Is It Safe in Guatemala?

Eruption in volcano Pacaya in Guatemala, Central America. 2552 meters. Cordillera Sierra Madre, Central America.
ByronOrtizA / Getty Images

Despite Guatemala's high crime rates, the vast majority of travelers do enjoy worry-free vacations without incident. Most crime in Guatemala is concentrated in Guatemala City, which has high levels of theft, armed robbery, and gang activity. Although crime does happen frequently outside the city and in main tourist centers like Antigua and Tikal, most tourists experience no issues. In Guatemala, the most dangerous criminals are interested in targeting local business owners, not tourists.  Although the rates of crime are high, the odds of having a crime-free trip to Guatemala are in the average traveler's favor and you can increase those odds by practicing common sense and staying vigilant.

Travel Advisories

  • Guatemala closed its borders at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic but has since reopened for all travelers, including U.S. citizens. However, the State Department is still advising against any international travel.
  • Before COVID-19, the State Department also advised American citizens to reconsider travel to Guatemala due to reports of widespread violent crime, gang activity, and drug trafficking in the Guatemala, Escuintla, Chiquimula, Quetzaltenango, Izabal, and Petén departments.

Is Guatemala Dangerous?

Guatemala can be a very dangerous country, but crimes against tourists occur less frequently and are less likely to be violent. According to the State Department, there were 176 recorded instances of crime against tourists in 2019 out of 2.6 million registered tourists.

Tourists are most at risk for petty crimes, like pickpocketing and bag-snatching, which typically occur in crowded areas or on public transportation. In Guatemala City, Zone 1 is notorious for being a very dangerous neighborhood with many robberies happening near the bus terminal and Central Market. ATM crime and bankcard scamming are also common in Guatemala, so it's best to avoid using ATMs in main tourist centers whenever you're traveling in Guatemala. Although cities are the most dangerous, any area that attracts a high volume of tourists will also attract crime, even when you're trekking in the middle of the jungle. No matter where they are, travelers should remain vigilant at all times.

The police force in Guatemala is young and under-funded, and the judicial system is overcrowded and inefficient. Be on your guard if you ever get stopped by a police officer, but remain polite. Corruption does occur, but many officers can be helpful too. Security escorts and emergency services are available through the Tourist Assistance Office of INGUAT.

Is Guatemala Safe for Solo Travelers?

Although tourists are less likely to become victims of crimes in Guatemala, traveling alone does increase your risk and solo travelers should be cognizant of that. You can reduce your risk as a solo traveler in Guatemala by not going out at night alone and teaming up with other travelers you meet along the way to visit popular attractions.

If you want to get out and enjoy nature, explore the forests, hike volcanoes, or go searching for waterfalls, you should always go with a tour group rather than venturing out on your own. Avoid taking tours from individuals and use a reputable company with good reviews. Tour companies usually know where they need a police escort and have connections with the locals that can warn them about potential dangers.

Is Guatemala Safe for Female Travelers?

Most female travelers in Guatemala report feeling just as safe as male travelers while visiting Guatemala. Women should heed general safety advice like avoiding public transportation and not walking around alone at night, but should also be aware that Guatemalan culture has a history of misogyny and one of the highest rates of violence against women worldwide. Although most of the crimes against women occur within domestic spheres and female tourists are not usually the target of these offenses, it is still something to bear in mind when interacting with men in Guatemala.

Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers

Guatemala comes in at 131 out of 202 on the Gay Travel Index, a ranking that measures the legal situations and living conditions of the LGBTQ+ community in countries across the world. The country is largely Catholic and conservative and while homophobia is still prevalent in the culture, things are starting to change. In 2020 the country's first openly gay politician was elected to parliament and small gay pride celebrations take place annually in Guatemala City, Antigua, and Quetzaltenango. LGBTQ+ travelers may want to be discreet while traveling in Guatemala, especially if they find themselves outside the main tourist zones. The government is still struggling to address acts of violence that target members of the LGBTQ+ community, and tolerance is still an ongoing issue that Guatemalan LGBTQ+ rights activists are fighting for.

Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers

In highly-trafficked tourist corridors, BIPOC travelers are usually treated like every other foreigner and face few issues, however, it's important for all travelers, but especially indigenous travelers, to be aware of the country's brutal history of racism. During the Guatemalan Civil War, which took place from 1960 to 1996, 200,000 Mayans were massacred in genocide and the community still suffers acts of violence today. While this is an ongoing issue in Guatemala, BIPOC travelers generally do not experience racially-motivated crimes, however, they may notice some racial tension during their travels.

Safety Tips for Travelers

Crime is an issue in Guatemala, but travelers can take the following precautions to lower their chances of becoming a victim:

  • In Guatemala City and Antigua, avoid traveling at night at all costs. Even if your destination is only a couple of blocks away, take a cab or ride-share.
  • Don’t flash any signs of wealth and leave valuable jewelry at home. Keep your camera in a discreet case whenever you're not using it.
  • Resisting a robbery or mugging can be very dangerous, so if you are held up, cooperate fully.
  • Travelers should be vigilant, not paranoid. Robbers tend to target those who appear nervous because it insinuates that you have something of high value to protect.
  • Never leave your valuables unattended at restaurants and keep your phone put away at all times when it's not in use.
Article Sources
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  1. Overseas Security Advisory Council, U.S. Department of State. "Guatemala 2020 Crime & Safety Report." March 31, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of State. "COVID-19 Traveler Information." August 6, 2020.

  3. U.S. Department of State. "Guatemala Travel Advisory." September 28, 2020.

  4. Overseas Security Advisory Council, U.S. Department of State. "Guatemala 2019 Crime & Safety Report." February 28, 2019.