Where is Guatemala located?

What countries border Guatemala?

Guatemala Weather

What is the current weather in Guatemala?


Guatemala Facts and Culture

What is Guatemala famous for?

  • Food and Recipes: Tortillas are often used as a scoop for some foods. Other foods are eaten with the hands, but utensils are... More
  • Family: The father is the head of the family, but the wife yields great influence over the household. Unmarried adults live... More
  • Fashion: In cities, people generally wear clothing fashion's from the West. However, the rural Maya have retained traditional dress. Clothing may... More
  • Visiting: Visiting is important to building strong relationships with relatives and friends. Not visiting frequently can be an insult, as it... More
  • Recreation: Football (soccer) is the national pastime. Fiestas are a popular form of entertainment. Almost every town has a marimba orchestra... More
  • Cultural Attributes: Guatemalans are friendly and humble. Personal criticism is taken seriously and should be avoided. Punctuality is admired but people are... More
  • Dating: Girls are chaperoned by family members close relatives. Young men and women living within larger cities typically begin... More
  • Diet: Corn tortillas are eaten with every meal. Other foods include black beans, rice, tamales (cornmeal or rice dough stuffed with... More

Guatemala Facts

What is the capital of Guatemala?

Capital Guatemala City
Government Type presidential republic
Currency GTQ; USD
Total Area 42,042 Square Miles
108,889 Square Kilometers
Location Central America, bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between El Salvador and Mexico, and bordering the Gulf of Honduras (Caribbean Sea) between Honduras and Belize
Language Spanish 60%, Amerindian languages 40% (23 officially recognized Amerindian languages, including Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca)
GDP - real growth rate 3.8%
GDP - per capita (PPP) $7,900.00 (USD)

Guatemala Demographics

What is the population of Guatemala?

Ethnic Groups Mestizo (mixed Amerindian-Spanish or assimilated Amerindian - in local Spanish called Ladino), approximately 55%, Amerindian or predominantly Amerindian, approximately 43%, whites and others 2%
Nationality Adjective Guatemalan
Nationality Noun Guatemalan(s)
Population 17,153,288
Population Growth Rate 1.91%
Population in Major Urban Areas GUATEMALA CITY (capital) 1.168 million
Predominant Language Spanish 60%, Amerindian languages 40% (23 officially recognized Amerindian languages, including Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca)
Urban Population 49.8%

Guatemala Government

What type of government does Guatemala have?

  • Executive Branch: chief of state: President Alejandro GIAMMATTEI (since 14 January 2020); Vice President Cesar Guillermo CASTILLO Reyes (since 14 January 2020);... More
  • Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal; note - active duty members of the armed forces and police by law cannot vote... More
  • Citizenship: citizenship by birth: yes citizenship by descent: yes dual citizenship recognized: yes residency requirement for naturalization: 5 years with no absences of six... More
  • National Holiday: Independence Day, 15 September (1821) More
  • Constitution: history: several previous; latest adopted 31 May 1985, effective 14 January 1986; suspended and reinstated in 1994 amendments: proposed by the... More
  • Independence: 15 September 1821 (from Spain) More

Guatemala Geography

What environmental issues does Guatemala have?

  • Overview: Guatemala is the most northern and populous of the five Central American countries. Guatemalan coastlines cover about 200 miles... More
  • Climate: Guatemala City's rainy season is May through October, and its dry season November through April. Temperatures are generally moderate during... More
  • Border Countries: Belize 266 km, El Salvador 203 km, Honduras 256 km, Mexico 962 km More
  • Environment - Current Issues: deforestation in the Peten rainforest; soil erosion; water pollution More
  • Environment - International Agreements: party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the... More
  • Terrain: mostly mountains with narrow coastal plains and rolling limestone plateau (Peten) More

Guatemala Economy

How big is the Guatemala economy?

Guatemala News & Current Events

What current events are happening in Guatemala?
Source: Google News

Interesting Guatemala Facts

What unique things can you discover about Guatemala?

