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Country Guides for Central America

Guatemala

Guatemala

Guatemala is a country of dramatic volcanic peaks, lush, green jungle, banana and coffee plantations, and thousands of years of history. In Guatemala City the vibrantly colored indigenous weaving and costumes are preserved in the Ixchel Textile Museum, and the Museo Popol Vuh offers a wonderful collection of Mayan folk art and artifacts. The cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved colonial architecture of Antigua are perfect for exploring on foot, and during Semana Santa (Holy Week), religious and folk traditions are practiced on streets painted with gloriously colored sawdust designs. For a good look at traditional culture, indigenous costumes, and a wonderful shopping opportunity, the Mayan market at Chichicastenango is a must. History is magnificently illustrated at Tikal, where ruins of an ancient Mayan city cover nearly ten square miles, and over 3000 structures have been identified and mapped. Ringed by volcanoes and twelve indigenous villages, Lake Atitlan offers breathtaking scenery, and birders will appreciate the more than 600 species of birds found throughout the country.

Language: Spanish 60%, Amerindian languages 40% (23 officially recognized Amerindian languages, including Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca)

Major International Airport:

City

Airport
Airport
Code
Distance
From City
Guatemala CityLa Aurora AirportGUA4 miles N

The preventive measures you need to take while traveling to Mexico and Central America depend on the areas you visit and the length of time you stay. You should observe the precautions listed in this document in most areas of this region.

Food and Waterborne Diseases

Make sure your food and drinking water are safe. Food and waterborne diseases are the primary cause of illness in travelers. Travelers' diarrhea can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, which are found throughout this region and can contaminate food or water. Infections may cause diarrhea and vomiting (E. coli, Salmonella, cholera, and parasites), fever (typhoid fever and toxoplasmosis), or liver damage ( hepatitis). Gnathostomiasis (roundworms) has increased in Mexico, with many cases being reported from the Acapulco area, infection has been reported in travelers. Humans become infected by eating undercooked fish or poultry, or reportedly by drinking contaminated water.

Diseases found in Mexico and Central America (risk can vary by country and region within a country; quality of in-country surveillance also varies)

Malaria
Malaria is always a serious disease and may be a deadly illness.

Humans get malaria from the bite of a mosquito infected with the parasite. Prevent this serious disease by seeing your health care provider for a prescription antimalarial drug and by protecting yourself against mosquito bites (see below). Your risk of malaria may be high in these countries, including some cities. Travelers to malaria-risk areas, including infants, children, and former residents of Mexico and Central America, should take an antimalarial drug.

Chloroquine is the recommended drug for Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Bocas Del Toro Province of Panama. Travelers to Darién Province and San Blas Province in Panama (including the San Blas Islands) should take one of the following antimalarial drugs: (listed alphabetically): atovaquone/proguanil, doxycycline, mefloquine, or primaquine (in special circumstances).

Yellow Fever
Yellow fever is present only in Panama in this region. A certificate of yellow fever vaccination may be required for entry into certain countries in the region if you have visited Panama, Trinidad & Tobago, or an endemic area in South America or sub-Saharan Africa. For detailed information, see Comprehensive Yellow Fever Vaccination Requirements. Also, find the nearest authorized U.S. yellow fever vaccine center.

Other Disease Risks
Dengue, filariasis, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis, and American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) are diseases carried by insects that also occur in this region. Myiasis (botfly) is endemic in Central America. Protecting yourself against insect bites will help to prevent these diseases.

Other Health Risks

Injuries
Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury among travelers. Protect yourself from motor vehicle injuries: avoid drinking and driving; wear your safety belt and place children in age-appropriate restraints in the back seat; follow the local customs and laws regarding pedestrian safety and vehicle speed; obey the rules of the road; and use helmets on bikes, motorcycles, and motor bikes. Avoid boarding an overloaded bus or mini-bus. Where possible, hire a local driver.

Routine Vaccinations

Check with your healthcare provider: you and your family may need routine as well as recommended vaccinations.

Before travel, be sure you and your children are up to date on all routine immunizations according to schedules approved by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP). See the schedule for adults and the schedule for infants and children. Some schedules can be accelerated for travel.

