Is Guatemala Safe? 4 Essential Travel Safety Tips on Crime

Crime does happen in Guatemala, but it's no reason to stop you from traveling to this amazing Central American country. Here's what you need to know before you go.


Locals walk to work along Antigua's famous cobblestoned street lined with painted shops Photo © iStock/Lucy Brown - loca4motion

It's no secret that Guatemala has a high rate of crime – mostly due to corruption in the government and political instability as a result.

But, just how dangerous is Guatemala for travelers, and is it safe?

While crimes do and can happen to travelers, there's no cause for alarm, just keep these handy tips in mind before you go to stay safe in Guatemala.

1. Pickpocketing in Guatemala

Markets, public transport, and public processions all bring crowds, and with crowds come easy targets for skilled pickpockets in the area. One, in particular, is Holy Week in Antigua, when pickpocketing is rife.

The famous markets of Chichicastenango are also notorious for theft, with travelers reporting having several pockets razored discreetly until the wallet pocket was discovered. Another traveler recalled how he was pickpocketed at the Solola markets, even with his pockets buttoned shut.

Thieves will take advantage of any time your attention is diverted so they can strike. The US Embassy in Guatemala reports US tourists have been pickpocketed exiting the Aurora International Airport, while riding on buses from Guatemala City to Antigua, and while out shopping and sightseeing.

The best way to avoid becoming a victim? Keep your belongings close, or don't carry expensive items with you when you're out. It's also best to avoid showing any wealth, so dress down to blend in, leave the jewelry and expensive watch at home. 

Avoid traveling around night which can make you an easy target for criminals especially in major cities and towns.

2. ATM and credit card crime in Guatemala

Bankcard scamming and account fishing is a commonplace crime in Guatemala. After using ATMs in Antigua's Central Plaza, travelers have reported seeing fraudulent charges on their accounts. These scams have also occurred in ATMs in Antigua grocery stores.

Credit card cloning is frequently reported in Guatemala City. The best way to avoid this is to use cash and carry only as much of the local currency as you think you'll need for the day. Leave valuables back in your hostel or hotel locked in the safe (if there is one). It's also a good idea to let your bank know when you will be in the country in case you get some suss transactions once you leave or arrive home.

3. Car crime in Guatemala

Cars may seem like a secure place to store your valuables, but Guatemala has its fair share of car break-ins. A traveler reported having their car broken into while parked at the gas station. Inside was her computer, wallet and credit cards.

Incidents like these are especially popular in Guatemala City, but caution should be taken whenever important items are left unattended in a vehicle. Always keep valuables out of sight or better still take them with you.

4. Armed robbery in Guatemala

Many travelers will visit Guatemala without any trouble involving theft and robbery, but it's wise to note where armed robbery sometimes does occur. This could involve the threat of weapons, such as guns, knives and even grenades. Avoid the known crime hotspots in Guatemala City: Zones 1, 3, 6, 18 and 21.

Several tourists have reported being robbed at gunpoint while climbing the volcano at Volcan de Agua and also on walking tracks throughout the country.

Tourist buses and shuttle buses are occasionally robbed at gunpoint. These incidents would most likely occur the vehicle was in the wrong place at the wrong time or that the thieves and driver were colluding. Typically, such an incident involves the driver of a private shuttle going off-track or traveling in a remote location, where several masked men rob travelers of their belongings. An incident just like this occurred in 2017, where a shuttle bus traveling from Antigua, Guatemala to Leon, Nicaragua was hijacked by a group of armed thieves, and several passengers held at gunpoint.

By exercising some common sense you can minimize your risk of being robbed by doing the following:

  • Talk to locals; they will know where the dodgy spots are or if an area/street is a bit of a crime hotspot
  • Avoid traveling at night on any public transport. Always try to leave and arrive during daylight hours
  • Taking first-class bus services when traveling between cities
  • Use licensed radio-dispatched taxis, such as Taxi Amarillo and Taxi Blanco y Azul
  • Don't flash jewelry, cash or cards around
  • Use ATMs inside hotels or banks rather than on the street
  • It's also handy to keep a fake wallet with a small amount of cash that you will be happy to hand over if robbed.

