Is it safe to travel to Guatemala?

In this article I will talk about one of the frequent concerns that travellers who plan to visit Central America have: Is it safe to travel to Guatemala?


Jul 18, 2022



We all have places we would love to travel to, but we don't dare to, either for fear of having a bad time, for the language or fear of being scammed. 

Anyhow, a good traveler will always be afraid of something, but thanks to the fact that among us we can also give each other the best tips to travel with a little more information to certain places, discovering the world is becoming more possible.

These last few months that I have been traveling I have seen that many people are doing it too. New culture, new places, everything is exciting when we travel.

I would love to see the whole world if it were possible, however, there are limits to everything. There are those who are limited by budget or those who are limited by lack of companionship, but there are also those who are limited by fear of the unknown. 

Now I am going to tell you from my experience if I think it is safe to travel to Guatemala.

Is it safe to travel to Guatemala?: my personal experience

I decided to travel to Guatemala because I was very interested in Latin America and its culture, so I took a land route from Chiapas to the border, where I had to walk to reach my destination.

It should be noted that my trip was during the COVID pandemic, at a time when (just like today) they required a PCR test to enter the country. From there it all started badly. 

My desperation to be the traveler who does not think and only acts led me to think that all of Latin America was open and with no restrictions to tourism, like Mexico, but it was not so. 

At the border, the COVID test is the main tool you have to have with you to enter the country and to use as a backup when the authorities check (they love to check tourists specifically). If you comply with the COVID requirements as you should, there should be no problem. I didn't, so I had to pay the consequences.

Let's move on to the part that many of you are wondering, is it safe to travel to Guatemala? However, I am going to tell you from different points of view, because for every traveler safety can be found differently.

Planning a trip to Guatemala? Have a look at this fellow traveler's article about 12 unique and unforgettable things to do in Guatemala.

Safety in Guatemala: The food and water

What am I going to eat? This is a frequent question I ask myself on every trip, especially if I am very hungry at the moment. 

Guatemala is a country with a lot of street food, and that sometimes represents an advantage for budget travelers, but a small disadvantage for weak stomachs.

I could tell you that as in any country, it always depends on where you go, it is not the same to go to an expensive place well protected from the pollution of the street than to go to the first corner where the food is almost on the sidewalk, it makes a big difference.

However, at the end of the day, we are in a country where bugs exist and hygiene does not seem to be very high.

In the restaurant of the hotel where I stayed, at the first breakfast, there was a cockroach on the coffee jar I was drinking (it was a relatively good hotel), that's when I understood that it doesn’t matter the place, it's more a matter of luck.

In Guatemala they eat a lot of meat, they eat spicily and a lot of carbohydrates, so you will probably have a bit of trouble if you are vegetarian or on a diet, but for everything and everybody there are options.

I never had digestive problems (and my stomach is very sensitive).

The water

Not, it is not advisable to drink tap water in Guatemala, because it is not treated water for human consumption and it can have many harmful bacteria for the organism (especially for tourists).

There are also “garrafones”, in which you can refill your water bottles or containers. It is certainly much better than trying to drink from the tap, but many people don't trust those big jars very much either.

So, go ahead and keep in mind that you should buy your water bottles.

Staying safe in Guatemala: Transportation

Transportation in Guatemala is varied, because you have tourist and local options, and as for safety, having gone from north to south in local transport, I can say that it is safe if you don’t consider the prices and the roads.

If you travel with special transport for tourists you will pay much more, but you will not have so many problems regarding the roads.

If you are one of those who like adventure and local life and want to travel in local transport, hold on! Because the way Guatemalans drive on the terrible roads can give you a heart attack! (not kidding).

If you are staying close to Guatemala City or heading North to Puerto Barrios, the roads are straight and in good condition. There are good buses on those roads.

However, if you want to go to Quetzaltenango, Cobán, or Petén from Guatemala City with local buses, the mountain roads are very dangerous.

After all, locals call the mini-buses that go up and down the mountains, “las asesinas”. They are cheap but they take a lot of time as you will have to change mini-bus at every crossroad.

I took a couple of Ubers, even for long trips, it turns out that Uber is not that expensive. However, do not rely on it as it is not always available: most of the regions that are less touristic are not connected with Uber.

If you manage to get one, it's much better in terms of comfort and road safety, but beware of the extra charges! Always make sure that they follow the path indicated by the Uber App and that they don’t make unscheduled stops.

For the travelers who plan on going to the Atitlán Lake, the only transportation around the lake is by boat. The boats are small, rusty, and overcrowded with people and goods. But, no worries, accidents happen rarely so it is a relatively safe trip to enjoy the wonders of the Atitlán Lake.

Lake Atitlán should be high on your trip priorities, so plan accordingly with The 23 best things to do in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.

As for overcharging... Guatemala is well-known for overcharging tourists.

My story was a little different, because during COVID police and army usually stop public transportation looking for foreigners (to avoid migration from other Latin American countries) but of course, they also see in foreigners the opportunity to get money for any mistake they make.

In my case, I made the mistake of not having my COVID test and that meant that I got off the bus, the bus left me and I was stranded 10 minutes from the border with México trying to let the police know that I would not give them a single peso. Anyway, the closest thing to insecurity is avoidable if you do things right.

The Authorities

Guatemala is also known for its corruption, it is not a secret that many things can be done by paying. In Guatemala, there is no “impossible”. 

But be careful, all that has consequences. The authorities in Guatemala will not bother you unless you have done something wrong.

Staying safe in Guatemala: Nightlife

We all like a few nights of partying, and of course, in every place we go we look for it.

In Guatemala, you should know how to choose where and what kind of party you are looking for.

If you go to more touristic places or where there is more international tourism (like the island of Flores or Antigua Guatemala), tourists party in groups and they know which places are the best. In this context, I can tell you that it is safe to party, of course, as in any part of the world, always with caution.

However, in any other parts of Guatemala you have more local people, some in a drunken state lying in the street, among other things, that may cause you trouble or bother you for money.

I would say that Guatemala would not be the most ideal city to be a crazy adventurer in search of a crazy party.

Guatemala safety: Hotels and hostels

In hotels and hostels, I didn't have any problems. I stayed in a couple of hostels and everything seems to work like in any other, most of them are foreigners and we respect each other's stuff. Of course, always carry your lock with you for the lockers (that in Latin America is essential).

So... Is it safe to travel to Guatemala?

As I told you earlier, if you do everything right to enter the country and you have your documents in order (especially related to COVID) nothing should happen to you, you will have a relatively quiet trip (but full of people who want to sell you some service or some souvenir). I don't mind being bothered, as it is part of the traveling experience, but yes, it can be overwhelming.

Guatemala is like any other country, it can be safe and have moments and places where you feel unsafe because it is not your country.

If you are a responsible tourist you will know that everything will be fine and you will love discovering more places.

My best tip: watch your budget and don't let them want to overcharge you, because that's the style there. Find out first about prices in any source and then decide to explore.

Volunteering in Guatemala

There are many opportunities to be part of a work-exchange program in Guatemala, which will give you the chance to have a cultural immersion and meet lot of like-minded travellers. 

Some of the top options, are:

Want to know more about Wordlpackers? These articles will help you: Traveling with Worldpackers: your top questions answered and What is a work exchange and how does it work?

Also, I would like to say that in my personal opinion, the safest places in Guatemala are: Antigua Guatemala, San Pedro la Laguna, and Isla de Flores. Don’t hesitate to explore them!

Safe travels! =)

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