Safety in Guatemala, it went like this. ‘Guatemala are you serious? It’s so dangerous, maybe you should pick a different country?”, “Guatemala, you are definitely going to get robbed”, “Guatemala?! Don’t leave your hotel after 8:00pm!” “Guatemala! If you go there you are definitely going to die!”
A little dramatic guys…
It’s been almost 4 years now that I have been travelling in Latin America. Due to a somewhat precarious history you can imagine that I have received a number of safety warnings…especially as a traveling female. I won’t ignore this popular idea. As passionate as I have become about this area of the world, I refuse to pretend this reputation does not exist. I would love nothing more than to help to defeat it, and to recreate it, but first it must be spoken about.
Guatemala, of all the countries I have enjoyed in Latin America, this one had me flooded with safety concerns and comments ranging from ‘be careful’ to ‘you’re going to die for sure’. I mean never before have I had such an overwhelmingly negative response about going somewhere. It was like I was heading into the army of El Chapo himself, when actually I was headed to climb some volcanoes and to enjoy one of the biggest UNESCO sites in the Americas.
They warned me of gang violence, the sex trade, the drug trade, petty crime, kidnapping, and of course to top it off…murder. I was warned never to go outside after 8:00pm because that’s when all the bad stuff happens, because who needs to go dancing in Latin America….well I will tell you who does…me! I was warned of highway robberies! They told me nothing was safe, no mode of transport was ok, not even the INGUAT tourist shuttles. I heard horror stories of tourist shuttles being pulled off the highways in an organized manner resulting in both robbery and rape. I was even told that if hiking Acatenango alone there would be men on the trail with machetes waiting to rob me….amongst a wealth of tourist groups? Probably not, more likely farmers on their way home from work, or a mirage. Worry…I heard worry. Worry from people who had never given Guatemala a chance.
Let’s talk about my real experience with safety in Guatemala.
The country, the topography, the landscape; it’s beautiful. The environment in Guatemala is incredibly diverse with only a short distance between each. The warm colonial town of Antigua provides a traveler with stunning cobblestone streets, bright coloured buildings, restaurants, markets, and night life. All of this is surrounded by immense active volcanoes, erupting throughout the day.
Flores, Tikal, and Lanquin are all tourists hot spots located in the jungle. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s full of awesome creatures such as scorpions and tarantulas. It has amazing places to swim, like the lake of Peten and the famous spring water pools of Semuc Champey. Guatemala has a long and unique history, with spectacular ruins to prove it.
Lake Atitlan is a massive navigable lake surrounded by boat access cities, 15 to be exact read about them here. Every day here feels like a perfect spring morning with towering volcanos to add to its charm. What about the volcanoes? They are accessible offering difficult but worthwhile hikes. Cold and windy, climbing them feels like Canada on a winter day. They provide a challenge, but also a view, and I am partial to skree anyways.
The people, they are wonderful. They are passionate. They are helpful and they played a big role in making my experience as good as it was. I made a plethora of Mayan friends and Guatemalan friends. It was pretty easy. They were open to me and excited to share their country with me. Some of them took me out at night to show me the best places to go and restaurants to enjoy. They were pleasant. They always smiled, and they spoke much better English than I did Spanish. They made me feel welcome. Did I feel insecure with them? No, in fact, they took great care of me, the shuttle drivers especially. It is amazing what great relationships small McDonald’s fries can create.
So what about transport? It was easy, The shuttles were plentiful, and every hotel or hostel offered them. It was no work at all, you simply told your hotel, or any hotel for that matter, where you wished to go, and they would give you the time and location for the appropriate shuttle. Shuttles left all day long so without a doubt one would be bound to fit your schedule. Plus you’d be in a van full of tourists like yourself, I made lots of friends in shuttles. Transport was way more accessible than I thought it was going to be. It was mostly on major roads, and I never once felt threatened in regards to my safety in Guatemala. I learned everything I needed to know about transportation in Guatemala here!
The food in Guatemala was great and the coffee shops were even better. Every hotel/hostel offered clean and filtered water as did many of the tourist offices and a generous amount of stores and shops within towns. All over Antigua they had big jugs of water available for you to fill up your bottles for free. I found this to be a thoughtful and a useful touch.
The history of Guatemala is wonderful. With a layer of Mayan culture covering the country, it is easy to learn and to appreciate their incredible culture. There are still many who speak the Mayan language, who wear the traditional clothing, and who celebrate the history with much pride. Guatemala has some of the most impressive ruins I have ever had the opportunity to experience, as well as some of the prettiest fabric weaving I have seen to date.
