Location: Central America
Capital: Guatemala City
Time zone: GMT/UTC minus 6 hours
Daylight savings time: no
Current time: 04:35
Dialling code: +502
Internet suffix: .gt
Guatemala is a Central American country known for its ancient historical artefacts, biodiversity and volcanic activity.
Overall security situation: some issues of concern
Crime rate: very high
Murder rate: one of the highest in the world
Gun ownership levels: moderately high
Kidnapping hotspot: yes
Maritime piracy hotspot: no
Do landmines/unexploded munitions pose a significant risk in parts of the country: no
Guatemala suffers from a very high crime rate and extensive associated violence. Gun crime levels are problematic and the country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. This is by far the most significant security issue affecting travellers to the country.
Civil unrest poses a moderate risk. Some elements of society have grievances and demonstrations are frequent and often disruptive. Associated casualties are normally limited but sporadic violence can take place nonetheless.
Otherwise, terrorism poses a very low level of risk.
Aviation safety levels: standard
Annual road fatality rates: low
Vehicles drive on the: right
Infrastructure quality: poor
Urban ATM availability: moderate
Electricity supply: 120V 60Hz
Electricity supply reliability: poor
Plug types: A and B
Plug type A (2 flat pins, not grounded/earthed)
Plug type B (2 flat pins and 1 rounded pin, grounded/earthed, socket compatible with plug type A)
Is tap water drinkable: no
Healthcare quality: good healthcare provision
Infectious disease prevalence: moderate
Travellers should consult a medical practitioner prior to their trip but the following vaccines may be considered before travelling to the country, depending on factors such as specific destination, planned activities, intended time and length of stay as well as personal medical conditions (in some cases no additional vaccines may be required at all):
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B (not always needed)
- Rabies (usually only for long-term stays, or for those spending time in isolated areas or coming into contact with animals)
- Standard vaccinations (ie those commonly used in the developed world, such as diphtheria, measles, mumps, polio, rubella, tuberculosis and tetanus)
Malaria risk: low
Yellow fever presence: no
Dengue fever prevalence: frequent cases
Rabies prevalence: high risk
HIV prevalence in society: moderate
Hepatitis A prevalence: high
Hepatitis B prevalence: intermediate
Hepatitis E prevalence: not highly endemic
Cholera status: low risk
Chikungunya virus presence: present
Zika virus presence: recent outbreak(s) reported
Japanese encephalitis presence: no
Cutaneous leishmaniasis presence: endemic
Visceral leishmaniasis presence: endemic
Onchocerciasis presence: endemic
Schistosomiasis presence: none
Tick-borne encephalitis status: low/non-existent risk
Chagas disease presence: endemic
Typhoid fever presence: strongly endemic
African trypanosomiasis presence: none
Plague status: not thought to be present
Rift Valley fever status: not present
Lassa fever status: not present
Polio status: not endemic
Ebola outbreaks: no
Meningococcal meningitis hotspot: no
Climate: tropical; hot, humid in lowlands; cooler in highlands
Terrain: mostly mountains with narrow coastal plains and rolling limestone plateau
Natural disaster risk: one of the highest levels of risk in the world
Natural hazards: numerous volcanoes in mountains, with occasional violent earthquakes; landslides; Caribbean coast extremely susceptible to hurricanes and other tropical storms, especially between June and November
Tropical storms: common
Volcanic activity: significant volcanic activity in the Sierra Madre range; Santa Maria (elev. 3,772 m) has been deemed a Decade Volcano by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior, worthy of study due to its explosive history and close proximity to human populations; Pacaya (elev. 2,552 m), which erupted in May 2010 causing an ashfall on Guatemala City and prompting evacuations, is one of the country’s most active volcanoes with frequent eruptions since 1965; other historically active volcanoes include Acatenango, Almolonga, Atitlan, Fuego, and Tacana
Previous earthquake(s) with over 1,000 fatalities: yes
Government type: constitutional democratic republic
Socio-economic development score: 3/10 (low levels of socio-economic development)
Adult literacy rate: 81.5%
Unemployment rate: one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world
Civil liberties: some restrictions, usually mild
Investment rating: sub-investment grade / speculative grade / junk status
Corruption levels: fairly high
Same-sex sexual activity: legal
Death penalty: official punishment but not used in practice
Languages: Spanish (official) 60%, numerous indigenous languages 40%
Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed Amerindian-Spanish – in local Spanish called Ladino) and European 59.4%, K’iche 9.1%, Kaqchikel 8.4%, Mam 7.9%, Q’eqchi 6.3%, other Mayan 8.6%, indigenous non-Mayan 0.2%, other 0.1%
Beliefs: Roman Catholic, Protestant, indigenous Mayan beliefs
- The following advice has been compiled by travel safety specialists and ex-special forces personnel.
