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Crime in Guatemala

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We are a family of 4 and found a place we'd like to stay in the Lake Atitlan area (Santiago). US State Dept says there has been violent crimes in Guatemala due to poverty and the availability of weapons. Can someone tell me what they know of the crime situation there? I have 2 kids (11 and 15). Thanks.

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    We are an older couple so probably just as vulnerable if not more so than you would be with your kids.

    We went to Atitlan for the first time 3 years ago. We started planning a return trip while still there. It is so beautiful and the wonderful culture of that area was a life experience imo. Santiago is a fascinating place. We went with friends the first time and alone the second time and never felt threatened at all. We used drivers, taxis and a hired boat but then were dropped off in different areas to explore on our own. Santiago has lots of "guides" to walk you around the town and show you the highlights. Don't miss Maximon (don't laugh). The kids might find him amusing but they take him very seriously. We felt no danger walking around the shopping area and the town in general when on our own.

    I would avoid banks except for possibly Antigua if you are going there. Don't withdraw big amounts. A common thing these days is to have someone inside talking on the phone to people outside and describing, or taking a picture of, what the tourists look like that are taking big amounts out. While in Panajachel we had the driver from our hotel take us to a little tienda to cash some travelers checks. The hotel itself recommended this. There was still a problem at that time with bank closures.

    For Super Bowl we started to leave the bar we were at in Panajachel but the bartender suggested that it would be safer for him to go get a taxi for us rather than walk the streets at night. He walked a couple of blocks down and found a taxi that he thought would be safe for us. Crazy maybe but was hopefully the lesser of two evils at the time.

    If you want to go on a hike do ask about a guide or one of the tourist police. Plenty of them around most places. Your hotel can probably help with that. There is a guide named Carlos who is also the great bartender at Casa Palopo hotel. We plan to head out with him next trip to do some horseback riding.

    Other places around Atitlan we visited were Solola market, annoying in that we were the only tourists so we were followed by half the women there trying to sell us stuff but fascinating at the same time because it was so the real deal in terms of it being the market place that the locals use. It can be sensory overload to see all the different colors of the weavings. So beautiful. A nature preserve by Panajachel. A few smaller towns that were still rebuilding from Hurricane Stan. We bought some lovely pottery, a huge bedspread made from multiple huipiles. Those are the blouses that the women wear. Plus much much more. Do feel free to bargain.

    We basically repeated our trip the second year because we loved Antigua, Atitlan and probably most of all, Tikal. We found a bird guide in Tikal who grew up there and saw a lot of the park that most people don't see. On our second trip we had a clear day and went up to the top of Temple 4 to watch the sunset.

    Both trips to Guatemala were a wonderful experience and I can't wait to get back. We will be going for sure once we get settled in our new home in Costa Rica next month. We will need lots of things.

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    I've visited Guatemala 5 times since my first visit in the 80's and will return in 2009. In the meantime I'm planning return trips to Honduras and Belize, other favorites, though Guatemala takes the cake (as my grandmother would have said). Staying on the beaten path (like Antigua, Atitlán, Tikal in Guatemala) you should be very safe. Even traveling off the beaten path I've never had a frightening experience or one that's resulted in loss of property. I've placed the link to my photos and travelogues below in case you're interested. Happy trails!

    Here are my concessions to safety when I travel in Central America:
    :: I avoid the big cities as much as possible
    :: I don't "party"
    :: Where recommended I take specific transportation (Hedman Alas in Honduras, for example, or avoiding chicken buses on the mountain runs in Guatemala, taxis after dark)
    :: I know where I am and where I'm headed
    :: I don't wear jewelry (not even my wedding band) and try not to flash camera equipment or money around
    :: Some trips I carry a “throw down wallet” with an expired card or 2 and the day’s cash in it
    :: I keep important documents and cash under my clothes (except what I need for shopping, buses, etc. for that time period)
    :: I ask locals about safety in an area - evenings, hiking, etc.
    :: I travel really light so I don't feel vulnerable getting my bag off and on buses, shuttles, etc.
    :: I continue to build skills in Spanish

    http://flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections

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    You guys are great. We really want to do Guatemala but just got so scared when we heard about possible violence (being with the kids and all). Casa Palopo does not allow children under 15 and we do have an 11 year old. What do you know about Posada de Santiago? Thanks!

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    Can't help with lodging since I stayed in a homestay on the lake, but I hope you'll post a travelogue when you return.

    We enjoyed traveling with our kids but - BE WARNED - it might infect them with a cultural bug that could result in them living and and studying and working overseas, sometimes a year or more at a time.

    Happy trails!

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