What I wish to encourage in this article is the common, ‘do not judge a book by its cover’ theory. To be warned a country was too dangerous for a female traveler like myself, by a variety of people who have not and who may never give Guatemala a chance, seems unjust. I feel about Guatemala like I feel about every place I have traveled. I believe it is important to be aware of your actions and surroundings no matter where you are, and this should be how you approach any new destination. I never felt uncomfortable in Guatemala, I never felt unsafe, and I never thought rape, robbery and murder was in my future. I was aware of what was happening, and am pleased to say that Guatemala as a tourist destination does very well in creating a variety of safe options for travelers of any type. Listen to the warnings of others, but do not let this deter you from experiencing a wonderful trip.
Interested in Traveling in Guatemala? PIN IT so you can refer to this article or send it to people who might be concerned about safety traveling in Guatemala!
Brooke of Passport Couture says
Thank you for being honest and addressing these concerns. It’s interesting you’ve heard all of these judgments about Guatemala. I’ve expressed wanting to go for years, and I never experienced anyone warning me of potential dangers. I have traveled in South America, so maybe that’s why I’m not as afraid.
I think anywhere can have dangers, and that’s what you have to keep in mind. Anywhere has its problems, you just have to be smart and also open to experiencing new things. I’m much happier traveling with this mentality instead of constantly living in fear.
Kimberly Erin says
Hey Brooke! Thank you for your comment I love when readers write in!! <3 So its funny right, because I have also been traveling through Central and South America...for over 4 years! So you can be sure that fear was not part of my vocabulary. Of all of the countries I have had the opportunity to spend a few months in, Guatemala was the one and only where I was warned repetitively! Because of that I felt inspired to create this piece and share it with fellow travellers! Definitely go and enjoy Guate!
Thanks for this great article! I got the same sort of reaction when I told everyone I was moving to Guatemala in 2015. In fact, initially I too was guilty of a negative perception. When Guatemala popped up on my search list of “great places for expats”, I thought, “What? I thought they were having a horrible civil war!” That’s the only thing I remembered about Guatemala from my high school history and geography classes!
I’ve lived here now for three years and it’s awesome. I agree with all the points you’ve made in this post: the people are great, the country is beautiful, and you meet a lot of awesome folks on the shuttles! But as always, be alert and be smart. (And never miss a chance to go dancing!)
Kimberly Erin says
Cristel! Thank you so much for taking the time to read! It is nice to hear people identifying with my personal thoughts and feelings. For me it was extra wild because I had been traveling and living in Latin America for 4 years, I had spent much time in Colombia, and El Salvador, Honduras, Bolivia…basically everywhere. Guatemala was the one place where people warned me I was going to die… why? Its such a negative and untrue reputation, I am happy it came up in your expat search. It just means others, like myself, are working to create new content battling the negative reputation. Thats why I like to call this piece….reputation v. reality! Thanks for writing in again!
Thanks you for the comments girl 😉 and I am so glad you enjoyed it. I am from Guatemala and that’s mean a lot to me. You know we have to be aware anyway, but not just in Guatemala! Because I live in San Francisco CA and I have not good experiences too in some areas so it’s going to be anywhere. Well just enjoy and be smart 🤗💖💕 thank you I miss all the places you visit and I hope that you will back 🙋🏻♀️
Kimberly Erin says
Hi Lucrecia! Thanks for your comment! It is true, every place in the world has its safer spots, and less safe spots! I am from Toronto and that def rings true! I thought the country and the people were lovely, and I hope with this piece to encourage others to look at Guatemala as a fabulous place to travel and live. I hope you stick around share some of my adventures with me! <3 thanks again for your lovely comment!
I love your article. I have been living in Panajachel, Lake Atitlan for 5 years now, and did some traveling throughout Guatemala during that time, and never once felt threatened. Guatemala City, like any large city, has its problems in certain zones, but I don’t care for the big cities anyway. I am from Chicago originally and feel much safer here than I ever did living in Chicago. Thank you for your honest opinions of this great country. I love it here and have no desire to return to the states anytime soon. Happy travels :)
Kimberly Erin says
Hey John! Thanks for writing in! Guatemala has left me inspired and wanting to return! I agree that I every country and city has its safe and dangerous locales, it just depends on what scenario we, as content creators, choose to represent. I am choosing to focus on the positives of traveling and even expating in Guate and I am glad to see you are to! Rock on! Ill be back soon!
