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Guatemala - Exercise a high degree of caution
Exercise a high degree of caution in Guatemala due to high levels of violent crime, roadblocks, strikes and demonstrations that occur throughout the country.
Travel Health Notice - Zika virus
The Public Health Agency of Canada has issued advice for travellers on the Zika virus, recommending that Canadians practice special health precautions while travelling in affected countries. Pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant should avoid travel to Guatemala. See Health for more information.
Safety and security
Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America, one of the world’s highest homicide rates and a very low arrest and detention rate. Most incidents of violent crime are drug- and gang-related. They occur throughout the country, including in tourist destinations. Rifles and handguns are very common.
Foreigners, likely targeted for their perceived wealth, are often victims of robbery, carjacking, armed assault and sexual assault, including rape. Criminals frequently operate in groups and, increasingly, on motorcycles. Typically, two men on a motorcycle accost a pedestrian or driver stuck in traffic and demand valuables. Travellers have been attacked when visiting volcanoes and other tourist sites.
Petty theft, including pickpocketing and purse snatching is prevalent in urban and tourist areas, especially in markets and other crowded places, such as national parks and volcanoes. Schemes often involve some form of distraction. Crime tends to increase during the holiday seasons.
- Don’t display signs of affluence, especially upon arrival at the airport, where travellers have been followed and robbed or carjacked en route to Guatemala City and Antigua
- Keep laptop computers, mobile phones and other personal electronic devices out of sight, and refrain from using them in public
- Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times
- Carry only a copy of the identification page of your passport and enough money for the day
Use of ATMs
Exercise extreme caution when using ATMs. Withdraw money at ATMs inside banks, hotels and malls rather than on the street, and do so during daylight hours only. To avoid card skimming, check that the ATMs have not been altered. Exchange money at official exchange bureaus only.
Incidents of armed robbery occur daily on public buses. Buses are frequently targeted by gangs, who may hurl grenades or fire shots as a way of ensuring compliance with their demands or to settle accounts. Drivers and fare collectors have been the targets of violence, including murder. Passengers have also been subject to armed robbery by fellow passengers. Always opt for tourist shuttles operating during daytime.
There is a high risk of robbery on highways just before and after sunset. Incidents of armed robbery through vehicle interception, perpetrated by criminals posing as police officers, are common. Only undertake intercity travel by car, preferably in a convoy of two or more vehicles.
“Express” kidnappings have occurred. In these abductions, criminals ask for small, immediate ransoms. The kidnappers usually force their victims to withdraw funds from an ATM or to arrange for family or friends to pay the ransom. This ploy is often used by criminal taxi drivers, who pick up the victim and then stop to pick up associates.
- Maintain a high level of personal security awareness at all times
- Avoid travelling alone, especially in isolated, unpopulated areas, on secondary roads and, especially, at night
- Only use reputable tour companies
- Avoid low-cost hotels with poor security
- Avoid excessive alcohol and narcotic consumption, as it can make you a more vulnerable target for criminals
- Be cautious of strangers
- If threatened by robbers, stay calm and do not resist: injuries and deaths have occurred when victims have resisted
All Guatemalan border crossings are dangerous; official ones are less so. Drug-related armed attacks occur in departments close to all borders, notably in the southwestern department of San Marcos and the adjacency zone with Belize.
Travel only through official border crossings and allow enough time for border formalities. Many border posts close for lunch and at dusk.
Criminals often pose as police officers. They may tell you they are drug enforcement officers and then take you to a side road where they steal everything from you. Do as they say and don’t resist.
Military and police forces conduct random vehicle searches along all borders.
Demonstrations and elections
General elections took place on June 16, 2019. A second round is scheduled to take place on August 11. Demonstrations could occur before, during and after the elections.
Be cautious and avoid any demonstrations during the campaign period.
Even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent at any time. They can also lead to disruptions to traffic and public transportation.
If you participate in demonstrations as a foreigner, you may be detained, deported and denied future entry into Guatemala.
