Top Guatemala Travel Tips: WHAT NOT TO DO And How To Stay Safe (Advice From An Insider!)

Follow our insider tips for Guatemala travel and know how to respect local culture, stay safe, and travel like a pro!

My wife and I have lived in Guatemala for nearly 20 years and traveled pretty much the entire country in that time. Again and again, we see travelers make the same mistakes: visiting dangerous places alone, or on the flipside, being overly cautious and skipping the most epic adventures Guatemala has to offer.

What we can tell you is this - Guatemala is a perfectly safe place. It is a beautiful country with a rich culture and the people are very nice. But like anywhere, you should exercise caution when visiting, so we'd suggest sticking to some simple tips.

In this insider guide to Guatemala travel, we'll explain top tips for planning your trip and tell you honestly what is and isn't a good idea in Guatemala.

Common Safety Topics About Travel In Guatemala, And What We Advise...

Traveling Alone As A Woman In Guatemala

Many solo female travelers find Guatemala to be a delightful destination, and I’ve met countless women who have nothing but positive stories to share about their experiences. The vibrant culture, welcoming locals, and stunning landscapes make it a fulfilling journey for many. However, it's always wise to follow general safety precautions like staying aware of your surroundings and keeping valuable items discreet. Most importantly, connecting with other travelers and sharing tips can enhance your safety and overall experience.

Yes, You Can Swim in Lake Atitlan!

Lake Atitlan is not only a breathtaking natural wonder but also a great spot for a swim, provided you stick to designated safe areas. It's important to avoid swimming in boat lanes to steer clear of traffic, and staying out of polluted areas will ensure your health isn’t compromised. Check out our blog on safe swimming in Lake Atitlan for more information before diving in.

Don't Be Put Off During the Wet Season

Don’t be dissuaded by the wet season; in fact, this is when Guatemala’s landscape turns especially lush and vibrant. The rains bring out the rich greens of the forests and fields, making it a photographer's paradise. Plus, the temperature remains warm, making it pleasant to explore. As long as you’re prepared with waterproof gear and a flexible itinerary that allows for sudden showers, visiting Guatemala during this season can be a uniquely beautiful experience.

Chicken buses are a fun but chaotic experience

Be prepared for crowded buses and erratic schedules when using public transport. While buses are a convenient way to travel between towns, be flexible and anticipate varying conditions, including limited change for fare payments.

Be Careful In Guatemala City

Guatemala City is known for being the 'dangerous' part of Guatemala, but it has a lot to offer, from rich history to vibrant nightlife. It's wise to exercise a higher degree of caution here. Like in any major city, keep an eye on your belongings, avoid less-traveled areas especially after dark, and use reputable transportation options. Stick to well-known tourist spots and consider traveling in groups if possible.

guatemala, city, architecture

Check official advice and safety updates

In our experience, staying informed through reliable sources like the local embassy updates and firsthand accounts from residents and recent travelers gives a much clearer picture of the actual conditions. Guatemala, like any country, has its issues, but by approaching your travel plans with well-sourced information and a balanced perspective, you'll find that the beauty and warmth of this place far outweigh the risks often amplified by hearsay.

Some websites to check out:

  1. U.S. Embassy in Guatemala: Offers safety updates, travel advisories, and essential information for U.S. citizens traveling or living in Guatemala. You can visit their official website here.

  2. Travel.State.Gov: Provides comprehensive travel and safety information for Guatemala, including entry requirements, safety tips, and health advisories. This is managed by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs. You can find more information on their Guatemala International Travel Information page.

Don't assume everyone will speak English

All the "touristy" spots have guides or people there that speak English, BUT, learning some basic Spanish (probably you’ve already considered this) can be helpful if venturing off the beaten track in Guatemala. Spanish skills are helpful for tasks like hotel bookings, dining, and transportation.

If you don’t know where to start, download Duolingo or Memrise, both of these apps work on smartphones and online. Duolingo is great for building vocabulary and is completely free. Memrise focuses sooner on learning phrases to say.

