Lake Atitlán, Mayan ruins or white sand beaches? Whatever your Guatemala travel plans, get the right travel insurance in place.
Guatemala attracts more than 2 million tourists each year from all over the world. Many are drawn by its sweeping beaches, reefs, abundant flora and fauna, and some of the most remarkable Mayan architecture ever discovered.
This guide will explore some of the main risks that face travellers visiting Guatemala and what features you should look for in your policy to ensure adequate protection is in place.
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- Transport hazards. Take steps to protect yourself when getting around in Guatemala, including using only licensed, dispatched taxis or those from hotels. Avoid unnecessary travel in the late afternoon and at night, and try to avoid travelling alone. Travellers are strongly advised to avoid travel on public buses and should check to see what kind of security measures are provided by tour companies.
- Consider rental car excess cover if you plan on hiring a car.
- Civil unrest. Demonstrations have been known to occur in Guatemala with little warning. Although generally peaceful, these have the potential to become violent and have in the past resulted in travellers being detained, borders being closed.
- If you are concerned that your travel plans might be disrupted by a protest, strike or other event beyond your control, you can find travel insurance that will refund prepaid costs and help you work out alternate arrangements.
- Extreme weather. Guatemala has a hurricane season from June to November. This is when mudslides, flooding and service disruptions are most likely to occur. Waterproof essential documents, familiarise yourself with evacuation plans and monitor local media for weather updates.
- Natural disasters and extreme weather can disrupt travel both to and from Guatemala. Again, this is where travel insurance with trip cancellation cover can be useful.
- Crime. Organised crime is more prevalent in the border regions, but armed robbery is relatively common all over, particularly on public transport, after dark and in certain unsafe areas. Kidnapping, carjacking, murder and assault are also known to occur regularly. Consider leaving your valuables at home, and avoid carrying large sums of money.
- Ensure you have adequate cover in place if you plan on travelling with expensive items.
- Disease. Malaria is a potential risk all year round in the low-lying areas of Guatemala, but less so above 1,500 metres. Other insect-borne diseases include Zika, dengue fever and Chagas disease. Travellers are advised to use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and find suitably mosquito-proof accommodation. Infectious diseases including typhoid, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are also prevalent.
- Travel insurance with medical cover is recommended for all travellers regardless of destination.
- Climbing the volcanoes. Acatenango Volcano is known for rewarding tough hikers with astounding views, while on others like Pacaya you can even make the ascent on horseback. Be mindful of the limitations of your insurance cover and review how conditions vary between policies.
- Visiting historical sites. The colonial architecture in Guatemala can be beautiful and well worth seeing, but the Mayan ruins are significantly older with great architectural significance. Fortunately you can do both. Colonial museums like Casa Santo Dominigo are an eye-opening experience, while Mayan sites such as Yaxha combine nature and history in stunning ways. Some of the most highly recommended sites can be isolated, so consider a policy that covers medical evacuation in case you take a spill down the steep steps of a Mayan pyramid.
- Adventure activities. Prefer a holiday with adrenaline? Guatemala has adventure activities too, in particular ones that take advantage of the naturally rugged landscape, such as caving and whitewater rafting. These activities are generally not covered by standard travel insurance policies so it is advisable to look for additional cover if you plan on doing these.
The standard of health care in Guatemala City is generally adequate, but outside the capital it can be much more limited. Quality of treatment, equipment and staff may vary widely between hospitals, even between seemingly equivalent private facilities. Doctors and hospitals will often require cash payment prior to providing treatments, even in emergencies.
- Travel insurance that pays up-front payment is recommended to avoid out-of-pocket costs.
- Travel insurance for medical repatriation is also highly recommended. Certain health events may require you to be airlifted to other medical facilities, usually in the United States.
Contact your insurer as soon as you are able to let them know what happened and that you will be making a claim. If your policy pays up-front you may be able to let your insurer and hospital staff negotiate treatment costs directly. If it does not pay up-front then you will need to pay for all medical treatments and claim the costs back later if possible.
Your main points of contact in the event of an emergency are the Australian consulate in Guatemala, your insurer and relevant local authorities or travel organisers.
Details for the Australian Consulate in Guatemala
|Address||2a Calle 23-80 Zona 15, Edificio Avante, Oficina 701, Guatemala City, Guatemala|
|Phone||+502 2328-0300 x 102|
- Contact the Australian embassy in Mexico for issues relating to passports, legal concerns or if you aren’t sure where else to turn. The embassy can be reached on +52 55 1101 2200.
- Contact your insurer’s 24-hour helpline for assistance relating to a claim.
Guatemala is part of the Central American Border Control Agreement (CA-4) along with Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. This means that a valid entry card for one of these countries can be used for all of them.
Australian visitors to Guatemala are not required to have a visa. Instead you just need an Australian passport that’s valid for at least six months.
- If you are arriving at Guatemala via the United States or Honolulu then you will need to meet entry requirements for the US as well.
- If you are arriving at Guatemala through other Central American nations then you may require immunisation against yellow fever to be granted entry.
From December to March, Guatemala is at its warmest and driest. As this period coincides with winter in the northern hemisphere, this is also peak tourist season when the crowds are biggest.
- Weather conditions and temperature are very dependent on elevation and which part of the country you’re in.
- Hurricane season (June to November) is ideally avoided. Not only is the weather inclement but many roads become completely impassable without a four-wheel drive.
- To compromise between crowds, cost and weather, you might want to consider going in the shoulder periods around the beginning and end of the wet season.
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