Traveling Luck for Guatemala

Guatemala is located in Central America, bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between El Salvador and Mexico, and bordering the Gulf of Honduras (Caribbean Sea) between Honduras and Belize.

Guatemala has borders with Belize for 266km, Honduras for 256km, Mexico for 962km and El Salvador for 203km.

Land in Guatemala is mostly mountains with narrow coastal plains and rolling limestone plateau.

Guatemalan land covers an area of 108890 square kilometers which is slightly smaller than Tennessee

As for the Guatemalan climate; tropical; hot, humid in lowlands; cooler in highlands.

Guatemalan(s) speak Spanish 60%, Amerindian languages 40% (23 officially recognized Amerindian languages, including Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca).

Guatemalan National Map

Guatemalan Map

Regions of Guatemala

The Maya civilization flourished in Guatemala and surrounding regions during the first millennium A.D. After almost three centuries as a Spanish colony, Guatemala won its independence in 1821. During the second half of the 20th century, it experienced a variety of military and civilian governments, as well as a 36-year guerrilla war. In 1996, the government signed a peace agreement formally ending the conflict, which had left more than 100,000 people dead and had created some 1 million refugees.


Guatemala Country Profile

Guatemala is the largest and most populous of the Central American countries with a GDP per capita roughly one-half that of Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. The agricultural sector accounts for about one-fourth of GDP, two-thirds of exports, and half of the labor force. Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the main products. The 1996 signing of peace accords, which ended 36 years of civil war, removed a major obstacle to foreign investment, but widespread political violence and corruption scandals continue to dampen investor confidence. The distribution of income remains highly unequal with perhaps 75% of the population below the poverty line. Other ongoing challenges include increasing government revenues, negotiating further assistance from international donors, upgrading both government and private financial operations, curtailing drug trafficking, and narrowing the trade deficit.

Guatemalan natural resources include petroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle, hydropower

no natural harbors on west coast

Guatemalan religion is Roman Catholic, Protestant, indigenous Mayan beliefs.

Natural hazards in Guatemala include numerous volcanoes in mountains, with occasional violent earthquakes; Caribbean coast extremely susceptible to hurricanes and other tropical storms.

Travel Advice on Guatemala

Guatemala

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with an amendment to the Summary (display of valuables & passport information), Political Situation section (September elections), Local Travel section (advised road routes), Entry Requirements section (Central America Border Control Agreement) and General section (local insurance service).  The overall level of the advice has not changed.

SUMMARY

  • The main type of incident for which British nationals require consular assistance in Guatemala is for victims of violent crime, such as armed robbery and mugging.  You should be on your guard and exercise great caution as violent crime is common throughout Guatemala, and has affected tourists.

  • You should avoid travelling on some roads in Guatemala, because of criminal attacks on cars and buses (Please see the Crime and Local Travel sections of this travel advice for more details).

  • Tourists are targeted by criminals, especially those arriving at the airport and travelling towards hotels in the business areas of Guatemala City (Zones 9 and 10).  You should take great care when leaving the airport vicinity and avoid displaying items of value such as laptops, cameras and mobile phones.

  • Armed robbery is becoming more usual in Antigua, Guatemala, and even the main areas of town during daylight hours have seen attacks.  You should be on your guard at all times.  You should also avoid travelling at night or visiting remote places unaccompanied.

  • The threat from terrorism is low.  But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners.

  • The rainy season in Guatemala normally runs from June to November, coinciding with the hurricane season in the Caribbean. Please see the Natural Disasters section of this Travel Advice for more information.

  • You should carry a photocopy of your personal details page of your passport with you at all times for identification purposes.

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see Travel Insurance.


SAFETY AND SECURITY

Crime

Violent crime is a major problem throughout Guatemala.  Serious attacks on tourists, including murder and rape, have taken place.  Armed robbery of tourists and muggings can happen anywhere in the country.  It is extremely important not to resist if being robbed.  You are advised not to wear jewellery and to carry minimal amounts of cash.

There are 5 to 6 murders a day in Guatemala City and surrounding areas.  The majority involve the use of guns.  While many are the result of turf wars between gangs or are narcotics related, innocent bystanders have been killed or injured in the shootouts.

You should take particular care in Zone 1 of Guatemala City where many cheap hotels are situated and where many bus routes terminate.  Other parts of Guatemala City, including Zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 18 are also dangerous.  Take care after dark in all areas of the city.

Visiting businessmen are at less risk if they stay in international class hotels in the capital, in Zone 9, 10 or 13.  However, tourists are targeted by criminals, especially those arriving at the airport and travelling towards hotels in the business areas of Guatemala City.  The business areas are seeing an increase in crime, with those carrying laptops and mobile phones especially liable to robbery.  You are strongly advised to use only metered taxis, preferably those recommended by hotels.

