Guatemala is not considered the safest place to travel. During my preparations of this trip, of course I was thinking many times whether this trip to Guatemala is a good idea from a security perspective. I’ve studied the travel advice for Guatemala published by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and reading those leaves behind a huge knot in the throat. Hijacking, robberies, street blocks, rapes, murders. What have I done booking a trip to this place? To get some measure of what I’m dealing with here I studied the travel advice of Perú and Ecuador, countries that I have visited before. The advice for these two countries looked pretty similar to the Guatemalan one. I didn’t encounter any security related problems when visiting these two countries, and that fact calmed me down. And of course I went ahead and did some other research in the internet, looking for content similar to what I’m about to create right now. I wanted to know how people experienced this aspect of traveling through Guatemala. I think that gives the real picture. The official authorities have to give you quite a conservative picture of the situation, so that in case something happens they can tell you “We have told you so!”. With that in mind, I hope that I can give you a little overview of how I experienced my trip.
It turns out that I didn’t experience a single incident during the 8 week that I have spent in Guatemala. Neither did my classmates at school as far as I am aware. The only thing that I have heard from a friend was an iPhone that has suddenly vanished, most probably it was stolen. But besides of that, no security related problems at all fortunately. That being said, I also have to say that I stuck to places which are considered to be safe. Antigua for example, where I spent most of my time. I found Antigua to be a very safe city. Police officers are standing almost at every second corner or are patrolling the streets. Also, the streets are kind of busy until late at night, which probably also helps.
Also, I think part of the reason why nothing happened to me was because I followed some basic rules which make it a little less likely to run into troubles. I think the following list outlines the most important ones:
- Avoid obviously dangerous places. For example, using public transportation in Guatemala City is not a good idea, especially the red buses.
- Don’t show off expensive gear like cameras, watches, jewelry, etc. in the street.
- Whenever possible, don’t bring a wallet or purse, just loose cash and no cards.
- Distribute the cash in different pockets, especially if you carry a lot.
- Wear unremarkable cloths, try to blend in.
- Try to stick with groups, especially during nighttime.
- Ask other people how to behave in certain places.
- Respect warnings. For example, I have seen a signpost saying that it is unsafe to hike between Jaibalito and San Marcos at Lago Atitlán, so we didn’t do that.
- Use your common sense.
I think Guatemala is definitely a good place to travel, also from this point of view as long as you stick to some basic rules. There is also no reason to walk around in fear. If you do so, it not only takes away all the fun of traveling, it also makes you a potential victim. The primary reason you go to Guatemala is to explore this marvelous country and its rich culture.