- However, please note that it is of a general nature only and may not reflect the reality of your circumstances.
- Ensure you have proper insurance cover in place.
- Select good quality accommodation and properly prepare for any tasks, excursions or other activities you have to undertake.
- Be mindful of local laws and cultural norms, bearing in mind that they might be different to what you are accustomed to.
- Consider conducting or obtaining a risk assessment specific to you, your profile and your trip, task or operation.
- This should take into account the likelihood of potential risks affecting you, as well as the likely impact they will have, and will help you decide, depending on your risk appetite and implementable risk mitigation measures, whether or not you should proceed.
- Research and familiarise yourself with your destination in advance of travel.
- Find out what the local criminal trends are and identify any potential hotspots, such as certain neighbourhoods.
- Note than crime levels can often be higher around public transport, shopping areas and crowded places.
- In higher risk areas exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings.
- Try not to overtly display your belongings or anything that could make you appear wealthy.
- Ask yourself if you need to show off your jewellery, watch, mobile phone or other items or equipment.
- Try to keep your wallet or cash hidden.
- It also helps to avoid appearing vulnerable in at-risk areas so try to display confidence and purpose as you move around.
- Avoid consulting a map in public as this will mark you out as both unfamiliar with the environment as well as being potentially vulnerable.
- Familiarise yourself with local maps and directions before wandering around.
- Identify routes to your accommodation and other safe havens (such as police stations, embassies, commercial areas with a police presence or quieter, safer neighbourhoods for example).
- Familiarise yourself with landmarks so you can orientate yourself and find your way out of trouble spots if you need to.
- Note that crime trends can change, and the level of risk can become higher, after dark.
- It might be advisable to avoid wandering around at night.
- Avoid dark alleys in urban areas.
- It is might also be advisable to travel in pairs or in a group.
- It may also be preferable to drive or be driven around certain areas rather than walking around in the street, even for going relatively short distances.
- In general, use your gut instincts and be prepared to avoid situations, places or people that seem suspicious, odd or wrong in some way.
- Make sure that your organisation and loved ones are ready to respond in the event that you are taken.
- Consider appropriate insurance arrangements.
- Otherwise, in at-risk areas keep knowledge of your plans and movements to a small circle of trusted individuals.
- Take family photos with you as this can help humanise you in the eyes of your captors, which could elicit sympathy and potentially encourage them to treat you better.
- Keep a low profile, but also consider travelling in pairs or in a group in order to appear less vulnerable, depending on the circumstances.
- Vary routes and routines so as to make it harder for any potential abductor to plan an attack against you.
- Consider undertaking hostile environment training in advance of travel.
- Consider undertaking close protection services if the local security environment requires it.
- Civil unrest can lead to road closures and even curfews, which can affect your travel plans.
- Be prepared for delays and route alterations.
- Avoid demonstrations as they can turn violent.
- Large gatherings of people can be difficult to predict or control and can lead to issues such as mob violence, arson, assault and looting.
