Guatemala draws tourists every year to its scenic villages and ancient ruins. It’s also the homeland of many immigrants to the United States, Canada, and Spain. Whether you’re traveling to Guatemala or sending money home, you’ll need to convert your funds to Guatemalan quetzales.
The Guatemalan quetzal (GTQ) is the local currency, worth about an eighth of a dollar as of early 2021.
The quetzal is issued by the Bank of Guatemala. It’s available in 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 quetzal banknotes, and 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 centavo coins, as well as a 1-quetzal coin.
In colonial times, the currency used in the region was the Spanish real. After the departure of the Spanish, the Central American Republic issued its own reals. When Guatemala became a nation, it initially issued Guatemalan pesos, but in 1925, it established the quetzal as its currency.
6 Important Facts About the Guatemalan Quetzal
The quetzal is named for a bird.
Guatemala’s currency takes its name from the resplendent quetzal, a bird with colorful feathers and a central role in Guatemala’s mythos. The quetzal’s brilliant green tail feathers decorated Mayan headdresses, and were so valued in precolonial times, they were sometimes used as currency.
Quetzals could not be tamed and often died in captivity, so they were a symbol of liberty as well as wealth.
Myths and legends surround the quetzal. Sometimes it was associated with the Mayan god Quetzalcoatl. A quetzal was also the spirit guide of the Quiché Maya hero Tecún Umán, who fought the Spanish conquistadores. The legend says that when the hero was killed, the quetzal alighted on him. The quetzal’s breast feathers were stained with the hero’s blood, and that is why quetzals have red breasts.
Another legend says that quetzals used to sing before the Spanish conquest, and will sing again when Guatemala is truly free.
Today, the quetzal is a threatened species, but it still flourishes in protected habitats.
The bills reflect the country’s Mayan heritage.
The same hero of the quetzal legend, Tecún Umán, appears on the fifty-centavo banknote. This bill isn’t printed anymore, but it’s still in circulation. On the back is a picture of Tikal’s Temple I, an ancient pyramid that dates to the eighth century. Some call it the Temple of the Great Jaguar, because a carving on a lintel in the temple depicts a king sitting on a throne shaped like a jaguar.
The temple was built as a tomb for Jasaw Chan K’awiil I, a Mayan ruler of the region. Today the temple complex is a World Heritage Site and popular tourist destination.
The woman on the 25-centavo coin survived a war.
The woman on the face of Guatemala’s 25-centavo coin is Concepción Ramirez, an indigenous member of the Maya Tz’utujil ethnic group. She is the only indigenous person on a Guatemalan coin.
After posing for the coin, a job for which she was paid two quetzales, she lost most of her family in the Guatemalan civil war. That war lasted 36 years and cost 200,000 lives.
The quetzal memorializes peace.
The one-quetzal coin memorializes the peace process that ended Guatemala’s civil war. This war raged from 1960 to 1996, between the Guatemalan government and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca, a union of different revolutionary groups. It ended with the Accord for a Firm and Lasting Peace on December 29, 1996.
The coin bears the image of a dove and the word “paz,” for peace. Along the edge are the words “Firm and Lasting Peace” and the date the peace accord was signed.
Mayan script appears on the banknotes.
Another nod to Guatemala’s Mayan history and people is the number in the top right corner of each banknote, which is written in Mayan script.
Mayans may have invented the first writing system in the Americas. Many important examples of Mayan writing have been destroyed, but we still know their base-20 system used for numbers.
The marimba shows up, too.
Guatemalan currency is full of national symbols. The 200-quetzal banknote honors the marimba, for instance, which is Guatemala’s national instrument. Different kinds of xylophones and marimbas came to Guatemala from Africa, but the modern marimba was developed in Central America.
The front of the bill has a picture of Sebastian Hurtado, Mariano Valverde, German Alcántara, three marimba composers. On the back is a picture of a marimba and a piece of sheet music, La Flor del Café, by German Alcántara.
Guatemalan Quetzal Exchange Rates
The USD-GTQ exchange rate tends to stay stable; at this writing, it’s .13 USD.
Planning to change money soon? Check out our guide to demystify exchange rates and learn some helpful tips. Exchange rates change fast, so make sure you know the most recent information.
The Remitly app allows you to see our competitive GTQ exchange rates instantly, whether you’re starting with USD, GBP, EUR, or CAD.
Lastly, any search engine will find you today’s rates, as well as offer free currency converter tools.
Sending Money to Guatemala
If you live abroad, sending money to Guatemala can be expensive because of exchange rate markups and hidden fees.
At Remitly, we do things a bit differently. When you use our app to send to Guatemala from the U.S., at the time of writing, you’ll find a flat fee for any transfers of $500 USD or less when you use your debit card. Economy transfers above that are fee-free.
And with our coverage across Guatemala, from coast to coast, your recipients can pick up cash from familiar locations. These include Banrural, Elektra, Banco Industrial, and more. You can also send directly to a Guatemalan bank account or debit card.