If you have been doing research, you probably know that while the vast majority of travelers to Guatemala have worry-free vacations, crime is indeed on the rise in Guatemala, especially in Guatemala City. Theft is common on public transportation, especially between major cities. Armed robbery and rape are also on the rise.
Many foreigners live in the country without issue. The truly dangerous people tend to notice only locals with a business. All you need is some common sense and not walking alone or in lonely places at night.
In conclusion, yes, there is crime and gangs but it is the same thing in every other place around the world. Just don't be out showing off your expensive jewelry, your wallet, and professional camera and you will be OK.
The Areas you Should Avoid
If you are in Guatemala City it's best to stay away from Zone 1. This is where most of the bus terminals, historical monuments, and cheap hotels are located. However, it is also a particularly poor and dangerous area of the capital. The Central Market is also target to more than its share of theft. In it, you get a real chance of being robbed at gunpoint.
If you want to get out and enjoy nature, explore the forests, hike volcanoes, or go searching for waterfalls, ALWAYS go as part of a tour with a group. It is also better to avoid tours from individual people or go alone. Tour companies usually know where they need a police escort and have connections with the locals so they don't get robbed.
Lastly, and this is probably something you should do all over Latin America at least, avoid lonely areas at night.
Safety and the Police
In Guatemala, the police force is young and under-funded, and the judicial system is overcrowded and inefficient. You should probably always be on your guard if you ever get stopped by one, just in case. But remain polite. Because there are some stories of corrupt ones but most are nice and helpful.
If you come across a nice one who isn't asking for anything while being helpful, buy them a soda or a snack (don't give them money). By doing this you encourage them to keep being nice.
Some More Tips on Staying Safe
- In Guatemala City and Antigua, avoid traveling at night at all costs. Even if your destination is only a couple blocks away, take a cab or tuk-tuk.
- Don’t flash any signs of wealth. Leave your jewelry, camera, and if possible, wallet at home. Instead, put your cash or cards in your pants (get pants with zippered pockets).
- Do not resist a mugging—that’s how most victims are injured or killed. If you are held up, cooperate fully. Chances are, the robber will be more nervous than you, so give him what he asks for and move on.
- Don't be paranoid. Not everyone is trying to get your money. Plus robbers can tell when someone is scared and paranoid so they take them as their target thinking that they have a lot that they want to keep.
- Don't leave things unattended when you visit restaurants.
- Security escorts and emergency services are available through the Tourist Assistance Office of INGUAT; you can dial 1500 to set up a police escort or get your questions answered.
- To hear about all of the current updates on Guatemala safety and security you can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S and Canada, or 1-202-501-4444 elsewhere.
- To contact the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, you can use the following phone numbers: (502) 2-326-4000 or (502) 2-331-2354 after hours.
The main tip is to enjoy your time in Guatemala. The chance of getting robbed, let alone killed are extremely low.
Edited by Marina K. Villatoro