Guatemala travel guide
Guatemala humbly has it all: from colonial towns to Mayan ruins, great mountain lakes to vibrant religious festivals, sandy beaches to exotic jungles. Often visitors to the country find they leave enlightened; civilisations they believed long gone are found thriving, Tomb Raider landscapes they thought fantasy are shown to be real.
Antiquity is at the heart of Guatemala, and the country is home to many spectacular Mayan archaeological sites, most significantly the vast UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal, where great towers peep through the rainforest canopy and monkeys swing past the sprawling ancient plazas. The pine-forested hills of the highlands are home to many Mayan communities, whose indigenous beliefs, traditional dress, religious practices and craftsmanship, flourish. Indeed, Guatemala has around 21 different ethnic groups, speaking some 23 languages giving it a distinctive culture like nowhere else in the region.
Although Guatemala boasts some truly stunning cities – most notably Antigua, an upmarket colonial town surrounded by smouldering volcanoes – Guatemala’s real joy is its nature. The great Lake Atitlan in the highlands is a place of rare beauty and offers various adventure activities ranging from scuba diving to fishing.
On the other side of the country, the vast and remote region of Peten houses the country’s thickest jungle, home to long-abandoned Mayan ruins that few get to see. Elsewhere, gargantuan lakes, lava-oozing volcanoes, black sandy beaches, natural hot springs and roaring rivers combine to form the most geographically diverse destination in Central America.
Though consistently beautiful, Guatemala is a nation of contrasts; a place where Catholic churches exist alongside Mayan temples, where rugged highlands give way to tropical jungles, and where the legacy of its ancient civilisations is as evident as its modern, Latin American culture.
Despite stories of high crime rates and volatile politics, most visitors encounter nothing but warmth and hospitality from its people, as well as epic landscapes that make them wonder why they didn’t visit sooner.
108,889 sq km (42,042 sq miles).
16,672,956 (UN estimate 2016).
137 per sq km.
Constitutional Democratic Republic.
President Bernardo Arévalo since 2024.
President Alejandro Giammattei since 2020.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.
Before you travel
No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and see support for British nationals abroad for information about specific travel topics.
If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.
This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in Guatemala set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Guatemalan Embassy in the UK.
There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Guatemala.
Travel in Guatemala
You may be asked to wear a mask in:
- medical settings (hospitals, clinics, vaccination centres and laboratories)
- nursing homes
Passport validity requirements
Your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the day you arrive in Guatemala and at least 2 blank pages.
Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.
You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.
You can visit Guatemala for up to 90 days without a visa.
If you overstay the 90 days, you’ll have to pay a fine before leaving the country. You can pay this fine at the main Institute of Migration (in Spanish) office in Guatemala City. You can also pay fines at the airport or land borders, but administrative processes can cause serious delays.
Make sure you get your passport stamped.
If you do not get your passport stamped when you arrive, you will get a fine and be delayed on your departure. If you notice your passport has not been stamped, return to the immigration desk, or go to the Institute of Migration (in Spanish) offices in Guatemala City as soon as possible.
Applying for or extending a visa
To stay longer than 90 days (to work or study, for business travel or for other reasons), you must meet the Guatemalan government’s entry requirements. Check which type of visa or work permit you need with the Guatemalan Embassy in the UK.
If you want to extend your visa or permit to stay, you must apply to the Institute of Migration (in Spanish).
Immigration declaration form
Before you enter or exit Guatemala, you must complete the online immigration declaration form. Print the confirmation email you receive and carry it with you. Alternatively take a screenshot of the email QR code. If you need more information, contact your travel agent or the Institute of Migration (in Spanish).
Travelling with children
To enter or exit Guatemala, children aged 17 and under travelling alone or with only one parent or legal guardian must have a notarised letter in Spanish from the parents or guardians not travelling with them. Contact the Guatemalan Embassy, or if you’re in Guatemala the nearest Institute of Migration (in Spanish), for information about what documents you need. Single parents will need additional documents.