See your doctor at least 4-6 weeks before your trip to allow time for shots to take effect. If it is less than 4 weeks before you leave, you should still see your doctor. It might not be too late to get your shots or medications as well as other information about how to protect yourself from illness and injury while traveling.

Recommended Vaccinations

The following vaccines may be recommended for your travel to The Mexico and Central America. Discuss your travel plans and personal health with a health-care provider to determine which vaccines you will need.

  • hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG).Transmission of hepatitis A virus can occur through direct person-to-person contact; through exposure to contaminated water, ice, or shellfish harvested in contaminated water; or from fruits, vegetables, or other foods that are eaten uncooked and that were contaminated during harvesting or subsequent handling.
  • hepatitis B, especially if you might be exposed to blood or body fluids (for example, health-care workers), have sexual contact with the local population, or be exposed through medical treatment. hepatitis B vaccine is now recommended for all infants and for children ages 11-12 years who did not receive the series as infants.
  • rabies, if you might have extensive unprotected outdoor exposure in rural areas, such as might occur during camping, hiking, or bicycling, or engaging in certain occupational activities.
  • typhoid, particularly if you are visiting developing countries in this region. typhoid fever can be contracted through contaminated drinking water or food, or by eating food or drinking beverages that have been handled by a person who is infected. Large outbreaks are most often related to fecal contamination of water supplies or foods sold by street vendors
  • Yellow Fever, for travelers to endemic areas in Panama
  • As needed, booster doses for tetanus-diphtheria and measles.

Required Vaccinations

  • None.
  • All travelers should take the following precautions, no matter the destination:

    • When using repellent on a child, apply it to your own hands and then rub them on your child. Avoid children's eyes and mouth and use it sparingly around their ears.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water or, if hands are not visibly soiled, use a waterless, alcohol-based hand rub to remove potentially infectious materials from your skin and help prevent disease transmission.
    • In developing countries, drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes. If this is not possible, learn how to make water safer to drink.
    • Take your malaria prevention medication before, during, and after travel, as directed. (See your health care provider for a prescription.)
    • To prevent fungal and parasitic infections, keep feet clean and dry, and do not go barefoot, even on beaches.
    • Always use latex condoms to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
    • Protect yourself from mosquito and insect bites.
    • Do not eat food purchased from street vendors or food that is not well cooked to reduce risk of infection (i.e., hepatitis A and typhoid fever).
    • Do not drink beverages with ice.
    • Avoid dairy products, unless you know they have been pasteurized.
    • Do not swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to certain water-borne diseases such as schistosomiasis.
    • Do not handle animals, especially monkeys, dogs, and cats, to avoid bites and serious diseases (including rabies and plague). Consider pre-exposure rabies vaccination if you might have extensive unprotected outdoor exposure in rural areas.
    • Do not share needles for tattoos, body piercing or injections to prevent infections such as HIV and hepatitis B.

    After You Return Home

    If you have visited a malaria-risk area in Haiti or the Dominican Republic, continue taking your chloroquine for 4 weeks after leaving the risk area.

    Malaria is always a serious disease and may be a deadly illness. If you become ill with a fever or flu-like illness either while traveling in a malaria-risk area or after you return home (for up to1 year), you should seek immediate medical attention and should tell the physician your travel history.



    Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    Those traveling to Guatemala are at risk from dengue fever and malaria transmitted by mosquito bites, leishmaniasis from sandfly bites and Chagas disease from triatomine bugs, as well as other insect-borne diseases. Travelers should use topical insect repellent and wear insecticide-treated clothing.

    Download Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by CountryDownload Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by Country

    The water supply in Guatemala is highly contaminated with viruses, bacteria and protozoa. Travelers should treat water before drinking to avoid potentially serious health problems.

    Download Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by CountryDownload Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by Country

    Violent criminal activity has been a problem in all parts of Guatemala for years, including numerous murders, rapes, and armed assaults against foreigners. The police force is young, inexperienced, and under-funded, and the judicial system is weak, overworked, and inefficient. Criminals, armed with an impressive array of weapons, know that there is little chance they will be caught and punished. Traditionally, Guatemala experiences increases in crime before and during the Christmas and Easter holiday seasons.

