Guatemala is statistically one of the most dangerous countries in the Western Hemisphere. Much of that rating is influenced by an exceptionally high murder rate, which rarely pertains to tourists, but it can also otherwise still be dangerous for travelers. Here, we will provide an overview of safety suggestions for traveling in Guatemala, but we highly recommend reading all of the U.S. State Department’s Safety and Security information. We also recommend enrolling in the Smart Traveler program in order to receive the most current safety advisories.
The State Department rates the threat of violent crime in Guatemala as “critical.” While foreigners are not typically specifically targeted, criminals may assume they have more money than average Guatemalans, thus making them targets. Tourists mostly do not experience the worst incidents of violent crime (for which the country is statistically so dangerous), although foreigners have been the victims of physical assaults, armed robberies, rapes, and murders. Most criminal incidents against tourists involve pick-pocketing or purse-snatching.
The Peace Corps has designated certain areas associated with drug and alien smuggling, or particularly high crime rates “off-limits” to Peace Corps volunteers. The border with Mexico is high risk, particularly the northwestern corner of Petén. The Sierra de Lacandon and Laguna del Tigre National Parks are some of the most dangerous areas in Guatemala.
Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in the world, but these murders rarely involve tourists.
Sexual assault is a serious issue in Guatemala, particularly in bars and night clubs in Antigua. Date rape drugs are often used in these settings, and women should keep their drinks with them at all times, and not accept drinks from strangers. The State Department encourages women to be particularly careful when traveling alone and to make sure to have an escort if they stay out late at night.
The most common crimes against foreigners traveling in Guatemala are theft, robbery, armed robbery, and carjacking. Do not display valuables, such as laptops, tablets, smart phones, cameras, and jewelry. The State Department strongly discourages using a cell phone in the street, particularly if it is a smart phone. Travelers should carry a photocopy of their passports instead of their passports when out and about.
Travelers should be particularly careful in major cities and tourist sites, where pickpockets and purse-snatchers are prevalent. This is especially true of the central market and other areas in Zone 1 of Guatemala City. The State Department strongly discourages using public ATMs, as they are frequently the sites of scams aimed at acquiring victims’ ATM cards and PINs.
Grandparent scams and extortion calls to travelers or loved ones of travelers are common in Guatemala. For more information on scams like this, please read the State Department’s page on International Financial Scams. If you or your loved one is not sure whether the caller is legitimate, call the U.S. Embassy: 011-(502) 2326-4501.
The State Department does not allow its personnel to ride on local buses, as they are often poorly maintained, dangerously driven, and attacked by armed robbers. It also strongly discourages hailing taxis on the street in Guatemala City. The safest option is to take hotel taxis or radio-dispatched taxis (Taxi Amarillo).
There are frequent and unexpected demonstrations throughout Guatemala. Most are peaceful, but they can turn violent without warning. When they become particularly violent, local authorities can declare a state of siege, which likely means a curfew, limits on public gatherings, and increased police presence in the area. In these situations, travelers should be careful and respect curfews. The Embassy website will post updates and security messages during these incidents.
Groups of tourists are advised to request a security escort from PROATUR (the Tourist Assistance Office). As of February 2015, there have been no incidents of robbery of groups escorted by the Tourist Protection Program.
Address: 7a Avenida 1-17. Zona 4, Centro Civico, Guatemala City
PROATUR Telephone (available 24 hours/seven days per week): (502) 2421-2810, fax them at (502) 2421-2891
INGUAT Telephone: 1500
(Note from the founders: We had a female Peace Corps volunteer who served in Guatemala write the following section)
Address: Avenida Reforma 7-01, Zona 10, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Telephone: +(502) 2326-4000
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(502) 2331-2354