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Is it safe to travel alone in Guatemala?

halfnine

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  • Added on: January 13th, 2010
More like life for the every day Guat city Guatemalan. Most people in Guatemala live in small towns and smaller cities.....Life is different for different kinds of places.


Nobody is discounting that life is different in different parts of Guatemala. My point is simply that a very significant number of Guatemalans (and it is not a small percentage of the population) live in Guatemala city or within its surrounding area. Too large for me to ignore as an aspect of Guatemalan life.

Tortuga_traveller

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  • Added on: January 13th, 2010
Then explore it at your own risk. As far as people who have been in Guatemala for an extended period of time, including a person that lives in Guatemala, it is a place one goes to when one has necessary business. Urban gang life I can find in bad parts of the USA, yet I've not gone there.
Oh, there is a rather interesting stuffed animal exhibit in the Natural History museum, but nothing you haven't seen in New York city or any other big city.

The advice here is for people looking for the best way to see a country in a shortish period of time, and in that context, there is much better to be found outside of Guat City. If you have only a month, there is a much more unique and available culture available elsewhere.

If you want to play Urban Guerilla, go ahead. Perhaps I'm jaded in that I have seen and lived in many dangerous big cities, and they all have pretty much the same elements for me. I've even lived in a very bad part of Philadelphia, and survived. That doesn't mean I'd send my best friend to go down and see it.

In that context, Guatemala City is a dangerous Central American large city. It has suburbs, true enough. I've stayed in one of those houses. It has restaurants, true enough. It also has a large gang presence through much of the city. I have seen Guatemalans pickpocketed in broad daylight in Zona 1. I have heard many tales of gangs finding backpackers and cutting away their backpacks, then robbing them. These are from the victims themselves, not third party stories. So forgive me if I don't want my 'friends' to be too exposed to this element.

Unless you speak fluent Spanish and have an affinity for gang/ghetto culture, and a middle class that ignores the bad parts of the city and goes about their middle class existence(Much like ours, actually. Rich and middle class Urban Guatemalans are very much a cultural elite, and probably descended partly from the Spanish colonials.) How do I know this? I've lived with middle class Guatemalan families, twice, and found their life not much unlike American Middle class life.

If I were in Brazil, I might find the Favelas interesting, but I wouldn't want to stay there. Its the same for the more 'interesting' parts of Guatemala city. For that matter, San Salvador falls into the same category, and I've heard, Manaqua. Central American capital cities tend to attract people with no money, and no economic future into an area where they don't have to work 12 hours a day to survive. They then either starve, find some equally bad job, or turn to crime. This is the economic reason that Guat city has become what it is.

So, if you want to explore this, go ahead, but be well aware of the risks, and that unless you're an anthropology or social sciences student, you might find it much the same as poor American communities or Ghettos, only they speak Spanish. If you like being cool with potentially violent people, that's your decision.

I've determined this from friendships I've made, and experiences I've had, and I give my advice accordingly. I speak as a person who has always spent a few weeks in large cities if I could help it, and have discovered only a few worth staying in as long as I did. A few days stay in most of the large cities I've been to is sufficient to get a feel for the whole. I have wearied, in a sense, of that particular search unless the city has a unique culture and a good vibe. In the case of Guat city, there are much better cities to explore if you want 'genuine' city life. You will find that those of us on this board with a lot of experience in Guatemala will agree with me in the case of Guat City.

Among them:
Quetzaltenango-
Huehuetenango(Not much of a place, pretty dusty and bland, but you said you wanted to explore)
Antiqua(more of a tourist location, but under that tourist facade is a real Guatemalan city. Ask any Expat that lives there. You can make a very bad living selling crafts to tourists there)
Panajachel(More of a town than a city, but its on Lago Atitlan where you can savor many cultures. Its also a comfortable place to live, and one of the few places one is allowed to sell wares on the street to survive)
ChiChicastenango( a market town, large, safe, and not often lived in. I've always wanted to taste a week or two in the town)

Among those cities I would explore, with extreme caution, and perhaps short stays:
Livingston: It is a Caribe culture city, and many people find it intriquing. It also has a dangerous feel about it. There are probably less dangerous Caribe cities to stay in in Central America, if you have the time to explore thoroughly.

