Is Guatemala Safe? A 2022 Safety Guide

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Guatemala is an incredible country. If you want diverse adventures, you shouldn’t look much further. You can venture to rainforests, wander ancient Mayan heritage sites, experience city life in Guatemala City, and even hike the country’s many volcanoes. But is Guatemala safe?

Well, speaking of volcanoes, Guatemala is prone to natural disasters. Visitors should avoid the hurricane season and carefully monitor news on volcanic activity. Guatemala’s weather and natural terrain can be dangerous if you don’t remain updated, carefully choose when you visit, and arrive prepared. Guatemala also has one of the highest crime rates in Latin America. Because of this, Guatemala is not suitable for inexperienced travelers, and even street-smart, experienced travelers should actively limit their exposure to risky situations.

So, is Guatemala safe? The country certainly isn’t the safest destination. However, it’s possible to have a safe, enjoyable trip with the right preparation. Here is our Guatemala safety guide – some food for thought before booking your trip.

Is Guatemala safe right now?

An exploding volcano in Guatemala.
A Guatemalan volcano via Unsplash.

Guatemala’s ongoing political situation is volatile, and violence increases during times of political conflict, rallies, and protests. It is illegal for foreigners to attend protests, so you must distance yourself as quickly as possible if a protest breaks out.

There is currently tension at Guatemala’s border with Belize, as the countries have an ongoing territorial dispute over the borderlands. As of March 2022, Guatemala has also announced harsher abortion penalties and is implementing a ban on same-sex marriage. You can currently expect lots of rallies and protests, especially in Guatemala City.

LGBTQ+ travelers should carefully consider whether they travel to Guatemala right now. In general, public attitudes in cities are LGBTQ+ friendly, with homophobia in rural areas, unfortunately, more prevalent. However, the new laws on same-sex marriage could impact foreign tourists and increase the likelihood of LGBTQ+ travelers not being protected by Guatemalan law in the case of homophobic attacks.

We’d advise all travelers to be wary of booking a visit to Guatemala right now. Travelers should carefully monitor the political situation and, if they still want to travel, should carefully pick which region of Guatemala they choose to visit.

Is Guatemala safe for tourists?

A tourist stood by a volcano.
A tourist in front of a Guatemalan volcano via Unsplash.

Guatemala is generally unsafe for tourists, although safety risks can be carefully managed and reduced.

You should be aware that gang violence erupts throughout the country, usually with no warning. It is also advisable for tourists to keep a low profile – not flashing mobile phones, jewelry, cameras, or money. Tourists are often targeted by scam artists and robbers, who may be armed.

As a general rule for tourists, stay aware of your surroundings and immediately move location if you notice signs of commotion or conflict breaking out. If you find yourself a target of armed robbery, comply with all requests to hand over your belongings quickly and quietly. And, to avoid losing any significant items, only carry what you need and leave all important items in your hotel safe.

Sexual assault is prevalent in Guatemala, as are bogus police officer hold-ups and carjackings. Female tourists should avoid traveling to Guatemala alone, and ideally, tourists should visit with a reputable tour operator who knows which areas to avoid.

Tourists may find it tiring and stressful to remain safe in Guatemala. You will need to remain hyper-vigilant throughout your visit, so choose another destination if you want to be able to relax a little about your safety.

Is it safe to live in Guatemala?

A girl selling vegetables at market.
A Guatemalan market via Unsplash.

Living in Guatemala is much more dangerous than visiting Guatemala as a tourist, as you have prolonged exposure to the same risks and seasonal, natural dangers like hurricanes.

Your chance of being a victim of crime or disaster increases with the amount of time you spend in Guatemala, and you also risk becoming more complacent. Once you settle into a routine, it is easy to become less vigilant, leaving you vulnerable to being targeted.

Is Guatemala safe to live in? In short, definitely not. We would hazard against any plans to move to Guatemala. The safety risks are unsustainable and unenjoyable to manage long term, so look at a different expat destination.

Is Guatemala safe at night?

Guatemala at night.
Guatemala at night via Unsplash.

You may have guessed it already, but no, Guatemala is not safe at night. While solo and female travelers should definitely avoid being outside in Guatemala at night, all travelers should avoid it where possible.

There is a higher risk of sexual assault and robbery at night in Guatemala. Even taking taxis becomes riskier at night, and you should only use registered, reputable taxis when absolutely necessary. In terms of airport transfers, try to book your flights arriving and departing in daylight hours to avoid unnecessary journeys at night.

While Guatemala does have nightlife, it is not the best destination to travel to and let your hair down. We’d hazard you against drinking, as alcohol consumption lowers your inhibitions and puts you at higher risk. Choose a different destination if you are looking to party; there are a lot of other countries nearby that have more manageable risks, like Costa Rica and Mexico.

Is public transport safe in Guatemala?

A Guatemalan bus.
A Guatemalan bus via Unsplash.

