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.
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