Don't Forget Travel Vaccinations

Guatemala is home to mosquitoes that may transmit diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus. To protect yourself from mosquito bites, use insect repellent containing DEET, wear long sleeves and pants, and sleep under mosquito nets, especially in areas with known mosquito activity.

Stray dogs and cats are common in urban and rural areas of Guatemala. While many of these animals are friendly, some street dogs may carry rabies. Avoid approaching stray animals, especially if they appear sick or injured, and consider carrying a small first aid kit with supplies to treat minor scratches or bites.

Take care with Food & Drink

Do not drink the tap water. Always buy bottled water.

Do not eat lettuce or any produce that is not clean. Salads should be bought only from reputable restaurants that use chlorine to clean the produce. Ignore this tip on your own risk. And trust me, the stomach issues you will get will be pretty bad.

Expect to eat a lot of beans and eggs and fried plantains. There is a lot of tasty street food, however don’t overdo it, more than likely if you aren’t accustomed to it you may get sick.

Unmissable Experiences in Guatemala

Don't Skip Lake Atitlan!

People visiting Guatemala for only a short time sometimes choose to stay in Antigua the whole time, but what an incredible shame to miss out on the magic of Lake Atitlan.

Nestled amidst the picturesque highlands of Guatemala, Lake Atitlan captivates visitors with its serene waters, lush landscapes, and vibrant indigenous villages. Each village along the lakeshore boasts its own unique charm and cultural identity, offering travelers an immersive experience unlike any other.

If you're short on time, check out these Lake Atitlan day trips from Antigua.

IMPORTANT TIP #1: While exploring the villages around Lake Atitlan is a must, it's crucial to be mindful of the boat schedules, especially if you plan to venture out late into the evening. Boats typically cease operating around 7pm, so it's advisable not to linger too late in another village to avoid the risk of getting stranded without transportation back to your accommodation.

IMPORTANT TIP #2: The smaller towns in Lake Atitlan sometimes don't have ATMs, at the same time, a lot of restaurants and places won't accept card. For this reason, it's important to always carry cash.

Don't hike San Pedro or Acatenango without a guide

While San Pedro volcano offers stunning vistas and thrilling hiking opportunities, it's important to be aware of the potential risks, including the presence of thieves in the area. Travelers hiking without a guide may inadvertently wander into unsafe areas or encounter unforeseen dangers. However, with the assistance of a local guide, you can navigate the trails with confidence, benefiting from their expertise and ensuring your safety throughout the journey.

--> Book a guided tour of San Pedro Volcano here.

Also, attempting to hike Acatenango without a guide is not only illegal but also extremely hazardous. The terrain can be treacherous, with steep slopes, unpredictable weather conditions, and the risk of volcanic activity. Without the guidance of an experienced guide, hikers may find themselves lost, injured, or stranded on the mountain.

--> Book a guided tour of Acatenango volcano here.

Book Tours In Advance

To make the most of your time in Guatemala and ensure a seamless travel experience, it's wise to book tours and activities in advance. By doing so, you can rest assured that you're in safe hands and have everything planned out, allowing you to focus on enjoying your adventure to the fullest.

Kayak Guatemala is Lake Atitlan’s #1 base camp for exploration and adventure, offering activities like epic volcano hikes, family kayak tours, cooking classes, and village-to-village boat and walking tours. We employ and upskill local people, plus a portion of our profits goes towards an NGO that works hard to alleviate poverty in Lake Atitlan.

Check out our full range of tours here.

Other Guatemala Travel Advice

  • On long trips, do bring water as sometimes it can be very hot. Also - bring a sweater if going through the mountain regions.

  • Always ask for permission before snapping pictures, especially in sensitive or ceremonial settings. Additionally, be mindful of security regulations regarding photography in public spaces.

  • Avoid walking alone at night. This is especially true for women. I know it sounds cliche - but if you are walking always try to have a guy with you.

  • Carry Small Denominations. Larger denominations can be challenging to spend. Aim to have sufficient change for bus fares and small purchases.

  • Avoid protests & gatherings of angry people

  • Use common sense & trust your street smarts!

For help with planning your trip to Lake Atitlan, check out our "Top Tours & Things To Do In Lake Atitlan" guide or our Guatemala 7-day itinerary for families.


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