Section : Safety and Security
Violent criminal activity has been a problem in Guatemala for years including numerous murders, rapes, and armed assaults against foreigners. The police force is young, inexperienced, and under-funded, and the judicial system is weak, overcrowded, and inefficient. Criminals, armed with an impressive array of weapons, know that there is little chance they will be caught and punished for their crimes. The following recommendations will help residents and visitors alike to increase their safety:
- Avoid gatherings of agitated people. Guatemalan citizen frustration with crime and a lack of appropriate judicial remedies has led to violent incidents of vigilantism, including lynchings, especially in more isolated, rural areas. Attempting to intervene puts one at risk of attacks from mobs.
- Avoid close contact with children, including taking their photographs, especially in rural areas with predominantly indigenous populations. Such contact can be viewed with deep alarm and may provoke panic and violence. Rumors of foreigners stealing children to sell resurface periodically and can provoke a violent response towards strangers.. Foreign tourists have been attacked and killed by mobs, including a Japanese tourist in the village of Todos Santos in 2000.
- Keep informed of possible demonstrations by following the local news and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides. Large demonstrations occasionally occur throughout Guatemala, often with little or no advance notice, and they can cause serious traffic disruptions. While most demonstrations are peaceful, increasing numbers are turning violent, and travelers should avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place. The use of roadblocks and/or blocking of public facilities has increased, and demonstrators may prevent tourists caught behind the blockades from leaving.
- Strong currents, riptides, and undertow along Guatemala's Pacific Coast beaches pose a serious threat to even the strongest swimmers. Signs warning of treacherous surf are rare and confined mostly to private beaches owned by hotels. Lifeguards are rarely present on beaches.
- Tourists planning to climb Pacaya and Agua volcanoes during Guatemala's rainy season (May through October) should plan their climb for the morning hours when it is less likely that thunderstorms will occur. Climbers should monitor the weather situation and return to the base of the volcano as quickly as safely possible if thunderstorms gather. A Canadian tourist was killed by a lightening strike while climbing Pacaya in June 2002. Tourists have been targeted by armed robbers while climbing these popular destinations. Climbing in groups reduces, but does not eliminate the risk of assault.
More information about tourist security is available from the Tourist Protection Office of INGUAT (the Guatemalan Tourist Board) at 4 Calle 4-37, Zone 9; telephone (502) 331-1333, extensions 241 and 243; fax (502) 331-8893. Tourist groups may request security assistance from INGUAT, attention: Coordinator of the National Tourist Assistance 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, giving the itinerary, names of travelers, and model and color of vehicle in which they will be traveling.