GuatemalaOfficial Name: Republic of Guatemala
Passport must be valid for length of stay
BLANK PASSPORT PAGES:
One page required for entry stamp
TOURIST VISA REQUIRED:
Not required for stays of 90 days or less. Guatemalan Immigration can grant 90-day extension. 1.30 USD per day fine for overstay.
Not required, but we recommend vaccinations against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies, and typhoid. Influenza, yellow fever, tetanus and diphtheria vaccinations should also be up to date
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR ENTRY:
Currency in excess of USD$10,000 must be declared
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR EXIT:
Currency in excess of USD$10,000 must be declared
Embassies and Consulates
Avenida Reforma 7-01, Zona 10
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Telephone: +(502) 2326-4000
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(502) 2331-2354
Fax: +(502) 2331-3804
Guatemala is a developing country characterized by wide income disparities. Violent crime is a serious concern due to endemic poverty, an abundance of weapons, a legacy of societal violence, and weak law enforcement and judicial systems. Spanish is the official and most commonly spoken language. Guatemala’s terrain ranges from hilly and volcanic to coastal beaches and tropical jungles. The climate is dependent on elevation with the major cities located at higher elevations enjoying spring-like temperatures year round, while the low-lying coastal areas and the Petén region are hot and humid. The dry season runs mid-November through mid-May and the rainy season runs from mid-May through mid-November. Geological faults run through the country and tremors are common, as are eruptions from several active volcanos.
Given its Mayan history and culture, volcanos, and beaches, Guatemala is a popular tourist destination, and the country has accommodations ranging from backpacking and eco-tourism hotels to higher-end luxury resorts; however, support infrastructure is still basic. There is a highway network that spans the country from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts and also a north-south highway on the Pacific side of the country. These highways are frequently closed due to landslides, accidents, protests, and repairs. Streets in most cities are in decent condition but large potholes and sinkholes are common. They often appear suddenly, especially during rainy season. For the most part, rural roads are unpaved.
Public transportation is unreliable and often unsafe. Emergency services are sporadic, and most hospitals do not meet U.S. standards. Tourists may want to obtain information from the Tourist Assistance Office (PROATUR) of INGUAT (the Guatemalan Tourism Institute) at 7a Avenida 1-17. Zona 4, Centro Civico, Guatemala City or visit INGUAT’s web site.
Please read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Guatemala for additional information on U.S.– Guatemala relations.
Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements
A valid U.S. passport is required for all U.S. citizens to enter Guatemala and return to the United States, regardless of age. 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 accepted by Guatemalan authorities as alternative travel documents. While in Guatemala, U.S. citizens should carry a photocopy of their passports with them at all times due to the high rate of passport theft and leave the original passport in a safe place. Visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (Spanish only) website for the most current visa information.
There is an exit tax (currently 30 USD) for departing Guatemala by air. The tax is generally included in an airline ticket price, but may be charged separately. There is an additional airport security fee (currently 20 quetzales, or approximately 2.60 USD) that is also included in the ticket price.
Minors under 18 years of age traveling with a valid U.S. passport do not need 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 90 days upon application to Guatemalan immigration (If the initial period of stay granted upon entry is less than 90 days, any extension would be granted only for the same number of days as the initial authorization). There is a fine of 10 quetzales (approximately 1.30 USD) for each day that a traveler overstays. The fine must be paid directly to the Guatemalan Immigration Agency. (U.S. citizens born in Guatemala are currently exempted from this fine.)
