Guatemala

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Wednesday, 26 February 2014.   It has been reviewed and reissued with editorial amendments. We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in Guatemala because of the risk of serious criminal violence and incidents of local unrest.

Guatemala overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Guatemala because of the risk of serious criminal violence and incidents of local unrest.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • Guatemala has a high violent crime rate. Violent crime, often involving the use of firearms, is common throughout the country, including in tourist destinations.
  • Intercity travel after dark is dangerous and should be avoided. Do not travel on public buses as they are often unsafe and armed robberies are common.
  • The hurricane season is June to November when landslides, mudslides and flooding may occur. In the case of a hurricane, monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local emergency officials. See Additional information: Natural disasters, severe weather and climate for detailed advice.
  • Australia has opened a Consulate in Guatemala, headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular assistance (not including the issue of passports). The Australian Embassy in Mexico provides full consular assistance to Australians in Guatemala.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Guatemala for the most up to date information.

Under the Central American Border Control Agreement (CA-4), foreigners may travel between Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala for periods of up to 90 days without completing entry and exit formalities. This period begins at the first point of entry to any of these countries. Visitors can request an extension of their CA-4 visa prior to its expiry; however, visitors who stay more than 90 days without permission may be fined and expelled from any of the four countries. Visitors expelled from one country may be refused entry into others.

An airport tax of 20 Quetzales (approximately USD3.00) must be paid in cash at the airport on departure. An exit tax of USD30 is also payable on departure if it has not already been included in your ticket at the time of purchase.

If you are travelling to Guatemala through the United States of America, or if you are transiting Honolulu or another US point of entry, you are required to meet US entry/transit requirements. Make sure you check your visa requirements with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate well in advance of your travel. You should also read our travel advice for the United States of America.

If you are entering Guatemala from a country in which yellow fever is endemic, you will be required to provide evidence of a yellow fever vaccination. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides a list of countries in which yellow fever is endemic.

Central American airlines will not accept passengers travelling to destinations in the United States without proof of an onward or return ticket, even if the travellers may be eligible to enter the USA under the visa waiver program.

Make sure your passport has at least six months’ validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Civil unrest/Political tension

Strikes and large demonstrations often occur with little notice and have resulted in travellers being forcibly detained at roadblocks, the closure of border-crossing points and disruption of traffic and essential services.

You should avoid all protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent.

Crime

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Guatemala because of the risk of serious criminal violence and incidents of local unrest.

You should pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the local media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

Guatemala has a high crime rate. Violent crime, often involving the use of firearms, including murder, carjacking, kidnapping, assault, rape and robbery is common throughout the country, including in tourist destinations.

To minimise the risk of becoming a victim of crime, you should remain vigilant in public areas and avoid displaying items of value such as cameras, mobile phones and laptops. Do not resist if you are robbed as victims have been injured when resisting perpetrators. Where possible, travel in groups and with a reputable tour company. Use of an escort from the Government run tourist service (PROATUR) may reduce risks associated with travel in Guatemala.

Due to drug and organised crime related violence, travellers should be particularly vigilant in border regions with El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico.

Criminals have targeted tourists, including tourists arriving at international airports and travelling to hotels in Guatemala City and Antigua. If possible, you should schedule arrival at La Aurora Airport (Guatemala City) during the day or early evening.

Violent assaults and robberies are common in Guatemala City and now occur in areas of the city previously considered safe, such as Zones 10, 14 and 15. You should be particularly vigilant after dark.

Tourists have been attacked when visiting volcanos and other tourist sites. You should travel in groups, stay informed of security conditions in areas you plan to visit and remain vigilant at all times.

