Guatemala Security

WHAT IS NEW TO TAKE IN COUNT

June 2010.  The Agatha storm has pass and some bridges still under repair but all touristic destinations are open including the Pacaya volcano, the only place that is closed is the Fuentes Georginas hot springs in Zunil, Quetzaltenango.


The "Comite de Seguridad y Turismo del Centro Historico" Make arrangements to make possible that 420
National Civil Police agents that covers the historical center (zone 1) and other areas of Guatemala city  graduated in August 2004 in tourist security, tourist Culture, First Aid and Crime Fighting Laws also finally thanks to this historical center tourist and security committee the central market and surrounding areas are now being guard by POLITUR (National Civil Police Specialized in protect Tourists) also a new police force in horses is watching the Historical Center area...
        Started in Feb 2005.                         
 

SO...DOES ANYTHING LIKE TOTAL SAFETY REALLY EXIST?

FACT: 
Statistically you have 99.97% chances in Guatemala of have a great time and no problems at all, however like anywhere else in the world there is a few rotten apples in the basket.
SEE THE STATISTICAL FACTS, COMPARE YOUR COUNTRY CRIME STATISTICS WITH OURS  CLICK HERE Guatemala is a bit lower than El Salvador.

FACT:
Lately the Historical Center (Zone 1) crime against foreigners is statistically lower than zone 10 or 9 in Guatemala City (including zone 10 night clubs and business class hotels area call Zona Viva and the same as in Antigua area) Seems that the consular sheet is very out of date (see the old phone 7 digits numbers for an example) and are clearly written in favor of protecting the business of the big transnational hotel chains in Zone 10.. because in this warning they do not say zone 1 is dangerous they say hotels in zone 1 are...this is similar to say that all buildings in New York are dangerous because they can get destroy by terrorist planes...so do not go to any New York building.  

RECENT CRIME EVENTS IN GUATEMALA AGAINST FOREIGNERS REPORTED BY THE US EMBASSY
This info is FROM the US embassy recent crime events web page (3 years of history)  against foreigners,  (HERE), All Zone 1 has less events reported than Zone 10 or Antigua areas, Zone 13 in the airport area has one of the highest in the city due to fake taxis and shuttles, this shows evidence of the late tourist security improves at the Historical Center, Zone 1 since 2006

 Many of the US Peace Corp volunteers and US citizens DO stay at zone 1 hotels depicting what this VERY outdate US travel warning mentions in their 15 years old consulate sheet which was generated by a consul with economic interest in the big hotels chain in zone 10, in general this warning is like seeing a big white wall with a small black spot in the center, they only show you the small black spot not the big wall, relax and enjoy your travel. With over 1.6 million tourist traveling to Guatemala in 2007 (and raising) you will note that crime rate is similar to other parts of the world the main factor to avoid is to carry large sums of cash with you, be specially careful when taking money from banks and never resist to an assault if it happens.

It has being reported by local papers that the US consulate or embassy pays for the US immigrants their lodging in zone 1hotels, this means the use of hotels by the US embassy in the area is back, the US embassy actually do not forbids to visit the historic center just talk bad about the hotels, but... can all the 250 hotels in zone 1 be that bad?   the answer is NO, there are many hotels that are safe and inexpensive, some are beautiful historic colonial style buildings like Posada Belen. and the US embassy puts usˇNo.1 at their embassy hotels list..see here.

In Zone 1 problems are pickpockets by the other side in Zone 10, 9 and 13,  most problems have to deal with arm robberies, drug dealers, drunks  fighting and air shooting from the many noisy bars and discos (in 2006 a disco located in the hearth of Zona Vival was taked by gangs and kill various persons in a drugs related episode)street car racing, kidnapping, street shooting and arm car thief than the much larger Zone 1 (3 times bigger), In fact in the smaller Centro Historico of zone 1 the biggest schools concentration, museums, government offices, cultural activities, libraries and local tourist of the country occurs, in the Historic Center 40,000 students go there every school day, 20,000 Central American and Guatemalan tourists, sleeps, takes buses or buy goods, why will thousands of Guatemalan families send their beloved children to study in the big 19th century houses transformed into bilingual private schools.   20,000 local tourists visit every day the historical center of Guatemala city and 500,000 people sees their old style houses walls and beatiful iron works every day.