- Avoid areas where demonstrations and large gatherings are taking place
- Follow the instructions of local authorities
- Monitor local media for information on ongoing demonstrations
More about mass gatherings (large-scale events)
Illegal roadblocks are frequent. They can occur on the main roads leading to Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport. Don’t go through roadblocks without stopping, even if they appear unattended.
Vigilante justice has increased in rural areas, resulting in lynchings of suspected child abductors, extortionists and other criminals.
Don’t approach or photograph children and women (especially in areas with Indigenous presence), since many people in Guatemala fear that children are being kidnapped for illegal adoption or sexual abuse. Violent incidents involving foreigners taking photos have occurred.
Incidents of sexual assault occur, including on buses. Avoid travelling alone, with informal guides or with strangers, even if they appear friendly and helpful.
Use only reputable tour guides or buses. Ensure the tour guide has a name tag with the name of the tour company. Some tourist service-providers build trusting relationships with female tourists and then sexually assault them.
Safe-travel guide for women
Spiked food and drinks
The spiking of drinks is a problem in tourist areas, especially in Antigua. Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances, including taxi drivers. These items may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.
Travel by road can be dangerous. While most roads in urban areas are in fair condition, secondary streets and rural roads are poorly maintained and lit. Mountain roads are steep and winding. Main highways through mountainous regions of the country are usually affected by mudslides and rock slides during the rainy season.
Local drivers generally don’t respect traffic laws and often have reckless driving habits. Vehicles are often poorly maintained, and there is a lack of road signs throughout the country.
Roadblocks erected because of roadwork are common, particularly in the northern and western departments of San Marcos, Huehuetenango, Quiché, Alta Verapaz, Petén and Escuintla. These roadblocks may cause substantial delays.
The Pan-American Highway (CA-1) and the road from Guatemala City to the Atlantic Ocean (CA-9) are hazardous because of heavy traffic. Highways CA-1 and CA-2 are dangerous after sunset because of armed robberies that occur.
Avoid travelling on the isolated dirt roads near Lake Atitlán and on the road from Godinez to Panajachel, as they are rarely patrolled by police.
Seek advice from a registered travel agency if you plan off-road travel in the remote highlands of Petén.
Throughout Guatemala, always:
- Avoid travelling at night
- Drive with car windows closed and doors locked at all times
- Be prepared to change your travel plans in case of roadblocks
PROVIAL, a government roadside assistance agency, patrols most of the major highways and provides updates on roads conditions.
- PROVIAL (Directorate General of Road Safety and Protection) (in Spanish)
Avoid travelling on local public buses (“chicken buses”), as they are not safe. Most of the time, chicken buses are recycled school buses that are mechanically unreliable. They are usually overloaded with passengers and their unlicensed drivers often drive at excessive speeds. They are frequently involved in major road accidents, and serious crime occurs on board.
Choose a privately owned intercity bus instead, and only travel during daylight hours. Ensure that transportation and tour providers are reputable and reliable before booking.
Use a reliable taxi company recommended by a major hotel chain and negotiate the fare in advance. Do not board taxis at taxi stands or flag taxis in the street.
When travelling by air, pre-arrange your pickup with your hotel prior to your arrival. Otherwise, make sure to use authorized airport taxis whose drivers wear easily identifiable picture identification badges.
Never share a taxi with strangers. Note the driver's name and licence number. Ensure that the driver does not pick up other passengers along the way to your destination, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change.
Marine transportation and piracy
Boaters should be alert to the possibility of encountering craft operated by illegal drug traders. Be sure to enter Guatemala only through official ports of entry staffed by Guatemalan immigration officers.
Boaters in the Rio Dulce area of Izabal have been victimized in violent armed attacks. Remain vigilant and make use of officially recognized docking and berthing facilities only.
If you intend on hiking:
- never do so alone and always hire an experienced guide from a reputable company
- buy travel insurance that includes helicopter rescue and medical evacuation
- ensure that your physical condition is good enough to meet the challenges of your activity
- ensure that you’re properly equipped and well informed about weather and other conditions that may pose a hazard
- inform a family member or friend of your itinerary, including when you expect to be back to camp
- know the symptoms of acute altitude sickness, which can be fatal
- obtain detailed information on trekking routes or ski slopes before setting out and do not venture off marked trails or slopes
Given that some volcanoes are at high altitude, with sub-zero temperatures at night, warm and waterproof attire is essential. Local tour companies might underestimate the risk of hypothermia.