    Large demonstrations occasionally occur throughout Guatemala, often with little or no notice, and they can cause serious traffic disruptions. Although most demonstrations are peaceful, they can turn violent, and travelers should avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place. The use of roadblocks and/or blocking of public facilities, including the international airport, has increased and demonstrators may prevent tourists caught behind the blockades from leaving.

    The following recommendations will help residents and visitors alike to increase their safety: Avoid gatherings of agitated people. Guatemalan citizen frustration with crime and a lack of appropriate judicial remedies has led to violent incidents of vigilantism, including lynchings, especially in more isolated, rural areas. Attempting to intervene may put you at risk of attacks from mobs.

    Avoid close contact with children, including taking photographs, especially in rural areas. Such contact can be viewed with deep alarm and may provoke panic and violence. Rumors of foreigners stealing children to sell surface periodically and can provoke a violent response towards strangers. Foreign tourists have been attacked by mobs and one has been killed.

    Keep informed of possible demonstrations by following the local news and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides. Avoid areas where demonstrations are occurring.

    Strong currents, riptides, and undertow along Guatemala's Pacific Coast beaches pose a serious threat to even the strongest swimmers. Signs warning of treacherous surf are rare and confined mostly to private beaches owned by hotels. Lifeguards are rarely present on beaches.

    Tourists planning to climb Pacaya and Agua volcanoes during Guatemala's rainy season (May through October) should plan their climb for the morning hours, when it is less likely that thunderstorms will occur. Climbers should monitor the weather situation and return to the base of the volcano as quickly and safely possible if thunderstorms gather. A Canadian tourist was recently killed by lightening while climbing Pacaya. In addition, armed robbers have targeted tourists while they were climbing these popular destinations. Climbing in groups reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of assault.

    More information about tourist security is available from the Tourist Protection Office of INGUAT (the Guatemalan Tourist Board) at 7a Avenida 1-17, Zona 4 Centro Cívico, Ciudad de Guatemala. The direct telephone number for tourist assistance is (502) 2-421-2810, the PBX is (502) 2-421-2879, and the fax is (502) 2-421-2891. INGUAT may be reached by toll free numbers within the United States at (1-800) 464-8281 or within Guatemala at (1-801) 464-8281. The e-mail address is asistur@inguat.gob.gt. For emergencies, INGUAT may be reached 24 hours, seven days a week at (502) 2-241-2810 or (502) 5-578-9836. Tourist groups may request security assistance from INGUAT, Attention: Coordinator of the National Tourist Assistance Program. The request should be submitted by mail, fax or e-mail and should arrive at INGUAT at least three business days in advance of the proposed travel, giving the itinerary, names of travelers, and model and color of vehicle in which they will be traveling. Travelers should be aware that INGUAT has very limited personnel and resources, so it might not be able to accommodate all requests.

    For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.

    Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

    The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

    CRIME: The number of violent crimes reported by U.S. citizens and other foreigners has increased in recent years. Incidents include, but are not limited to, assault, theft, armed robbery, carjacking, rape, kidnapping, and murder. Criminals generally operate in groups of four or more and are considerably confrontational and violent. Gangs are a growing concern in Guatemala City as well as in rural Guatemala. Gang members are often well armed with sophisticated weaponry and they sometimes use massive amounts of force. Emboldened armed robbers have attacked vehicles on main roads in broad daylight. Travel on rural roads always increases the risk of a criminal roadblock or ambush. Widespread narcotics and alien smuggling activities can make remote areas especially dangerous. Though there is no evidence that Americans are particularly targeted, criminals look for every opportunity to attack, so all travelers should remain constantly vigilant.