You should be alert at all times, and not travel alone, especially at night.  If using public transport, you should try to keep your belongings in view at all times and keep money, credits cards, passport and other important documents on your person.  The most common robberies against foreigners occur when they are travelling on buses on the routes with cheaper fares from Guatemala City to Antigua and Antigua to Panajachel.  Hold-ups by armed gangs, often accompanied by physical and/or sexual violence, occur frequently on citywide public transport as well as on long-distance routes.  There have been attacks on cars and buses (including tourist buses) during daylight hours on well-used, main roads.  These attacks have included the rape of female passengers.  You should avoid travelling by public bus if you possibly can.  You should be aware that UK based members of the British Embassy, their dependants and official British visitors are instructed not to use public buses because of the risk of violent robbery and accidents.  Private inter-city coach services are not included in this restriction.

You should be wary of persons presenting themselves as police officers.  There have been instances of visitors becoming victims of theft, extortion or sexual assault by persons who may or may not be police officers.

Political Situation
 
Guatemala Country Profile.

Large demonstrations can occur throughout Guatemala, often with little or no notice.  They can cause serious traffic disruptions.  Though most are peaceful, some demonstrations in the capital city and at strategic points on the country’s main highways have turned violent.  Demonstrations and public meetings are likely to increase in the run up to the September 2007 Presidential elections.  You should avoid getting caught up in any of these.

Local Travel

Car and bus-jackings have occurred on roads leading to the main tourist centres.  When travelling between Guatemala City and Panajachel you should use the Pan American Highway to Solola, avoiding the Godinez by-pass via Patzun (the turning is located at 63km on the Pan American Highway).  The road there is badly maintained and single track for most of the way.  Criminals take advantage of these conditions to hold up travellers.  You should also avoid using the route between Cocales (Suchitepequez) and San Lucas Toliman (Atitlan) and take particular care on the road between Panajachel and San Lucas Toliman.  The road from the El Salvador border to Cuilapa and from the Belize border to El Cruce are major danger spots for bus-jacking.  In addition, there have been similar occurrences on the main Pan-American Highway near Solola.

The Guatemala City Council no longer permits inter-urban buses to enter the city centre.  Passengers are dropped at various points on the outskirts.  You should take this into account when planning your journeys.

There have been armed robberies in daylight on minor roads around Lake Atitlan involving British and other foreign nationals.  You should avoid using these roads.  There are adequate boat services between the towns and the lakeshore.

There have been cases of armed attacks on tourists at Tikal and on the approach road from Flores to Tikal.  You should therefore continue to exercise care in the Tikal area, and at lesser-known sites such as Yaxha.

Violent crime is on the increase in and around Antigua where armed attacks on foreigners, including muggings, car-jackings and sexual assault, have taken place.
There have been injuries to tourists when exploring some caves in Guatemala, particularly during the rainy season between June and November. You should ensure that you use registered and licensed operators before undertaking caving activities.

You should exercise particular care when travelling in the Belize/Guatemala border area because of the ongoing dispute between the two countries.  You are strongly advised to use only the officially recognised border crossings.

Road Safety

You can use your UK Driving License to drive in Guatemala for visits under 3 months.  However, you are recommended to hold an International Driving Permit.

Roads between the main tourist locations in Guatemala are of an acceptable standard.  In more isolated locations, roads are unpaved and four-wheel drive vehicles are advisable.  Driving standards are variable compared with the UK.  You should drive carefully and expect the unexpected.  Adequate car insurance is essential.

Many public buses are poorly maintained and accidents are common and occasionally fatal.


LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS

There are stiff penalties for drug trafficking (10-20 years) and drug use (8-15 years).  Guatemalan prisons are overcrowded, violent, unsanitary, and disease is rife.

You should be aware that local people are often suspicious of foreigners taking photographs, particularly of children.  There have been fatal attacks recently when two Guatemalans in Sumpango were suspected of taking away children for adoption.  Before approaching children for photos, or even just to talk to them, you should check (or ask your tour guide to check) with an adult that this is acceptable. However, if you are in any doubt, refrain from doing so.  You may be asked to pay a small amount of money to take photographs of both children and adults.

Certain sexual acts remain illegal under Guatemalan law.  However, most Guatemalans in the capital are tolerant of individual personal lifestyles.  A more conservative attitude prevails outside Guatemala City and public displays of affection by same-sex couples are not recommended.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Visas are not required by British citizens to enter Guatemala and can visit freely for up to 90 days. If your stay in Guatemala is longer than 90 days you should go to the General Directorate of Migration in Guatemala to apply for an extension to the 90-day rule.  Your passport must have at least six months validity before travelling to Guatemala.

If you would like to clarify any other information on entry requirements, you should contact the Guatemalan Embassy in London on 020 7351 3042.

In June 2006, Guatemala entered the Central America Border Control Agreement (CA-4).  Under the terms of this agreement, British tourists may travel within any of the CA-4 countries (Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala) for a period of up to 90 day, without completing entry and exit formalities at border Immigration checkpoints.  This period begins at the first point of entry of any of the CA-4 countries.  Fines are applied for travellers who exceed this 90-day limit, although a request for an extension can be made for up to 30 days by paying a fee before the 90 days limit expires.  If you are expelled from any of the four countries you are also excluded from the entire CA-4 region.

