Staying Safe In Lake Atitlan Guatemala: A Guide To Avoiding Theft And Sickness, Getting Around & Safety Advice For Women

Written by Rebecca Moy.

Lake Atitlan is undoubtedly the scenic highlight of Guatemala, but after hearing stories of tourists being pickpocketed or getting sick, you may be seeking advice for staying safe on your vacation.

Everyone knows that Lake Atitlan is a true natural wonder. Since being recognized as the most beautiful lake in the world, people around the globe have given Lake Atitlan a top slot on their travel bucket list.

But Central America doesn't exactly have a reputation as the safest place in the world. And with a violent history due to civil wars in the 80s and 90s, some people unfairly associate Guatemala today with its distant past.

Let us assure you that Lake Atitlan is indeed a safe place for travel. With a bit of savviness and common sense, you'll be able to navigate Lake Atitlan and its epic landscapes without running into any trouble.

In this guide, we'll go through topics like getting around Lake Atitlan, and how to safely hike its volcanoes or swim in the lake. We'll also advise how to avoid getting sick and give special tips for female travelers.

Armed with our advice, you'll be well-prepared to feel safe and travel with an open heart and mind when you visit the beautiful Lake Atitlan.

San Marcos La laguna at sunset.

Is Lake Atitlan Safe For American Tourists?

Lake Atitlan is considered one of the safest parts of Guatemala. The US Department of State indicates that American citizens can visit Lake Atitlan but warn against travel to other parts of Guatemala, including:

  • San Marcos Department (except the city of San Marcos) - not to be mixed up with San Marcos La Laguna which is safe for travel.

  • Huehuetenango Department (except the city of Huehuetenango).

  • Zone 18 and the city of Villa Nueva in Guatemala City.

Is there much crime against tourists in Lake Atitlan?

First off, crime in Guatemala doesn’t typically involve tourists. Most violent crime is gang-related i.e. only affects locals in certain areas. Tourists are rarely affected.

Since tourism is a pillar of the Guatemalan economy, Guatemalans welcome travelers with open arms. Local people are generally warm and helpful, and local authorities are happy to help you out and make sure you are safe.

The only crime that can occur against tourists in Lake Atitlan is pickpocketing. Tourists, often distracted by the stunning surroundings and unfamiliar with the local dynamics, can sometimes become easy targets for opportunistic thieves.


  1. Be extra vigilant at busy street markets like Chichicastenango and on crowded chicken buses. Pickpockets are more likely to operate here.

  2. Don't wear expensive jewelry as this will make you a prime target.

  3. Keep your cash in a money belt hidden under your shirt, and only carry what you need.

  4. Try not to have your phone out in the street. Dip into a store if you need to check maps or respond to a text message.

  5. Opt for sealed cross-body bags that can't easily be snatched or opened by pickpockets.

Navigating Lake Atitlan

"When traveling to Lake Atitlán, use certified tourist providers and travel between villages on the lakeshore by chartered boat, as perimeter paths pose a serious crime risk and are not easily accessible by emergency services" - US Department of State.

If you want to travel between the major towns of Lake Atitlan, i.e. from Panajachel right across to San Marcos or Santiago, it's best to use the water taxis, or lanchas.

Yes, it's possible to drive on the roads that connect these towns, but it's not advisable. There's risk of robbery and even landslides in the rainy season. The fact that locals avoid taking these paths should be a clear indication not to use them.

Lanchas are frequent, fun and quick alternatives to driving in between towns - plus they're affordable!

A lancha, the local public transportation, crossing lake atitlan.

Is it safe to wander around Lake Atitlan villages?

Generally, it is considered safe to wander alone through Lake Atitlan as long as there is daylight. After dark, women especially should get a tuk-tuk to be on the safe side.

Tuk-tuks are a great way to get around. Drivers are licensed, trustworthy and they're super affordable too.

What about the chicken bus?

Riding the famous chicken bus is a really fun experience during any visit to Lake Atitlan, plus, they're cheap, reliable, and the main mode of transportation for local people. Robberies aren't unheard of, so be vigilant of personal belongings and follow the previous advice for avoiding pickpockets.

Note that there are no chicken buses that travel between the villages. If you want to ride on the chicken bus you get them from either Panajachel or Santiago and head into the highlands.

Chicken bus in the streets of San Pedro La Laguna.

If You're A Woman Visiting Lake Atitlan

Sadly, wherever you go in the globe, women still need to exercise the utmost caution. Observe the following advice.


  1. Wear conservative clothing. Do not wear shorts or short skirts. Knee-length skirts, capris and pants are OK. Ensure that your shirts are covering your cleavage.

  2. If you think something might be risky, go with a male friend.

  3. Solo female travelers may be catcalled in the street. Almost always, these are harmless. Simply keep moving forward while maintaining a straight gaze and denying that anything is occurring.

  4. Consider wearing a fake wedding ring in case a flirty man asks for your contact information, whether it's someone who approaches you on the street or a taxi driver behaving unprofessionally. It is the experience of many female travelers that men will leave them alone once they say they are married.

How Not To Get Sick In Lake Atitlan

No one wants to get sick on vacation, especially in Lake Atitlan. Here are three top tips to follow so you don't waste precious days in bed feeling unwell.

Rule #1: Avoid Tap Water

One of the potential health concerns is waterborne illnesses. Be cautious of consuming untreated water. Always drink bottled water and never tap water. Lots of people make small mistakes that cost them a day of lost vacation time in bed - be mindful not to brush your teeth with tap water and avoid ice in your drinks. Watch out for raw vegetables like lettuce which are often washed in untreated water.

