Perhaps you’ve heard, Guatemala City is not a high-priority destination for most trampers. The city’s geographic size and population of more than 3 million people can be intimidating for a lone or novice tramper. Adding to this the city’s reputation for being “dangerous” and it seems that most trampers don’t think of Guatemala City as a destination at all, merely the place where you stop to catch a bus, or plane to somewhere else. Somewhere quiet. Somewhere safe.
But BorderTramp is here to tell you, that if a single white female with almost no Spanish language skills can learn to love this city, so can you. Give yourself the opportunity to be challenged, and we guarantee you won’t visit another city quite like it in Central America.
The first and most lasting impression of this city is the people. Like all of Guatemala, the people of Guatemala City are genuinely generous, kind, and helpful. Forget what impressions you might have of large cities in other countries (the US in particular) where people have a reputation of being impersonal or unfriendly. Not the case here. Stick with the locals, and you’ll have no trouble at all. Ask for help if you need it, especially with directions, or advice on where to visit and what to see. Guatemala City is a large city, and if it feels intimidating to try to navigate it on your own, remember that you don’t have to.
After the people of Guatemala City: it’s the art, the restaurants, the monuments, markets, cathedrals, music, coffee, beautiful views, and more, that make this a city worth spending time in. Check out the tabs at the bottom of the page for all the information you’ll need to get you started.
Banks and ATMs:
Aren’t difficult to find in Guatemala City, especially if you are staying in Zones 10 or 2. Use the same common sense you would in any big city. Use ATMs during daylight hours, don’t carry big amounts of cash if you don’t need to, and keep your ATM card somewhere secure if you don’t need to use it.
Guatemala City is BIG city. Walking from one end to the other (let’s say from Museo Popol Vuh to Zona 2) can easily take an hour. If time is on your side, there is no better way to see a lot of the city that you would otherwise miss. However, I know that sometimes you just need to get to where you’re going.
Taxis are plentiful in the city, though relying on them for transportation will quickly put a dent in your daily budget. Rides across the city can cost anywhere from Q25-Q50. (And the price should be per trip, and not per person, which you should confirm ahead of time.) During the day, when the weather is nice and it’s easy to find your way around, this chunk of change might seem to be better spent on a cerveza or a meal. At night, however, I felt it was worth the price of my peace of mind, knowing I could get home quickly and safely.
The other option for navigating the city, is the newer, efficient, and inexpensive TransMetro Bus Stystem. These aren’t the chicken buses, ladies and gentleman. And truthfully, we wouldn’t recommend using the city’s chicken buses to get around. The TransMetro bus stops are easy to spot, and there are three distinct routes that cover different areas of the city. I will admit that without being familiar with the city, it can still be difficult to find your way on your own. However, if you can get directions to your destination via the TransMetro routes, you’ll have an easier time.
The system operates like an above-ground subway. Each ride costs Q1 (make sure you have Q1 coins on hand before you arrive), which you pay on the platform before you get on the bus. For this reason, the TransMetro is seen as a much welcomed, safer alternative to city’s older public buses, where drivers, with cash on hand, have been targets for robberies.
For a look at the TransMetro route, click here.
“Isn’t it dangerous?” is literally the same question that every person I met asked me when I told them I had spent a week in Guatemla’s Capital city. And I don’t mean friends and family at home who have never left the US. I mean other travelers. People who have been throughout Central America, and many other parts of the world. This city really has a reputation…
“No” was always my answer. In short, if you have common sense, you should use it when traveling abroad, especially in large, unfamiliar cities. I didn’t spend all of my free time at bars, which generally helps my decision making. I took a taxi if I was out at night. I didn’t carry valuables or any more cash than I needed. I didn’t wander around through neighborhoods that I had no business being in, and if I were heading somewhere alone, I would ask about how safe it was to do so.
Of course, shit happens. Shit meaning, in this case, robberies, muggings, and petty theft. And it is probably true that this shit is more likely to happen in larger cities, which is where common sense comes in to play. Pay attention to your surroundings. Be alert, and be cautious. Sometimes, this kind of shit could not have been avoided (a few years ago we met a woman who was robbed twice in Nicaragua’s capital), and other times you look back and think, “Well, that was stupid.” If you can take steps to avoid the latter situation, you’ll save yourself many a headache and hang-up.