- The security forces may use excessive force to control events in some circumstances, posing an indiscriminate risk to anyone in the area.
- Even without any particular violence, large demonstrations can be at risk of poor crowd control, which can lead to crushes and stampedes.
- If demonstrations take place on a frequent basis, research the trends which tend to accompany them.
- Where do they tend to take place? Do they tend to turn violent? Do attendees target specific types of building or representative interests associated with a specific nationality, industry, political group (such as party-political offices, state buildings or foreign-owned businesses)?
- Once you have identified the sorts of risks, trends and areas of higher risk to be avoided you can start planning to minimise your exposure.
- If civil unrest appears to be particularly volatile, or set to last for an extended period, try to stock up with essential items (including food, water and medicine) in case you are stuck in your accommodation or work place or other location for an extended period of time.
- Be prepared to alter your plans at short notice and even to leave the area or even the whole country if conditions escalate. deteriorate.
- Identify evacuation routes and safe havens in case you need to get out of harms way at short notice.
- It is also advisable to identify the evacuation routes and fire safety procedures at your accommodation and/or work place in case you need to leave in a hurry.
- Beware of photography at sensitive sites or during civil disturbance.
- Bear in mind that conditions could deteriorate in the future.
- Monitor the news closely and pay attention to official advice issued by foreign governments (such as the British Foreign Office or US State Department).
- Stay in communication with other people working and/or travelling with you, as well as your colleagues, employers and/or loved ones out of the country.
- If such a deterioration takes place, note that the process could be gradual, or it could be very sudden.
- Have contingency plans in place, including evacuation routes, safe havens and alternatives if these areas suddenly become unsafe or unreachable.
- During a crisis, roads might be blocked or congested, airports could be chaotic, and borders may be sealed so it helps to have a range of potential options.
- In times of heightened tension, be prepared to leave at short notice.
- Alternatively, if the situation on the ground is hazardous, it might be preferable to stay in a ‘hold fast’ position in secure accommodation and await conditions to stabilise.
- Have adequate stocks of fuel, food, water and medication to either stay in the hold fast position, or to take with you on your journey, in case it involves lengthy delays.
- Have your valuables and other essential items close at hand and ready to take with you at short notice (for example in a ‘grab bag’).
- Ensure that you have adequate insurance in place to cover you for an evacuation if one is required.
- Bear in mind that healthcare facilities and services may be significantly less extensive than more developed countries.
- There may be very limited facilities, staff, techniques and medications available, especially in more isolated or underdeveloped areas.
- There may not be adequate reliable blood supplies in local hospitals.
- Pharmacists and other sources of even basic medical products may be difficult to find.
- Aim to be as medically self-sufficient as possible, taking basic medical supplies.
- Research whether or not certain medications are legal in your destination(s).
- Take extra supplies of any routinely-taken medicines.
- It may also be advisable to have them accompanied by a note from your doctor.
- Avoid carrying medication for other travellers.
- In the event of serious illness or injury it may be necessary for a patient to be evacuated out of the country.
- Ensure that there is sufficient medical insurance in place to cover such an event.
- Find out what specific diseases are present in your intended travel destinations.
- Research the specific measures you should take to lower the risk of infection, bearing in mind that the disease(s) in question could be water, air or insect-borne.
- It might be useful to seek medical advice prior to your trip.
- If possible, do this several weeks in advance of your travel, in case you need to obtain specific vaccinations, some of which can take time to be administered properly.
- Be aware of any potential outbreaks which may be taking place in the country.
- Be careful with any cuts and grazes which might be more susceptible to infection in your travel destination than at home.
- Hygiene will be very important, but it can be more challenging to maintain good standards of hygiene in some parts of the world where sanitary products, cleaning products and even clean water can be hard to obtain.
- It might be advisable to bring extra supplies with you.
- It would be better to take them and not use them than to leave them behind and then need them in a challenging situation.
- You may also encounter challenges over where and what you want to eat.
