Guatemala : Safety by City
Guatemala is a country located in the Central American region.
It shares borders with Mexico to the north/northwest, with Belize to the northeast, with Honduras to the southeast, and El Salvador to the south.
It boasts two coastlines: a Pacific coastline in the southwest and a tiny patch of Caribbean coastline in the east, so apart from historically-motivated tourists, Guatemala is the perfect place for summer lovers.
It’s rich in culture and history stemming from Spain and the native Maya people which calls for hordes of tourists each year.
No other country has a history like that.
But apart from Maya ruins that are the main attractions of this gorgeous country (the most memorable of which are El Mirador, considered to be the cradle of Maya civilization, and Tikal), this country is rich in natural diversity and beauty.
Guatemala is popular for having a lot of volcanoes, many of them over 3,000 meters high.
For example, volcán de Pacaya (2500m) is an active volcano about 30 minutes outside of Antigua, and sometimes it is not even accessible as the volcano may be too active to observe safely.
Warnings & Dangers in Guatemala
OVERALL RISK : HIGH
Guatemala is not the safest country to visit. It has extremely high crime rates, of both violent and petty crime. You should be vigilant and take all possible precaution measures in order to minimize the risk of something wrong happening.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
It is advised that you avoid public transport in Guatemala due to high levels of crime and armed robberies in crowded places such as bus or train stations, and on public transport as well. Always opt for calling a taxi from a reputable company instead of hailing one on the streets.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : HIGH
There is an extreme threat of petty crime. Pickpockets are an everyday occurrence, so you should be extremely careful when handling your valuables and never carry your money in a purse or a pocket. Never carry all your money in the same place, and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
When it comes to natural disasters, there are threats from forest fires from November to June. Then from May to November there is the risk of flooding that is caused by the rainy season. The volcanoes Fuego, Pacaya and Santiaguito have a moderate activity. Hurricanes and earthquakes also occasionally hit this country.
MUGGING RISK : HIGH
Violent crime is common in Guatemala so be extremely careful when handling money. One of the biggest risks in Guatemala is having your child kidnapped and then sold for adoption on the black market. Places to avoid are Volcan de Agua, trails around Lago de Atitlan, and Volcan de Pacaya.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There haven't been any recent terrorist attacks in Guatemala's recent history, but they shouldn't be ruled out. Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
SCAMS RISK : HIGH
As in any country there's a risk of getting scammed. Be wary of people trying to distract you in order to steal from you and of taxi drivers overcharging you for a ride. We advise you to be extremely careful when handling money and around ATMs.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Guatemala isn't the safest place for a woman to be visiting alone. If you do, be sure to avoid remote streets, both during day and night, and do not flash your belongings or handle money in public. Stay out of the streets at night and be vigilant for any possible dangers at all times.
So... How Safe Is Guatemala Really?
Guatemala is somewhat safe to visit.
Markets, public transport, and other crowded places are best to be avoided because tourists are easy targets in big crowds and Guatemala is a country of skilled pickpockets.
Areas such as the famous market of Chichicastenango are notorious for this, where pickpockets just discreetly razor-cut your clothes until they reach your wallet pocket.
Solola markets are also places where you should watch out for pickpockets.
It’s advised to avoid showing any wealth, so dress modestly and leave the jewelry and valuables at home.
If you think it would be safer to leave your things in your car – wrong again.
Guatemala has had many reports of car break-ins, and some tourists have had their car broken into while parked at the gas station.
Everything inside was stolen.
As you can see, petty crime is a serious issue in this country and you are advised to watch over your things very closely.
But Guatemala is known for violent crime, too.
As a tourist, you could easily encounter threats of weapons such as guns, knives and even grenades.
There have been several reports of tourists being robbed at gunpoint while climbing the volcano at Volcan de Agua, and a mother and daughter were shot at in July 2010 when they ran from their attackers, but they were, luckily, not injured.
Watch out when in public transport, as tourist buses and shuttle buses are places where many have been robbed at gunpoint.
How Does Guatemala Compare?
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- Visas - Many countries such as the U.S.A do not need a visa to enter Guatemala for any stays shorter than 90 days. Make sure your passport is valid for more than 6 months past the date of your arrival. If you are not sure about your visa status, visit www.doyouneedvisa.com which will let you know whether or not you need visa based on your nationality and the country you want to visit.
- Currency - Guatemalan quetzal is the official currency in Guatemala. ATMs for Visa/Plus System cards are available in all but the rural towns and avoid the ones that are left unguarded at night. Always look for ones located in a secure environment and when entering your PIN, cover it with your hand.
- Weather - Weather in Guatemala varies from region to region depending on the altitude and the climate zone. For such a small country, it has many climate zones, and two "seasons": the dry season, lasting from November to May and the rainy season. The Guatemala mountains alter the weather though everyone assumes it has tropical climate.
- Airports - La Aurora International Airport is the busiest international airport serving Guatemala City, Guatemala. It is located 6.4 km south of Guatemala City's center.
- Travel Insurance - Just like anywhere else, we recommend getting travel insurance when traveling to Guatemala, since it covers not only the costs medical problems, but also theft and loss of valuables.
Guatemala Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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11 Reviews on Guatemala
Fun when with a group of friends
This is clearly not a place to go with your family or with small children. But, if you go with a group of friends then you will probably have fun like I did. We have a lot of pictures and videos of our fun time together.