In June 2006, Guatemala entered a “Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement” with El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Under the terms of the agreement, citizens of the four countries may travel freely across land borders from one of the countries to any of the others without completing entry and exit formalities at immigration checkpoints. U.S. citizens and other eligible foreign nationals who legally enter any of the four countries may similarly travel among the four without obtaining additional visas or tourist entry permits for the other three countries. Immigration officials at the first port of entry determine the length of stay, up to a maximum period of 90 days. Foreign tourists who wish to remain in the region beyond the period initially granted for their visit are required either to request a one-time extension of stay from local immigration authorities in the country where the traveler is physically present, or to travel outside the CA-4 countries and reapply for admission to the region. Foreigners “expelled” from any of the four countries are excluded from the entire CA-4 region. In isolated cases, a lack of clarity in the implementation of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement has caused temporary inconvenience to travelers. U.S. citizens who are also citizens of another country and who choose to travel within the CA-4 region using their non-U.S. passport should consult in advance with the appropriate regional authorities regarding visa requirements within the CA-4 zone.
If your passport is lost or stolen in Guatemala, you must obtain a new passport at the U.S. Embassy as soon as possible and present it, together with a police report on the loss or theft, to the Guatemalan Immigration Agency (Dirección de Migración) in order to obtain permission to depart Guatemala. The agency is located in Guatemala City at 6a Avenida 3-11, Zone 4. Office hours are weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; the telephone number is 2411-2411. 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) 745-4953, fax (202) 745-1908. visit the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry website, or contact the nearest Guatemalan consulate (Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, McAllen, Miami, New York, Providence, Phoenix, or San Francisco).
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Guatemala. Neither a medical certificate nor an HIV test result is required when entering the country. Foreigners with a known HIV infection are not subject to specific residence regulations. There are no regulations regarding the control, deportation or expulsion of those concerned.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on the U.S. State Department’s travel website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
Safety and Security
The threat of violent crime in Guatemala is rated by the U.S. Department of State as “critical.” The Embassy has no reason to believe that U.S. citizens are being specifically targeted, although criminals in Guatemala may assume that U.S. citizens and their relatives have more money than average Guatemalans. Longer-term residents and dual nationals are more likely to become victims of serious crimes, as they tend to be integrated into local society and may not reside in safer areas. Tourists seem to be largely shielded from the worst incidents of violent crime, and instead succumb principally to pickpockets and purse-snatchers. U.S. tourists, however, have also been victims of rapes, physical assaults, armed robberies, and murders.
The number of violent crimes reported by U.S. citizens and other foreigners has remained high and such crimes have occurred even in areas of Guatemala City once considered safe, such as Zones 10, 14, and 15. Additionally, the Peace Corps has made areas of the country with particularly high incidents of crime “off-limits” to Peace Corps volunteers. Due to large scale drug and alien smuggling, the Guatemalan border with Mexico (and in particular the northwestern corner of Petén) is a high-risk area. The border areas including the Sierra de Lacandon and Laguna del Tigre National Parks are among the most dangerous areas in Guatemala. The U.S. Embassy takes extra precautions when U.S. government personnel travel to the region.
To stay connected:
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements.
- Follow the Bureau of Consular Affairs on Twitter and Facebook.
- Bookmark the Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.
- Follow the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala on Twitter and visit he Embassy’s website.
- Check for any issued security messages regarding demonstrations and strikes that may be posted on the Embassy’s website.
- In the event of an emergency, contact us at 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the U.S. and Canada, or via a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries.
- Take some time before traveling to consider your personal security and review the useful Traveler’s Checklist.
CRIME: High murder rates identify Guatemala as one of the most dangerous countries in the Western Hemisphere. While the vast majority of murders do not involve foreigners, the sheer volume of activity means that local officials find it difficult to cope with the caseload and many homicides never result in a prosecution or conviction.
In the last five years, there have been 25 reported murders of U.S. citizens in Guatemala, including four in 2014. The U.S. Embassy is also aware of the disappearances of several U.S. citizens, some of which remain unsolved. In March 2014, a U.S. citizen who resided in Guatemala was stabbed to death when resisting a late-night robbery in Antigua. In November 2014, another U.S. citizen was was stabbed during an attack by a group of drunk men in Antigua. In April 2014, a female U.S. citizen was raped while walking with another woman on the outskirts of Antigua during daylight hours, three U.S. citizens were robbed at gunpoint as they descended from a lookout above Antigua, a U.S. citizen was shot to death in his car in Zone 9 in Guatemala City, and a small tourist van was fired upon and its passengers robbed on the highway coming from Honduras. In July 2014, a van of U.S. citizen missionaries was stopped by assailants on their way to Guatemala City from San Antonio Suchitepequez; during the incident a minor was sexually assaulted. In December 2014, a U.S. citizen was shot to death in San Pedro Ayumpac.
