If you look on certain websites for information on safety and security in Guatemala, it sounds as if you are guaranteed to be robbed or assaulted as soon as you step off the plane. This is nowhere near the case, but there are definitely unique security concerns to take into consideration. The following are some simple precautions to help you stay safe and make the most of your trip.
Wear a money belt, especially if you are carrying your passport or credit cards. At the very least, spread your money around – put some in your sock, your bra, wherever you want, really, as long as it’s not all in one location. Pickpockets are infamous for their talents in Guatemala. They tend to work in teams, one person distracting you while the other empties your pockets or slits your bag. Pickpockets aren’t always teenage men, either. Little old ladies can be just as dangerous as anyone else. Try to guard your pockets when getting off a bus or passing through a dense crowd, and never keep your wallet in your back pocket.
Don’t walk around too late at night, especially by yourself. This recommendation goes for just about anywhere in Guatemala, as well as everywhere else in the world. Make sure you know where you are going, and walk with a buddy. If you’re lost, spend the extra few bucks on a cab or tuk-tuk. Women should be extra careful. It’s unfortunate and sad, but a would-be thief will think a little harder about assaulting a group of men than a group of women. Don’t wave around cash or other expensive items like iPhones. If you happen to be the unfortunate victim of a robbery, give up your stuff quietly and look down. Robbers do not want to be identified, nor do they want to be engaged in conversation.
ATMs in Guatemala are known to be the targets of tampering and theft. Make sure you use an ATM that is inside a building or in an area that is open, well lit, and near plenty of people. Clever thieves attach devices to the outside of ATMs to read credit card information. A good trick is to shake the part of the machine where you put your card in. If a firm shake knocks loose some kind of card reading device, find another machine.
Be aware of motorcyclists. In larger cities, especially the capital and Antigua, they sometimes work in teams to rob drivers or hold up pedestrians before making a speedy getaway. The government has tried to crack down on this by requiring all motorcyclists to wear neon safety vests and helmets emblazoned with the motorcycle’s license plate. They have also tried to restrict bikes to one rider, but these regulations are still a work in progress.
Finally, use common sense, and remember that you are in a developing country. Things work a little differently down here, but there is no reason why you shouldn’t have a safe, incident-free trip in the land of eternal spring!