Safety in Guatemala is a big concern for many tourists and visitors. The press has been less than kind to this country and, quite frankly, some of that bad press is for good reason. There are definitely drug cartels and gangs here, but how much will that affect you as you travel? The answer? Probably not at all.

Guatemala is relatively safe, as long as you avoid gang areas and don’t get involved with the narcotraficantes. What you DO need to watch out for are the following:

Pickpockets: These thieves generally prey on tourists in crowded areas where you won’t notice that they are slipping into your bag or pocket. The best way to avoid losing items is to stay alert and keep your valuables on your body. Any purses or backpacks should be worn in front if you are in a crowded area (ie. the Chichicastenango market, Semana Santa processions, etc.). Leave items like passports in the hotel safe unless you need them.

Hotel thieves: Unfortunately, there are some hotels that are not exactly safe for your belongings. Check online reviews and make sure you find a trustworthy place to stay. Again, keeping your valuables in the hotel safe is the best way to avoid theft. Don’t leave jewelry or money lying around, either.

Scams: Anywhere there are tourists, there are bound to be scams. These range from people begging for money for their “sick” child’s medication to shuttle drivers who take money and drop you off in the middle of nowhere or a tour operator who keeps changing prices once you’ve already booked your flights. You should always do your research on transport companies before booking one. Travelers tend to be very open about their problems online, so you’ll learn quickly about which “companies” are actually scams.

Food and water: This is a whole other post, but it does factor into safety in Guatemala. It’s not a crime, but eating the wrong thing could easily have you in your hotel room bathroom for days on end. It’s best to stick to recommended restaurants, cafes where plenty of locals eat and places that are obviously busy and have hot, fresh food. Bottled water is your best option for avoiding water-borne diseases and is readily available throughout the country.

Overcharging: It’s a good idea to know what something is worth before you actually go and buy in the market. Whether you are headed to the artisan’s market or buying some textiles from a street vendor, you can pretty much guarantee that they will try to give you the gringo price. Avoid this by getting an idea of prices in shops before you bargain in the market or on the street. While this is not really a crime, it can be annoying and frustrating.

Is Guatemala safe? As long as you take a few precautions, you should have a good trip and enjoy your time in country.

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