U.S. citizens, although not specifically targeted, have been kidnap victims; however, there have been no reported kidnappings of U.S. citizens since February 2013.
Reports of sexual assault remain high. Women should be especially careful when traveling alone and avoid staying out late without an escort. Support for victims of sexual assault is lacking outside of major cities, and there are not enough trained personnel who can help victims either in the capital or outlying areas. Five U.S. citizens reported being raped in Guatemala in 2013 and three in 2014. In June 2014, the Embassy issued a Security Message warning U.S. Citizens of the risk of sexual assault in Guatemala and specifically reported the use of date rape drugs in some bars, night clubs, and after-hours clubs in Antigua.
Theft, armed robbery, and carjacking are the most common crimes against U.S. citizens who visit Guatemala. To decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim, do not display items of value such as laptops, iPods, iPads, cameras, or jewelry and refrain from using a cell phone on the street. Carry a photocopy of your passport when out and about to avoid losing it during a robbery. The Embassy discourages its employees from carrying large sums of money . Victims have been killed when they resisted an attack or refused to give up their money or other valuables. Assailants are often armed with guns and will not hesitate to use them if you resist.
Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are prevalent in major cities and tourist sites, especially the central market and other parts of Zone 1 in Guatemala City. For security reasons, the Embassy does not recommend U.S. government employees to stay in hotels in Zone 1 and urges private travelers to avoid staying in this area. In a common scenario, an accomplice distracts the victim while an assailant slashes or simply steals a bag or backpack. The Embassy advises tourists and residents to be very vigilant of their surroundings and report any crime incidents promptly to the police. We strongly encourage you not to use public ATMs. Scams involving attempts to acquire a victim’s ATM card and personal identification number (PIN) are common.
Extortion calls and grandparent scams are common in Guatemala. For additional information, please read our information on International Financial Scams. If in doubt whether a caller is legitimate, call the U.S. Embassy at 011-(502) 2326-4501.
Carjackings, Bus Robberies and Vehicle Thefts: Carjackings and vehicle thefts continue to be a serious problem.
A number of travelers have experienced carjackings and armed robberies as they drive away from the airport after arriving on international flights.
Avoid low-priced public intra- and inter-city buses (often recognizable as recycled and repainted U.S. school buses). U.S. Embassy personnel are not permitted to ride on any local buses. Public buses are subject to frequent attacks by armed robbers and often are poorly maintained and dangerously driven. Do not hail taxis on the street in Guatemala City. For shorter trips, the safest option is to take radio-dispatched (Taxi Amarillo) or hotel taxis.
The introduction of modern inter-city buses with prepaid fares has somewhat improved the security and safety of inter-city bus passengers; however, several travelers have even been attacked on first-class buses on highway CA-2 near the border areas with both Mexico and El Salvador, on highways CA-1 and CA-9 near the border with El Salvador, and in the highlands between Quetzaltenango and Sololá.
Some recent reports of highway robberies include accusations that police, or assailants dressed as police, have been involved. A few have included sexual assaults of victims. Emboldened armed robbers have attacked vehicles on main roads in broad daylight. Travel on rural roads increases the risk of being stopped by a criminal roadblock or ambush. Widespread narcotics and alien-smuggling activities make remote areas especially dangerous. There is no evidence that U.S. citizens are specifically targeted, although an appearance of wealth could increase the chances that you might become a focus of attention for criminal gangs. Criminals look for any opportunity to strike, so all travelers should remain constantly vigilant.
