What challenges does Guatemala present to type 1 diabetics?
The hot weather and insulin requirements
Guatemala has a varying climate, it can go super hot and cold (there is a part of Guatemala known as little Alaska as it snows there).
Anyway, the heat in Lake Atitlan, Antigua, Lanquin and Flores (oh dear god the heat), can affect your blood sugar management.
I’ve spoken extensively about how the heat can impact our diabetes, and for most people it drops our blood sugars, and it can definitely do that in Guatemala.
I often find just walking around in the heat is enough to drop my insulin needs by around 40%.
If you are participating in any of the amazing activities that are available in Guatemala such as hiking a volcano, then you may find you will need to reduce your insulin dramatically.
Always remember to take note of what the reduction was so that you can make things easier for yourself the next time!
Insulin dying in the heat
There is also the risk of your insulin dying in the heat, and if you have an insulin pump it’s best to avoid keeping it exposed to the sun. Hide it somewhere in your body where there isn’t direct heat on it.
When you are staying in a hotel or hostel, make sure you keep your insulin in a fridge. Nice hotels will have fridges in the room which is always handy, but not all places in Guatemala have fridges, and most of the places I stayed in either had a communal fridge or I simply had to ask the on-site restaurant if I could put my insulin in the fridge.
There is always a risk with this, due to the fact some people run their fridges very high. This happened in India on my last fridge and some of my insulin was frozen. I wasn’t happy.
Anyway, when you have the MedAngel One sensor, this risk is reduced as the sensor monitors the temperature of your insulin on your phone. It was really useful for me, and there was a time on this trip when it told me my insulin was too cold and it turned out my insulin was too high up in the fridge.
I moved it down and all was okay again! Yay!
So this is a brilliant investment for travelling with type 1 diabetes in Guatemala and I believe every diabetic should have one.
You can even bring it in your frio bag if you’re taking day trips with your insulin.
And yes, as always, I always use Frio to keep my insulin cold in the heat, and to keep my insulin cold while travelling. They haven’t failed me yet, so I cannot complain.
I LOVE Frio! (if you get the eBook you get a 20% off code plus other discounts off other brands that I find useful for travelling with type 1 diabetes.)
The sites in Guatemala and type 1 diabetes
Below I am basically going to discuss some of the most popular things to do in Guatemala and how it can impact your diabetes, and did impact mine.
The waterfalls of Semuc Champey
It takes a lot of waterfalls to impress me nowadays as my favourites have been in Argentina and Laos, BUT, this is impressed me.
The waterfalls are stunning and you can swim in them, actually you can swim for hours. But if you are on an insulin pump that’s not waterproof, then you will need to detach it.
Actually, since most insulin pumps are only waterproof for a certain time limit or depth, I’d probably remove it anyway as I’m paranoid. My Medtronic is waterproof, but I just can’t take that risk when I’m so far away from home.
So, you have two options. You can typically take your insulin pump off for up to an hour hassle free. So you can do that and check back every hour on your blood sugars and adjust as necessary.
Or, you can switch to insulin pens for the day. This is because there is a lot of water based activities in this area, such as swimming in waterfalls, swimming in caves, tubing and more.
I just kept my insulin pump in a locked box and surprisingly, due to the intense heat, my blood sugars stayed in range, if not on the low side a little the whole time. I think I had my pump off about 2.5 hours in total!
I almost felt normal hehe.
I also had my freestyle Libre on me, and it had no issues with the water as I wasn’t immersed the whole time.
Climbing volcanoes isn’t a lighthearted activity and if you decide to climb the main volcano in Antigua to see Volcan Fuego spurt out some lava, you’re going to be staying overnight on top of another volcano.
It gets SUPER cold up there, and tourists have actually died of exposure. So you need to look after your insulin and insulin pump. Wrap them in something warm as well as keeping them in your Frio bag.
You will likely need to reduce your insulin by around 50%, but remember to bring lots of sugar for the trip.
Visiting Tikal Mayan Ruins
Basically Tikal is an amazing place, but it's large and it's in direct heat. Temperatures reach 35 degrees and 45 degrees in the "Summer". I had a lot of hypos, so I basically stopped my insulin delivery. You might need to reduce your insulin by like 50%.
Plus you can walk up ruins for viewpoints, which is more exercise in the heat, so be careful!
Drinking in Antigua
Yes, this is an activity because Tequila shots are 50 cent and cuba libres are 1 dollar, so you know, it can happen. Plus, lots of people party and do bar crawls here. Just remember that alcohol can lower your blood sugar, so snack and allow yourself to run a little higher.
Don’t forget your diabetic ID, but I’ve done a whole post on managing your diabetes with alcohol here, because I am not shy of alcohol!
Food in Guatemala
There is a wide range of food available. Breakfasts typically contain some form of eggs with refried beans and fried plantain. The later of this is high carb, so you should be aware. I often struggled with this aspect, so I only had the fruit and beans if my blood sugars were on the lower side in the morning.
Lunch and dinner options include bbq food, rice, noodles, and in Antigua, everything you can imagine. You won’t struggle to find foods to fit your requirements, so even if you’re gluten free, vegan, vegetarian or whatever, there will be lots of options for you!
Ps, coffee is amazing!
Other tips for travelling Guatemala with type 1 diabetes
Remember you are in a different time zone, so you will need to switch the time on your insulin pump, or check out my guide on switching time zones with type 1 diabetes if you are on an insulin pen as a little more maths is required.
- Insulin is available, but it’s about $30 for a pen or vial, so if you do need insulin you will find it in Guatemala city, or Antigua. Basically anywhere that is highly populated. Don’t expect to find insulin in smaller towns, but Guatemala isn’t too big, so you can get to insulin if you need it.
- If they don’t have your specific type of insulin, you should ring your manufacturer and ask their advice on what other insulin you should use that’s “closest” to that brand.
- Remember different syringes will be available in different countries which will affect the insulin dose. For example, for U-40 insulin you would use a U-40 syringe. Always ask your doctor for advice if you are confused.
- Do not travel without travel insurance. Uk readers, I’ve recommend a company called Just Travel Cover, whom offer a discount when you purchase my eBook. USA readers, speak to your insurance provider to see if you can extend cover to outside the USA, or it will probably be cheaper for you to purchase insulin in Guatemala than in the USA anyway (which I know is silly).
- CGM’s can help make travelling with diabetes a lot easier. Something like the Freestyle Libre (and Miao miao to turn it into a CGM), or Dexcom can help you manage the challenges of heat, and altitude and new foods A LOT easier. So if you can afford one, definitely invest in one for your trip.
There we have it, my tips for travelling Guatemala with type 1 diabetes. If you want more information, check out the diabetes zone on the blog, or of course, get in touch with me! I hope you find some of this information useful.