  • An important family event is the quinceanos, the party given to celebrate a child’s 15th birthday, the year they achieve adulthood. Quinceanos, birthday parties and other events such as weddings often feature pinatas, hanging figurines stuffed with treats and batted until bursting by blindfolded gues
  • At fiestas, dancers sometimes perform pieces that act out historical events. In the Dance of the Conquerors, performers wear masks with pink skin and large noses to represent Europeans. The Dance of the Volcano reenacts a battle between the Spanish and Indians near the volcano Agua during the Conquest.
  • Cocoa beans were used as money in ancient Guatemala. Counterfeiters were at work even in those days: some people removed the insides of the beans and filled the beanskins with clay.
  • During festival seasons, Guatemalans enjoy flying kites, Barriletes or cometas are flown yearly on November 1 (All Saints’ Day) some places . Made with hundreds of sheets of tissue paper and bamboo poles, with rope and old clothes for tails, these handmade kites can be up to six meters long and require four to six people for handling.
  • For many Indians, the Christian cross corresponds to the ancient Maya symbol of the four directions of the sky.
  • Guatemala has restaurants and also comedors, which are small cafés without formal menus. Diners are able to view and select the food that is available for that day.
  • Guatemalan volcanoes can be very helpful: the town of Fuentes Georginas has hot baths and steam rooms heated entirely by volcanic heat.
  • Guatemala’s name is a Spanish corruption of the Nahoa (Mexican) word coactlmoctl-lan, meaning “land of the snake-eating bird,” a phrase that refers to the country’s eagle.
  • In Guatemala, lemons are green and limes are yellow.
  • Lying northwest of Guatemala City, Lake Atitlán is famous for its beauty.
  • Mayan weavers use the indidenous telar de mano or backstrap loom to make items such as scarves, blouses and blankets. Made of sticks, the loom has a backstrap that secures it around the weaver’s hips. The weaver sits or squats in a position that gives tension to the loom’s strings.
  • Mayans are born under the sign of a protective animal or nahual, who helps them communicate with nature throughout life. Children lean about their nahual between the ages of 10 and 12. Various personality traits are attributed to people because of correspondence to their particular nahual.
  • Most Guatemalans have two last names, but only the first is used in speech. For example, Humberto Urruaquín Ixcán would be called Señor Urruaquín, while his wife Maria Majú n de Urruaquín would be called Señora de Urruaquín.
  • On Immaculate Conception (December 8) and the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe (December 12), people perform loas, short plays in which the Virgin defeats the devil.
  • Some homes still have an outdoor steam-bath hut or temaxcal, used since ancient times. The hut has an outer adobe shell around an inner stone structure. Bathers light a fire inside to heat the stones, then throw water against them to produce steam.
  • Some Indians believe that illnesses can be caused by ojo¸ the evil eye or stare. Infants and pregnant or menstruating women are thought to be especially susceptible. Babies are kept away from strangers or outfitted with a tight hat to ward off the ojo.
  • Some Indians believe that illnesses can be caused by ojo¸ the evil eye or stare. Infants and pregnant or menstruating women are thought to be especially susceptible. Babies are kept away from strangers or outfitted with a tight hat to ward off the ojo.
  • The Guatemala highlands produce some of the world’s best coffee, which is available in Canada. Much labour is still done on plantations by hand.
  • The indigenous Mayan leader Rigoberta Menchú was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her work in heightening worldwide awareness of her people’s situation.
  • The national symbol of Guatemala is the quetzal - a bird that signifies freedom because it dies in captivity.
  • Tikal National Park in the Petén region houses some of Guatemala’s most spectacular ancient architecture. At 70 meters, the pyramids of Tikal are the highest in the Americas and are still among the highest structures in Central America. Achaeologists have reconstructed 130 square kilometers of the ancient city, including over 300 buildings and temples.
  • When a child loses a tooth they put the tooth under their pillow and wait for El Raton to leave some money.

Watch video on Guatemala

What can you learn about Guatemala in this video?

Guatemala - Land of Eternal Spring! in 4k YouTube, Devin Graham

Guatemala Travel Information

What makes Guatemala a unique country to travel to?

Country Description

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.

Crime

To decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim, do not display items of value such as laptops, iPods, tablet computers, 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. Do not resist if you are being robbed. Victims have been killed when they resisted attack or refused to give up their money or other valuables. Assailants are often armed with guns and do not hesitate to use them if you resist.

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.

A number of travelers have experienced carjackings and armed robberies after just having arrived on international flights, most frequently in the evening. In the most common scenario, tourists or business travelers who land at the airport after dark are held up by armed men as their vehicle departs the airport, but similar incidents have occurred at other times of the day. Private vehicles, taxis and shuttle buses have all been targeted. Typically, the assailants steal money, passports, and luggage, and in some but not all cases, the assailants steal the vehicle as well. In some cases, assailants have been wearing full or partial police uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles, indicating that some elements of the police might be involved. Armed robberies have occurred within minutes of a tourist’s vehicle having been stopped by the police. Recently, many of these attacks have taken place far from the airport, just as travelers were arriving at their homes, or in less busy areas of the city. Victims who did not resist the attackers were not physically injured.