Security escorts for tourist groups and security information are available from the Tourist Assistance Office (PROATUR) of INGUAT (the Guatemalan Tourism Institute) at 7a Avenida 1-17. Zona 4, Centro Civico, Guatemala City. INGUAT’s PROATUR division has 24-hour/seven days per week direct telephone numbers for tourist assistance and emergencies. You may call them at (502) 2421-2810, fax them at (502) 2421-2891, or simply dial 1500 in Guatemala to reach INGUAT Tourist Assistance. You can also request the service by e-mail at email@example.com. PROATUR also maintains regional offices in all major tourist destinations in Guatemala, and the regional delegates provide rapid and appropriate assistance to crime and accident victims. Travelers may also wish to visit INGUAT’s web site. Tourist groups are advised to request security escorts from INGUAT. There have been no incidents of armed robbery of groups escorted through the Tourist Protection 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. Requests should be directed to the attention of the Coordinator of the National Tourist Assistance Program, and should provide the itinerary, names of travelers, and model and color of the vehicle in which they will be traveling. Travelers should be aware that INGUAT might not be able to accommodate all requests.
Travelers should be aware that basic safety measures and precautions commonly required in the United States for swimming, boating and other outdoor activities may not be observed in Guatemala. Additionally, crime incidents have occurred on both land and waterways, with multiple boaters in the Rio Dulce area of the Department of Izabal having been victimized in violent armed attacks while aboard boats.
Demonstrations: Large demonstrations occur throughout Guatemala, often with little or no advance notice, and 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. When acts of violence are particularly severe, such as those caused by drug traffickers in the Petén region, a state of siege can be declared by the authorities. That likely means a curfew will be set and increased police patrols in the areas affected. Public gatherings and permission to carry weapons also may be restricted. U.S. citizens traveling through these places should be very cautious, cooperate with the authorities and stay indoors after the curfew. Security messages regarding demonstrations and strikes are posted on the Embassy’s website.
Counterfeit Goods: U.S. citizens are advised not to purchase counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are these items illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
Indigenous Areas: Indigenous activists have detained foreign tourists in the Rio Dulce and Livingston areas. Although they were released unharmed, tensions between indigenous activists and authorities remain. In January 2012, a group of National Geographic explorers, including U.S. citizens, were detained in Quiche by local residents when they jumped into a pond considered sacred in the Mayan tradition. They were released unharmed but the incident serves as a warning to be mindful of local traditional practices when visiting indigenous Mayan communities.
Keep informed of possible demonstrations by following the local news and consulting the Embassy’s web page and hotel personnel and tour guides. Avoid areas where demonstrations are occurring.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
- Replace a stolen passport.
- Help you find appropriate medical care if you are the victim of violent crimes such as assault or rape.
- Put you in contact with the appropriate police authorities, and if you want us to, contact family members or friends.
- Help you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to local attorneys, although it is important to remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.
Victims of crime in Guatemala should contact the following phone numbers for assistance:
- POLICE: The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Guatemala is 110 / 120
- FIRE DEPARTMENT: 122 / 123
- TOURIST POLICE: 1500 POLITUR is a joint national police/INGUAT initiative and is present in all major tourist destinations.
Please see our information for victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
Local Laws & Special Circumstances
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Guatemala, you are subject to its laws. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. Persons violating Guatemala’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Guatemala’s are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. In Guatemala, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. If you break local laws in Guatemala, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution.
There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but are still illegal in the United States. You can be prosecuted in the United States for engaging in sexual conduct with children or for using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country regardless of the legality of these activities under that country’s laws. Counterfeit and pirated goods are illegal in the United States and if you purchase them in a foreign country, you may be breaking local law as well.
Arrest notifications in host country: While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in that country, others may not. To ensure that the U.S. government is aware of your circumstances, you should request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas. If you are arrested in Guatemala, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy of your arrest and to have communications from you forwarded to the U.S. Embassy.