As I said before, it is the rural culture that most Americans and First Worlders have not experienced before, and on a limited visit, this is the culture that most people will find most rewarding. For this reason I recommend Todos Santos heartily, as well as some of the lake tribes on Lago Atitlan, and for this reason, Guat city is not as profitable time-wise as other places, unless of course you have official business there. Its safe enough as a day trip, and easy to reach by bus from Antiqua.

zoomcharlieb

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  • Added on: January 13th, 2010
Tortuga, all very good advice, but you know the old saying "you can take a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" and people like halfnine just need to get the crap kicked out of them just once, which obviously he never has, and they will then sing a different tune. i know, and i believe you do also, how quickly your life can change from meaningful to meaningless in the sudden confrontation of a gang surrounding you. But it is one of life's experiences i only enjoyed once, and i escaped with just a bad headache for 3 days--- very lucky.

Felix the Hat

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  • Added on: January 15th, 2010
halfnine wrote:Too large for me to ignore as an aspect of Guatemalan life.


Why not? A a member of the global elite, wealthy enough to travel to Guatemala for leisure, you obviously ignore the poverty that is an aspect of a large percentage of Guatemalan lives.

Most Guatemalans don't particularly like Guatemala City. There's nothing wrong with admitting, as a tourist, that you don't like it either.

halfnine

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  • Added on: January 17th, 2010
Felix the Hat wrote:
Why not? A a member of the global elite, wealthy enough to travel to Guatemala for leisure, you obviously ignore the poverty that is an aspect of a large percentage of Guatemalan lives.


Haven’t stated otherwise. I’ve been ignoring poverty all over the world since I won the ovarian lottery and was born with a passport into a developed nation. I don’t even need to travel all the way to Guatemala to be able to ignore it.

Felix the Hat wrote:
Most Guatemalans don't particularly like Guatemala City. There's nothing wrong with admitting, as a tourist, that you don't like it either.


Never said there was.

…other comments by various people including some more trolling by Charlie….


Some interesting thoughts, many of which I agree with. But it would probably be more relevant if you actually stuck to what I’ve actually stated. And, to date, I’ve only stated the following:

1. Guatemala City has little to offer the common tourist
2. Guatemala City “danger” level is in my opinion about average when compared to the large, capital cities in the developing world.
3. Guatemala City and its surrounds is the most populous area in Guatemala. Therefore (if we are to believe that every place in the world is different) more Guatemalans experience the life of Guatemala City than any other place in Guatemala

It seems were all in agreement on the first point.

The second point is certainly arguable. But the simple reality is the large majority of people in capital cities are just ordinary, everyday people just trying to get through life with some dignity and provide for their families. Travelers who spend time in these capital cities aren’t inherently looking for the seedy side of life and trying to find danger (shit, we’ve all been in Guatemala City, is that what you guys were searching for when you were there). People who are truly looking for seedy and unsavory places, well they’re more likely out traveling countries at war and hanging out in border towns pretty much everywhere.

As far as my third point, it’s just not arguable by mathematical default. In addition to that, personally, I feel Guatemala City is likely to have a huge impact on the future of Guatemala (in similar regards it’s not unlike the huge populations of China and India are going to have on the geo-political and socio-economic picture of the world). Now, I am not stating that it has to interest you or that you have to travel there, nor I am stating I’d like to build a home there and retire, but they are things that do interest me.

Anyway, as I’ve always stated on these forums that people should travel where they want and in what over style they want pursuing whatever interests they want.