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 contact INGUAT by e-mail. 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 (Spanish only). 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.

Taxis: Hailing taxis on the street in Guatemala City is discouraged. Taxi Seguro can be reached at 2312-4243, but may not always be available, especially late at night. Taxi Amarillo Express is a radio-dispatch taxi service, and can be reached by dialing 1766. The Guatemalan tourist assistance agency, PROATUR, may be able to provide additional information, and can be reached by dialing 1500. Some best practices for travel safety include:

Coordinate arrival times with those picking up passengers, minimize time spent standing outside in the airport passenger pick-up area, and do not walk out of the airport with valuables in plain sight.

Carry laptops inconspicuously in a backpack or other carry-on luggage.

Avoid using electronic devices in traffic or leaving purses on seats in plain sight.

Buses: Avoid low-priced intra- and inter-city public buses (commonly recycled U.S. school buses). They are often attacked by armed robbers and are poorly maintained and dangerously driven. In the first three months of 2012, nine bus drivers were killed and in 2011, 91 bus drivers were murdered in robberies staged by holdup gangs targeting public transportation, both urban and inter-city. Outside the capital, shuttles and buses carrying tourists have been stopped and robbed, including incidents on the road to Tikal. 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 use of modern inter-city buses somewhat improves security and safety; however, several travelers have been attacked on first-class buses on highway CA-2 near the border areas with both Mexico and El Salvador, and on highways CA-1 and CA-9 near the border with El Salvador, and in the highlands between Quetzaltenango and Sololá. Be cautious with personal items such as backpacks, fanny packs, and passports while riding buses, as tourists’ possessions are a favorite target of thieves.

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. Embassy employees are discouraged from driving at night. Due to the dangers of travelling Guatemalan highways with an abundance of valuables, U.S. Embassy employees are prohibited from driving from or through Mexico and Belize to their assignment in Guatemala and must have their possessions shipped in.

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 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, 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. However, tourist police (POLITUR) patrols have significantly reduced the incidence of violent crime inside the park and there have been no reports of armed assaults on tourists there in the past year. 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.

Flat-tire Scam: In one popular scam, robbers place a nail in a parked vehicle’s tire. The vehicle is then followed by the robbers who pose as “good Samaritans” when the tire becomes flat and the victims pull to the side of the road. While “help” is being rendered, the contents of the car are stolen, often without the knowledge of the victims. However, in some cases, the robbers have threatened the tourists with weapons. Parking areas in and around the Guatemala City International Airport are particularly prone to this crime.

Parking Lot Scam: Victims are approached in a hotel, restaurant or other public place by an individual claiming that there is some sort of problem with his or the would-be victim’s automobile in the parking lot. On the way to investigate the “problem,” usually in a remote or concealed area near the parking lot, the robber pulls a gun on the victim and demands cash, credit cards and other valuables.

Swimming and Boating Safety: Travelers should be aware that basic safety precautions commonly required in the United States for swimming, boating and other outdoor activities may not be observed in Guatemala. Multiple boaters in the Rio Dulce area of the Department of Izabal have been victimized in violent armed attacks while on their boats.

Indigenous Areas: Indigenous activists have taken foreign tourists hostage in the Rio Dulce and Livingston area. Although all hostages have been 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.

Armed robberies are common in all areas of the country; persons carrying laptop computers and expensive cell phones are often targets. Areas that offer wi-fi computer services have been targeted. Several individuals have been killed and their laptops taken upon departure from these establishments after they were seen using their computers in public. Avoid carrying laptop cases or anything that resembles one, even if they do not contain laptops.

Pickpockets are active in all major cities and tourist sites, especially the central market and other parts of Zone 1 in Guatemala City. Pickpockets also are common throughout the country. For security reasons, the Embassy does not allow 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.

Use of ATMs: We strongly encourage you not to use ATMs. Scams involving attempts to acquire a victim’s ATM card and personal identification number (PIN) are common. Some sophisticated criminals have even placed electronic boxes outside ATM kiosks to record the PIN of unsuspecting victims who believe they must enter their PIN to gain entry to the ATM foyer. After recording the PIN, robbers then steal the owner’s ATM card to complete their crimes. There have been a number of incidents in which foreigners have been robbed immediately after making a large withdrawal from local banks. While complicity by bank employees is strongly suspected in these crimes, the police have only arrested credit card forgers. There are dozens of techniques scammers can use to rob victims of money and possessions. While most people mean no harm, always be cautious when strangers approach you for any reason or make unusual requests. Dozens of victims (mostly foreign tourists) have had their bank accounts emptied remotely from places such as Bogota, Lima, Caracas, and the Dominican Republic shortly after using their ATM cards at banks in Antigua and other places. Recently, U.S. Embassy employees have had money fraudulently taken from their accounts due to the theft of their ATM card information and pass-code.