Customs: Guatemalan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Guatemala of items such as antiquities and other cultural property. You should declare any amount of cash exceeding 10,000 USD that you bring into the country or the money may be confiscated by the authorities. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Guatemala in Washington, D.C. or one of Guatemala’s consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Enforcement of laws to protect intellectual property rights in Guatemala are inconsistent. As stated above, in Guatemala, counterfeit CDs and DVDs are openly sold on the streets of major cities in violation of copyright laws. A number of raids and prosecutions have been pursued; however, resource constraints and lack of coordinated government action impede efficient enforcement efforts. Piracy of works protected by copyright and infringement of other forms of intellectual property, such as trademarks, remain problematic. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Marriage: Non-Guatemalan citizens who wish to marry in Guatemala are required to provide proof of identity and civil status (indicating whether they are single or divorced). Prior notice of the marriage must be given in the Diario de Centro América (Guatemala's Official Record) and any large-circulation daily newspaper for 15 days. The marriage must take place within six months of the publication of the notice or the publication loses validity and a new one is required with additional expense.
Suspicion of Outsiders: Guatemala is a country with many different and firmly held local beliefs and customs. Particularly in small villages, residents are often wary and suspicious of outsiders. In the past, Guatemalan citizens have been lynched for suspicion of child abduction, so we recommend that U.S. citizens keep a distance from local children, and refrain from actions that could fuel such suspicions. In addition, U.S. citizens are advised to be aware of and to avoid activities that might unintentionally violate a cultural or religious belief. The following recommendations will help residents and visitors alike to increase their safety:
- Avoid gatherings of agitated people. Attempting to intervene may put you at risk of attacks from mobs.
- Avoid close contact with local children, including taking photographs, especially in rural areas. Such contact can be viewed with deep suspicion and may provoke panic and violence.
Beaches and Lakes: Beware of strong currents, riptides, and undertow along Guatemala's Pacific coast beaches. They pose a serious threat to even the strongest swimmers. In 2014, three drownings of U.S. citizens in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Guatemala were reported. In July 2011, a U.S. citizen drowned as a result of the undertow in this area and two U.S. citizens drowned in the same area in February 2012. Signs warning of treacherous surf are rare and confined mostly to private beaches owned by hotels. Lifeguards are rarely present on beaches. Lake Atitlan, one of the most popular tourist destinations, is deep enough to have dangerous undercurrents.
Volcanic Activity: There are currently four active volcanoes in Guatemala. Volcanic activity has on occasion forced evacuations of nearby villages. In September 2012, increased activity of the Fuego Volcano caused the evacuation of several villages. Past eruptions of the Pacaya Volcano near Guatemala City have briefly closed Guatemala City's international airport.
Tourists planning to climb the Pacaya and/or Agua volcanoes during Guatemala’s rainy season (May through October) should plan their climb for the morning hours when thunderstorms are less likely to occur. Climbers should monitor the weather situation and return to the base of the volcano as quickly and safely as possible if thunderstorms gather. INGUAT has organized an active community-based tourism program in San Vicente Pacaya to minimize the risk of armed robbery on Pacaya. Climbing volcanoes in groups is still highly advisable to reduce the risk of robbery and assault.
Earthquakes: Guatemala is a geologically active country. Visitors should be aware of the possibility of earthquakes at any time and make contingency plans.
Storms: Both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Guatemala are vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms from mid-May through November. Mudslides and flooding during the May to November rainy season often kill dozens of people and close roads. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available locally from the National Disaster Reduction Coordination Office (CONRED) and from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Please consult CONRED for updates on natural disasters or tropical storms and hurricanes.
WOMEN TRAVELER INFORMATION: If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review our travel tips for Women Travelers.
LGBT RIGHTS: While there is no legal recognition of same-sex partnerships or marriages, private same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults is legal. Antidiscrimination laws exist, but do not include specific protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT rights groups regularly allege that police officers engage in extortion by waiting outside clubs and bars frequented by LGBT persons to demand that those engaged in sexual activities pay protection money or pay to avoid jail. Police often harass male and transgender individuals they believe to be sex workers, many of whom are minors. According to LGBT rights groups, gay and transgender individuals often experience police abuse. A lack of trust in the judicial system and a fear of further harassment or social recrimination discourage victims from filing complaints. There is general societal discrimination against LGBT persons in access to education, health care, employment, and housing. For further information on LGBT travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.