Juan Pablo Chaclan says
I’m guatemalan. I know my country has certain problems but it also has beautiful things to offer. Thanks a lot for sharing you experience in my country. It’s a pleasure to read about people who appreciate Guatemala. Have traveling!
Negative nancy says
Like to first say,Great article!
But maybe cause nothing happened to you it’s seems safe. I’ve experienced first hand multiple bad experience, thinking it was first a not so bad area since so many people travel there and said great things. But for anyone who hasn’t gone, I like to say still be extra careful. Because anything can happen to anyone. I would not visit again due to too many bad scarring experiences.
But I guess that’s just my negative view on it.
Wished it was different.
Well, for one reason there are statistics… One thing is her personal experience and another thing are what agencies and warnings offer. Some women traveling “solo” sometimes no longer have the opportunity to share their stories because they have been kidnapped or raped. There are plenty of secure places to go, offering the exact same biodiversity, the same animals, the same forests….. I prefer Costa Rica or Panama, the Caribbean or even Cuba (y)
Thanks for writing this! I studied abroad in Antigua in college and got many of the same warnings. I fell absolutely in LOVE with Guate and its beauty and culture and people and have been back multiple times since and truly hope to be able to live there someday. I travel a lot and to this day, Guate is still my favorite place and holds an immensely special place in my heart. I’m not sure where the extra caution stemmed from, but I personally feel just as safe in Guate as I do anywhere else. I appreciate you taking the time to help dismantle the myths and bring a dose of reality and experience to the mix. I hope it will help convince more travelers to check out all that Guate has to offer!
I live in Guatemala, and I am so proud of my country, thanks for writting in. God bless you, and I hope that you come back soon.
Byron Pivaral says
As Guatemalan I must say (and you must know) that touristic places are far away of being the “Real Guatemala”, as tourist you have less than 5% to be in the situations that Guatemala is famous for. Shit happens here and we see it every day, the thing is that you, as many other tourists, are lucky because you don’t experience what the real situation here is. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m glad nothing happened to you and you didn’t experience anything bad, but the real thing is that you didn’t see the real Guatemala.
Still, thanks for the nice article, it’s always nice to read nice things about your own country,
Kimberly Erin says
Hey Byron! Thanks for writing in! Well, in the case of this particular article… it is…is Guatemala safe to travel? Well, then yes, because if your traveling here you are likely going to touristic places which as you say have less than 5% chance to be in a bad situation…and so I still conclude that it is safe to travel. The question was is Guatemala safe to travel. I really appreciate you taking the time to write in <3 Thank you :) I hope you get a chance to read this response
Rafael Castellanos says
I was born in Antigua Guatemala, moved to USA when I was 20 years old, thank you for loving my country and my people and letting people know how beautiful and safe it is. I took some of my friends to Guate and they fell in love, specially my home town of Antigua. Saludos de un chapin que extraña su tierra.
Kimberly Erin says
Gracias Rafa, I really did fall in Love with Guate…as you can see from my blog I just couldn’t stop writing about it. Its a beautiful country, and the people are one of the things that makes it so beautiful. I hope to expat in Antigua for a couple months in the future. It is a great town!
I have traveled inGuatamala extensivly over many years. Not one big problem ever. It is important to try not to be a spectical, I found the people that I met warm and friendly. The natural beauty is awsome and very worth the journey to see some of the remote places. All one has to do to remain safe is to use common sense or (uncommon sense). Guat City is not my favoriate place but I don’t like any big cities anyway. Two useful tips if traveling to Guatamala are don’t take pictures of Mayan’s without asking first and try not to drink anything that does not have a cap on it if you are out and about.
Jennifer Long says
Thanks for this! My 19 year old daughter leaves on Sunday to spend three months working at a school in Alotenango. She will be staying in Antigua and taking the bus daily. Weekends will be for traveling and sightseeing. SO MANY PEOPLE have been telling me that I am crazy for letting her go – that it is terribly dangerous.
She has traveled in China, Chile, and India and no one worried about that! I am happy to read something positive.
Kimberly Erin says
Hey Jennifer! Thanks for your comment! If she has traveled in China, Chile, and India then no doubt she’s got some great experience already. Central America has a heck of a reputation, unfortunately the reputation is outdated. Guatemala has a really strong tourist path, especially in Antigua where she is staying! It is a wonderful town crawling with tourists (much diff than Guate City). Your daughter just needs to use her head…I always say, if you put yourself in a compromising situation, you are giving yourself the chance to be compromised. Just use your head! i.e. don’t walk the streets alone at 2:00 am. AHAH