Travelling to El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua
Under the Central America Border Control Agreement (also known as CA-4), you can travel between El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua for up to 90 days without a visa. The 90-day period starts when you enter any of these countries and does not restart when you cross borders. You can extend your stay by up to 30 days by paying a fee before the 90 days expires. If you overstay, you may get a fine.
You’ll have to go through immigration checks at borders. If you’re expelled from one of these countries, you’re also excluded from the other 3.
If you’re planning to travel to Nicaragua, check entry requirements with your travel company, the Nicaraguan immigration authorities or the nearest Nicaraguan Embassy. See travel advice for Nicaragua.
You must pay airport departure tax of 30 US dollars (or the same amount in Guatemalan quetzal). This is normally included in the price of your ticket.
Illegal entry fees at land borders
Guatemalan customs or immigration officials sometimes ask travellers crossing land borders to pay an ‘entry fee’. This is illegal. If you are asked to pay a fee, ask for an official receipt, and you may find the officials drop the request.
When crossing into Guatemala by the land border at El Carmen, be wary of people offering to help process your entry into the country. They may be trying to overcharge you for unnecessary services.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Guatemala guide.
Depending on your circumstances, this may include a yellow fever certificate.
There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Guatemala. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.
Taking money into Guatemala
It is often not possible to exchange British pounds in Guatemala. It is much easier to exchange US dollars.
This guide also has safety advice for regions of Guatemala.
There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.
UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.
Terrorism in Guatemala
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Guatemala, attacks cannot be ruled out.
Following nationwide elections in Guatemala in August 2023, the Guatemalan Public Ministry contested the electoral process. This resulted in a number of protests and roadblocks across the country. Whilst a majority of the roadblocks have been lifted, some remain and the risk of others being created is likely.
See a list of protests and roadblocks (‘bloqueados’) (in Spanish).
Events are fast moving, and the situation has potential to deteriorate without warning.
Most of the protests have been peaceful, but there have clashes between protestors and police, with the use of tear gas.
Avoid all protests and roadblocks and check with local authorities as well as media outlets for the latest information. It is illegal for foreigners to participate in political activities in Guatemala. If you take part in protests, you may be detained and asked to leave the country.
Incidents of political violence, strikes and large demonstrations can occur, often with little or no notice. Most demonstrations are peaceful, but they can turn violent. Protestors may block roads and public facilities, including the international airport, without notice.
Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America. Although most of the serious crime involves local gangs, incidents are usually indiscriminate and can take place in tourist areas.
No parts of Guatemala City are free from crime, including Zone 10 (Zona Viva), which is popular with tourists and foreign residents. Take care in Zone 1 (the historical centre), where cheaper hotels are located and several bus routes end.
There have been armed attacks on tourists travelling by road to and from major tourist sites like Antigua, Tikal, Petén and Lake Atitlán. See Regional risks.
Carjacking and armed robbery are common on the main road (Carretera Salvador) leading from Guatemala City to the border with El Salvador. Express kidnappings are common in Guatemala. Victims of this type of kidnapping are usually taken to ATMs to withdraw as much cash as possible before they’re released. The use of guns or knives is not uncommon.
Violent attacks, including sexual assault, can take place anywhere and at any time of the day. They usually involve firearms and motorbike riders. Attackers have killed and injured victims who resisted. There is a low arrest and conviction rate.
Protecting yourself and your belongings
You can take precautions such as:
- not displaying valuables like laptops, cameras and mobile phones
- not wearing a lot of jewellery
- carrying only small amounts of cash – avoid withdrawing a lot of money, particularly at night
- keeping valuables safe (for example, in a hotel safe)
- not travelling alone or at night, especially near borders or in areas without many people
If you go to remote areas, it may be safer to travel with others or a reputable tour company.
For shorter trips within towns and cities the safest option is to take radio-dispatched taxis (which are usually yellow) or hotel taxis. You can buy pre-paid taxi vouchers from the office of INGUAT, Guatemala’s tourist agency (in Spanish) in the airport’s arrivals terminal.
If you’re driving, it is generally safer to travel on main roads. There is a greater risk of attack by gangs on quieter routes. Travel in convoy if possible.