ACCESSIBILITY: While in Guatemala, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from in the United States. Travelers who are disabled and need to use a wheelchair will find access for the disabled limited in Guatemala. Except for major hotels, some government buildings and major museums that have special access ramps for the disabled, most buildings remain wheelchair-inaccessible. Mayan ruins such as Tikal do not provide special access for the disabled.
The full range of medical care is available in Guatemala City, but medical care outside of the city is limited. Guatemala’s public hospitals frequently experience serious shortages of basic medicines and equipment. Care in private hospitals is generally adequate for most common illnesses and injuries, and many of the medical specialists working in them are U.S.-trained and -certified.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Many hospitals in Guatemala require payment prior to treating patients, even if personal insurance will cover the treatment. They do not typically enter into payment plan agreements. Travelers should be aware that they may have to pay in advance and seek reimbursement.
Zika Virus: Zika virus is a mosquito-borne illness that can be spread from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby. Among other effects, there have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. For additional information about Zika, including travel advisories, visit the CDC website.
Travel & Transportation
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Guatemala is provided for general reference only, and may not apply to all locations or circumstances.
Driving in Guatemala requires one’s full attention, and all drivers must take extraordinary efforts to drive defensively to avoid dangerous situations.
Traffic rules are only casually observed. Many drivers do not use their turn signals to alert other drivers. Instead, a common custom is for a driver or passenger to stick a hand out the window and wave it to indicate that they will be taking an unspecified action. Speed limits, lane markings, and stop signs are frequently ignored. Passing blindly on winding and/or steep mountain roads, poorly designed surfaces, and unmarked hazards, including frequent landslides and precarious temporary highway repairs, all present additional risks to motorists. Lethal head-on collisions are common.
All drivers involved in accidents resulting in injury may be detained and held in protective custody pending investigation. In several instances, police officers have been posted outside hospital rooms of drivers who were injured; the drivers were not allowed to depart the country without judicial intervention. Such cases require the assistance of private local attorneys.
The most common form of public transportation is the system of bright red recycled school buses, which serve almost every town in the country. Criminal activity and frequent fatal accidents, however, make these low-priced local and inter-city buses particularly dangerous.
Hailing taxis on the street in Guatemala City is a practice best-avoided. Use of radio-dispatched taxis is far safer. In Guatemala City several radio taxi companies operate. Taxi Seguro can be reached at 2312-4243, but may not always be available, especially late at night. Taxi Amarillo Express (yellow taxis) is a radio-dispatch taxi service reached by dialing 1766. A Green Cab radio dispatch service operates in the suburbs near zone 15 and the Cayala shopping district,. The Guatemalan tourist assistance agency, PROATUR, may be able to provide additional information, and can be reached by dialing 1500.
Although city streets are usually well lit, secondary and rural roads have little to no illumination. Driving outside of urban areas at night is dangerous and not recommended. The Inter-American Highway (CA-1) and the road from Guatemala City to the Caribbean coast (CA-9) are especially dangerous both day and night, due to heavy traffic, including large trucks and trailers. There are no roadside assistance clubs; however, a roadside assistance force (PROVIAL) patrols most of the major highways in the country. PROVIAL can be contacted by calling 2419-2121. Their vehicles are equipped with basic tools and first aid supplies, and their services are free. Police patrol the major roadways and may assist travelers, but the patrols are sporadic and may be suspended due to budget constraints. For roadside assistance, travelers may call the police by dialing 110 or 120 or the fire department by dialing 122 or 123. Cellular telephone service covers most areas frequented by tourists.
Road hazards are common and cars and trucks are often stalled in travel lanes or parked unattended in the middle of the road. Tree branches are sometimes placed in the road a hundred meters or so before the stalled vehicle to warn approaching traffic of the hazard. While driving in or near large cities, be vigilant of pedestrians who unexpectedly dart across roads, even in heavy traffic, due to the lack of defined cross walks.
