Are there any special requirements for driving or hiring a car in Guatemala?
Driving in Guatemala is generally straightforward. After years of civil war and corruption, the country has resolved many of its problems and is attracting tourists drawn by the history and ancient sites.
Road infrastructure is poor outside of the main cities so, if exploring, you'll need a four wheeled drive vehicle.
Crime against foreigners can be a problem so try to avoid driving at night or in isolated areas unless with a group. Never pick up hitch-hikers or stop to help someone at the side of the road.
Seat Belt Laws
Everyone in the front seats of a moving vehicle in Guatemala must wear a seat belt by law. Where belts are fitted in the rear, you should use them for your safety.
Drinking and Driving
In Guatemala, the maximum permitted blood alcohol level is 80mg per 100ml of blood – the same as in the UK. Usually this means you should be safe with one drink but in an unfamiliar country, we recommend that you avoid alcohol whilst driving.
Must Have Documents
You will need to have your driving licence and an international driving licence if from outside of the US or Central and South American countries. You should also carry your insurance certificate, your registration documents together with your passport. Note that it is against the law for a police officer to retain your documents.
The speed limits for Guatemala are as follows:
Open roads: 80 km/h
In Town: variable up to 50 km/h
Highways: 110 km/h
Minimum Driving Age
You have to be at least 18 to be able to drive in Guatemala. If you're renting a car the minimum age is 21 and if you’re under 25 years old, a premium for being an inexperienced driver may apply.
Safety Camera Warning Devices
Safety camera warning devices are not illegal in Guatemala but should not be used as a way to avoid penalties for breaking the law. In many places in the country, driving conditions are difficult and sometimes dangerous so leave it at home and stick to the speed limit.
On the Spot Fines
There are strict rules governing interactions between traffic police and the public. They cannot confiscate vehicle or travel documents but they can remove equipment such as mobile phones if they feel that you may be causing a danger or breaking a law by potentially using them. If you are charged with an offence you can be put in jail at least overnight but for minor offences, you are more likely to receive a penalty notice with a fine to be paid within 14 days.
Child Safety Rules
In Guatemala, there are no specific laws for child safety restraints in vehicles. Instead, it’s up to the adults in the car to ensure that children are safely taken care of. If you are renting a car from us, let us know the age of the travellers and we’ll ensure that the correct child seats are fitted in readiness for your arrival.
A minimum of third party insurance is compulsory in Guatemala and you must be able to prove it with a valid certificate.
Rules of the Road
Standard international driving laws apply with one or two exceptions.
• In Guatemala, cars travel on the right hand side of the road
• There are numerous unmarked speed bumps to slow traffic
• Don’t stop for hitch hikers
• Avoid driving at night
You won’t be subject to any specific towing regulations in Guatemala, just use common sense and make sure the towed vehicle is securely attached, you can see behind you and that other road users know what you’re doing.
You won’t find fixed speed cameras in Guatemala, the government say they’re too expensive to install and maintain. Instead, the Guatemalan police rely on mobile speed cameras and have regular traps in place, especially on the outskirts of cities and on the Pan-American Highway. If you are caught, you’ll be given a penalty notice for payment within 14 days.
Using Mobile Phones when driving
Using a mobile phone without a hands-free kit is illegal in Guatemala and is penalised with a fine and sometimes confiscation of the device.
There are no parking regulations enshrined in law in Guatemala and as such, parking is very haphazard. Most people take the chance for free parking along the side of roads.
In the big cities such as Guatemala City you’ll find more formal parking in the commercial districts including attended parking garages, metered parking in bays along the street and open lots where a ticket is required. It’s often safer and more convenient to use these – the fees for parking are generally inexpensive.
There’s little enforcement of parking as much of it is free. You’ll only encounter police involvement in parking where a road or access is obstructed, then, you’ll find your car being towed away.
Many Guatemalans were injured in the civil war but despite this, there are no concessions for disabled drivers. If you need help, try an attended lot or parking garage or just do like the locals do and park wherever you can find a space near to where you want to go.
Motor Way Signs
There are no motorways as such in Guatemala however major highways cross the country north to south and east to west. On these two and sometimes three lane highways Green signs with white writing indicate junctions and destinations.
- Give way - Ceda el paso
- Traffic lights - Semaforas
- Right of way – Prioridad
- Exit – Salida
- Danger – Peligro
- No parking - Prohibido aparcar
- Slow – Despacio
- Lane – Un carril
- City centre – Centro ciudad
- Carretera – Local Highway
- Roadworks – Obras
- Where is the nearest petrol station? – ¿Donde es la gasolinera la más cercana?
- Excuse me, I’m lost – Por favor, estoy perdido…
- Go straight on – ‘Siga todo recto’
- Turn right – ‘Toma el giro a la derecha’
- Turn left – ‘Toma el giro a la izquierda’
- Detour - Desviacion
- Toll Road – Carretera de Peaje
- Road Closed – Cerrado.
- Road Open – Abierto
- Motorway – Una autopista
- One way street – Direccíon unica
- Dual Carriageway - Autovia
Guatemalan traffic light sequences should be familiar to all as the follow the Vienna Convention. You cannot turn on a red light under any circumstances.
The Pan-American Highway passes through Guatemala and between Palin and Antigua you’ll have to pay a toll. It’s not overly expensive but make sure you have cash as cards are not accepted.
The emergency number in Guatemala is either 110 or 120 for the police, medical services or fire.
What to do in an emergency
If you encounter a mechanical problem with your car in Guatemala you will need to use a local mechanic as there aren’t any breakdown companies that cover the whole country. If you’re in a hire car, use the emergency number provided on the documentation or inside the windscreen of the car.
In the event of an accident you must stop if there is major damage or if someone has been hurt. The vehicles must not be moved until a police officer and/or an insurance representative has said you can. If someone is injured or dies as a result of the crash, all drivers involved will be arrested and jailed until the police decide on responsibility. Whilst waiting for the police to arrive, take photographs of the scene and collect witness details. The police and insurance representative will give you a copy of their report.
As of November 2014, the average price of 95 octane unleaded petrol in Guatemala is 76p whilst diesel is 68p. Prices can vary between the cities, towns and the smaller villages.