The assault on a tour bus filled with U.S. college students was a disaster for Guatemalan tourism. For our company it came at exactly the time when we were confirming reservations for our Holy Week Tour. We queried people returning from Guatemala, contacted suppliers, talked candidly with potential participants, and regretfully decided that the tour must be cancelled. The problem was not so much the very slight possibility that there might be a repeat incident, but that travelers were not willing to risk problems from the deterioration of law and order that Guatemala is suffering.
The situation is the aftermath of a civil war, leaving large numbers of young men who have recently been discharged from the army drifting, jobless, and alienated from their communities. With access to firearms and the training to use them, some of these young men naturally turn to banditry - understandable, but tough on tourists and even worse for the Guatemalans who must live with these conditions. The country now faces the challenge of turning its police forces from the mission of keeping the rural population under control to that of protecting them, solving crimes, and pursuing real criminals. They must do this without a resurgence of oppression and paramilitary activity.
Through it all Guatemala remains a nation that is deep and rich in tradition, strong in community bonds, brave in the face of adversity, and warmly hospitable to strangers - a beautiful land with a beautiful people. Below we share with you the experience of a young American woman in Guatemala.
The following report was sent to us by email from Florida in response to our request for current information on safety issues in Guatemala. It is published with the author's permission.
Guatemala, as I presume you know, is an incredibly diverse country. With 28 different indigenous languages and "traje" and all the dramatically different landscapes from Lake Atitlan to the Highlands to the volcanoes to the Pacific to the Rio Dulce it is a must see in Central America.
I do believe, however, that if one speaks the language one is that much more "safe". When I arrived in Guatemala the first time I didn't speak a word of Spanish, I went to Todos Santos Cuchumantanes and lived with an indigenous family while I attended the only Spanish school (now I believe there are two) for three weeks. My family and I fell madly in love and they offered me their storage house to rent for very cheap (Q150.00/month). I cooked on open fire, ate beans and tortillas and lived WITH them for three months. This will always be one of my homes!!
I traveled all throughout Guatemala, local style, for 6 months. Local style, I mean I traveled the chicken buses, pick up trucks, back roads, etc.
Yes, there was always that element of danger but I always had my eyes open and really tried to speak the language and I always walked as if I knew exactly where I was even if I didn't!! I would recommend to travelers to "dress down" don't carry a lot of valuables or flashy cameras or flashy backpacks! ( Guatemalans LOVE American merchandise!!) Don't go up the volcanoes near Antigua and don't go visit the cross above Antigua. There is a very poor village from the other side and these spots are popular for their "banditos"!! The volcano above San Pedro village on Atitlan is a beautiful and vigorous hike. If you feel more comfortable hire a guide, there have been problems but very few.
I think Guatemala is one of the most remarkable countries in Central America and definitely worth a trip!!!!!!!!!!!! Hope you can ease the fears of future travelerís!! Good Luck