Around Guatemala City
Unemployment is high and Guate City attracts people from all over the country looking for work. Many who might otherwise be working at honest jobs turn to crime, so the crime rate is many times higher here than in the rest of the country. Zona 1 is notoriously dangerous. It is also where most of the bus companies are located.
The vast majority of Guatemalans are honest, friendly, hardworking people. Unfortunately, many will also view you as an incredibly rich person – your plane ticket might represent a year’s wages to many working guys. They figure that you can easily afford to lose a few things and they won’t be terribly motivated to interrupt a thief at work.
Never leave your bags with a bus company in Guate City. At other places in the country you may find reliable looking companies that will check your bag, give you a claim check and charge a nominal amount for the service. They are usually OK. Use your best judgment here.
Take Cabs – local buses are overcrowd, loaded with pickpockets and tourists are prime targets. Cabs are expensive – at least by local standards, but not that much really – and they don’t have meters; be sure to establish the price before you get in.
Avoid cheap hotels In Guate City. Most are located in the worst parts of town, are dirty, noisy, frequented by prostitutes, drunks and…..well, you get the picture. If you have to stay in Guate City, go for a better hotel in the best neighborhood.
A better place to stay is Antigua – less than an hour out of Guate City by private (and safe) van from the airport, $8-10 per person and worth it. Lots of good, safe, inexpensive hotels and a nice place to stay. Watch out for pickpockets in the main market.
Some General Travel Tips – In No Particular Order
Photocopy your Passport and Airline Tickets, along with lists of Traveler’s check #’s, Credit Card #’s and all emergency telephone #’s: the ones to report lost cards, checks and the phone #’s of your Embassy and Consulates – keep several copies in different places (one in your pocket, one in each travel bag, etc.). I also change the Credit Card #’s on this list: add a digit, reverse the first 2 numbers, whatever, just so whoever might get it won’t have the real Credit Card #’s. My paranoia and maybe not necessary, but just a bit of extra protection.
For Americans: Never put your Social Security # on anything!
Divide up your cash, traveler’s checks and credit cards: carry them in several places ON YOUR PERSON, NOT IN YOUR BAGS. OK, put one traveler’s check and a few dollars in your luggage – the rest stays on you!
Carry a SINGLE PIECE OF LUGGAGE. It is easier to secure and watch one piece then it is to keep track of several; a small second bag for a book, snack, water bottle, etc. is fine, but keep it small enough to be comfortably carried under your jacket or on your belt.
Protect your bag: Most rip-off’s begin with some sort of a distraction – be very VERY suspicious of anyone who approaches you for any reason. It is common practice is for one or more folks to create a distraction while another grabs your bag or slashes your bag/pockets with a razor and makes off with whatever falls out before you know what’s happened.
Avoid placing your bag in the baggage compartment under the bus. If you have a large bag or pack, consider paying for an extra seat and keep the bag next to you. Consider it your cheapest insurance.
Be especially careful in and around bus terminals and cab stands: You are at your most vulnerable when arriving and departing and that’s where and when you are most likely to be hit.
Buy a cable lock: these have a retractable cable that locks with a combination. Better ones are available in the ski/snowboard section of sports shops. Use it to secure your bag to the overhead rack of buses. Best to place your bag in the rack ACROSS from your seat, so you can see it from your seat without getting up. Better still, keep your bag under your feet. Also use the cable lock to secure your bag to a piece of furniture in hotel rooms. And get a good combination lock for your bag.
Divide up your necessities and valuables: use a small back/fanny pack, money belt, neck wallet, travel vest or whatever to make sure that everything isn’t in a single bag. I now wear a vest with lots of pockets, some inside and zippered. It is a great comfort to be able to FEEL your passport, plane tickets, camera, etc.
Make up a “Throwaway Wallet”: a cheap wallet with some useless ID (a couple of expired credit cards, photocopy of an altered drive’s license, business cards, etc.). Put enough money in it for your daily expenses and use it openly. If a pickpocket or robber gets it, you have not lost much.
Baggage insurance: a good idea and relatively cheap too. For Americans, your baggage may also be automatically covered by your Homeowner’s policy or credit card. One important note: Insurance companies require ORIGINAL RECEIPTS for your claim. Save all receipts for your travel items. And if you are a crime victim, insist on getting a police report: without it, your insurance claim will probably not be paid.
Finally, your best protection is common sense. Be aware of where you are and who is around you. Avoid situations that feel uncomfortable. When in doubt, get out! Spend the extra few bucks for a safe ride, a safe room, or a cab to a safe place.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our Central America Insiders page.