Dangers & Annoyances
Guatemala is a mostly safe destination but crime can happen.
- The most frequently reported type of nasty incident involves robbery on walking trails.
- The days of robbers targeting tourist buses out on the open highway seem to be thankfully in the past, although some tourists in rental cars have been targeted.
- The crime you're most likely to become a victim of involves pickpocketing, bag-snatching, bag-slitting and the like in crowded streets, markets, bus stations and on buses, but also in empty, dark city streets.
- There are dedicated tourist police in Guatemala City and Antigua. Elsewhere, Proatur offers 24-hour assistance to tourists and is a good initial point of contact if you get into difficulty.
- A not uncommon scenario is for someone to spray ketchup or some other sticky liquid on your clothes. An accomplice then appears to help you clean up the mess and robs you in the process. Other methods of distraction, such as dropping a purse or coins, or someone appearing to faint, are also used by pickpockets and bag snatchers.
- At bus stations, a 'priest' dashes up and on establishing that you speak English, tells you that he needs money as his wife has urgent medical needs and he can't even afford the bus ticket home.
- ATM card cloning happens in Guatemala. Card reading devices attach to the ATM (often inside the slot where you insert your card) and once they have your data, proceed to drain your account. The only way to avoid it is to use ATMs that cannot be tampered with easily (inside supermarkets or shopping malls). The ATMs most prone to tampering are the ones in the little unlocked room at the front of a bank. You should never have to enter your PIN number to gain access to an ATM room.
- In Lívingston, you might be approached by someone asking for donations to fund a Garifuna school or orphanage, that exists only in the story the scammer is spinning you.
- It's best to travel and arrive in daylight hours. If that's not possible, travel at night using 1st-class buses and catch a taxi to your hotel once you arrive.
- Only carry the money, cards, checks and valuables that you need. Leave the rest in a sealed, signed envelope in your hotel's safe, and obtain a receipt for the envelope.
- Don't flaunt jewelry, cameras, smart phones or valuable-looking watches. Keep your wallet or purse out of view.
- On buses keep your important valuables with you, and keep a tight hold on them.
- Try to use ATMs in secure environments such as inside banks, shops or hotels, and be aware that card skimming is a reality here.
- Hiking in large groups and/or with a police escort reduces the risk of robbery.
- Resisting or trying to flee from robbers usually makes the situation worse – hand over what's asked for.
- Hiking on active volcanoes obviously has an element of risk. Get the latest story before you head out. In the wet season, hike in the morning before rain and possible thunderstorms set in.
- Be careful, especially in rural areas, when talking to small children: always ask permission to take photographs, and generally try not to put yourself in any situation that might be misinterpreted.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots. Bear in mind that these sites are updated occasionally and are obliged to err on the side of caution – the vast majority of travelers visit Guatemala and don't experience any of the reported problems.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (https://travel.gc.ca/travelling)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)