- Try to avoid venues which appear unsanitary.
- Be very aware of any medical symptoms which might arise, both when you are travelling and for up to a month after you return home.
- Seek medical assistance if you have any concerns.
- Bear in mind that local doctors in your home country might not be familiar with certain tropical diseases.
- If you become ill on your return, inform your doctor where you have been and ensure that unfamiliar tropical diseases are taken into consideration as a possible diagnosis.
- Be prepared for potentially poor-quality roads and other forms of transportation.
- This can make it difficult to get around.
- Consider obtaining a high-quality vehicle that can handle difficult terrain if you intend to travel anywhere with particularly bad-quality roads.
- Bear in mind that traffic safety conditions may be poor.
- Try to ensure that any accommodation or workplace is located in a good quality building.
- Bear in mind that in the event of an accident or emergency, the emergency response services may have very limited resources available.
- If travelling to areas with more challenging terrain types, bear in mind that you might need to take specific and specialised equipment and clothing.
- Some terrain types might be more hazardous at different times of year so research any seasonal variations and work out the best time for you to visit.
- You may have to alter your behaviour and consider certain types of medication, such as if you have to travel to high altitudes.
- Areas with challenging terrain are often sparsely populated and/or with underdeveloped infrastructure.
- Not only can this make it difficult for you to travel there, it may also make it difficult to get out if you need to, or for any assistance to arrive in the event that you encounter difficulties and need help or evacuation.
- As such, have backup plans in place, methods of calling for help even if local communication networks are poor and aim to be as medically self-sufficient as possible.
- Be prepared to respond at short notice to any seismic activity.
- Create an emergency plan to follow in the event of an incident that involves a communications breakdown, so you can meet colleagues at a designated meeting point if you are separated and cannot get in contact with one another.
- Practise drills such as “drop, seek cover and hold on” procedure so that you can take shelter as soon as an incident occurs.
- Know the location of your nearest medical kit and medically trained personnel.
- Knowledge of basic first aid will also be very useful.
- Get away from glass or anything that could fall if shaking starts.
- Consider carrying a whistle that can be used to alert first responders in the event that you are trapped after an earthquake – although bear in mind that in some circumstances and/or locations there may not be much in the way of first response capabilities, particularly following a damaging earthquake.
- In the event of an incident, avoid damaged buildings that might still be at risk of collapse.
- Be prepared for aftershocks.
- Note that earthquakes can trigger tsunamis and landslides so be prepared to move out of harm’s way once the shaking has stopped.
- You may need to move very quickly and with limited time.
- In at-risk areas, pay attention to official warnings and observe exclusion zone orders.
- Know your evacuation routes and the location of your nearest shelters and medical facilities.
- Familiarise yourself with any official warning systems.
- Ensure that you have sufficient supplies (such as food, water, medications and fuel) as well as good working vehicles so you can leave very quickly if needed.
- Be prepared to react to evacuation orders and actual eruptions at short notice.
- Be prepared for possible travel disruption in the event of an eruption, which could affect flights and lead to congested roads and fuel shortages.
- Depending on the level of risk, consider having a shelter in your accommodation and/or place of work if it is in an area which could be affected by heavy ash fall, as this could provide you temporary shelter in the event of an eruption.
- If rainfall, flooding, extreme temperatures or other types of severe weather are a concern, check the local weather patterns to find out if there are times of the year where the risk is much higher.
- Consider avoiding travel to at-risk destinations during these times.
- Try to stay in good quality accommodation.
- Take appropriate clothing and footwear.
- Take appropriate protection for any sensitive equipment you wish to bring.
- Note that storms, flooding and other types of harsh weather can overload infrastructure, lead to traffic jams and power cuts.
- Flooding and heavy rainfall can also raise the risk of landslides, as well as insect- and water-borne diseases in some parts of the world.
- As such, be prepared to delay, alter or even cancel travel plans to affected or high-risk areas.
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