Stay safe & healthy
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. Something you have to be made aware of is that sometimes these robberies are committed by off-duty policemen -incredible as it sounds but being a robber or kidnapper is a part-time job of many policemen.
Do not go to areas known to be hotbeds of drug trafficking activity (i.e.: some parts of the Peten), and do not go to the most dangerous neighborhoods in Guatemala City (zones 3, 6, 12, 18, 19, 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 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 Q50 and avoid the headaches than to be harassed by the police. Phrases such as "I'm sorry officer, is there any way we can solve 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 Atitlán, Volcán 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 Salvavidas is recommended by most of hospitals and hotels).
CDC [www] states that malaria risk exists in rural areas at altitudes lower than 1,500 metres, with no risk in Antigua or Lake Atitlán. 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.