FACT:
U.S. and other countries consular & embassy employees can get a maximum of 25%  for working in dangerous countries, unfortunately for the ones working in Guatemala this is only 5% to compensate higher cost of communications, health expenses and lack of facilities in Guatemala NOT for security and there is over 150,000 US citizens living in Guatemala and most are in Guatemala city, unfortunately to Guatemala one way of get a better payment for diplomatic or business employees is to make Guatemala look insecure, exaggerating the consular travel warnings is an easy way to achieve better salaries for them.

FACT:

In general Guatemala is much safer than New York City, Los Angeles, London, Miami
, Chicago, Washington or many other tourist or big city of the US and most of the World's big cities like Madrid or Rome (In august 2004 The singer Thalia lost 1 Million USD in a Rome 5 star hotel room), Jordan or Paris where thousands of cars have being destroyed by fire and street shooting.
 
In the ended 36 years old Civil War in Guatemala NEVER was a single car bomb place to kill innocent people NO mass suicides, organized racial, religious or immigrants hate groups, school kids shootings or any of the more commonly occurring terrorist/criminal acts in the "civilized", world, no legal crimes like stop feeding ill people because the courts allow husbands to legally kill wives, you will see nothing of this in Guatemala.

 Guatemala is a perfect good place to come and forget this world terrorism madness, to relax and visit incredible beautiful little known places, fantastic lake volcanoes colorful dresses or just forget about the rest of the World Wars and the harassing TV news.

FACT
A group of security officers from the tourism civil police (POLITUR)  since June/03, had increase the security in the tourist zone 1 among others like Pacaya volcano (No robberies in 4 years), this group of specially trained officials cover most of the tourist attractions and tourist routes in prevention of crime.

CULTURAL FACT:
In many countries of the world in North America or Europe, people do have many guns at home or carry them openly in the back window of their trucks and security is everywhere too but often you can't see them, one thing you will notice is that after 36 years of civil war in Guatemala people has got used to see guns and security people everywhere, sometimes you may see that some licensed citizens carries small guns visible like old cowboys times, this is a cultural fact that may shock some inexperienced travelers. But seeing the TV. news lately about how things are going in the rest of the World after September 11 and the second Gulf War, Guatemala is now ranking lower in the presence of arm security on the streets.
 
        So please always use common sense and to enjoy your trip better and help us make Guatemala safer please NEVER TAKE ANY KIND OF JEWELRY ON YOU, we need to destroy the idea that all tourists carry expensive and costly jewels with them.

Travel General Recommendations 

IMPORTANT Airport Tax and Security Tax

Always remember that there is a $30 USD airport exit tax (sorry). plus Q20 (USD $3) Security tax (since October/03) be at the airport 3 hours before flight departure for International flights, 2 hours for local flights.
It is risky to arrive to the airport from Antigua if you have a morning flight, it is better to sleep in Guatemala City the night before and avoid the lose of time and money.
For local flights there is a 5 Quetzales airport tax

For local flights to/from Flores. The early flight is more recommendable, unfortunately INTER (TACA) is not reliable in the afternoon Guate to Flores flights they often cancel without a warning or oversell.


Safety On The Street

Use the same common sense traveling overseas that you would at home. Be especially cautious in or avoid areas where you are likely to be victimized. These include crowded markets, bus stations, elevators, crowded tourist sites, festivals and marginal areas of cities.

Never leave anything inside cars parked on the street, leave the stuff in the trunk ONLY, always use a private parking when possible.