Before you buy a travel insurance policy, check your government travel warnings and health advice – there may be no travel insurance cover for locations with a government travel ban or health advice against travel.

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  • Estella said

    Forget Guatemala then!!!


  • bob said

    it's really not that bad.


  • Geneva said

    How about a current article with current stories, examples and statistics? It is so misleading to share information that is over 5+ years old. I don't want to sugar coat it, but this could use some updating. We are in Guatemala and have felt perfectly safe everywhere we have ventured. With no issues such as those described here.


  • AmeliaMcGrath said

    Hi Geneva,
    This article certainly does need an update! We'd love to hear from you on the current situation, if you could leave a comment with some useful tips, we'd gladly include this in the updated post - if you have a blog link we'll pop it in there too.
    Of course, as travellers when we go overseas sometimes we don't see the worst of a country, and we have an obligation to identify 'potential' risks that could arise in any country. While most of these crimes aren't likely to ruin your trip, the first step to travelling safely is staying informed.
    On that note, looking froward to hearing what you've got to say about safety in Guatemala.


  • Erick Porras said

    I agree with Geneva, this article make it sounds like Guatemala it's a place to avoid for its danger. You certainly need to revise your information. Was there for 2 weeks and believe went every where and no incidents what so ever. People are very friendly and willing to help anywhere were you are. Antigua it is a beautiful place and so is the whole country.
    I'd like to ad that I live in L.A., here are those crimes described in your article occurred more often that you could imagine.
    It is quite unfair to described such a beautiful place with old data and with the intention to deter people visiting this paradise.


  • Brian said

    I was mugged in San Francisco, as well as Washington, D.C. Did I take the next flight out? NO. I lived there!


  • jiv said

    Anyone who says that Guatemala is safe, unfortunately, shouldn't be taken seriously. walking around there for two weeks and feeling safe should be the only clue you need to know that the poster is uninformed. Guatemala is a very unsafe country in any sense.


  • Janet said

    Just returned from 10 days of backpacking in Guatemala with my partner. We hiked Acatenango with a local guide who spoke no English, wandered off all hours of the day in Antigua, caught a shuttle down to Monterrico where we also explored and met a local in the dark at 5am in a back alley for a mangrove tour, and drove into Guate City late evening and spent the night in Zona 1 and we lived to tell about it! Yes, we took risks but we found if you treat the locals with respect they are very happy to have their country opening to tourism. We are older but met many young backpackers, including young females travelling solo, who also never had any bad experiences. I can honestly say I felt safer in Guatemala than I have in some US cities. Dont let fear hold you back, go explore this beautiful place while the authenticity is still there!


  • Michael said

    Robbery and Attempted Murder at the Summit of La Nariz

    On February 13, 2018, a friend and I hiked to the popular La Nariz on Atitlan for the sunrise. What started as a promising sunrise excursion turned into a harrowing experience that highlights how I believe tourists are openly targeted for violent crime by the locals with the tacit permission of the local authorities.

    On our journey up the mountain, guides and other tourists accompanied us. After the sunrise, my friend and I followed behind the group. However, as my friend tried to descend from the peak, a young guatemalan man in front of my friend turned, pulled out a machete, put it to my friend’s throat and demanded his money. My friend quickly backed away and ran down the hill through the brush. As my friend ran, the man picked up and threw grapefruit sized rocks trying to kill him. Already being further down the mountain, the guides and the other tourists fled.

    Unfortunately, everyone else’s escape left the young man shoving me at machete point demanding my money. After a tense few minutes of talking, I gave him my money (120Q) and ran down behind my friend. As we descended, another man with a machete blocked our path and demanded even more money. We ran through the brush and escaped.

    When we arrived at the town below, we stopped at a small tienda and told the lady what had happened. While talking with her, the two bandits walked past. We told the lady they were the criminals who had assaulted us. She knew who they were and gave us their names. She also called the police for us and told us that she was afraid to get involved.

