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Guatemala - Exercise a high degree of caution
Exercise a high degree of caution in Guatemala due to the violence, roadblocks, strikes and demonstrations that occur periodically 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
Safety and security
Guatemala has one of the highest rates of violent crime in Latin America, but a very low arrest and detention rate. Most incidents are drug and gang related and occur in and around Guatemala City, in other major cities and in rural areas. Drug-related armed attacks occur in southeastern departments close to the borders with El Salvador and Honduras and along the overall border with Mexico, notably in the southwest department of San Marcos.
Handguns and other small arms are very common. Criminals often operate in groups. Foreigners are often targets of robbery, carjacking, armed assault, sexual assault and rape. Crime levels tend to increase during the holiday seasons. Always maintain a high level of personal security awareness.
Do not display signs of affluence, especially in airports. Avoid travelling alone (especially late at night) and avoid low-cost hotels with poor security. 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 sufficient funds for the day. Never display laptop computers, mobile phones or other electronic devices. Exercise extreme caution when using automated banking machines (ABMs). If you are threatened by robbers, stay calm and do not resist: injuries and deaths have occurred when victims have resisted.
Vigilante justice has increased in rural areas, resulting in lynching suspected child kidnappers and other suspected criminals. Avoid large crowds and gatherings because of the potential for violence.
Demonstrations and political tensions
Demonstrations have the potential to suddenly turn violent with little or no notice. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.
Participation in demonstrations by foreigners may result in detention, expulsion, and the denial of future entry into Guatemala.
Travel by road can be risky. Local motorists generally have little regard for traffic regulations and do not follow safe driving practices or vehicle maintenance. While most roads in urban areas are in fair condition, secondary streets and rural roads are poorly maintained and poorly lit. Steep, winding mountain roads and a lack of road signs present additional dangers.
There is a high risk of robbery, especially on highways. Only undertake intercity travel by car during daylight hours, preferably in a convoy of two or more vehicles. Always drive with car windows closed and doors locked.
Incidents of armed robberies through vehicle interception, and perpetrated by criminals posing as police, are increasing, notably on the Inter-American (or Pan-American) Highway (CA-1) and the Pacific Coast Highway (CA-2), and when travelling close to the border with El Salvador. Exercise extreme caution if you must travel on the CA-2 highway in the department of San Marcos (up to and including the border with Mexico) and do so during daylight hours only, due to an increase in violent incidents.
The Guatemalan Tourism Institute, INGUAT, has a dedicated program aimed at tourist assistance, known as PROATUR, which can be reached by telephone at +502 2421 2810 or 1500 when calling from within Guatemala. Services are provided in English and Spanish. PROATUR can assist in arranging, with the National Police, security escorts for any road travel across the country. This arrangement must be done ahead of time. Tourists can request this service by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. While the service is free, you should expect to pay gratuities and gasoline.
The Inter-American (or Pan-American) Highway (CA-1) and the road from Guatemala City to the Atlantic Ocean are hazardous because of heavy traffic.
Off-road travel in the remote highlands should be undertaken only after seeking advice from PROATUR or through a tour organized by a registered travel agency. INGUAT can confirm this registration and the assigned tour guide credentials.
Avoid travelling on the isolated, small dirt roads near Lake Atitlán and on the road from Godinez to Panajachel, as they are rarely patrolled by police.
Roadblocks erected due to 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, so it is highly recommended to amend you travel plans (for example, stay overnight in a safe lodging located in a major town, instead of travelling after dark.
When entering the country by land, allow enough time for border formalities so that you can arrive in a major town before dark. Many border posts close for lunch and at dusk. Avoid exchanging money at border crossings, unless absolutely necessary, as doing so has sometimes resulted in armed robbery.
Military and police forces conduct random vehicle searches along the border with Mexico.
Local and intercity public buses are not safe. Problems include mechanical unreliability, the use of unlicensed drivers, frequent major road accidents and crime on board. Pickpocketing and armed robbery are daily occurrences.
Public buses are frequently targeted by gangs who hurl grenades or fire shots as a way of ensuring compliance to extortion demands or to settle accounts. Drivers have been the targets of violence, including murder. Passengers have been subject to armed robbery, sometimes by fellow passengers.
Do not travel on local public buses (“chicken buses”). Tourist shuttles travelling between popular destinations have been targeted by hijackers in the past.
Only travel on intercity buses during daylight hours and with reliable tour companies, as fraud has occurred.
Ensure that transportation and tour providers are reputable and reliable before booking. PROATUR or hotel staff can provide you with advice on the safest companies. In Guatemala City, only use official taxis and make detailed arrangements for the return trip. Advice on reliable taxi companies may also be obtained by inquiring with PROATUR or hotel staff.
We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.
General security information
Tourists may obtain up-to-date security information through the Guatemalan Tourism Institute, INGUAT (service available in English). INGUAT has a dedicated program aimed at tourist assistance, known as PROATUR, which can be reached by telephone at +502 2421 2810 or 1500 when calling from within Guatemala.