There is no mountain rescue service.
If you intend to book a cruise or make other travel arrangements, ensure that the cruise line is legitimate. Confirm your itinerary with the ship and port authority.
Advice for cruise travellers
Exercise caution when swimming off the Pacific coast, and seek information about water conditions such as strong currents, riptides and undertow. Take posted warnings about swimming conditions seriously, and familiarize yourself with the beach flagging system. Most beaches are not supervised by lifeguards. Avoid deserted and unpatrolled beaches.
Ensure that sporting and aquatic equipment, especially scuba diving equipment, is safe and in good condition. Ensure helmets and life jackets are available. Avoid excursions that are not recommended by tour operators.
Take additional safety precautions if you undertake whitewater rafting, especially on the Cahabon, Los Esclavos, Nahualate and Naranjo rivers, where previous whitewater rafting experience is highly recommended.
It may be difficult to obtain police assistance in Guatemala. Police forces lack resources and officers are often corrupt. National police officers don’t usually speak English.
However, Guatemalan authorities have two programs dedicated to providing information and assistance to tourists: PROATUR and DISETUR. Both can help arrange security escorts for road travel across the country or organized hiking activities, such as to volcanoes and parks. Arrangements must be made at least 72 hours ahead of time. While the service is free, you should expect to pay for gasoline and gratuities.
- PROATUR (Tourist Assistance Program) (in Spanish)
- DISETUR (Tourism Security Division of the National Civil Police) (in Spanish)
We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.
General information about foreign domestic airlines
Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Government of Canada cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements.
We have obtained the information on this page from the Guatemalan authorities. It can, however, change at any time.
Verify this information with foreign diplomatic missions and consulates in Canada.
Entry requirements vary depending on the type of passport you use for travel.
Before you travel, check with your transportation company about passport requirements. Its rules on passport validity may be more stringent than the country’s entry rules.
Regular Canadian passport
Your passport must be valid at least 6 months beyond the date you expect to leave Guatemala.
Passport for official travel
Different entry rules may apply.
Other travel documents
Different entry rules may apply when travelling with a temporary passport or an emergency travel document. Before you leave, check with the closest diplomatic mission for your destination.
Tourist visa: not required
Business visa: required
Student visa: required
Canadians intending to conduct business in Guatemala or wishing to stay in Guatemala for a period exceeding 6 months require a visa.
Ensure that your passport is stamped on entry. When entering Guatemala by land or sea, you may have to seek out an immigration official to stamp your passport. If you fail to present an entry-stamped passport when departing Guatemala, you may be fined and experience delays.
Central America-4 Border Control Agreement
Under the terms of the Central America-4 Border Control Agreement (C-4), Canadian tourists, once they have entered any one of the C-4 countries— El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua—may travel for a period of up to 90 days within all four without further entry and exit formalities at border immigration checkpoints. The 90-day period begins at the traveller’s first point of entry, where their passport will be first stamped.
You can expect to be fined if you exceed the 90-day period. An extension of up to 90 days is permitted once a year. If you are in Guatemala and the 90-day limit is set to expire, you must request an extension and pay the required fee at the Guatemala Directorate General of Migration. The length of the extension is at the discretion of immigration authorities.
Guatemala Directorate General of Migration (in Spanish)
You will have to pay an airport departure tax of US$30 (which may be included in the price of the plane ticket) and a security tax of US$3 upon your departure. They are payable in cash only.
Children and travel
Learn about travel with children.
Learn about potential entry requirements related to yellow fever (vaccines section).
- Zika virus: Advice for travellers - January 17, 2019
Be sure that your routine vaccines, as per your province or territory, are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Some of these vaccines include: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, varicella (chickenpox), influenza and others.
Vaccines to Consider
You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health professional about which ones are right for you.
Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread through contaminated food and water or contact with an infected person. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.
Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment, sharing needles, tattooing, acupuncture or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.
Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or by touching objects and surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus. Get the flu shot.
Outbreaks of measles are ongoing.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that can cause serious complications for some people.
You are at increased risk of measles infection if you have not had the illness or if you are not up to date on your vaccinations.
Rabies is a deadly illness spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from an infected animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (e.g., are children, have an occupational risk, or in close contact with animals, including free roaming dogs in communities).
Yellow Fever - Country Entry Requirements
Yellow fever is a disease caused by a flavivirus from the bite of an infected mosquito.
Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.
- There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
- Proof of vaccination is required if you are coming from or have transited through an airport of a country where yellow fever occurs.
- Vaccination is not recommended.
- Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care professional.
- There is currently a shortage of the yellow fever vaccine in Canada. It is important for travellers to contact a designated Yellow Fever Vaccination Centre well in advance of their trip to ensure that the vaccine is available.
About Yellow Fever
Yellow Fever Vaccination Centres in Canada
* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Food and Water-borne Diseases
Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.
In some areas in Central America and Mexico, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Central America and Mexico. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!
- Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
- Risk of developing travellers' diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor standards of hygiene and sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
- The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.
Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among children, travellers going to rural areas, travellers visiting friends and relatives or those travelling for a long period of time.
Travellers visiting regions with a risk typhoid, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should speak to a health care professional about vaccination.
Insects and Illness
In some areas in Central America and Mexico, certain insects carry and spread diseases like American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), chikungunya, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), West Nile virus, and Zika virus.
Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.
There is currently a risk of chikungunya in this country. Chikungunya is a virus spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. Chikungunya can cause a viral disease that typically causes fever and pain in the joints. In some cases, the joint pain can be severe and last for months or years.
Protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times. There is no vaccine available for chikungunya.
- Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.
- Mosquitoes carrying dengue typically bite during the daytime, particularly around sunrise and sunset.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine or medication that protects against dengue fever.
Zika virus infection
Zika virus infection is a risk in this country. Recent or ongoing cases of Zika virus have been reported in this country.
All travellers should protect themselves from mosquito bites day and night.
Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects such as abnormally small heads (microcephaly). Zika virus can also be sexually transmitted.
Travellers who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy:
- Should avoid travel to this country.
- If travel cannot be avoided follow strict mosquito bite prevention measures.
- Talk to your health care professional about the risk of Zika infection in pregnancy.
- Use condoms correctly or avoid having sex for the duration of the pregnancy, if you are pregnant and your partner has travelled to this country.
- Female travellers: wait at least 2 months after returning from this country or after onset of illness due to Zika (whichever is longer) before trying to conceive (get pregnant) to ensure that any possible Zika virus infection has cleared your body.
- Male travellers: wait 3 months after returning from this country or after onset of illness due to Zika (whichever is longer) before trying to conceive. Use condoms or avoid having sex during that time.
See travel health notice: Zika virus: Advice for travellers
- There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
- Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no vaccine against malaria.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in enclosed air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider pre-treating clothing and travel gear with insecticides and sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet.
- Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care professional or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.
Animals and Illness
Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in Central America and Mexico, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.
Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.
Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.
For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.
Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care professional.
High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.
Medical services and facilities
Private hospitals and clinics in urban areas offer care equivalent to facilities in Canada and are much better staffed and equipped than public or rural facilities.
Physicians and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for medical care.
When climbing volcanoes, you may experience health problems caused by high altitude. Altitude sickness can be life threatening and may require medical evacuation from the area.
Make sure you get travel insurance that includes coverage for medical evacuation and hospital stays.
Travel health and safety
Bring sufficient quantities of prescription drugs with you, as well as the physician’s prescription. Keep your medications in their original containers, and pack them in carry-on luggage.
Keep in Mind...
The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.
Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.
Laws and culture
You must abide by local laws.
Learn about what you should do and how we can help if you are arrested or detained abroad.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are severe. Convicted offenders can expect extended jail sentences.