Take care around ATMs, petrol station forecourts, the airport, bus stations and shopping centres.
You can get up-to-date security information from INGUAT.
INGUAT’s tourist assistance and emergency service, PROATUR, will accompany individual tourists or groups travelling in Guatemala if requested (see Getting help).
Buses and coaches
Avoid travelling on public buses (repainted US school buses). There has been an increase in armed attacks by local gangs on bus drivers and conductors, often resulting in serious injury or death. These attacks have included the use of explosives. There have also been violent muggings, rapes and assaults against foreigners.
Private intercity coach services are generally safer, but gangs have also attacked these during daylight hours, even on main roads.
Check ATMs for evidence of tampering. Affected machines may not be easy to spot. It’s safer to change money in hotels, at banks or at foreign exchange offices.
Bogus police officers
Criminals posing as police officers have committed theft, extortion and sexual assault against visitors to Guatemala.
Foreign visitors are at risk of scams. Scams come in many forms and can lead to great financial loss. Warn your friends and family to be sceptical if they’re asked to transfer funds to you in Guatemala. Tell them to contact you to check that you’ve made this request.
Laws and cultural differences
It is a legal requirement to always carry ID. In most parts of the country, you can carry a copy of your passport’s photo page for identification purposes. In San Pedro La Laguna, Sololá, local authorities may not accept a copy and may fine or detain you if you cannot show your original passport or a certified copy. Always co-operate with military and police officers and be prepared for checkpoints.
Alcohol laws and bans
It is illegal to sell alcoholic and fermented beverages from 1am to 6am.
Illegal drugs and prison sentences
There are severe penalties for drug trafficking and use. Guatemalan prisons are overcrowded, violent and dirty.
Taking photos without permission
Do not take photographs without permission, especially of children. This is particularly important in more remote areas such as Quiché, Petén, San Marcos and Chiquimula provinces. There have been attacks related to accusations and fears of child kidnapping for adoption or theft of vital organs. Foreigners have been caught up in the violence. You may need to pay a small amount of money to take photographs of both children and adults.
Homosexuality is not illegal, although there are no laws guaranteeing freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Same-sex marriages are not recognised in Guatemala. In Guatemala City, local people are largely tolerant of different lifestyles. Outside Guatemala City, attitudes are more conservative. Showing affection in public may bring verbal and physical attacks, harassment and discrimination.
Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.
If you are planning to drive, see information on driving abroad.
You can use a UK photocard driving licence to drive in Guatemala for up to 3 months. If you still have a paper driving licence, you may need to update it to a photocard licence or get the correct version of the international driving permit (IDP) as well.
Hire car companies often have stricter requirements for their customers, such as a year of driving experience, a higher minimum age and holding an IDP.
Driving rules and safety
- it is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving
- speed limits are strictly enforced
- motorcyclists must wear an orange vest and helmet with the registration number or face a fine of 1,000 Guatemalan quetzal (around £100)
Drink-driving is a serious offence. If you are tested and found to have any alcohol in your system, you may get a fine, your licence confiscated and possible imprisonment. However, drinking-driving is common in Guatemala.
In more isolated locations, roads are unpaved and you may need a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
If you’re involved in an accident, contact the National Police (telephone: 110) or the fire brigade (telephone: 122 or 123 ) and wait for them to arrive. PROVIAL (telephone: +502 2419 2121 or 1520), a roadside assistance force, patrols most of the major roads in the country. However, patrols are infrequent.
For more information on road laws, see Guatemala Department of Transport (in Spanish).
Guatemala Municipality no longer allows some intercity buses to enter the city centre. They drop passengers at various points on the city outskirts.
Outdoor activities and adventure tourism
Before you climb volcanoes, visit the websites of the Guatemalan Meteorological Office (in Spanish) and CONRED, Guatemala’s disaster agency (in Spanish) for information on access, restrictions and recommendations. Follow the advice of local authorities. Some volcanoes are at high altitude with freezing temperatures at night. Tourists have died of exposure on volcanoes in Guatemala. Warm clothing and waterproofs are essential. Local tour organisers tend to underestimate the risks. There is no mountain rescue service.