When visiting volcanoes and other tourist sites, you should travel in groups and with a reputable tour company. Sexual assaults and robberies can occur, especially when security personnel normally deployed on these sites are absent. Stay informed of security conditions in the areas you plan to visit.
Do not approach or photograph children and women, since many people in Guatemala fear that children are being kidnapped for adoption or for theft of vital organs. Violent incidents involving foreigners have occurred.
Cruise-ship passengers who book a tour or make other travel arrangements should ensure that the company is recognized by the cruise line. Confirm your itinerary with the ship and port authority, as well as with PROATUR.
Exercise caution when swimming off the Pacific coast, and seek information about water conditions such as strong currents, riptides and undertow. Avoid deserted and unpatrolled beaches.
It may be difficult to obtain police assistance. Police forces lack resources and are often corrupt. National police officers do not speak English. PROATUR officers are able to provide assistance in English.
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 for the expected duration of your stay in Guatemala. You must also comply with entry requirements for the United States, if transiting through that country. For more information, consult the Canada Border Services Agency.
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
Ensure that your passport is stamped on entry. When entering Guatemala by land or sea, you may have to seek out the immigration official to stamp your passport. Those who fail to present an entry-stamped passport when departing Guatemala will incur delays and fines.
Canadians intending to conduct business in Guatemala or wishing to stay in Guatemala for a period exceeding six months require a visa.
An airport departure tax (which may be included in the price of the plane ticket) and a security tax of US$3 are charged upon departure and are payable in cash only.
Central America-4 Border Control Agreement
Under the terms of the Central America-4 Border Control Agreement (C-4), Canadian tourists may travel within any of the C-4 countries—Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala—for a period of up to 90 days, without completing entry and exit formalities at border immigration checkpoints. This period begins at the first point of entry to any of the C-4 countries. Travellers who exceed the 90-day limit can expect to pay a fine. 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 this extension and pay the required fee at the General Directorate of Migration in Guatemala. The length of the extension is at the discretion of immigration authorities.
Children and travel
Learn about travel with children.
Learn about potential entry requirements related to yellow fever (vaccines section).
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 provider 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.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease and is common in most parts of the world.
Be sure your measles vaccination is up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
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 (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).
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 provider.
- 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 pediatric travellers, travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives or travelling for a long period of time. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should speak to a health care provider 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 an outbreak of chikungunya in this country. Chikungunya is a viral disease spread through the bite of an infected mosquito that typically causes fever and pain in the joints. Protect yourself from mosquito bites, particularly around sunrise and sunset. 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.
- The risk of dengue is higher during the daytime, particularly at 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 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 before trying to conceive (get pregnant) to ensure that any possible Zika virus infection has cleared your body.
- Male travellers: wait 6 months after returning from this country 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 provider 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.
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 provider.
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 equivalent care to those 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.
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
Laws & 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 strict. Convicted offenders can expect extended jail sentences.
Importing or exporting items such as antiquities and artefacts may be subject to strict regulations. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Guatemala in Canada for information and advice.
People found driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs are subject to arrest and detention.
If you are travelling 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 have to pay taxes.
An International Driving Permit is recommended.
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.
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.
The currency is the Guatemalan quetzal (GTQ). It is not possible to exchange Canadian dollars (cash or traveller’s cheques) in Guatemala. U.S. currency and traveller’s cheques are readily convertible to local funds at most major banks. Do not accept torn notes, which can be difficult to exchange. Credit cards are widely accepted. Do not exchange large amounts of currency with informal money changers. Some ABMs will accept Canadian debit cards with a four-digit personal identification number. Canadian debit cards with a five-digit personal identification number are not widely accepted; it is preferable to carry a four-digit personal identification number card.
Natural disasters and climate
Natural disasters & climate
Forest fires often occur from November to June. Even though they can happen anywhere, they usually affect the Petén area. In the event of a major fire, you should follow the instructions of local emergency services, particularly with regard to evacuation procedures. Monitor local media for updated information.
Hurricane and rainy seasons
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, causing temporary road closures. You should keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.
Guatemala is located in an active seismic zone. Familiarize yourself with earthquake security measures in hotels and public and private buildings, and follow the advice of local authorities in the event of an earthquake.
The Fuego, Pacaya and Santiaguito volcanoes present consistently moderate activity, which is considered to be within normal parameters. Monitor levels of volcanic activity through the local media and amend travel arrangements accordingly. Hiking on volcanoes should be done only with a reputable tour company that tracks volcanic activity. Follow the advice of local authorities in the event of an explosion or eruption.
National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (CONRAD) – Government of Guatemala (in Spanish)
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 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. We take the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provide credible and timely information in our Travel Advice to enable you to make well-informed decisions regarding your travel abroad.
The content on this page is provided for information only. While we make every effort to give you correct information, it is provided on an "as is" basis without warranty of any kind, express or implied. The Government of Canada does not assume responsibility and will not be liable for any damages in connection to the information provided.
If you need consular assistance while abroad, we will make every effort to help you. However, there may be constraints that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide services.
Learn more about consular services.
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