Is Guatemala City Really As Dangerous As You’ve Heard?

A couple of cops in Guatemala City

A couple of cops in Guatemala City

A personal account of our short experience with the locals of Gautemala City and how it changed our view of this city.

Before travelling to Guatemala we were advised by several people that the capital – Gautemala City – is a very dangerous place. “Don’t stay out late at night because you’ll get mugged”, “Don’t catch the bus because it’ll be hijacked”, “Don’t catch a taxi because they will drive you to the middle of nowhere, rob you and leave you stranded”. We were starting to see a theme emerging and were in a pickle about exactly how we should safely get from A to B.

For our final destination of Antigua we did have to travel through Guatemala City and – being the safety conscious travellers we try to be –  prepared by researching the different transport options. We developed a plan to minimise any dangerous situations, however, some plans never seem to go quite as you expect.

The Plan Doesn’t Go As Expected

Our overnight bus from Flores made excellent time and instead of arriving in Guatemala City at 6am as it’s starting to get light and people are around, it dropped us off at 4am while it was still dark and shady characters be lurking. In addition, our bus terminal was not the activity hub we expected but a single bare room with people peering in at you through the bars on the window.

Rather than stick around the bus terminal we followed the next part of our plan and took our chances catching a taxi to the airport where our research had informed us we could easily hop on a shuttle bus to Antigua. Of course we neglected to inform our taxi driver that we’d like to be dropped off at Airport Arrivals – where the shuttles would logically be – instead of Departures and ended up wandering the airport a little lost.

Locals To The Rescue

While struggling to play charades with an officious looking airport employee our story did a 180. A local Guatemalan interrupted and offered to help translate for us with his excellent English speaking skills – right down to the American accent. When he learned we were trying to catch a shuttle bus out to Antigua he mentioned he was with his Mother and Father who were travelling out that way in their pick-up truck, they were just at the airport to drop off their local Pastor and would we like a lift?

Now it might have been his excellent English, it might have been the presence of his elderly Mother who seemed a little suspicious of us, or maybe it was his apparent religious beliefs, whatever the reason we trusted this young guy despite the little voice in the back of my head saying “Of course a mugger/kidnapper is going to concoct some trustworthy story to get you in the car, you idiot”.

10 minutes later we were sitting in the back of his pick-up truck flying down the highway waiting for the part where he turns to us and says “Empty your pockets and you won’t get hurt”. Luckily that moment never came – ironically we were just treated to a lecture by our new friend on how dangerous Guatemala City is and how we shouldn’t trust anyone – and before we knew it we were safe and sound in Antigua waving goodbye to these generous strangers.

As we later learned hitch-hiking is a popular mode of transport in Central America but not often recommended for tourists. It’s also customary to offer your driver a small payment for the ride, which we gladly did.

A Lesson Learned

I was so struck by these people’s kindness to us – people they didn’t know or have any reason to trust themselves – that I think a valuable lesson was learned that day. Despite all the warnings we had received about GC I don’t believe we stumbled across the only trustworthy people in the city, the people who live there are generally nice and willing to help out a stranger. But they’re also just as quick to warn you about the dangers, so maybe there is something there too.

So Is It Dangerous?

Of course it’s dangerous, just like many travel destinations are dangerous. But, while caution should definitely be taken don’t underestimate the majority of locals who are trying desperately to change their cities reputation. As we’ve heard many times… the destinations with the most dangerous reputations often have the nicest locals.

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5 Responses

  1. Joan and John says:

    Love your story about the friendly Guatemala City locals Kate! You are both certainly getting the full range of travel experiences. Reminds us of travelling in Asia and hearing of terrible places and people ahead and then crossing the border to find they were human, welcoming and friendly.

    • Kate Bascombe says:

      Thanks. Yes, I’m sure people find similar situations in many places. It’s just good to remember not to be discouraged by the stories and go visit a place yourself to find out the reality.

  2. keven bascombe says:

    What a story….I too would have been suspicious of the ‘it’s too good to be true’ local man. Trust you got my email of yesterday. We are just leaving by fast cat from petergov the ancient palace and gardens of the czar peter the 1st, very beautiful and historic.

  3. Gunnard Larson says:

    Nice article. I live in Guatemala City and I think your story captures the feel of the city. In truth it is very dangerous. I’ve been robbed twice, once at gun point. I’ve seen dead bodies on the street and heard so many gun shots I don’t pay attention to them anymore. But, that is only one small part of city life. Most Guatemaltecos will go out of their way to help with a big smile on their face, so much so that I no longer expect anyone to say “empty your pockets.”

  1. April 5, 2014

    […] Is Guatemala City Really As Dangerous As You’ve Heard? […]

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