I’m constantly reminded of the Rolling Stones’ song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” here. In the US, you can get practically anything, any day, anytime you want. A trip to your local 24-hour Wal-Mart will take care of just about anything. And if you can’t get it locally, jump online to Amazon.com and have it at your door the next day. It’s one advantage of living in a First World country. But that convenience will cost you. This is what makes the cost of living in Guatemala so affordable if you can put up with the lack of items at times. Why?
In Guatemala, you’re never too far away from the source where your food is produced. When I want avocados, I buy them from the child sitting in front of his house next to a basket full of them. I know the avocados are locally produced because I can see the avocado tree rising out of his backyard.
When I buy chicken, I head to the local butcher, who has a yard full of them running around. If I wanted fresh milk, I can go a couple of blocks over and buy a gallon or two. The dairy place is not hard to find. Just go to the backyard where you hear mooing coming out of. Not kidding about that last one either. Scared the bejesus out of us the first time a cow, sneakily hiding behind a fence, mooed as loud as possible as we walked past it a few feet away. To this day I still think the cow did it on purpose. But I digress.
Fruits in Antigua Guatemala’s Mercado
A lot of what is consumed in Guatemala is locally produced, and it makes sense that many of the same items exported to the US never make it here. It’s far more lucrative for other countries to ship their produce to First-world countries and command higher prices. The side effect of these market dynamics is price fluctuations in countries who depend on their local supply.
When produce is in season here, it tends to get dumped on the market all at once. One doesn’t notice this as much in the US. Strawberries might not be in season in California, but they might be in Argentina, so strawberries are always available in the US, if at a slightly higher premium. And because prices are always artificially high on account of shipping and storage, you don’t get as much of the cost-benefit when produce is in season locally.
Here, when those avocado trees are bare… that’s it. Avocados will rocket in price, and only then it becomes profitable to bring some in from Mexico or other places. Same with most produce here.
In Guatemala, items will invariably go up around the same time every year. For example, we used to get limes (lemons are not familiar here) at about five for 1Q, or less than 0.03¢ each. This was until Christmas of last year, when prices for a lot of items skyrocketed (relative to the usual prices), as they usually do. At one point, we were paying 1.50Q (0.18¢) for each lime.
Prices for limes eventually came down slightly and more or less settled at about 1Q each. Still expensive, but even at its highest price, nowhere near the 0.50¢ price I used to pay for limes back in the states.
At the Mercado
I paid a visit to the Mercado yesterday and discovered limes were back in season. Sellers couldn’t give them away fast enough. Limes that we had just bought last week for 1.25Q each could now be had at five for 1Q.
Antigua Guatemala Mercado
If you want to save money here, it’s better to eat items in season. We’re eating papaya almost every day now because they are 7-8Q each. Eventually, they’ll go back to the 14-15Q range, so we’ll move on to the next in-season item, just as nature intended.
Check out the humongous papayas I spotted being sold at El Mercado for Q10 each.
Papayas at the Mercado in Antigua Guatemala
Don’t be alarmed when prices go up suddenly on stuff. They eventually come down.
The $23 Shopping Basket
I now want to show you a sample of local prices as of May 2013. Here’s what I got for $23 in my latest “shopping spree.”
Cost of Living in Antigua Guatemala
At La Bodegona (local supermarket):
Can of Tuna – 9.75Q
Brown Sugar (2,000grs) – 13.95Q
Body Lotion – 14.25Q
Liter of Milk – 7.80Q
Coffee – 11.75Q
Chicken Ham – 11.34Q
Scott Toilet Paper (2-ply/12 rolls) – 18.25Q
Tang Powdered Drink (4 @ 1.55Q each) – 6.20Q
Act II Butter Popcorn – 3.25Q
Dietetic Vegetable Margarine (5 Sticks) w/free Instant Soup – 8.65Q
Heavy Cream – 8.75Q
Mayonnaise Bag (390gr) – 9.95Q
Powdered Detergent (500gr) – 6.45Q
Plastic Bag – 0.20Q
Total spent at La Bodegona: 130.54Q
At El Mercado:
Limes (25) – 5Q
Tomatoes (1 Pound) – 2.50Q
Small White Onions (1 Pound) – 2.50Q
Strawberries (2 Pounds) – 8Q
Big Bunch of Fresh Thyme – 1Q
Total spent at El Mercado: 19Q
At the Pet Store:
Rambocan Dog food (2 pounds) – Q11
Rabbit pellets for guinea pigs (2 pounds) – Q8
At the local sausage place:
Six sausage links – Q9
Total for entire purchase: Q177.54/$23USD
A few things to note.
We’ve switched to local brands for nearly everything. I haven’t found the need to pay a premium for any foreign brands, so we don’t.
We try to avoid buying any produce at La Bodegona., as it’s invariably more expensive there. We only stick to canned goods, ham, and packaged products. It’s just a lot easier on the wallet.
Coffee is relatively expensive here, which is odd, considering this is a prominent coffee-producing region. A bag of “good” coffee (Dalton from Finca Filadelfia -the coffee Starbucks uses) is about Q50. While we indulge in “real” coffee when we go out, for everyday use we stick to the cheaper coffee blends.
Regarding cheese, you can find pretty much any type you’d ever want at La Bodegona. Goat cheese, Gouda, Provolone, Mozzarella, Cheddar, and even Manchego cheeses are available, but you’ll pay through the nose for it. Prices start at about $5 a pound, to $12 a pound for the higher priced varieties. But for me, nothing beats a one-pound block of Queso de Capas, or “layered cheese,” which is fresh white cheese. A steal at Q22 for the pound, I can eat the whole thing in one sitting if left in a room alone with it.
Any of the prices on the list surprise you?
Higher or lower than anticipated?