Intercity travel after dark anywhere in Guatemala is dangerous and should be avoided. Violent carjackings occur, particularly on poorly maintained roads, but also on main highways, including the Pan-American Highway (CA-1), the Pacific Coast Highway (CA-2) and the Atlantic Highway (CA-9). There have been reports of violent attacks on motorists travelling between El Salvador and Guatemala, particularly on the Guatemalan side of the border. Roadblocks erected by armed gangs are common, particularly in the northern and western Departments of San Marcos, Huehuetenango, El Quiche, Alta Verapaz, El Peten and Escuintla. Criminals have been known to pose as police officers.

Travellers should avoid using the route between Cocales (Suchitepequez) and San Lucas Toliman (Atitlan) and the isolated dirt roads near Lake Atitlan. Avoid the Godinez by-pass via Patzun between Guatemala City and Panajachel as this area is rarely patrolled by police. The main Pan-American highway to Solola provides an alternate route.

Tourist, and other, buses have been targeted by criminal gangs. Do not travel on public buses or “chicken buses” (converted school buses). They are often unsafe and armed robberies are common. Inter-city buses, including luxury coaches, have been forced to stop by criminal gangs who then rob and/or sexually assault passengers. Buses have been attacked near border crossings and in known tourist areas such as Panajachel and Antigua. The roads from the El Salvador border to Cuilapa and from the Belize border to El Cruce are danger spots for bus-jackings.

Scams target tourists to steal money and other possessions. You should be vigilant at all times and be cautious of strangers offering unsolicited services or unusual requests. Theft has been reported at budget accommodation, particularly in Antigua.

Cross land borders to Guatemala with care. Violent armed robberies have occurred when travellers entering Guatemala have changed large amounts of cash at a land border crossing. You should only cross the border during daylight hours and allow time for border crossing formalities in order to arrive in a major town before dark. Many border posts close for lunch and at dusk.

Using ATMs on the street puts you at high risk of robbery. Changing money at hotels or using ATMs in shopping centres or department stores may reduce this risk. Do not withdraw too much at any one time and avoid withdrawing money at night. ‘Express kidnappings’, where victims are forced to withdraw funds from ATMs to secure their release, have occurred, particularly at ATMs, petrol stations and shopping centres.

PROATUR is a tourist assistance unit which provides 24-hour assistance. It can be contacted toll free nationwide by dialling 1500, or email proatur@inguat.gob.gt. See their safety tips page. You may also follow news and recommendations on Proatur’s Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out which is the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work in Guatemala. ATMs are not always reliable; however credit cards and traveller’s cheques are widely accepted.

The US dollar is the only currency freely exchanged in Guatemala.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering and theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

Travel by road, particularly when using public transport, may be dangerous due to aggressive driving practices and poorly maintained vehicles and roads. Traffic laws are routinely ignored. Rural roads lack adequate signage and lighting and are often shared with pedestrians and farm animals. You should avoid all non-essential travel in the late afternoon and at night, particularly on your own. Ensure the vehicle doors are locked and windows closed at all times. To ensure your safety, you should plan your travel options well in advance. Various scams involving tourist vehicles exist, and any unsolicited offers of assistance should be refused. For further advice, see our road travel page.

Avoid travel on public buses or "chicken buses" and use inter-city coaches where possible. Public buses are often unsafe and armed robberies are common. Travellers should check that the tour company they are travelling with provides adequate security due to the significant increase in attacks on tour buses. For further information, see Crime (above).

If travelling on motorised or sailing boats in Rio Dulce and Livingstone, check to ensure that there are adequate personal safety measures as tourists have been attacked on these vessels.

Travellers have been robbed and assaulted when using unofficial taxis. The use of radio-dispatched taxis or those from hotels may reduce risks. For travel from the airport, prepaid taxi vouchers can be purchased from the Tourist Office at the airport.

Travellers should exercise particular caution when travelling in the Guatemala/Belize border area because of the ongoing border dispute between the two countries. You should use only recognised border crossings.

There are strict security controls at all Guatemalan borders due to concerns about the high levels of drug-related criminal activity at border crossings. Military personnel have been stationed along the border with Mexico and tourists may be checked as a result.

Mudslides and road collapses caused by heavy rains are common and roads may be closed at short notice.

