Is Guatemala safe?
I get this question often, mostly from my mother, but a few of you have chimed in as well. The short answer is that Guatemala is like any other place in the world. It carries its own risks, but with a good head on your shoulders, all will be well.
If you don’t have a vehicle of your own, or choose not to rent, you have primarily two options: chicken bus or shuttle. There are many travel agencies that provide shuttles to all of the major destinations in Guatemala. They generally pick you up at your hotel and drop you at your next specific destination. They are often crammed and expensive, but your belongings are safe and it is often a direct route, which is nice. The other option is to take a chicken bus. I usually ride the chicken buses. They are also crowded and noisy and you might actually see a chicken. Seriously. I have never had a bad experience, though you hear of many. Often times bags are tossed on the roof and tied down. They are cheap and worth it for a short adventure. I will hop one from Xela to the lake frequently, which takes about two and a half hours, which is fine. I end up transferring three times, but it’s a nice drive and a fun way to practice Spanish. Would I go eight or ten hours to Tikal. No way. My advice if you’re going to take a chicken bus is to keep your essentials close and enjoy the ride. The ayudantes (the guy who helps the bus driver) will keep an eye on you and let you know when you need to hop off. Try it, I dare you.
There are safer cities, there are more dangerous cities. Have common sense. Don’t walk around talking on your iPhone. If you look like you are carrying expensive items, there is a greater chance that you may have problems. I don’t walk the streets of Guatemala City, as it just isn’t a great idea and cabs are easy to find. I have never been approached, but if you were to be stopped by the ladrones, don’t fight. I promise it is not worth it. Just give them your cash. By the lake, and Antigua, and Xela, I walk nearly everywhere I roam, but with awareness and caution. Ladies, and even Gents, walk with a friend when possible, if the sun has set. It’s that easy.
Don't carry your cash in your pockets. Lock up your passport in the hotel. There is no need to bring more than the essentials. Have fun.
So this gets a bit tricky because it’s a complicated process. I will devote another post to this topic, but to touch on it, if you have to cross the border to renew your visa, I suggest using a travel agency. They do a great job of walking you through the process and are very experienced. To me, it isn’t worth it to take the chicken bus to save a few bucks. Avoid the headache- use an agency.
If you have more specific questions, please ask. But know that I feel safe. I work here, I walk here, I live here. I am aware of my surroundings and don’t take unnecessary risks. My biggest piece of advice is to have common sense and don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you from experiencing the rich culture here. People are kind and compassionate and want to help. If you get lost, ask. As someone passes you on the street, say hello. Don’t miss out on the fun.