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ATM, Credit Card usage, and safety in Antigua

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Washington DC...
posts: 25
reviews: 14
ATM, Credit Card usage, and safety in Antigua

Hello,

Our trip is 19 days away and we are so excited! We are also getting into the nitty gritty now of planning and had some questions hopefully you can help us with:

1. Our preference is to carry as little cash as possible and use a credit card (Mastercard, American Express) so we are less crushed if we get pickpocketed. Besides street markets and taxis, of course, is plastic widely accepted? Is there generally a charge minimum? Is AMEX feasible as the only card we carry daily or do many stores not accept it?

2. How widely available are ATMs? (We use Capital One bank which has a pretty good network). Is cloning still a problem and are there any machines we should avoid?

3. We are also going to Atilan (day trip), Ixmiche (day trip), and Monterrico (overnight). Should we expect no ATM/ credit cards in those places and carry cash only, or are they available?

4. We are foreign service, speak some Spanish, and are reasonably savvy, but are traveling as a group of 7 this time with 4, 7, and 12 year old kids so will definitely stand out as gringos. Can someone who is on the ground give me a fair sense of risk? Say on a scale of 1-10...10 being Kabul, 1 being Cedar Rapids. We are staying at Soleil in a condo, and are using viaventure for transport, so I don't see us staying out till 2AM or riding chicken buses, but there are still enough stories of being robbed at gunpoint out there that I'm a bit concerned.

Thanks so much!

79 replies to this topic
Chicago, Illinois
posts: 23
1. Re: ATM, Credit Card usage, and safety in Antigua

Have been to Guatemala twice in a year and a half, so am not an expert, but American Express does not seem to be widely accepted. Will be going again this week. My plan is to take pre-paid Visa Travel Money cards--2 to be used in ATM's and one just as credit. Am taking cash to convert at banks. I do not want to risk compromising my regular bank cards or accounts.

Washington DC...
posts: 25
reviews: 14
2. Re: ATM, Credit Card usage, and safety in Antigua

Thanks for the reply! I hadn't thought about prepaid visas. Citibank has them with just a 3.95 fee, but they're not good at ATMs. I'll just bring a little cash to change and buy a bunch of $100 cards to walk around with one at a time.

Bethesda, MD
posts: 1,696
reviews: 23
3. Re: ATM, Credit Card usage, and safety in Antigua

To the degree that credit cards are accepted, VISA is the one to carry. Most higher-end hotels will accept VISA. But they may add on a service charge.

I wouldn't use the ATMs in Antigua. No exceptions. There are ATMs around the lake. There've been some problems reported with them in Panajachel, but the ones outside Banrural in Santiago and San Pedro should be OK. To my knowledge, there's no ATM at Iximche or Monterrico, last I heard.

Can't really judge Cedar Rapids vs. Kabul, but as a former Hill fgn policy aide with travel experience all around Latin America and extensively in Guatemala, I can tell you that I feel safer in Guate than I've felt in Bogota or Mexico City. I'm just back from two trips to Guate in the last month, and from a tourism perspective it seems about as safe as it's been for quite a while, with the caveat that you use common sense.

Antigua, Guatemala
posts: 26
reviews: 25
4. Re: ATM, Credit Card usage, and safety in Antigua

I got ripped off twice in Guatemala via ATM. Once in Panajachel and once in Antigua. My friends were also ripped off via ATM at Parque Central in a bank which has a security guard. DO NOT USE ATM'S IN GUATEMALA, EVER. The ripping didn't occur for a few days after we used the cards in Antigua. The only commonality was the ATM at the Parque Central in Antigua. They're very, very good at this and it's done very very often. People don't like when I say this but hey this is trip advisor and I wish someone had told me about this common ripping practice in Guatemala. i have traveled the entire planet and not once has this ever happened to me. in Guatemala it happened twice. Nice country, not expensive but thieves are all over the place. Everybody's got a charity or project they want you to donate to, another tired common practice.

The Dalles, Oregon
Destination Expert
for Guatemala, Belize
posts: 6,419
reviews: 95
5. Re: ATM, Credit Card usage, and safety in Antigua

Pat - When did you travel? The Antigua ATM problems have been on the forum since last fall, I think. Sorry for your trouble! I took enough local currency for our time in Antigua so I didn't have to use the machines there at all. I did use one on Atitlan so I'm watching my account every few days just in case.

The Dalles, Oregon
Destination Expert
for Guatemala, Belize
posts: 6,419
reviews: 95
6. Re: ATM, Credit Card usage, and safety in Antigua

Oh - and about the "tired common practice" of wanting to make things better for others, here's my project:

www.becaproject.org

We just spent an amazing week visiting each of the students and their families and putting on a big celebration bash; you can read about it on the blog on the site above. Happy trails!

Adelaide, Australia
posts: 77
reviews: 185
7. Re: ATM, Credit Card usage, and safety in Antigua

Travel cards are the best way in my mind when travelling in any country. I used one in Europe (they have the same issues in Eastern Europe at times), there are criminals everywhere.

We will be in Antigua in 5 days and I have a Bank Travel Card (basically a VISA). I will be changing my money inside a bank after reading a number of forums on the matter. Worst case scenario and I lose the card I am down a few bucks, but not my lifes savings.

Also get travel insurance that covers an amount of cash just in case you get caught, you will feel better when you hand it over knowing the insurance company will refund upon your return

As it was said above, common sense is the best approach. Funny thing is, at times, its not that common.

Washington DC...
posts: 25
reviews: 14
8. Re: ATM, Credit Card usage, and safety in Antigua

Thanks for the replies. My travel agent said the problems were most common at the BAC in Central Park, which gibes with the feedback here.

Luxor, Egypt
posts: 75
reviews: 2
9. Re: ATM, Credit Card usage, and safety in Antigua

in GC there are ample places to use VISA, but in Antigua most places I frequented did not take CC.

I brought cash to Guatemala (but my trip was only 5 days).

ATMs in ANtigua are often broke or not guarded.

If staying in a nice hotel in GC you can use the ATM in the hotel (like barcelo).

I kept my cash in my bra the entire time. and i carried a cheap handbag witha face wallet in case of robbery (had expired CCs and a few quetzales and dollars)

Deerfield Beach...
posts: 2,495
reviews: 12
10. Re: ATM, Credit Card usage, and safety in Antigua

Even though I have to pay a foreign transaction fee. I always prefer to use my credit card every time I can, as that saves me from having to use the ATM. And I've been able to use it at fast food restraurants and supermarkets. But I agree VISA is the one that you want to take. And before leaving on my trip I always call my CC issuer to let them where I'm travelling to, and give them my travel dates. And amounts I can expect to charge per day. That way they won't block it in case of any problems

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