Tortuga_traveller

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  • Added on: January 17th, 2010
2. Guatemala City “danger” level is in my opinion about average when compared to the large, capital cities in the developing world.
3. Guatemala City and its surrounds is the most populous area in Guatemala. Therefore (if we are to believe that every place in the world is different) more Guatemalans experience the life of Guatemala City than any other place in Guatemala


On point 1, you are probably wrong. I've been to Bombay and found it largely safe, unless I went into the slums. It needs to be compared to cities in Central America, and is less dangerous than San Salvador, perhaps, but way up there in danger levels for any non-capital city.

I even found Medan in Indonesia, a really messy and confusing, not to mention poor city, and it seemed safer as well.

I will look it up, but most of the country is still in the countryside as far as I could tell, though it makes up a dominant part of the population.

Now, if you want to say it is an interesting city in terms of how its economics works, I agree.

Still, unless one is interesting in sociology of capital cities in Central America, it is not one of the highlights of the country.

Yeah, most central american capital cities are disorganised crime centers, but that doesn't mean one has to live in them.

Pelke

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  • Added on: January 17th, 2010
After all the debate, I was curious to see if there were any statistics compiled for crime rates around the world. I found a list of the Top 10 Most Dangerous Cities, but it based its ratings on all dangers present (like pollution), not just crime. I found the list below from the WHO for per capita murders by country. The list included all recognized countries in the world, but I sorted by highest crime rate and clipped the list at the top 20 for the sake of space. Guatemala (the country) just squeezes in to the top 20, right behind Rwanda. Interestingly, it seems that Belize ranks higher than Guatemala for murders. This list doesn't take into account any other forms of crime, such as assault, robbery,kidnapping, or rape.


Murder rates around the world
Homicides per 100,000 pop


1. Colombia 61.1
2. El Salvador 56.4
3. Cote d'Ivoire 45.7
4. South Africa 39.5
5. Lesotho 37.3
6. Angola 36
7. Burundi 35.4
8 Congo, the Dem Rep of the 35.2
9. Sierra Leone 34
10. Jamaica 33.7
11. Venezuela 32.5
12. Brazil 30.8
13. Belize 30.1
14. Russian Federation 29.7
15. Central African Rep 29.1
16. Sudan 28.6
17. Rwanda 26.6
18. Guatemala 26.3
19. Tanzania 26.1
20. Equatorial Guinea 24
Pelke

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  • Added on: January 17th, 2010
Sorry for all the statistics, but here is a list I found of the top 10 most dangerous cities in the world for 2009 (based on murders per 100,000 people):

1. Cuidad Juarez, Mexico
2. Caracas, Venezuela
3. New Orleans, United States
4. Tijuana, Mexico
5. Cape Town, South Africa
6. Port Moresby, Paua New Guinea
7. San Salvador, El Salvador
8. Medelin, Colombia
9. Baltimore, United States
10. Bagdad, Iraq

With New Orleans and Baltimore on the list, kind of puts things in perspective.
Pelke

Tortuga_traveller

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  • Added on: January 19th, 2010
New Orleans was quite dangerous before the hurricane. Now the numbers have gone way down. A lot of the negative elements have spread to other cities.

You still don't want to walk around in the 9th Ward at night.

As I said before, there are always places in a city that are a bad place to visit. Some cities just aren't worth the risk.

New Orleans has some pretty nice safe areas now, and the joys of the city are well worth the small risk of walking around in the SAFE areas.

That's not the case with many cities.

I'm sad to say that Caracas has little to offer the casual tourist, nor does San Salvador or Guatemala City. BTW- if you want a really depressing place, go to the Caracas zoo. It's a great make-out place, but they're killing their animals...

zoomcharlieb

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  • Added on: January 19th, 2010
This whole topic, from the viewpoint of the "lets experience it all crowd" is like listening to haughty wine conisuers (sp) discussing the delicate bouquet of various years of wine from the same region, but in this case we are just comparing the different wafts of decay from one hell hole to another as if this would give us a sophisticated and nuanced view of the country that only the congniscenti have after they awake from their perverse excremental vision.