PLEASE AVOID TO TRAVEL BY NIGHT, if you are coming to Guatemala airport after 6:30 PM do not GO to Antigua, stay at Guatemala City, the same IF TAKING A PLANE IN THE MORNING, BETTER NOT DRIVE TO THE AIRPORT FROM ANTIGUA  BEFORE 6 AM.....this is considered night driving and is NOT a good idea considering that the sun comes out in Guatemala at 6AM and sunset is at 6PM. On early flights also consider that your transportation to Guate city airport can get a delay like a flat tire, traffic jam, road closing for demostrations, iven small accidents can jam the narrow highway easily, when taking a shuttle always someone does not come out from their hotel and delays all the group and you have to pass trough the most heavily transited streets or rush hours and you can end losing your expensive flight, please note that due to the traffic the Guate - Antigua trip usually takes 2 hours (not 1 as advertised).. You better stay the night before in Guatemala city and sleep 2 hours more and enjoy a night life at the NEW and safer cultural spot of the historical center call 4 GRADOS NORTE, ZONA VIVA or the CIEN PUERTAS BARS AREA and always use a taxi after dark, is best if the hotel or restaurant call you one.

Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances unless you like the adrenaline.

Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments with locals. Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers. If you are Gay please keep a low profile in public as respect act towards the local conservative community, public demonstrations of gay affect are not well accepted.

Avoid scam artists. Beware of strangers who approach you, offering bargains or to be your guide.

Beware of pickpockets. They often have an accomplice who will:

-- Jostle you or drop money to get your attention.

-- ask you for directions or the time,

-- point to something spilled on your clothing or pour ketchup or similar on you.

-- or distract you by creating a disturbance.

-- A child or even a woman carrying a baby can be a pickpocket. Beware of groups of vagrant children who    create a distraction while picking your pocket.

Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and walk with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by purse snatchers.

Try to seem purposeful when you move about. Even if you are lost, act as if you know where you are going. When possible, ask directions only from individuals in authority or good stores.

Know how to use a pay telephone and have the proper phone card on hand.

Learn a few phrases in the local language so you can signal your need for help, the police, or a doctor. Make a note of emergency telephone numbers you may need: police, fire, your hotel, and your country nearest embassy or consulate.

VERY, VERY IMPORTANT:
If you are confronted, don't fight back. Give up your valuables.
Your money and passport can be replaced, but you cannot. Do not think that because they are small they are no dangerous if confronted...this is number one cause of problems.

Never Think.... they are small people, so  they are harmless

ALSO:

1. Use only the authorized taxis, those clearly identified and take note of their number just in case you forget something. Or better, use our Posada Belen special safe airport pick up service ($13 to $15). 

2. Never leave your personal belongings unattended specially in the airport, hotel lobbies, markets or restaurants.

3. Always try to carry a legalized photocopy of your passport, showing your photograph and the date you entered the country. Leave the original in the safety deposit box of the hotel and try to register it at your consulate.

4. Keep your airline ticket and important documents safe (better yet leave them at your hotel's safe box during all your trip, is VERY expensive to solve a loss ticket problem and remember there is a $30 airport departure tax, get a photocopy or better buy a electronic ticket trough INTERNET here), leave extra cash and travel checks in the hotel safety box and only carry them in a travel belt or chest safety bag NEVER in a hand bag or your luggage, big travel checks ($500+) or NON US money are VERY.. VERY difficult to change, EUROS can be change at the UNO bank here in other places you may get lower exchange rates. Write the numbers of your travel checks (AMEX brand Travel Checks are better accepted and the only ones in some places) bring the original purchase receipt and credit cards in a separate safe place along with the important phone numbers to be used in case of losses. TO GET TRAVEL INSURANCE ON LINE, travel Insurance is a small valuable investment try this rates compare site click here, on high season  80% of the flights are suffering delays and you may loose a connection and the insurance will cover the expenses. About 10% of the luggage may also get delay for a day or two so is a good idea to have a hand bag with some spare.

5. Always change money at bank or hotel. Never on the streets. There is a bank at the airport that is usually open at the time the planes comes and leaves, also a ATM machine that sells Quetzals or US Dollars can be find at the airport. Is a very good idea to bring  several 1$US bills for tips and taxis. (The last ones never have change and they may usually suggest you hotels where they get a commission, so always insist to see the Posada Belen before you believe them)

6. IMPORTANTE: Don't bring or wear any valuable jewelry or imitations and carry only the amount of money you'll need for each day in your money belt or similar, ALWAYS in your money belt never in hand bags or pockets, but always keep some $40 small cash in your pocket fake wallet, have some old credit cards in it and use this fake wallet to give up in case you are confronted... At night don't walk if you don't know the area, take a taxi and always ask first about places to avoid. Never try to pick up or to take pictures of children without the parents permission FIRST; This is VERY important specially in the country side where a rumors about children being stolen for organs extraction for transplants is very common.