Rule #2: Be Careful Where You Eat

Being cautious about where you eat in Lake Atitlan is essential to avoid sickness. Many foreigners are sensitive to unfamiliar ingredients and differing food preparation methods, easily falling victim to food poisoning, stomach infections, and traveler's diarrhea.

It's a good idea to check online reviews before eating somewhere, and to be safe, avoid street food altogether. Opt for well-cooked and hot foods, and pay attention to food handlers' hygiene and the cleanliness of the establishment.

Indigenous people cooking traditional food in her home.

Rule #3: Take Care When Swimming In The Lake

With its gently twinkling waters, sunny blue skies and stunning volcanic backdrop, the appeal of diving right into Lake Atitlan is hard for anyone to resist. So, it's immensely disappointing to hear stories of travelers getting sick after going for a swim in Lake Atitlan.

Some people advise against swimming altogether, but it's an enormous shame to miss out on the magic of Atitlan's ethereal waters. Our advice for avoiding sickness when swimming is this: take care not to ingest the lake's water, shower after swimming to wash off potential contaminants and choose your swimming spots wisely.

Water hygiene in Lake Atitlan can vary due to pollution and runoff. If you notice locals swimming in certain areas, it's usually a good indication that it's safe to swim, but you can also ask for advice from your hotel or hostel.

Be warned that the risk of infection will be higher for some individuals, namely anyone with an open wound or a weakened immune system. So, if you're already feeling under the weather, it's best to wait before diving off the docks into Atitlan's refreshing waters.

Swimming in San Juan La Laguna at sunset.

Travel Vaccinations For Lake Atitlan

Whilst there are no required travel vaccinations for entry to Guatemala, some vaccinations are advisable for travelers to protect against various diseases present in the region. Recommended vaccinations include hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, and routine influenza vaccines. It's wise to consult with a healthcare professional or travel clinic before your trip to get personalized recommendations.

Hiking In Lake Atitlan

With three impressive volcanoes on its doorstep, hiking in Lake Atitlan is a one-of-a-kind experience, but don't forget these hikes are extremely challenging with the tallest summit being 3,537m high. Whether you're an experienced hiker or not, the steep incline will put your skills to the test.

"Do not attempt to hike walking trails or volcanoes without the services of a qualified local guide. Robberies are commonplace, and emergency response is lacking" - US Department of State.

It really is wise to hire a guide when hiking in Lake Atitlan. Whilst government warnings err on the side of caution, an experienced and knowledgeable guide can keep you out of harm's way when it comes to thieves or getting lost, plus, they can provide first aid or emergency support if you're struggling with altitude. They are your guru and the key to a safe and enjoyable hiking experience.

Look here for guided tours of Volcan Atitlan, Volcan Tomilan, and San Pedro Volcano.

San Pedro Volcano Hike

San Pedro is one of the most popular volcano hikes in Lake Atitlan for good reason: the view of Atitlan's lush highlands is utterly postcard-worthy. However, over recent years, San Pedro has unfortunately become a hotspot for robberies.

Local authorities are working to improve security on the volcano and have assigned four police on guard each day plus checkpoints in and out, but you can also mitigate risk with some simple tricks.


  1. Be sure to travel light when you hike San Pedro. If you leave valuables behind, they can't be stolen!

  2. If you do choose to take money or mobile phones, keep valuables hidden inside a money belt.

  3. Hike in a group, stay aware of your surroundings, and stick to well-traveled paths, and you'll avoid becoming a target for theft.

Man looks out to volcanoes feom the summit of Volcan San Pedro.

Watch Out For Altitude Sickness

At an already high altitude of 1,562 meters (5,125 feet), hiking in Lake Atitlan becomes tougher the higher you get. Temperatures drop and altitude sickness is more of a possibility, especially if you're not acclimatized yet.

Headaches, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath may occur when hiking in Lake Atitlan, but extreme altitude sickness is unusual. If you experience symptoms of altitude sickness when hiking, it's best to reduce your walking pace and go slow, drinking plenty of water. If symptoms are extreme, don't ascend any further.


  1. Take it easy upon arrival, stay hydrated, and avoid excessive physical exertion during the first few days as you let your body acclimatize to the altitude.

  2. Stock up on Panadol before hiking. If you experience symptoms like headaches, these will come in handy.

  3. Water is your best friend, so make sure to take plenty. As a general rule, half a liter for every hour of walking is sufficient.

  4. Always hike in a group and tell others as soon as you experience symptoms. Don't be afraid to call for help if you or your buddies need it.

In the case of an emergency, dial tel. 1500 from anywhere in Guatemala. This will connect you to a bilingual operator at Asistur who can put you in contact with the police, fire department, or ambulance service.

Landscape of mountains and lush greenery from the top of a mountain.

Planning Your Trip to Lake Atitlan

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 underprivileged local people, plus a portion of our profits goes towards an NGO that works hard to alleviate poverty in Lake Atitlan.

For more help with planning your trip to Lake Atitlan, check out our "Top Tours & Things To Do In Lake Atitlan" guide.

After reading this guide it should be clear that with a bit of savviness and preparation, you can enjoy a vacation to Lake Atitlan without running into trouble. Yes, keep a vigilant mind, but don't forget that all-important sense of wonder so you can fully immerse in the magic of the most magical place in Central America: Lake Atitlan Guatemala!


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