On May 15th an attack was carried out by a Mexican drug cartel resulting in the deaths of some 29 agriculture laborers on a remote farm in Guatemala’s Department of Peten. A subsequent retaliation against Guatemalan police raids took place the following day, in the city of Santa Elena, Peten.
In response to these incidents the Guatemalan president has declared a 30-day “state of siege” in the Department of Peten, which limits freedoms of assembly, movement and expression and the right to bear arms, and gives overall control of the region to the military. This is seen as a welcome move by the population and tourism industry as it will heighten security in the region.
Operators been monitoring the situation continually and are in close contact with relevant government and private agencies including ASISTUR (tourism police), INGUAT (tourism board), and CAMTUR (Chamber of Tourism) to determine the most appropriate response from a tourism related perspective as these events unfold. There was a meeting this morning with all the above mentioned agencies and expect a news bulletin to be published soon with will advise that travel in the central Peten area (Tikal, Yaxha, Flores) can proceed as normal.
The situation on the ground in the Peten is calm. Flights, hotels, restaurants, and archeological parks are all operating as normal. The increased security presence and military check-points along roads have added a level of security the Peten has not recently known.
At this time operators are continuing with all regular operations in the Peten region, with the exception of avoiding the remote Western border with Mexico until sufficient time has passed to better assess the outcome of the military and police operations in that area.
The vast majority of violence in Guatemala remains drug-against-drug or gang-against-gang related – turf wars and power struggles between rival gangs, as well as scuffles with the authorities. We see no reason for tourists to become targets of this type of criminality in the future.
Guatemala is a developing country and crimes against tourists do happen from time to time, but the vast majority of incidents are the sort of non-violent crimes you find anywhere in the world (pick-pocketing, purse snatching, credit card theft, etc), most of which can be avoided by keeping a low profile, traveling with a reputable tour operator, and most of all using common sense as a guide.
Following our update of May 18th, as expected a joint statement released by the Guatemalan tourism board (INGUAT) and the chamber of tourism (CAMTUR) reaffirms travel to the Peten is both safe and recommended. The full statement can be found here on the Guatemala tourism board website: http://www.visitguatemala.com/web/documentos/CURRENT_STATUS_REPORT_ON_PETEN.pdf