Is Guatemala safe?

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 16.05.2024

Planning a trip to Guatemala but not sure about safety? Read on for the answer to that all-important question — is Guatemala safe? — along with tips for how to make your trip safer, and all the more rewarding.

Is Guatemala safe?

First up, you should be aware that Guatemala does have a high crime rate compared with many other countries, and tourists are known to be targeted for theft in popular areas. 

Of course, this is true of most heavily frequented tourist destinations around the globe. In the case of Guatemala, you’d be wise to take extra care in certain areas, like Guatemala City.

Zone 18 and Zone 3 in particularly are considered more dangerous due to higher levels of crime. Conversely, popular tourist destinations like Antigua, Lake Atitlán and Tikal are generally safer, though it's still important to remain vigilant.

The border areas with Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador are also subject to increased crime rates.

Another general point to be mindful of is that road safety in Guatemala can be an issue. This is due to some hazardous driving conditions, and less stringent traffic laws than might be found in other countries. 

It’s also worth knowing that Guatemala is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes, which can pose occasional risks, and disrupt travel.

On balance, though, you mainly need to use common sense and be aware of your surroundings, whether you’re in the heart of Guatemala City, or getting your adventure on in the great outdoors. 

Read on for tips on staying safe at every stage of your Guatemalan journey.

colorful antigua guatemala

Wondering is Guatemala safe? Charming Antigua is generally safer than Guatemala City © Shutterstock

Pre-trip — research where and when to travel

Before you go, read up on current travel advisories from reliable sources, such as your government. 

Understanding the political climate, weather conditions, and any recent issues in specific areas can help you plan a safer trip.

You should also consider when to travel. For example, the November to April dry season is generally safer as you’ll be able to avoid the complications of heavy rains, such as landslides or flooding, which are common in the wet season.

Wondering when to travel? Read up on the best time to visit Guatemala.

lake-atitlan-guatemala-shutterstock_1106364287

Lake Atitlan, Gautemala © Shutterstock

Pre-trip health preparation

A few months ahead of travelling, check what vaccinations you need. Common recommendations for Guatemala include hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and rabies.

You’d also be wise to pack a basic first aid kit. If you’re planning to travel to more remote areas, include items like a whistle, flashlight, and physical map in case you lose mobile signal.

Want to cut-down pre-trip planning hassles? Our local experts can craft your perfect customised Guatemala itinerary

Sunset view of Fuego volcano & Acatenango volcano © Shutterstock

Acatenango volcano, Guatemala © Shutterstock

On-the-road health

Firstly, you should stick to bottled or boiled water, as tap water isn’t safe for drinking. Even in major cities, purified water is the safest bet to avoid gastrointestinal issues.

Also note that the sun can be extremely strong, especially at higher altitudes, so wear high SPF sunscreen, hat and sunglasses.

Lastly, to prevent diseases like Zika, dengue, and malaria, use insect repellent. When hiking, wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers, and sleep under a mosquito net in rural areas 

Staying safe during outdoor activities

When hiking, especially on volcanoes or in remote areas, always travel with a guide. Not only can terrain be challenging, but local guides will be better equipped to handle sudden weather changes and geographical hazards.

Also be aware that some hikes, like those in the Western Highlands, can reach elevations where altitude sickness is a risk. Be sure to acclimate gradually and stay hydrated.

Fancy an adventure-packed trip with your nearest and dearest? Check out our Family Adventure itinerary.

Chicken bus, Guatemala

Chicken buses in Guatemala © Shutterstock

Getting around safely

For a safer, smoother experience of getting around Guatemala, arm yourself with the following guidelines.

Public transport tips

Chicken buses — brightly coloured repurposed US school buses — are a cheap and handy way to get around. Just be aware they can be overcrowded, and drivers have a tendency to put their foots down.

They’re also prone to petty theft, so keep sure to keep your valuables secure and within sight.

If you’re not keen on the idea of boarding a chicken bus, you could use tourist shuttles. More expensive than local buses, they’re generally safer, and often direct transfers between major tourist destinations like Antigua, Lake Atitlán, and Flores for Tikal.

As a general rule, be vigilant in crowded bus stations or on busy buses. Pickpockets often work in teams, so watch out for being distracted.

Road safety tips 

While major highways are generally in good condition, secondary roads — especially in rural areas — can be poorly maintained 

If you choose to rent a car, avoid driving at night when road hazards — like unmarked construction sites or unlit vehicles — increase the risks.

Read up on getting around Guatemala.

Lone Kayak From Behind with Female Paddling through Dense Remote Jungle River. Rio Dulce, Izabal, Guatemala © Daniel Andis/Shutterstock

Rio Dulce, Izabal, Guatemala © Daniel Andis/Shutterstock 

Safety considerations for solo female travelers

Solo female travelers are advised to choose well-reviewed accommodation, and to be mindful of local norms regarding dress, especially in more conservative rural areas.

In general — this applies to all solo travelers — it’s safer to travel during the day, and to be cautious when meeting new people. Avoid sharing too much personal information and arrange first meetings in public places.

 

Decided to visit Guatemala? To help plan your trip, get yourself The Rough Guide to Guatemala

You might also want to read up on the best things to do in Guatemalahow many days are best to spend in Guatemala, and find out things to know before visiting Guatemala.

Not keen on planning? Contact our local experts to have them craft your customised Guatemala itinerary

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 16.05.2024

Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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