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Staying Safe in Guatemala

safety.jpgWhile Guatemala has a higher crime rate than some of the other countries in Central America, many tourists travel here every year without any problems. Staying safe in Guatemala is an easy thing to do if you follow a few simple rules and keep your wits about you. If you have traveled safely in other third world destination, you should have no problem staying safe in Guatemala.

First, let me start by saying that many of the situations described below are worst case scenarios. Many of these situations are not things that happen on a daily basis. When these events do happen, it is usually a result of a traveler being careless and doing something stupid like walking a jungle trail at night or leaving a bag unattended in a public place. As I said before, many visitors come to Guatemala every year without any problems.

Taking Photos

I bet the headline “taking photos” isn’t one you expected to see in a post about staying safe in Guatemala! The fact i though, it is something you need to be aware of. Guatemalans don’t believe that photos steal a part of your soul. Instead, some think it means your trying to steal their children.

In small Guatemalan towns and villages locals might become uneasy if they see you photographing children. Even if the children are not theirs, locals may confront you about the situation. Photographing children in large groups from afar or with parents may be ok, but dont push your luck. In more touristy areas of Guatemala and in larger cities this is not as much of a concern, as they are more use to the touristy shutterbug.

Crimes on the Trail

Because Guatemala has such a stunning landscape and so many unique outdoor destinations, it should come as no surprise that many of these sights that draw tourist also draw thieves. Some of these popular destinations include Volcan de Agua, trails around Lago de Atitlan, and Volcan de Pacaya. This doesn’t mean you should avoid these area, it just means you need to use common sense to stay safe.

To stay safe on these treks and trails you only need do a few things:

  • Don’t walk on the trails at night. Period. These trails are dark and secluded. Even if you are traveling with a group, avoid walking on these trails at night at all costs.
  • Don’t carry a bag around with you if you dont have to.
  • Don’t carry a bag at night.
  • Don’t walk the trails alone.
  • Always travel with a buddy or with a group. Thieves tend to avoid larger group, especially if no one is carrying a bag or valuables.

Guatemala City

As with any major urban area, you have your good parts and your bad parts; Guatemala City is no exception. Since most people don’t come to Guatemala to see Guatemala City, most people can avoid conflict pretty easy here. The only things you really need to do to stay safe in Guatemala City is use common street smarts and know which parts of the city to avoid.

A special note to backpackers; the hostels near the airport ( Zone 10 or Zone 13 ) tend to be a little bit more expensive, but are well worth it. Some of the cheaper hostels are located in bad areas of the city or are owned by untrustworthy individuals. Since you will probably only be staying in Guatemala City over night, fork over the extra few bucks to stay safe.

Where to no go in Guatemala City:

  • Stay out of zones 3, 6, 18, and 21
  • Be careful in Zone 1, especially in the evening and at night. Avoid staying at hostels here.