Health and Safety
Guatemala’s status as a poor, developing nation translates into a variety of health and safety risks for the foreign traveler. Many of these are directly related to poor hygiene. When it comes to safety and law enforcement, the Policía Nacional Civíl (created by the 1996 peace accords) has not lived up to its expectations as an efficient, incorruptible, and professional police force.
On a positive note, the Tourism Police have demonstrated proficiency in helping travelers as well as making areas somewhat safer with patrols and group escorts. Private initiatives, as they almost always do in Guatemala, have stepped in to fill the gaps, also providing some measure of protection for foreign visitors.
Travelers might want to consider buying traveler’s insurance before heading to Guatemala. Several different types of insurance with varying degrees of coverage are available in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
A relatively new Guatemalan initiative offering assistance to foreign travelers is Asistur (www.asisturcard.com), which provides services via the purchase of its Asistur Card. You can buy policies for one day, 15 days, 30 days, or one year costing just $1 per day. Included in the coverage is round-the-clock telephone assistance for issues including legal and medical situations. Security escorts, roadside assistance, helicopter evacuation from remote areas such as volcanic summits or jungles, and special assistance in case of robbery, including provision of hotel room and meals, are also provided to those insured by Asistur.
Other coverage options (extra cost) include life insurance, coverage of medical expenses, and theft insurance. The card is available at the INGUAT kiosks at the Guatemala City and Flores/Tikal Airports. Asistur can be reached from anywhere in Guatemala by dialing 1500 or 1-801-ASIST (1-8012-7478). As this is a new venture, you could probably call if you find yourself in a bind, even if you haven’t bought coverage. An Asistur agent might be nearby.
Crimes against tourists are a great concern to Guatemalans in general and their gracious hospitality dictates their desire to help out a traveler in need. That being said, for $1 a day, the coverage and peace of mind are certainly worth it.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com