Safety and Precautions

Guatemala City has a bad reputation, and you do need to be careful, but it probably isn't more dangerous than any other large city in a developing country. Here are some tips to help you avoid being preyed upon by pickpockets and other unsavory characters:

Carry as little as possible. Leave expensive jewelry and watches at home, keep purses and cameras close to your body—or better yet, don't carry them at all. Use a money belt and put in your pocket only as much cash as you need. Carry a photocopy of your passport, leaving the original in your hotel safe.

Ask hotel personnel for the lay of the land. Get that invaluable where-to-go and where-not-to-go advice from the staff at your hotel. They know the neighborhood better than anybody.

Walk purposefully. Look like you know where you're going, even if you're hopelessly lost. Standing on a street corner with a puzzled look and your open Fodor's guide brands you as a tourist. Pop into a store or other public interior to get your bearings and ask for directions if you need to. Duck into a church, sit in a pew, and map out your route (and perhaps get a bit of divine guidance).

Take taxis. During the day, take taxis for longer distances, even if you would normally consider them walkable. At night stick to well-lighted areas and take taxis even for short trips. They're reasonably priced, and your hotel or restaurant will be happy to call one.

Watch out for motorcycles. Fast and nimble, they're the preferred get-away vehicle for thieves. Don't walk along the curb, where someone can snatch your bag or camera and be gone before you even realize what's happened.

Be careful crossing the street. Guatemala City drivers tend to drive fast whenever possible (maybe because the heavy traffic doesn't often give them the chance). They generally don't yield to pedestrians, so don't assume they will stop for you even at a crosswalk. Crossing the street can be particularly hazardous in the New City, where cars and motorcycles tend to move more quickly than in the congested city center, and where there are few traffic lights.

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