    Although the majority of tourists travel throughout Guatemala without mishap, violent criminal activity on the highways has increased, and tourists, among others, have been targeted. Armed robbers have intercepted vehicles on the main roads in broad daylight. Recent cases of highway banditry have included the rape of women and girls. At least four tourists were killed in highway robbery attempts in 2002 and at least three were killed and one wounded in 2003. Five Americans were killed in 2004; two of these were in highway assaults. In some cases, assailants have been wearing full or partial police uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles, indicating that some elements of the police might be involved. Armed robberies have occurred within minutes of the tourist's vehicle being stopped by the police. U.S. Embassy personnel continue to observe heightened security precautions in Guatemala City and on the roads outside the capital city. U.S. tourists are urged to be especially aware of safety and security concerns when traveling on the roads in Guatemala.

    Rather than traveling alone, use a reputable tour organization. Stay in groups; travel in a caravan consisting of two or more vehicles; and, stay on the main roads. Ensure that someone not traveling with you is aware of your itinerary. Resist the temptation to stay in hotels that do not have adequate security. Travel after dark anywhere in Guatemala is extremely dangerous. Stay in the main tourist destinations. Do not explore back roads or isolated paths near tourist sites. Pay close attention to your surroundings, especially when walking or when driving in Guatemala City. Refrain from displaying expensive-looking jewelry, large amounts of money, or other valuable items. Finally, if confronted by criminals, be aware that resistance may provoke a more violent response.

    Additional information:

    Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are active in all major cities and tourist sites, especially the central market and other parts of Zone 1 in Guatemala City and the city of Antigua. In a common scenario, an accomplice distracts the victim, while an assailant slashes or simply steals a bag or backpack while the victim's attention is diverted.

    Robbers also use a number of scams to steal money and possessions from tourists in Guatemala. In one popular scam, robbers place a nail in a parked vehicle's tire. The vehicle is then followed by the robbers who pose as "good Samaritans" when the tire becomes flat and the victims pull to the side of the road. While "help" is being rendered, the contents of the car are stolen, often without the knowledge of the victims. However, in some cases, the robbers have threatened the tourists with weapons. Parking areas in and around the Guatemala City International Airport are particularly prone to this crime. In another scam, victims are approached in a hotel, restaurant or other public place by an individual claiming there is some sort of problem with his or the would-be victim's automobile in the parking lot. On the way to investigate the "problem," usually in a remote or concealed area near the parking lot, the robber pulls a gun on the victim demanding cash, credit cards and other valuables. A third popular scam involves various attempts to acquire a victim's ATM card and PIN number. Some sophisticated criminals have even placed boxes outside ATM kiosks that record PIN numbers when unsuspecting victims believe they must enter their PIN number to gain entry to the ATM foyer. After recording PIN numbers, robbers then steal the owner's ATM card to complete their crime. There are dozens of techniques scammers can use to rob victims of money and possessions. While most people mean no harm, always be cautious when strangers approach you for any reason or make unusual requests.

    For security reasons, the Embassy does not allow U.S. government employees to stay in hotels in Zone 1 in Guatemala City and urges private travelers to avoid staying in this area.

    Carjackings and highway robberies have become increasingly violent. At least four tourists were killed in highway robbery attempts in 2002 and at least three killed and one wounded in 2003. Many of the robbery attempts have occurred in daylight hours on main highways.

    Avoid low-priced intra- and inter-city buses (recycled U.S. school buses); they are a haven for criminals and susceptible to accidents. The use of modern inter-city buses somewhat improves security and safety. There have been, however, several attacks on travelers on first-class buses on highway CA-2 near the border areas with both Mexico and El Salvador and on highways CA-1 and CA-9 near the El Salvador border. Be cautious with personal items such as backpacks and fanny packs while riding buses, because tourists' possessions are a favorite target of thieves.

    Do not hail taxis on the street in Guatemala City. Use dispatched taxis or taxis from major hotels instead.

    The main road to Lake Atitlan via the Pan-American Highway (CA-1) and Solola is safer than the alternatives, though recent attacks have made traveling in a caravan highly recommended, even on the Pan-American Highway. Robbery and assault have been frequently reported on secondary roads near the lake. Robbers have used mountain roads advantageously to stop buses, vans and cars in a variety of ways.

    Armed attacks have occurred on roads from Guatemala City to the Peten. Visitors to the Mayan ruins at Tikal are urged to fly to nearby Flores and then travel by bus or tour van to the site.