Unfortunately, public transport is not safe in Guatemala either. Like how cars are vulnerable to carjackings throughout Guatemala, public transport systems (especially buses) are frequently targeted in armed hold-ups.

Gov.uk reports that explosives have been used since 2010 in armed attacks on public buses. Bus drivers are at continual high danger of being targeted and killed, with incidents of passenger tourists being targeted – either for robbery or assault purposes.

Travelers should avoid taking public transport and take a registered taxi or join a reputable tour group if needs be.

Is it safe to walk alone in Guatemala?

A girl walking Mayan ruins.
A solo female via Unsplash.

Walking in the daytime in a group is as safe as Guatemala gets. However, we’d hazard against walking alone – even during the day.

In general, safety for walking in Guatemala does vary per area. Some areas are a little safer than others, and some should be avoided entirely, regardless of the time of day or whether you are walking in company or alone. Female travelers should take extra care when walking alone, as unwanted attention can escalate and quickly become dangerous.

If you are alone traveling in Guatemala, you could limit the risks by taking a walking tour of the areas you’d like to explore on foot. It won’t eliminate all the risks, but it will make you less of a standout target and hopefully make the experience more enjoyable.

Is it safe to drink tap water in Guatemala?

Water running through hands.
Water on hands via Unsplash.

In Guatemala, tap water is very safe to drink when filtered. Established hotels in urban areas should have safe tap water to drink, although it is worth enquiring if you are unsure.

When at restaurants, cafes, or wanting refreshments while sightseeing, you may wish to purchase bottled water. Most Guatemalans cook with bottled water. However, to be extra careful, you can avoid vegetables and fruits that may have been washed with unfiltered tap water. Similarly, if you want to avoid unsafe tap water, consider skipping having ice in your drinks.

Overall, though, as long as you are up to date with your hepatitis and typhoid vaccines, drinking tap water in Guatemala isn’t the end of the world.

Top 7 Guatemala safety tips

An empty wallet.
A wallet via Unsplash.

Invest in a money belt

Out of sight, out of mind really does work wonders. Investing in a money belt is the best thing to keep important belongings safe on your person.

A money belt slips on securely under your clothes, meaning it is less likely to be stolen, and you are less likely to be targeted.

Carry a dummy wallet

As an extra tip, we’d advise carrying a dummy wallet in a pocket so that you have something to pass over in case you get stopped in an armed robbery.

Fill it with a few notes, loose change, and even some old, canceled bank cards if you want – voila! You’ll have a convincing wallet to hand over so that you can keep your real, high-value wallet safe.

Visit Guatemala as part of an organized tour

We get it. Exploring a country independently can be so liberating! However, there is a time and a place for heading out solo, and Guatemala may not be that place.

Visiting Guatemala as part of a reputable, organized tour will alleviate a lot of safety concerns. You’ll be accompanied by experienced local tour guides who know which areas to avoid, how to get you out of sticky situations, and have all the best tips for getting the most out of your visit! Plus, you have a stricter itinerary for the company, your family, and friends back home to track, meaning your whereabouts can be monitored easier.

Learn some key phrases in Spanish

Ideally, you’ll have a basic to intermediate level of Spanish when traveling to Guatemala. As the country has some serious safety concerns, you don’t want to be constantly checking Google Translate on your phone or being distracted by a common phrases book.

Learn how to ask for directions, read street signs, explain dietary requirements, and memorize names of important places like the airport, a pharmacy, supermarket, and hospital. The more you know, the easier your trip will be.

Remain polite and comply

Whether you get stopped by a uniformed police officer or a random intimidating person with a gun, remain polite and comply.

If you remember one thing from our safety guide, make it this one. Interactions like these can be well-intended and even helpful, but they can also escalate quickly and fatally and, in fact, quite often do. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t get stopped by anybody. But, if you do, it should be taken seriously no matter who it is and whether you can see a weapon or not.

By remaining polite and quickly complying with any demands, you instantly increase your safety in a dangerous situation. Being polite and complying should be your first instinctive reaction to stay safe.

Download offline maps

Even the best-laid plans can go wrong sometimes. Like learning some basic Spanish before traveling to Guatemala, downloading offline maps can help get you out of any sticky situations faster.

When you download offline maps in advance, you can use Google maps without data or wi-fi. You’ll have to download the maps when you have wi-fi, but once you do, you’ll have access to directions no matter your location, wi-fi connection, or data signal.

When you aren’t feeling confident, fake it

At the end of the day, you can only prepare yourself and avoid risks so much. Even when you follow all safety advice and walk in a group, in daylight, in a good area, things can get scary.

While inside, you can be figuring out your next best move and panicking as much as you want, don’t let your face and body language give that away! Usually, confident people aren’t as intriguing as potential targets – so keep your nerves hidden.

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Eibhlis Gale – Coleman is a freelance writer from the UK who is driven by a fierce love of adventure, unique cultural experiences, native animals, and good coffee. She is a passionate traveller and has explored Europe, Southeast Asia, North Africa, and Australia.