Criminal Penalties

While in a foreign country, you are subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

If you break local laws in Guatemala, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go. Persons violating Guatemalan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Guatemala are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Pseudoephedrine is banned in Guatemala since it can be used in the manufacture of methamphetamines. Possession or distribution of drugs containing pseudoephedrine is illegal and can result in arrest of violators.

Arrest notifications in Guatemala:

While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, 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 or Consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Medical Facilities and Health Information

The full range of medical care is available in Guatemala City, but medical care outside 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.

Safety and Security

The U.S. Department of State rates the risk/threat of violent crime in Guatemala 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 are more likely to venture outside of predominantly tourist areas. Tourists seem to be largely shielded from the worst of the violence, and instead are targeted principally by pickpockets and purse-snatchers. HoweverU.S. tourists have also been victims of rapes, physical assaults, armed robberies and murders. For example, in February 2013, a female U.S. citizen reported being attacked by two men armed with a machete while walking on the road from San Pablo to San Juan at Lake Atitlan at 11:30 a.m.

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 designated 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.

HOMICIDES: The Government of Guatemala’s official release on crime statistics for the period January through June of 2013 showed a total of 2,736 murders, compared to a total of 2,449 over the same period in 2012, for an increase of 11%. This comes to a projected total of 5,472 murders for 2013 and makes Guatemala one of the more dangerous countries in the world. 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 problem. Since December 2008, 31 murders of U.S. citizens have been reported in Guatemala, including six in 2011. In 2012, six U.S. citizens were the victims of murder or attempted murder, three of which occurred in November and December.

MISSING PERSONS: At the same time the murder rate has decreased, the number of reported missing persons’ cases increased 156 percent from 2009 to 2012. In separate incidents in October and November of 2012, the families of two U.S. citizen males reported them missing. To date, their whereabouts have not been determined.

KIDNAPPING: During the first six months of 2013, there were a total of 24 reported kidnappings, compared to a total of 44 during the same period in 2012. Gang members are often well armed with sophisticated weaponry and have been known to use massive amounts of force to extort, kidnap and kill. Such events have occurred in Guatemala City and rural Guatemala. There have been “express” kidnappings in recent years, primarily in Guatemala City, in which kidnappers demand a relatively small ransom that they believe can be quickly gathered. U.S. citizens, although not specifically targeted, have been kidnap victims. Some kidnapping gangs are known to kill their victims whether or not the ransom is paid. In January 2012, a U.S. citizen was kidnapped in Santa Rosa and was reportedly killed when kidnappers did not get the demanded ransom. In August 2012, kidnappers seized a 17-year-old in Chiquimula; the child was eventually returned. In September 2013, a U.S. citizen was kidnapped while visiting family and was held for ransom for approximately two weeks before she was able to escape. In February, 2013, a 19-year-old dual U.S.–Guatemalan citizen female was kidnapped in a suburb of Guatemala City; she was released after 5 days in captivity. In total, six U.S. citizens were reported kidnapped in 2012, compared with three kidnappings in 2011, though it is important to keep in mind that many kidnappings are not reported to the authorities.

SEXUAL ASSAULTS: According to Guatemalan crime statistics, reports of sexual assault have increased dramatically in recent years. 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. Several U.S. citizens have been raped in Guatemala in recent years. Arrest and prosecution of assailants in sexual assault cases is uncommon at best and can be more difficult without private legal assistance.

CELL PHONE ROBBERIES: Reports of cell phone robberies received by the Guatemalan Telecommunications Superintendency (SIT) increased 40 percent from 2011 to 2012, with most of these robberies taking place by force or the threat of force. That translates into 142,745 cell phones in 2012, or one cell phone taken every four minutes. It is likely that some of the increase is due to an increase in reporting. Current data from the Government of Guatemala indicates that from January through July of 2013 approximately 10,500 cellular phones were stolen per month. In response, in September 2013 the Government of Guatemala passed new legislation punishing the theft of cellular phones by up to 15 years in prison and up to a $30,000 fine.