There is a 30 US Dollars (or Quetzal equivalent) airport departure tax which is normally included in the price of the ticket.  An additional security tax of US$3 is payable at the airport.  For internal flights there is a 5 Quetzal per person travel tax, which is also payable at airline check-in desks.

When crossing into Guatemala by land border, there have been numerous reports of customs/immigration officials charging an "entry fee".  This is illegal.  By asking for an official receipt for your money you may find that the "fee" is dropped.

Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country or, in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country.  For further information on exactly what will be required at Guatemalan immigration, please contact the Guatemalan Embassy in London:  Guatemalan Representation in the UK.


HEALTH

We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see:  Travel Insurance.
Guatemalan hospitals are reluctant to give medical treatment unless they can be satisfied that the patient has medical insurance.  It is therefore essential that you carry evidence of your insurance cover at all times.  State-funded hospitals are on the whole under-staffed, under-funded, ill equipped, and are often unhygienic.  We advise the use of private clinics where possible.
Malaria is prevalent in the low-lying areas outside Guatemala City.  More than three-quarters of British travellers who contracted malaria in 2005 did not take preventive measures, such as malaria prevention tablets. However, malaria can occur despite appropriate prevention, and therefore you should promptly seek medical care in the event of a fever or flu-like illness in the first year following your return from travelling to a malaria risk country.  Before travelling you should seek medical advice about the malaria risk in Guatemala.
Dengue fever is endemic in Guatemala.  Affected areas include Escuintla, the Pacific Coast towns, Zacapa, and Peten.  Although there is no preventive medication, mosquito repellent and clothing which covers as much skin as possible should help.
You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date.  For further information on health, check the Department of Health’s website at www.dh.gov.uk.
NATURAL DISASTERS
The rainy season in Guatemala normally runs from June to November, coinciding with the hurricane season in the Caribbean.  You should monitor local and international weather updates from World Meteorological Organisation.
Landslides are common in Guatemala due to heavy rains.  Some disruption to travel can be expected, especially on the main road from Guatemala City to the Atlantic coast and in the central highlands.
Four of Guatemala's volcanoes are currently active: Pacaya, Fuego, Santiaguito and Tacana.  A state of yellow alert is in place for Pacaya, Fuego and Santiaguito.  All three volcanoes erupt intermittently, and you should exercise caution in the vicinity.
There is also a lesser state of alert (green) for the Tacana volcano.  We recommend you only climb Santiaguito, Pacaya and Tacana as part of a group with a professional guide.  We presently advise against climbing Fuego, which is currently very active - the Guatemalan authorities are advising tourists to avoid the volcano and surrounding areas.
In the event of theft, contact the nearest police station and obtain a police report.  This report is mandatory when applying for a replacement passport or insurance claim.  If you have difficulty reporting the theft of your cards to your UK bank/credit card company, you can ask the Belgian group "Card Stop" to send a fax to your UK card company to block your card. Alternatively, if you have Belgian issued bank/credit cards, Card Stop will be able to block them. Card Stop's telephone number is:  +32-(0)70/344 344.


GENERAL

If things go wrong when overseas, please see What We Can Do To Help
You should consider purchasing the local Asistur card, which will provide you with emergency assistance and guidance during your stay in Guatemala.  The Guatemalan Tourism Bureau, in conjunction with private enterprise, has launched a local insurance service called the Asistur card, which may be purchased upon arrival.  Currently it is available only at Aurora International Airport (INGUAT boot, 2nd floor), but there are plans to have it available at border points eventually.  More information may be obtained from http://www.asisturcard.com/ or by phoning 502-2421-2810 or 1801 ASIST.
There is a free advice line on security information for tourists provided by the Guatemalan Tourist Board.   You can call it on 1 801 464 8281 during office hours and 1 801 2321 2800 after office hours for the latest information.
You are advised to register with the British Embassy on arrival in the country and to seek an update on the latest situation.

Passports should be left in a hotel safe/deposit box.  You should carry a photocopy of your personal details page for identification purposes.
The British Embassy in Guatemala City does not issue passports and, before setting off, you should ensure that your passport has sufficient validity and a plentiful supply of unused pages.  Applications for new passports are accepted but forwarded to the British Embassy in Mexico City for processing.  This may take up to 6 weeks.  If a courier is used, the cost will have to borne by the applicant.
 
Money


You should not rely on debit cards as a means to transfer funds to Guatemala:  Automatic cash machines sometimes reject them.   Credit cards and travellers' cheques are more reliable.  If credit cards are lost or stolen there may be difficulties obtaining a replacement as the main international courier services from the UK are refusing to accept them for delivery to Guatemala.
The US dollar is the only foreign currency that is freely exchangeable in Guatemala.   It is possible to change Sterling only at the Banco del Quetzal.