Extreme weather and natural disasters
See extreme weather and natural hazards for information about how to prepare, and how to react if there is a warning.
The rainy season in Guatemala normally runs from June to November – the same time as the hurricane season in the Caribbean. Heavy rains cause frequent flooding and landslides, and roads and bridges often collapse.
Check local media and consult your tour operator and PROATUR, Guatemala’s tourist assistance service (see Getting help). Travel routes are likely to face disruption. Monitor local and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organization and the US National Hurricane Center. Follow the advice of the local authorities, including any evacuation orders.
There are frequent minor earth tremors and there is a risk of earthquakes in Guatemala. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency website has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake or tsunami.
There is a risk of volcanic eruptions in Guatemala. Monitor local media and seek advice from your tour operator in case of possible travel disruption. For further information see CONRED, Guatemala’s disaster agency (in Spanish).
This section has safety advice for regions of Guatemala. It only covers regions where FCDO has specific advice.
Borders with Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize
Pay particular attention to your security in the border areas with Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize.
Take care near the Belize-Guatemala border because of the ongoing dispute between the 2 countries. Use only officially recognised border crossings.
Ixchiguan and Tajumulco
There is a risk of violence crime in the municipalities of Ixchiguan and Tajumulco in the department of San Marcos. Get advice from PROATUR, Guatemala’s tourist assistance service (see Getting help) if you plan to travel to these areas, including whether it is safe to climb the Tajumulco volcano.
Roads around Sololá, Panajachel and Lake Atitlán
PROATUR (see Getting help) gives advice on which routes to take when travelling in and around Sololá, Panajachel and Lake Atitlán. Avoid the Godinez bypass between Guatemala City and Panajachel (passing through Patzún). Use the Pan American Highway to Sololá instead. Also avoid the road between Cocales (Suchitepequez) and San Lucas Toliman (Atitlán) if possible.
Boat services between towns on the shore of Lake Atitlán may be a safer alternative.
Before you travel check that:
- your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
- you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation
This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.
Emergency medical number
Call 122 or 123 and ask for an ambulance.
Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Vaccinations and health risks
At least 8 weeks before your trip check:
- the latest information on vaccinations and health risks in TravelHealthPro’s Guatelmala guide
- where to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on the NHS travel vaccinations page
Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of Guatemala. Read more about altitude sickness on TravelHealthPro.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.
The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.
You cannot use British-issued prescriptions in Guatemala. To find a pharmacy (‘farmacia’) look for one of the big national chains such as Meykos, Cruz Verde or Carolina y H.
Healthcare facilities in Guatemala
FCDO has a list of English-speaking doctors in Guatemala.
There is also guidance on healthcare if you’re living in Guatemala.
COVID-19 healthcare in Guatemala
If you think you have COVID-19, seek medical advice and check Guatemala government COVID-19 information and advice (in Spanish). Also see the Guatemalan Ministry of Health (in Spanish).
See information on testing facilities (in Spanish) from the Guatemala government.
Travel and mental health
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.
Emergency services in Guatemala
Fire and Ambulance: 122 or 123
PROATUR, Guatemala tourist assistance
PROATUR, Guatemala’s tourist assistance service, provides 24-hour emergency assistance and routine guidance to tourists (call centre staff speak English and Spanish). Telephone: +502 2290 2810 or 1500 (inside Guatemala). Fax: +502 2421 2891.
Contact your travel provider and insurer
Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.
Refunds and changes to travel
For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.
Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:
- where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
- how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim
Support from FCDO
FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:
- finding English-speaking lawyers, funeral directors and translators and interpreters in Guatemala
- dealing with a death in Guatemala
- being arrested or imprisoned in Guatemala
- getting help if you’re a victim of crime
- what to do if you’re in hospital
- if you’re affected by a crisis, such as a terrorist attack
You can also contact FCDO online.
Help abroad in an emergency
If you’re in Guatemala and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Guatemala City.
FCDO in London
You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.
Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)
Risk information for British companies
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.