Guatemalan Bathrooms 101

Many first time tourists to Guatemala are confused by several features of Guatemalan bathrooms. Typically they are frustrated by cold showers, clogged toilets and have questions like, “where is the hot water knob?” I have been living with a Guatemalan family for about five months now and think I’ve figured a few things out. Hopefully, after reading this, all of the mysteries of Guatemalan bathrooms will be revealed!

Why are all the doorways so short?

Admittedly I’m very tall. I’m six foot six (about 198 cm). But even for the average European or American, the doorways here are short. The average Guatemalan man stands five foot five and the average Mayan man stands at only four foot six. I’m often ducking to go through doorways which seem to average around six foot tall (which gives a Guatemalan six inches of clearance).

Where are the door knobs?

I rarely see door knobs like those in Europe and the USA. Most doors here use hooks or latches.

Everyone can hear me in the bathroom; where is the privacy?

Because they don’t use complex fans or ventilation systems, most bathrooms are open at the top. Its a bit odd sometimes to hear bathroom activity from the outside, but after a while you just accept it is normal here.


Where is the hot water knob on the sink?

Bathrooms in Guatemala have no running hot water from a hot water heater. The sinks only have one knob which provides control of the flow of cold water. If there are two knobs, one will be locked or simply not work as it is unused.

Why is the mirror showing me my crotch?

When I look in a bathroom mirror, the reflection I see is of my crotch and not much use for shaving or combing the hair on my head. If the mirror is small enough, I try to find another nail to move it to long enough for me to shave or do my hair, then move it back for the Guatemalans.

Why is there a sign not to put toilet paper in the toilet?

Don’t put toilet paper in the toilets; every bathroom here has a small plastic waste basket near it, usually with a small door on it, where you put your used toilet paper. I’m not sure why, but the sewage systems in bathrooms here cannot handle toilet paper and clog easily. I’m guessing this is because they don’t use four inch sewer lines and use some smaller width of sewer lines. But, I’ve not really been able to find out why the systems don’t handle toilet paper.

How do I take a shower with hot water?

As mentioned previously, Guatemalan houses and buildings don’t have hot water heaters or hot running water. Kitchen water is heated on the stove or in water dispensers. Shower water is heated directly at the shower head. There is only one knob in the shower and it doesn’t work as you’d expect. As you would expect, the more you turn it, the more water pressure you have. However, water pressure is exactly how you control the water temperature. The more water pressure, the cooler the water. So, to get hot water, barely turn the water to where it starts to dribble. Keep turning very very slowly until you have slow moving water and a big change in the “sound” of the water. You’ll hear a kind of “hissing” sound coming from the head. This is the sound of water being heated. Backing off on the water pressure will cause the heating unit to shut down. The trick is to get just enough water pressure to have hot water. To turn down the temperature (which can almost be scalding hot), you just increase the water pressure a bit more.


  1. hmmm… might be time to head back to Europe?

  2. love your photos of suicidal shower heads and cannot figure out why planes don’t seat from the rear forward and window to aile. best of travels dear xoxo Nina


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