Guatemala is exploding onto the travel scene, slowly attracting more and more visitors each year.
It’s easy to see why. You can hike active volcanoes, visit ancient Mayan ruins like Tikal, do yoga whilst staying on a lake and explore natural wonders such as Semuc Champey.
However, to get to all of these incredible experiences, you’re probably going to have to travel through Guatemala City first. It’s home to the only international airport in Guatemala.
Ask most people and they will tell you to get out of Guatemala City straight away. Most travellers opt to hop straight over to the colonial town of Antigua or to Lake Atitlan.
Is Guatemala City safe for tourists?
Guatemala City is the largest capital city in Central America, yet, most people recommend skipping it due to it being dangerous.
A range of crimes occurs in Guatemala City: from pickpocketing and robbery, to murder and sexual assault. That being said, more serious crimes occur between the local gangs rather than involving tourists. Pickpocketing, armed robbery and scams are the most common crimes against visitors.
With that in mind, there are some things that you can do in Guatemala City that make it worth staying for a night or two.
We’ve written this guide to help you decide whether, for you, it’s worth staying in Guatemala City.
Is it worth staying in Guatemala City?
Guatemala City isn’t all bad. Of course, like all places that have a bad reputation, it’s the small minority that ruins it for everyone else.
Guatemala City is still full of kind and friendly people that will go out of their way to help you.
The city also has a number of churches, cathedrals and museums that you can visit. Plus, the Palacio Nacional is a beautiful piece of architecture where the changing of the guard is a sight to see.
There are areas, such as the Paseo Cayala complex in Zone 16, which are great places to visit. Paseo Cayala is a shopping area that offers boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops, apartments and cultural activities. There is a high level of security here which instantly makes you feel safe!
Safe zones to visit in Guatemala City
If you decide to stay in Guatemala City, knowing which areas (called zones here) are and aren’t safe is important.
The whole city is broken down into zones, which makes it easier to know where you shouldn’t go.
Zone 1 is home to the historic centre. In most cities, this is where tourists stay. But in Guatemala City, it’s actually a pretty sketchy area.
Visiting the historical sites during the day should be fine, but definitely don’t walk around Zone 1 at night.
Zones to avoid in Guatemala City:
Zones 9 and 10 are the best areas to stay in and visit in Guatemala City.
How to get around Guatemala City
For those deciding to stick around in Guatemala City, it might be useful to know a bit about how to get around the city.
By Uber or Taxi
We recommend getting an Uber to where you need to go. Uber is much more convenient than normal taxis, and you know that you’re paying a fair price.
It’s also the safest way to travel around Guatemala City.
Traditional taxis are also available in Guatemala City, but not all of them have metres. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to use a taxi, most single-zone rides cost between Q20-25. If you’re going between zones, expect to pay between Q30-50.
If you don’t want to use Uber, you can always ask your accommodation to arrange a taxi for you.
Guatemala City does have a bus service that covers a lot of the city. Throughout the city, the buses have dedicated lanes to avoid traffic, so they can be a fast way to get around.
Fares only cost Q1 per ride. You’ll need to buy a Citizen Card for Q20 from a station or convenience store to ride the bus.
Ask your accommodation which bus line you need to take to get to where you want to go. Watch your bag and keep an eye out for pickpockets.
Where should you stay after landing in Guatemala?
If you still don’t think that Guatemala City is right for you, then you can move on straight away.
Most people decide to go straight to Antigua after landing in Guatemala.
Antigua is a colourful colonial town with cobblestone streets and volcanoes on all sides. It’s home to some incredible hikes, ruined churches, a Hobbit town and a number of markets.
It couldn’t be any more different to Guatemala City!
The easiest way to get from Guatemala City airport to Antigua is to pre-book a minivan.
This way when you arrive, your transport will be there and waiting for you. For $19 per person, it’s a stress-free way to get to Antigua.
The next best alternative is to order an Uber. You can use the Wi-Fi from the airport to order it when you’re ready. Uber costs between $25-30, so it may be cheaper than a minivan if you’re travelling in a larger group.
The journey between Guatemala City airport and Antigua takes around 1.5-2 hours.
Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.
Aleksandra is a writer and editor who recently moved from Hong Kong to London. She’s worked and studied in four countries (and counting) and picked up a new hobby in each of them. She’s a big fan of long train journeys so you can count on her to take the scenic route, finding a few hidden gems along the way.