Highway Safety: There have been numerous reports of violent criminal activity along Guatemala’s main highways, including the Carretera a El Salvador (Inter-American Highway CA-2). In addition, travelers using alternate routes out of Antigua have reported armed assaults in recent years. There has also been an increase in alcohol-related traffic accidents on this same road at night. U.S. Embassy employees are discouraged from driving at night. Embassy employees are also prohibited from driving from or through Mexico and Belize to Guatemala.
The main road to Lake Atitlán via the Inter-American Highway (CA-1) and Sololá is safer than the alternative secondary roads near the lake. Specifically, the main road is preferable to the alternative road through Las Trampas and Godinez to Panajachel (RN-11) where robbery, rape, and assault are known to have occurred in the past. Armed attacks have occurred on roads between Guatemala City and the Petén region as well as between Tikal and the Belize border. 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 Petén region, including in the Cerro Cahui Conservation Park, Yaxha, the road to and inside Tikal Park, and in the Tikal ruins, particularly during early morning sunrise tours of the ruins. Tourist police (POLITUR) patrols, however, have significantly reduced the incidence of violent crime inside the park and there have been no reports of armed assaults on tourists there since October of 2012. Travelers should remain in groups, stay on the principal trails leading to the Central Plaza and the Temple IV complex, and avoid remote areas of the park.
Robberies of occupied vehicles are becoming more common in Guatemala City. Often two assailants are on motorcycles and pull up alongside a car stopped at a traffic light. The passenger on the motorcycle is armed and will indicate to the vehicle’s occupants to roll down their windows and hand over their cell phone and cash. The assailants are able to flee the scene quickly on their motorcycle .In some cases, armed pedestrians on foot will approach vehicles at stoplights and rob the passengers. Often the vehicle occupants were visibly using their cell phones or other handheld devices at the stoplight. Leaving cars unattended, even briefly, in parking lots of fast food franchises can also invite break-ins in spite of the presence of armed guards.
Valid U.S. driver’s licenses are accepted for the first 30 days of a visit, and international driving permits are accepted in Guatemala for extended stays. Guatemala’s road safety authorities are the Department of Transit and the Joint Operations Center of the National Police. Drivers use the right-hand side of the road in Guatemala, and speed limits are posted (in kilometers) depending on the condition of the road. Speed limits are rarely enforced, and drivers often drive at the absolute maximum speed their vehicle can handle at that particular time. These drivers share the road with slow vehicles, some barely able to manage 20 miles per hour, creating a hazardous mix of velocities. Turning right on red is not permitted unless otherwise posted, and drivers must yield when entering a traffic circle. Seat belts must be worn in Guatemala, but there are no laws regarding the use of child safety seats. It is against the law for drivers to operate cellular phones while driving but cell phone usage while driving in city traffic remains commonplace and increases the risk of minor car accidents from distracted drivers. Defensive driving is a must in Guatemala.
People found driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs are arrested and may serve jail time. For accidents resulting in death, every driver involved is taken into custody and the vehicle(s) impounded until a judge determines responsibility following a re-enactment of the accident. For accidents resulting in injury, the non-injured party may be taken into custody until a judge determines fault and financial responsibility.
In an effort to combat crime committed by two-person teams on motorcycles, Guatemalan law now mandates that only the operator is allowed on a motorcycle. The law also states that the motorcycle license plate number must be printed on a sticker on the back of the motorcycle driver's helmet.The Guatemalan government modified the law to require motorcycle riders to wear orange vests and display the license plate numbers on those vests. The law also requires motorcycle riders to drive on the right-hand side of the road only. However, enforcement has lagged considerably and two persons sharing a motorcycle and changing lanes without signaling is a sight still commonly seen, despite the increased use of vests and helmets.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Also, we suggest that you visit the website of Guatemala’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety, or contact them via e-mail.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Guatemala’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Guatemala’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.