week. The other international airport is in Flores, near Tikal National Park, with service to Belize and Cancun. There's not much in the way of domestic air service, but several smaller airports have been upgraded in recent years, so that may change soon. The idea is for cruise ship passengers arriving in the Pacific port of Puerto Quetzal to transfer quickly and easily to an airstrip allowing them to visit Tikal for the day. That's just one example.
Roads are also one of the country's strong points compared to its neighbors. Costa Rica's lackluster roads are infamously bad, but roads in Guatemala are generally good. Highways are being widened and new roads are being built, including a Northern Transversal that will cross four of Guatemala's largest departments east-to-west. It broke ground this month.
How about if someone wants to set up a business in Guatemala, such as a small inn or a tour company employing locals. Is it fairly straightforward?
This is very straightforward and you'll find many foreigners in all of Guatemala's tourism hotspots have done just that. Many of my favorite places to stay and eat in Guatemala are foreign-owned. I've also heard great things about the work ethic of Guatemalan laborers. One innkeeper I recently spoke to sang praises for her Guatemalan workers, especially when compared to her previous business in Nicaragua.
Someone just handed you a half million dollars and told you to build your dream house in Guatemala. Where would you plop down?
This is a tough one. There are so many options! I'll give you my top two. First, I'd love to build on the outskirts of La Antigua, near the new golf resort, in the shadow of four volcanoes and close to the coast.
At the risk of giving too much away, I've secretly always dreamed of plopping down beside Lake Peten Itza, near Tikal. Its waters are a gorgeous shade of turquoise and kind of resemble a lake version of the Mexican Caribbean. Maybe I could be neighbors with Francis Ford Coppola, who already has property there.
See more about the book Living Abroad in Guatemala at the Moon.com website
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