    Violent attacks have occurred in the Mayan ruins in the Peten, including in the Cerro Cahui Conservation Park, Yaxha, the road to and inside Tikal Park, and in the Tikal ruins. Tourist police (POLITUR) patrols inside the park have significantly reduced the violent crime incidents inside the park, but travelers should nevertheless remain in groups and on the principal trails leading to the Central Plaza and the Temple IV complex, and avoid remote areas of the park, such as the Mundo Perdido and Temple VI areas.

    Foreign residents of Guatemala have special concerns. At least 16 American citizen residents and five American citizen tourists have been murdered since December 1999, and only one suspect in one case has been convicted. None of the others has been solved. There has been a recent rise in "express" kidnappings, primarily in Guatemala City, in which a relatively small ransom that can be quickly gathered is demanded. U.S. citizens have been kidnapped in recent years. At least one incident of a random kidnapping, in which the victim was grabbed off the street in an affluent neighborhood of the city, occurred in December 2003 and resulted in a physical and sexual assault.

    INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.



    Source: U.S. Department of State

    The climate of northern and coastal Guatemala is tropical, with hot, wet, humid summers and hot, dryer winters. In the highlands of the south and the west the temperatures are cooler (often dropping to the 50's at night) and humidity is lower. The rainy season is from May to September, (with the occasional tropical storm), and some precipitation can be expected year round.


    City
    Annual
    Precip. Days
    Annual
    Precip. Totals
    Guatemala City12247"

    Guatemala's electrical current is 120/60 (volts/hz) and uses the plug adaptors listed to the right under Related Items.

    To determine which plug adaptors you'll need and if you'll require a transformer or converter, use our Electrical Connection Wizard.

    For a detailed discussion of international electrical standards, see our related article on Electrical and Phone Adaptation.

    Download Magellan's Guide to World Electrical ConnectionsDownload Magellan's Guide to World Electrical Connections

    A valid U.S. passport is required for all U.S. citizens to enter Guatemala and to depart Guatemala for return to the U.S. Even if dual nationals are permitted to enter Guatemala on a second nationality passport, U.S. citizens returning to the United States from Guatemala are not allowed to board their flights without a valid U.S. passport. Certificates of Naturalization, birth certificates, driver's licenses, and photocopies are not acceptable alternative travel documents. While in Guatemala, U.S. citizens should carry their passports, or a photocopy of their passports, with them at all times.

    An exit tax must be paid when departing Guatemala. The exit tax (currently $30) is generally included in an airline ticket price, but may be charged separately. There is an additional airport security fee (20 Quetzales, approximately $2.50) that all travelers must pay at the airport.

    Minors under 18 traveling with a valid U.S. passport need no special permission from their parents to enter or leave Guatemala. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or less (that period can be extended for an additional 180 days upon application to Guatemalan immigration). Recently, in an attempt to stay longer than 90 or 180 days, some foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, have obtained false or fraudulent immigration stamps in their passports showing they left and re-entered Guatemala. Immigration officials have detained and fined several such individuals.

    A U.S. citizen whose passport is lost or stolen in Guatemala must obtain a new passport at the U.S. Embassy as soon as possible and present it, together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the Dirección de Migración (Guatemalan immigration agency), Sub-director for Migratory Control, to obtain permission to depart Guatemala. The agency is located at 4 Calle 4-37, Zone 9. Office hours are weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; telephone 360-8578, 360-8544, 360-8580 or 360-8540. No fee is charged by Guatemalan immigration for this service.

    For further information regarding entry, exit and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Guatemalan Embassy at 2220 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008; telephone (202) 745-4952, extension 102; fax (202) 745-1908; e-mail at info@guatemala-embassy.org; Internet web site - http://www.guatemala-embassy.org or contact the nearest Guatemalan consulate (Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, or San Francisco).



    Source: U.S. Department of State

    The time zone for Guatemala is -6 hours offset from GMT, which means that if it is 12:00 noon in New York, the time in Guatemala would be 11:00 am

    The unit of currency in Guatemala is the quetzal (GTQ), US dollar (USD), others allowed.

    Look up the current exchange rate using XE.com's Universal Currency Converter

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