KathleenO

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  • Added on: January 28th, 2010
I've heard of a lot of horrid things happening in Guatemala City but Xela, Antigua, and Lago de Atitlan are very touristy so you'd be fine in those areas. Just use common sense. Don't go out alone at night, as everyone has suggested. To be on the safe side, I would also recommend not taking long distance bus rides at night, although I did meet travelers who did that and were fine. Just read the US State Department travel advisory about Guatemala if you want to read all the bad stuff. I read that when I first got to Guatemala. It scared the crap out of me but everything ended up being just fine.

I really enjoed Lago de Atitlan, but I hear they are now dealing with serious pollution problems now. There is a dangerous bacteria growing in the lake.

Tortuga_traveller

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  • Added on: January 28th, 2010
Kathleen, the problems with the lake are not new. 10 years ago the guides recommended not bathing in the lake with open sores, and only drinking boiled and treated water, never lake water. There was cholera in the water, you see, as well as high counts of fecal bacteria from all the sewage generated by all the towns, all of it flowing into the lake untreated.

I have swum in it with few problems, BUT... I did so far away from the sewer outflow pipes near the main 'beach' near Panajachel. It can only have gotten worse, much as they have already ruined another lake near Guat City.

junglebook

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  • Added on: January 29th, 2010
There various places to look for advice. I just read an interesting article on the Latin Lounge http://www.volunteerlatinamericablog.com

;)

KathleenO

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  • Added on: January 29th, 2010
Tortuga, ah, I see. I actually lived in Pana for a while and swam in the lake many times. I didn't realize it was that bad when I was there. I guess it has now reached a critical point though, where the appearance of the lake has changed dramatically because of cyanobacteria growth. This website has specific info: http://salvemosatitlan.com/. I read that it got worse after Hurricane Stan, because the water treatment facility was destroyed in the storm and all of the sewage rushed into the lake untreated after that. The cyanobacteria that's growing in the lake is very toxic to humans. It's really unfortunate because it's such a beautiful lake. I feel sad that my daughter may not be able to enjoy it when she's older. I know the other lake you're talking about; it's called Amatitlan, I believe.

davegsomething

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  • Added on: February 11th, 2010
Based on my personal experience of spending only 2 months in Guatemala, I'd have to concur with those who say be _very_ careful in Guatemala city. I spent a couple of weeks there on and off. I stayed in Zona 10, at Apartamentos Las Torres, almost across the street from the Holiday Inn. There I felt very safe. We were guarded 24/7 by atleast 1 guy with a sawed-off and the always owner packs.

I traveled all over the city on my motorcycle (big ol' BMW) and felt pretty safe. Though I really tried to keep moving and if pedestrians looked too hard at me I'd bolt. Yes, I was paranoid, but I'll get to why in a second. Taxis are very cheap and I recommend taking them. I walked around quite a bit in zona 10 and to some of its surrounding neighborhoods to explore, shope, and visit the US embassy.

The reason why I was paranoid and had to visit the embassy was because I was robbed around Lake Atitlan. I was driving from Santiago Atitlan to San Pedro and was held up by 3 guys in camo with guns (blog here: http://www.gsomething.com/2008/08/24/to ... ke-atilan/ ).

While getting a new passport at the embassy, I met 5 other people who were robbed around that area. Maybe that is because that is where the tourists mostly go, but I didn't meet one person who lost their passport in Guatemala city.

I really don't think that criminals are really targeting tourists in Guate like they are in the Atitlan area and also Antigua.

My advice to any who will listen, especially in Antigua, is don't walk around at night alone (even if you're male). Also, I can't stress it enough... don't walk around drunk. Someone will notice and take advantage of you. Most of the people who I met who were robbed in Antigua were drunk when it happened.
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