Traveling alone has long been touted as one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have. There are few better ways to meet new people, explore different cultures, and learn a WHOLE LOT about yourself than while trekking solo.
However, when setting off to a country like Guatemala, a country with “murder” topping the list of things it is internationally recognized for, anyone might start asking some difficult questions about the prudence of their choices. Is it even safe to go to Guatemala at all? Much less by oneself?
As with many things when it comes to safety, the answer is complicated. Though there are ways to mitigate the risks involved in traveling by oneself, it is impossible to guarantee that one will not fall victim to mugging or other forms of harm. That said, most people who travel to Guatemala each year do emerge unscathed, though that is not a reason to let your guard down or sacrifice your safety in the name of experience.
Is it safe to travel to Guatemala solo?
We’ve compiled a list of tips to keep in mind during your solo trekking adventure to help keep you as safe as possible and give you peace of mind. Though this is not an exhaustive guide, you can think of it as a jumping off point for your research.
- Make friends. This is usually the easiest part about traveling alone, since it’s always simpler to meet new people when you’re not held down by travel companions. Friends who you get to know and trust can help keep you safe by sharing their own tips and tricks, and offering a helping hand if you need one. They’re also an essential component of our next tip:
- Don’t isolate yourself. When it comes to the targets of thieves and muggers, it is 100% simpler to go for someone by themselves than someone in a group or a crowd. Stay in crowded, touristy areas as much as you can, and if you must walk somewhere a bit more deserted, do so in broad daylight and with other people.
- Watch the partying. Many people traveling by themselves want to party hard, feeling unencumbered by the watchful eyes of others. However, this will leave you more vulnerable in the event that you drink too much or lose control. Plus, drink spiking is common all over Latin America to take advantage of inebriated tourists. Unless you’re in a group of people you absolutely trust, take it easy and keep your wits about you.
- Do not travel at night alone. This one is pretty universal. After dark is without a doubt the most dangerous time to be out. Try not to walk at all, going instead for an authorized taxi, or an Uber if you’re in Guatemala City or Antigua. Speaking of which,
- Avoid Guatemala City if you can. You’ll probably need to be in the capital for some time, as chances are this is where you’ll fly in. However, the biggest city in Central America is also one of the most dangerous. Limit your time, use extra caution, and stay in well-reviewed hotels/hostels in busy areas.
- Do not go hiking alone. There are a couple reasons for this – first, it’s easy to get a bit delirious at those higher elevations, and you’ll want someone there to help with the judgement of when to rest vs. when to keep going. Almost more importantly however, bandits and robbers frequent hiking trails, and going alone will leave you very vulnerable to mugging. If you don’t have someone to hike with, consider hiring a Guatemalan guide for a richer and safer experience, or join a tour group.
- Learn some Spanish. While there are English speakers in Guatemala, it can’t be guaranteed that you’ll find one when you really need one. Knowing the key phrases and carrying a small phrase book will keep you in good shape, and even get you on the side of the locals (which can be an invaluable tool in and of itself).
- Keep in touch. It can be tempting to disappear and disconnect from your friends and family back home, but the reality is that you want people knowing where you are in case something goes wrong. It doesn’t matter your preferred method of communication – WhatsApp, email, video calling, however you want to reach someone every couple of days, or every time you change destinations. Designate someone back home, let them know what you’re doing, give them your itinerary if you have one, and set off. And to keep in touch, you’ll need to-
- Get a SIM card. Trust us, you want the internet while you’re on the road. As soon as you get in the country, even while at the airport, find a good company to get a SIM with so that you can do things like make local calls, use WhatsApp, call an Uber, etc. You can be extra secure by taking a cheap, unlocked phone instead of your usual phone, in case it gets stolen.
- Purchase travel insurance. The concept of insurance is that hopefully you won’t need it, but if you do, it’s a life-saver. Travel insurance is no different. It’s not something for the scared, or the unadventurous. It’s for those who understand that bad things happen, and who have enough respect for their own well-being to bring a safety net along for the ride.
- Research. It’s common for solo travelers to not do any research at all, considering it extra adventurous to set foot in a new country and feel their way around. Unfortunately, it’s not recommended. It’s important to know in advance where it is safe and where it isn’t, and what resources are available to you. A little bit of planning goes a long way towards keeping you on a path of safety.
Is solo female travel in Guatemala safe?
It’s no secret that women face a different set of circumstances while traveling. We’re not happy about it either – obviously women should be able to have the same enriching experiences as anyone else when setting out on their own. It is still possible for women to travel solo to Guatemala and be perfectly fine, but you’ll want to be extra vigilant and bear a few more things in mind to keep you as safe as possible. Along with the advice above:
- Female-only dorms are your friend. If staying in a hostel, you should be diligently reading reviews to ensure that women who have stayed there felt comfortable, and staying in a room with only other women can help the sense of security. That said-
- If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, check out. It doesn’t matter if the place had good reviews all over the internet, or if you’ve planned to stay there for weeks. Your gut instinct should be trusted, and if it is possible for you to find an alternative, don’t be afraid to go to the front desk, ask for a refund, and set off to an accommodation you feel good about. Speaking of gut instinct-
- Leave uncomfortable situations asap. This could be anything – a conversation, a restaurant, a bar crawl with people from your hostel. If you don’t feel good about what’s happening, say so, and then walk away if you can to keep things from escalating.
- Fake it till you make it. The is the #1 rule of showing confidence. If you look like you know where you’re going, what you’re doing, and what you’re going to do next, you will automatically be less of a target for scammers or thieves who are preying on the most vulnerable people (ie, those who look confused or lost).
- Blend in. You don’t need to look Guatemalan (after all, if you’re reading this, chances are good that you are NOT Guatemalan or even Central American), but you should aim to mimic local fashion, or at least not stand out as a tourist. Extra tip: classic tourist garb includes shorts and flip flops or sandals, so avoid these at all costs. Instead, opt for conservative fashion (skirts should fall below the knee and shoulders are best covered while in rural areas). Your goal should be to pass, if not for a local, than at least a confident long-term resident.
- Ignore the cat callers. They’re going to be everywhere, it’s bound to happen. Best plan of attack is none at all – do not engage.
- Don’t do the chicken buses. Some women have taken the infamous Guatemalan chicken buses by themselves to get from place to place, but the more cautious option is to avoid these and either seek private transport or a shuttle.
- Stay away from the remote areas. You will be more vulnerable the more rural you travel. Unfortunately, we just don’t recommend it if you’re on your own.
If it brings any comfort, remember that simply knowing the risks and being aware of your surroundings will arguably do more to keep you safe than many of the tips we’ve shared. All of these ideas are important to keep in mind, but vigilance is key.