PERSONAL ROBBERIES: Theft, armed robbery, and carjacking are the most common problems encountered by U.S. citizens who visit Guatemala. No area of the city is immune to daytime assaults, including the upscale shopping, tourist, and residential areas of zones 10, 14, 15, and 16 in Guatemala City. Street robberies of pedestrians and motorists occur daily; in most instances these result only in the loss of cell phones, other small electronics, or cash, and do not turn violent unless the victims resist.

Robberies from occupied vehicles are becoming more common. A particularly troubling pattern is the use of motorcycles for armed robbery. Typically, two men on a motorcycle accost the driver of a car and demand the driver’s cell phone. Guatemalan law now mandates that only the operator is allowed on the motorcycle. The law also says that the motorcycle license plate must be printed on a sticker which is affixed to the back of the motorcycle driver's helmet. However, criminals in Guatemala have adapted tactics to include more than one motorcycle..

Leaving cars unattended in parking lots of fast food franchises can also invite break-ins in spite of the presence of armed guards. Make sure you leave the car just long enough to complete the meal.

Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are prevalent in major cities and tourist sites. Those who offer no resistance when confronted by armed thieves are usually not hurt. There have been numerous reported incidents of bank patrons being robbed outside banks after withdrawing large sums of money, suggesting possible complicity of bank personnel on the inside.

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.

RESIDENTIAL BREAK-INS: Home invasions by armed groups occur from time to time in upscale neighborhoods. Thieves gain access by enticing a resident to open the door for a delivery or by rushing in when family or staff open the door. Residential crime rates for the first four months of 2013 were down 8 percent compared to the same period in 2012.

FINANCIAL SCAMS: Extortion calls are commonplace, and many times originate within prisons. In recent years, the number of extortions has risen dramatically. In most cases, reporting the attempt to the police, changing the phone number and not responding to the threats will resolve the matter. However, cases involving gang members must be taken seriously as many gang members will not hesitate to back up their threats with violence.

GRANDPARENT SCAMS: There has been a recent increase in scams in which grandparents or older people receive phone calls claiming that their grandchildren or other young relatives have been arrested and are in custody in Guatemala. Typically the caller will claim that the grandchild (or other relative) urgently needs money for bail or for bribes (usually about $2,000). Before sending any money, recipients of the calls are urged to contact the grandchild in question (who most likely is not in Guatemala and may never have been) or the child’s parents to make sure you are not being scammed. If in doubt, call the U.S. Embassy at 011-(502) 2326-4501. Do not call the number the callers give you, as it will only help them reinforce the scam by having fictitious embassy officials answer the phone. For additional information, please read our information on International Financial Scams.

VEHICLE THEFTS: Carjackings and vehicle thefts continue to be a serious problem. There has also been a marked increase in commercial vehicle robberies over the past several years. Particularly attractive to thieves are trucks carrying shipments of electronics or gasoline.

DEMONSTRATIONS: Large demonstrations occur throughout Guatemala, often with little or no 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.

COUNTERFEIT GOODS: U.S. citizens are advised not to purchase counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.

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 avoid activities that might unintentionally violate a cultural or religious belief.

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 and they were not allowed to depart the country without judicial intervention. Such cases require the assistance of private local attorneys.

Common public transportation is by local brightly-painted recycled school buses, which serve almost every town in the country. Criminal activity and frequent fatal accidents, however, make the low-priced inter-city buses particularly dangerous. Modern inter-city buses offer some security from highway violence, but armed attacks are increasing, indicating that all buses are vulnerable. (See additional information in the CRIME section.)

Although city streets are 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 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.

Cars and trucks are often stalled or parked 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 cross walks.

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 remains commonplace.

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 April 2009, Guatemala passed a new transportation law primarily aimed to limit the number of individuals on motorcycles and mopeds. Under this new law, motorcycles and mopeds may carry only one person, the driver. In addition, motorcycle and moped drivers must wear a helmet and a vest. The helmet and vest must each have a reflective band that displays the motorcycle or moped’s license plate number to be visible from five meters away. The law is applicable in Guatemala City and the seven municipalities of the Department of Guatemala: Villa Nueva, Villa Canales, Mixco, Chinautla, Santa Catarina Pinula, San José Pinula, and San Miguel Petapa. It does not provide exceptions to tourists and non-residents. All individuals are subject to the law and non-compliance could result in fines ranging from approximately $65 to $3,125. The law also has provisions limiting the number of passengers in any vehicle to the number stated in the vehicle’s registration papers. Bicycles may only carry one passenger unless designed for more.

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