My thoughts exactly. The place is not entirely safe but it is also not a HUGE risk that I would tell people to avoid it. I have gone several times. I think it is beautiful. I love interacting with the locals, checking out their natural surroundings, tasting their food, and just absorbing their culture. You have to have your wits about you though or you can easily be taken advantage of.
Guatemala has much to offer when it comes to the surroundings and magnificent views. It’s the people (some of them) that make it a relatively unsafe place to visit. It’s too bad since there’s a lot to explore and do here.
I have visited Guatemala many times,but in the last 5 years is seems to have gotten a little more dangerous in the city except for that its a fun place to visit especially antiqua
Not Especially Dangerous
Felt really safe to me despite (because of?) armed guards everywhere. The areas that seemed shady were pretty apparent. Definitely agree it’s not a family destination but isn’t anywhere near as dangerous as it’s made out to be but crimes do happen. In areas where guides or police escorts are recommended especially in the countryside I definitely recommend you do it the guides aren’t like bodyguards but they don’t have to be because they are persons who are known and they vouch for you so you’ll avoid problems completely. Sometimes a guide is mandatory but they are always reasonably priced, usually they only charge a tip. Conversely you CAN do most things yourself but for this you 100% need at least mediocre to average Spanish and experience in a similar country.
On the other hand the volcanic nature of the area makes it prone to eruptions and earthquakes.
My second home
I am a blonde white woman and I feel a lot safer in many places in Guatemala than today in Germany. Petty crimes are a problem in any tourist destination. But at least noon defecates in the open like it is common today in Paris.
Most violent crimes happen in Guatemala between Gangs. I lived there for twelve years for a couple of months every year. I was there with my baby, now eleven-year-old daughter. Guatemala also has great luxury shopping malls, it’s just hard to get a parking spot somewhere since the malls are always full.
Every country has bad places that are more dangerous but you can safely walk around many zones in Guatemala City and surely at Pana and Atitlan or Livingston if you practice common sense. I love Guatemala, watching Turtles hatch on the volcanic beaches, or enjoying the Caribbean coast and Izabal. When you drive to the volcanic beaches you see villages where people don’t have closed houses. Just two walks and posts, Living room and kitchen half open between palms.
Antigua is where I married and it’s a great place full of colors and adventure.
Btw. Children don’t get often kidnapped. It’s a myth from years ago when the whole Guatemala international adoption program closed because a few women claimed their babies where stolen and sold to be adopted to US citizens. Three cases have been confirmed. Out of the three two wanted more money from the adoptive parents, not the child back. Instead of easy genetic testing, they closed international adoption. Instead of over 30.000 children adopted to the USA in the ten years before only 2000 kids could be placed in the ten years since in Guatemala. Guatemala has a very high orphan rate.
The risk to kidnap a child, especially a foreign child is big. If a tourist child would get stolen, the whole country would be looking, huge police search. As sad as it sounds but with all the orphans freely available it is not worth it.
And sadly in almost any country, there are cases of children being stolen and never seen again. So no matter where be careful of your kids and don’t trust strangers.
Beautiful but take precautions
I’ve been to Guatemala several times. The people are generally very friendly. We dress with very ordinary clothes and I remove all jewelry, my watch and even my glasses when in the city. Glasses are actually a sign of wealth….many cannot afford them. I have taken the colourful buses around the country as well as the slower coaches and we never had a problem. I recommend travelling early, you are more likely to be surrounded by people going to work versus criminal elements. At night we don’t generally go out. It’s a beautiful country but unfortunately the drug trade seems to me making more inroads, thanks to North American and European buyers!
I’ve been to Guatemala many times. It is true it is not the safest country in the World and that the transit of drugs from South America to the USA is becoming a problem in Guatemala. I have never experienced any serious problems, however. I’ve been pickpocketed, though. (But so have I in India, The Netherlands and Spain)
The following statement from above is absurd, however: “One of the biggest risks in Guatemala is having your child kidnapped and then sold for adoption on the black market.” As far as I know, no tourist family has experienced something like this, ever. It did happen to some Guatemalan families in the late 80’s and early 90’s, when the adoption business was at its boom.
Chicken buses are a Russian roulette. I’d advise anybody reading this to never, ever, board one. The drivers are absolutely mad, buses rarely in tip-top condition and robberies to bus passengers not uncommon.
Just be cautious like you would normally be in any foreign country
I agree with Ray, I wouldn’t go there with my kids but as a couple it’s worth a visit. Use the ATMs inside malls or banks, not the ones on the street just to be sure. Otherwise, create a decent itinerary to make sure you check the best that Guatemala has to offer.
Everywhere I visited were perfectly fine I was traveling solo walking around at night by myself nobody bothered me. Was absolutely stunning highly recommended.
Use caution, as you would traveling to any other country, and you’ll be fine. Avoid walking around in Guatemala City (where must muggings take place, just like any other major metropolitan city in America or Europe), and stick to the tourist areas like Antigua and Lake Atitlan, one of the most beautiful places on earth. Tikal, the Unesco heritage site with Mayan ruins, is a must, and I felt completely safe there. You’ll see mostly Americans and European tourists at Tikal. I traveled with two young teenagers, and I never felt concerned for their safety in Antigua, Tikal, or in the Lake Atitlan village of San Juan. Your dollar will also go a long way here, as the conversion rate is fantastic. You can stay at a luxury hotel on Lake Atitlan far cheaper than a similar resort in Mexico or Puerto Rico. The best piece of advice I could give you is to hire a guide or go with a tour group. If you travel with a group, there is safety in numbers.