Travellers planning to climb the volcanoes in Guatemala should only do so as a group and with experienced guides and a reputable tour company.

The strong currents and tides on Guatemala’s Pacific coastal beaches pose a serious threat to swimmers. Beach patrols, lifeguards and warning or advisory signs are rarely present.

Airline safety

Please refer to our air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Guatemala, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include lengthy imprisonment in local jails.

Penalties for some serious crimes include the death penalty.

People found driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs are arrested and may be detained.

It is illegal to photograph official buildings, military installations and establishments or sites of strategic importance such as the Presidential Palace and airports.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

Photographing children and women may be met with suspicion and violence. Life-threatening attacks on tourists have occurred. Permission should be sought from an adult before taking photographs of, or talking to, children.

Same sex relationships are generally accepted in the capital, Guatemala City, but more conservative attitudes prevail in other parts of the country.

Information for dual nationals

Australian/Guatemalan dual national males between 18 and 50 years of age may be required to complete compulsory military service obligations if they visit Guatemala. For further information, contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Guatemala before you travel.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

The standard of medical facilities in Guatemala City is adequate but limited outside of the capital. Doctors and hospitals may require cash payment prior to providing services, including emergency care. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to a location with suitable facilities, usually the United States, would be necessary. Costs would be considerable (in the tens of thousands of dollars).

Malaria is a risk throughout the year in rural areas below 1500 metres elevation. Other insect-borne diseases (including dengue fever, Chagas' disease, river blindness and leishmaniasis) are also a risk to travellers. We recommend you take prophylaxis against malaria and take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent at all times.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, typhoid and tuberculosis) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. If there is a Red Tide alert, follow local warnings and avoid shellfish and seafood as it may be contaminated. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Where to get help

Australia has a Consulate in Guatemala, headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular assistance (not including the issue of passports). The address is:

2a Calle 23-80 Zona 15
Edificio Avante, Oficina 701
Guatemala
Telephone: (502) 2328-0300
Email: fmc@australianconsulate.com.gt

You can also obtain consular assistance from the nearest Australian Embassy which is in Mexico:

Australian Embassy, Mexico City

Ruben Dario #55
Corner of Campos Eliseos, Polanco
Colonia Bosque de Chapultepec
11580 Mexico DF Mexico
Telephone: (52 55) 1101 2200
Facsimile: (52 55) 1101 2201
E-mail: consularpassports.mexico@dfat.gov.au
Website: www.mexico.embassy.gov.au

If you are travelling to Guatemala, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Hurricanes: The hurricane season is June to November when landslides, mudslides and flooding may occur. Roads and bridges may collapse and power and communication systems could be affected in some areas. In the case of a hurricane, monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local emergency officials.

The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning. You can check the latest hurricane information at the National Hurricane Center website.

In the event of an approaching hurricane, you should follow the instructions of local authorities. Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. You should contact your airline for the latest flight information. The hurricane could also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe hurricane may not be available to all who may choose to stay. You should familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans. You should carry your travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo identification etc.) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our Severe Weather page.

The wet season is from May to November. Heavy rainfall can cause landslides and mudslides, often with devastating effect on people, property, local infrastructure and essential services. Roads often become blocked at very short notice. Information on severe weather conditions can be obtained from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency and the Humanitarian Early Warning Service.

Guatemala is located in an active seismic zone. Travellers should familiarise themselves with earthquake security measures of hotels, public and private buildings. In the event of an earthquake, travellers should monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities. Our Earthquakes bulletin provides further information on travel in earthquake prone areas.

There are four active volcanos in Guatemala-Pacaya, Volcan de Fuego, Santiaguito and Tacana. Reports indicate that Pacaya, Volcan de Fuego and Santiaguito volcanoes have very high levels of activity which may increase at any time. Advice regarding current volcanic activity can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. Follow the advice of local authorities if you choose to climb any of the volcanoes.

If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.