Guatemala has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world. Travelers should take some extra precautions when in Guatemala. If you are mugged, carjacked, or approached by armed individuals, cooperate. Do not make any sudden movements, and give whatever belongings or money that are demanded. Tourists have been shot and killed for resisting muggers.
Do not go to areas known to be hotbeds of drug trafficking activity ie: some parts of the Peten, and do not go to the most dangerous neighborhoods in Guatemala City zones 3, 6, 18, and 21. Be careful in Zone 1 in Guatemala City, especially after dark, and do not stay in hotels there. Using the slightly more expensive hotels in Zone 10 or Zone 13 near the airport is a much better idea.
Women should be especially careful around men, even if the men present themselves as local hotel employees. Over the last year, several tourists have been the victims of brutal sexual assaults in the beach community of Monterrico and the town of Panajachel. In one case, a local man pretended to be a hotel employee before torturing, raping, and attempting to kill a young woman staying in the area.
Do not use buses at night in Guatemala City, as they are frequently robbed by gangs. Instead, radio-dispatched taxis Taxi Amarillo are a safer way to get around the city. Another note is that when travelling by chicken bus beware of anyone sitting next to you.
Although some say that travelers should always carry a bit of extra cash and be prepared to bribe a few police officers, most tourists will have no reason to give bribes to anyone. The most likely situations in which you might have to bribe police would be if you are driving a car or riding a motorcycle and are stopped for fictitious violations of traffic rules. Most European/North Americans find it immoral but it is much easier to spend 50Q and avoid the headaches than to be harassed by the police. Phrases such as "I'm sorry officer. Is there any way we can resolve this right now?" work well. Do not offer bribes directly to an officer because it is illegal and you could actually end up in more trouble.
Never take photos of children without permission. Some Guatemalans are extremely wary of this and will assume you are a kidnapper even if the children are someone else's. Guatemala has had many problems with children being sold or kidnapped and put up for adoption on the black market. Of course, this doesn't include a few children mixed in with many adults at a distance. This occurs mainly on the more remote Guatemalan villages. In the major cities people are somewhat more open towards picture-taking, but still avoid it.
It is dangerous to travel between cities after dark. Doing so significantly increases your risk of being in a car accident or being the victim of an armed robbery.
Pickpocketing is common in markets, so never keep anything in your back pocket and take as little with you as possible.
One of the best things about Guatemala is the abundance of natural beauty and numerous treks. Some of these are notorious for robberies Volcan de Agua, trails around Lago de Atitlan, Volcan de Pacaya. Always ask around about the situation before embarking blindly. Inguat, locals, and fellow travelers are safe bets for information. Traveling in groups during daylight sometimes decreases the risk, but not always.
Traffic can be dangerous. You will encounter many one-lane roads one lane each way and drivers are apt to swerve back and forth, avoiding potholes and bumps along the way. There are also various multiple lane highways. Traffic in Guatemala City and surrounding metropolitan areas during rush hour is very slow, but general driving everywhere is usually very fast average speeds of up to 60 mph in some city roads.
Drink only purified water Agua Pura EcolÃ³gica is recommended by most of hospitals and hotels.
CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/travel...) states that malaria risk exists in rural areas at altitudes lower than 1,500 metres, with no risk in Antigua or Lake AtitlÃ¡n. Preventative anti-malarial medication can and should be purchased ahead of visiting malaria-endemic areas.
Dengue fever is endemic throughout Guatemala.
Hepatitis A&B vaccinations are recommended.
Address people you don't know in a formal manner SeÃ±or, SeÃ±ora, Usted, and greet people in the following way:
day - "buenos dias" "feliz dia"
night- "feliz noche" "buenas noches"
You'll encounter this in more suburban, rural areas. Native Guatemalans are raised to greet strangers formally.
Internet access is widely available. Even most of the more remote areas have some type of internet access available. Many larger areas also have WiFi. All of the Camperos chicken/pizza restaurants which are numerous offer free WiFi, as well as many other restaurants and cafes. Some hotels may also offer computer banks with internet access. Just ask and you eventually will find some sort of free access.
Guatemala's international calling code is 502. There are no area codes. Phone numbers all have eight digits. On September 18, 2004, the phone system switched from seven to eight digits, and there is a scheme for adding specific digits to the front of seven-digit numbers WTNG.info description (http://www.wtng.info/wtng-502-gt.html).
The phone system isn't great, but it works. Tourists can call abroad from call centers, where you pay by the minute. It is also easy to purchase a calling card to use at public pay phones. The phones there do not accept money, so to use a public phone on the street you must purchase a telephone card. Typically, the cost is around 8 quetzals for a 10 min call to North America. Cell phones are quite cheap and calling to the US through one can get as low as $0.08 a min. If you are planning to stay for a while and plan to use the phone, you should consider buying a cheap prepaid phone. Wireless nation-wide internet access for laptops is also available as a service from some companies. Telefonica has good coverage with their PCMCIA EV-DO cards.
Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, and the most commonly spoken. Over twenty indigenous languages are still spoken throughout, but many of the Maya people have at least a working knowledge of basic Spanish as well, except in the more remote areas. For the Garifuna people in Livingston, Garifuna and English are the main languages but Spanish is spoken as well.
The most familiar form of Spanish spoken among good friends is the "tÃº" and "vos" form, but varies between regions. It is considered rude and very informal if used with someone that you do not know. As a tourist, it is safer to stick with the "usted" form. However, don't be surprised if some homestay families and some language teachers jump right into using the "tÃº" or "vos" form. If they do, you may respond in kind.
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