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We are considering a trip to Guatemala for about 7-10 days with kids (6 months and 3 years). We would like to do only the top attractions: Tikal, Antigua, Lake Atlitlan and Pacaya Volcano. Is it possible to do it in a reasonably safe way? Is it generally safe to use local travel agencies, or should we only use selected ones?

I would appreciate advice, especially if there are special safety needs that are different from reasonable precautions.

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I have experienced that it is possible to hire a police officer to travel with you. I don't know how you could arrange it, though. –  Bernhard Jan 26 at 16:31
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4 Answers 4

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I spent 47 days in Guatemala in 2009 as a backpacker and I did not have any problems even while taking local buses in Guatemala City and walking around there quite a bit.

However I did hear from tourists who were victims of petty crime and you also see 'security guards' with machine guns all over the place. Usually next to banks and more expensive shops. I also heard that richer local families still only go out with security guards.

It's all a bit different if you are going with your family, especially with young kids. It is hard for me as an experienced single traveler to say how a family would be treated there.

Just going to the top tourist attractions does not help, on the contrary, place like Antigua have more petty crime than other similar sized towns just because there are so many tourists there.

Many local tourist offices just sell tours that are then organized by other agencies. I've heard some horror stories from people who did book tours. So my advice would be to find other tourists who just came back from the tour you are planning to do and then ask them about their experience.

So the question remains: 'Would I go with my kids?' Maybe not with a six month old, wait five years. Your kids will enjoy it more and the security situation is likely to be better too.

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I wouldn't say Antigua has more petty crime than Guate or Xela. I would say that people have a false sense of security about Antigua because it is so pretty and full of expats. There is plenty of petty crime, and even a little violent crime, in all these places. –  hippietrail Jun 6 at 23:05
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As a backpacker, I'd say it's possible to travel safely in most countries. Sure at present, Yemen and Syria may not be ideal, but otherwise you're pretty good.

First step is to look up your government's travel advisories for the country. For example, New Zealand does one for us for any region in the world. Take it with a grain of salt, however - remember that they have to warn about everything that may happen, but that doesn't mean it will.

Make sure all your family's vaccinations are up to date, so that at least you don't have to worry as much about disease or health.

I don't personally use travel agents much, aside from on the ground. Once you're there, they're likely cheaper to use as well, but with limited time, it may be easier to use one in your home city. It'll certainly be simpler, and in your language.

Also take note of Wikitravel's warnings about safety there. Again however, this doesn't mean it will happen to you.

Have fun, I'm jealous and also impressed and pleased that a family can still travel to places like Guatemala together :)

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It's definitely safe, even with kids. With some basic street smart you should be fine. Ignore people that come up to you on the street and offer tours and only get them from places in established buildings. There are guards with big guns in some places but those are more for show than anything. If you do get robbed it will most likely be a pickpocket and not at gunpoint, hence why discreet travel wallets are handy.

There are many resources that you can also use to research things ahead of time (tripadvisor.com, lonely planet's Thorn Tree forum, etc) if you want that extra peace of mind. That said, talking to other backpacker tourists is often the best way to get up to date info. If your kids were older than 5 they would probably enjoy the public "chicken bus" rides (named as such because people sometimes bring live chickens they just bought in the market onto the bus with them). However since they are younger I recommend spending a little more money to pay for the large twelve-passenger van transportation between cities that most hostels and hotels can arrange. Those are also air conditioned.

Guatemala is a beautiful place that is well set up for tourism so I highly recommend it.

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Guatemala is safe even when you travel with kids, but you need to be careful when looking around. Local people help tourists to get around, but it's better not to trust everyone. If you don't want to take a risk, maybe it's safer if you get tours at the hotel you are staying in, or even better, talking to other tourists to get up-to-date information about the best and safe attractions to visit.

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When I have to look for strangers to trust, I always choose families with kids as the most trustworthy. –  hippietrail Jun 6 at 23:14
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