Safety in Guatemala: Should you be concerned?

“Guatemala, are you serious? It’s so dangerous, maybe you should pick another country”

streets of antigua 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.

flores guatemala cafe

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.

dancing in flores guatemala

Let’s talk about my real experience.

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.

watching volcano fuego erupt from earth lodge

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.

san marcos la laguna at lake atitlan

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.

playing with puppies in san marcos la laguna

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.

the look out at semuc champey with my guide

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. I learned everything I needed to know about transportation in Guatemala here!

tuk tuk transportation in guatemala

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.

drinking coffee in flores guatemala

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.

standing out front of the main temple in tikal

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.

Safety in Guatemala should you be concerned

15 Comments

  1. 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.

    1. 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!

  2. 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!)

    1. 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!

  3. 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 🙋🏻‍♀️

    1. 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!

  4. 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 🙂

    1. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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)

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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,
    Cheers!

    1. 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

Leave a Response

By using commenting you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.