    Twenty minutes later, when the Guatemala national police arrived, we told them what happened and gave them the criminals’ names and a picture. The police asked us if we wanted to file a report. We told them that this was their community. If it helped the community, we would. Otherwise, we would just leave. They said they wanted us to file a report so we followed them to the police station.

    As it turned out, we didn’t need the criminals’ pictures or names. They met us and the police as we walked through town. As expected, they denied holding us at knifepoint, kidnapping me, or trying to kill my friend. When we arrived at the police station, neither the town police nor the national police took a report. We reviewed nothing. We signed nothing. Neither man was arrested. We left enlightened.

    Upon returning, I researched La Nariz more thoroughly combing through travel blogs. I found that the two criminals are a father and son team who have been committing violent crime against tourists for years. Here is a blog entry from 2016 that spells out their activities:

    It’s highly unlikely that the local authorities don’t know this.

    In the end, going to La Nariz is simply dangerous. It is remote and away from town giving criminals the time and space they need for their dirty work. With proper support from the police, it could be safe. But in my experience you, as a tourist, are considered by the police and the guides to be fair game to the locals who are regularly committing violent crime against foreigners.

    If you are the adventuresome type and don’t mind being robbed at knifepoint for a few bucks, then the sunrise at La Nariz is nice enough. You’ll get some exercise and see a pretty sunrise. If you are squeamish about being subjected to violent crime, you may want to consider other sightseeing options.

    After talking with lot of people, it also seems that virtually all paths around the lake are being worked similarly by violent criminals. The guides will tell you that it’s safe if you go with them, but it’s not.

    (During the ordeal, I got video pictures of the young man who robbed and assaulted us. I have included the young man’s picture with this post.)


  • Robert said

    I just returned from a few days in Antigua and Panajachel. I could not have felt safer than any city in the States. I had no fear walking at night as well. There are many Guatemalans that consider the night time as a good time to socialize. I met one person working as a missionary (I actually met a few missionaries) who showed me a picture of a newspaper in Solola where the police caught a person stealing and they beat him in the center of the city. He also told me of a few people who were members of a gang in another town and were hung by some of the citizens of the town. There is a very strong effort to keep Guatemala safe due to the heavy reliance on tourism. I would investigate any town I wanted to visit and not isolate one or two recent instances of robbery and think the town was a dangerous place. You could be more easily robbed in New York and Chicago than most cities in Guatemala.


  • Kerin said

    I have traveled throughout Guatamala on numerous occasions and never had a bad experience. Guat City is not my favoriate place but do not have much use for any big cities anyway. Use common sense and you will not have any problems. Act like a fool and you will invite them. Don't flash or draw attention to yourself and no one will notice you, low key is best. Guatamala is exceedingly beautyful with many unique things to see and do, trust your gut, error on side of caution, and stay low, and you will love it.


  • Jane said

    Guatamala looks so beautiful but I will not visit it after the experience of a friend who was there when an innocent tourist was killed. I don't remember the name of the small town/village, but it was in the mountains and very popular with tourists. My friend was an independent traveller, but tourist coaches also frequently visit that town. On the day in question a tourist bus carrying a Japanese tour group was also visiting. Initially everything seemed fine, then my friend noticed the atmosphere changing - groups of locals standing in clusters in the market looking at him and other tourists with animosity, then some angry words being shouted at them. Then the locals started throwing rocks at tourists, all of whom had no idea what was going on and ran in all directions in panic. My friend was hit in the back by a rock bigger than a cricket ball as he ran for shelter, but wasn't badly hurt. He sheltered in a hostel for hours as lots of police arrived and the situation calmed down. Eventually they were told it was safe to come out - they walked out and found a very different atmosphere. The Japanese tourists were back on their coach, a group of local women were standing by the coach singing and wailing, police were taking statements from people, local people were offering gifts to the leader of the Japanese group, people on the coach were crying, local people were crying. Finally my friend found out what had happened. For some unknown reason a local person had started a rumour that among the tourists visiting that day were paedophiles who were after the locals' children. A Japanese man had been killed by being hit on the head by a thrown rock. The person who started the rumour confessed, and the whole town was very upset and sorry about the death of the tourist. My friend left as soon as possible.


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