Dress and behaviour
Guatemala has many different and firmly held local beliefs and customs. Dress conservatively, behave discreetly, and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities.
Imports and exports
Guatemalan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning import or export of items such as antiquities and artefacts.
It is illegal to photograph official buildings, military installations and establishments, the Presidential Palace and airports.
While you can drive in Guatemala with your valid Canadian driver’s licence, an International Driving Permit is recommended.
If you enter Guatemala with a vehicle, you must comply with the deadline for leaving the country, which is indicated on the temporary importation form provided by Guatemalan customs at the port of entry. If you fail to leave Guatemala with your vehicle by the expiry date, you will be subject to a fine for the extra days.
Penalties for drinking and driving are severe. If you are found driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you will be subject to arrest and detention.
If you are involved in a driving accident that results in injury or death, you may be taken into custody until responsibility for the accident is determined.
More about the International Driving Permit
Dual citizenship is legally recognized in Guatemala.
If you are a Canadian citizen, but also a citizen of Guatemala, our ability to offer you consular services may be limited while you're there. You may also be subject to different entry/exit requirements.
General information for travellers with dual citizenship
If you plan on buying property, or making other investments in Guatemala, seek legal advice in Canada and in Guatemala Do so before making commitments. Related disputes could take time and be costly to resolve.
The currency in Guatemala is the Guatemalan quetzal (GTQ).
It is not possible to exchange Canadian dollars in Guatemala. Some ATMs will accept Canadian debit cards with a four-digit PIN. Canadian debit cards with a five-digit PIN are not widely accepted.
U.S. currency is readily convertible to local funds at most major banks. Don’t accept torn or stained notes or notes that have been written on, which can be difficult to exchange.
Natural disasters and climate
Forest fires occur often between November and June. Although they can happen throughout the country, the Petén area is usually the most affected. In the event of a major fire, follow all evacuation orders and monitor local media for updated information.
Hurricanes usually occur from mid-May to the end of November. During this period, even small tropical storms can quickly develop into major hurricanes.
These severe storms can put you at risk and hamper the provision of essential services.
If you decide to travel to a coastal area during the hurricane season:
- know that you expose yourself to serious safety risks
- be prepared to change your travel plans on short notice, including cutting short or cancelling your trip
- stay informed of the latest regional weather forecasts
- carry emergency contact information for your airline or tour operator
- follow the advice and instructions of local authorities
- Hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones and monsoons
- Large-scale emergencies abroad
- Active storm tracking and hurricane watches and warnings - United States’ National Hurricane Center
The rainy season extends from mid-May to mid-November. Flash floods and mudslides are common occurrences and cause temporary road closures.
Guatemala is located in an active seismic zone. Earthquakes can occur. Tsunamis can also affect coastal areas. In the event of a natural disaster, follow the advice of the local authorities.
- Earthquakes (Government of Canada)
- Tsunami warning system (U.S. National Weather Service)
- Latest earthquakes (U.S. Geological Survey)
The Fuego, Pacaya and Santiaguito volcanoes are consistently moderately active, which is considered to be within normal parameters.
Monitor levels of volcanic activity through the local media and change travel arrangements accordingly. Hiking on volcanoes should be done only with a reputable tour company that tracks volcanic activity. Should volcanic activity increase:
- Follow any evacuation orders and the instructions of local authorities
- Monitor local news
- Contact your airline or tour operator to determine if the situation could affect your travel plans
Emergency services exist but may be subject to certain limitations. In case of emergency, dial:
- police: 110 / 120
- medical assistance: 122 / 123
- firefighters: 122 / 123
Guatemala City - Embassy of Canada
For emergency consular assistance, call the Embassy of Canada to Guatemala, in Guatemala City, and follow the instructions. At any time, you may also contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.
The decision to travel is your choice and you are responsible for your personal safety abroad. The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provides credible and timely information in its Travel Advice to enable you to make well-informed decisions regarding your travel abroad. In the event of a large-scale emergency, every effort will be made to provide assistance. However, there may be constraints that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide services.
See Large-scale emergencies abroad for more information.
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