7. Guard valuable items you carrying, such expensive cameras and video cameras in low profile lunch bag or in any other low eye catching way, avoid using expensive looking photo equipment on the busy streets. Try low weight small cameras better, use it in some places to take pictures of the natives who don't like their pictures to be take openly, this is the only way, if they see you... some may charge a fee ($1-5)  for the privilege for let you take their picture. Put your wallet in your front pocket and carry your purse crosswise. Be aware of the old trick of pouring a liquid or mustard into your pants,. so when they "clean you"...they will clean you of your wallet too.

8. When renting a vehicle it is very important to become familiar with driving rules and regulations of the country and please note that most rental cars have stick shift transmissions in Guatemala. Avoid driving at night, always carry a map since most of the roads are not well marked. But people will always be happy to help you find the right direction.

9. For safety inside national parks or at the beach, follow these tips:

* Read the safety rules posted inside the parks. To ensure a safe and pleasant visit, walk  along he marked trails. It is best to explore the trails in groups of two or more.
* Don not touch the plants or attempt to pet the animals. At the beach, before entering     the water, find out which are the safest areas.
* Request information about tides and undertows with your hotel lifeguards.
* When climbing a volcano always go with a LOCAL guide or a reputable specialist tour operator and do not take valuable heavy photo equipment with you or excessive cash.

10. If you want to extend your stay in our country, you must request the necessary permission from the Immigration Authorities at the INGUAT and pay a small tax fee.

11. Any problems can be reported to the nearest National Police or Ministerio Publico delegation, where you should receive a written copy of your report. In general Guatemalan National Civil Policemen are very helpful and there is nothing to fear of them, unfortunately they are not very good catching criminals due to their poor training and equipment and also because the new human rights oriented laws makes very hard to fulfill all the paperwork and proofs need for finish a trial.  There is a new special tourism police section whose only job is to ensure tourists safety. 
If you want to present a suggestion to the Tourism National Office use this email inguat@guate.net (You may get lucky and get a reply).

Remember that Guatemala is a primitive country with a big illiterate population and many old costumes and believes strongly preserved, this is also a country that recently (1999) got out of  36 years of civil war and its democracy is only a few years old, the Mayas are very friendly but as anyone else they don't enjoy being treat like a tourist show objects, they are real people and their world is very different from our occidental conception, please be respectful with your camera on their religious rites they are not performing for tourists amusement....they are really communicating with God.
      You will find that the ladino people is also very, very friendly and helpful but in general there is a lack of knowledge of the Maya civilization among us, you as tourist are very important to bring and keep the Maya proud of their culture and make the general Guatemalan interested in learn more about us and keep this country values alive, you are very important to us and we welcome you to come and visit this VERY complex and beautiful land in peace now.


THE PREVIOUS RECOMMENDATIONS ARE SUGGESTED AND ACCEPTED TO INTERNATIONAL LEVEL. CONSIDER THESE ADVICE AND RETURN TO YOUR COUNTRY  WITH THE BETTER OF THE MEMORIES, REMMEMBER YOU HAVE 99.97% CHANCES OF HAVE A GREAT TIME!

To Contact Tourist Security Office to request preventive security assistance for your groups
politur@inguat.gob.gt

If you has any problem, or need to find out about local security updates please call POLITUR
to the telephone: 2361 6052 or the
24hr POLICE EMERGENCY PHONE:  110

 

INGUAT INFORMATION CENTERS

Central 7ave, Civic Center zone 4.
23313075
23314256
23314256
Faxs: 23318893 y 23322881

Antigua
78320763

 

Quetzaltenango
77614931

 

Panajachel
77621392

 

Flores Petén
79260533

In working days (Monday to Friday  8 to 4 P.M.)




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