The Dangers of Central America

When first planning my trip to Central America, I knew I’d be visiting Guatemala, but that’s it. Clay and I were meeting in Guatemala City, and then traveling the country for 2.5 weeks together. I didn’t know where I was going after that. So most of my research was focused on that country.

One thing that kept coming up from the people I talked to and reading I did was how dangerous Guatemala can be. It made me nervous. This was going to be a new country, a new culture, a new language, and a new part of the world. I didn’t know how much was over exaggerated, under exaggerated, right on target, totally true, totally made up, shared by people with wildly different expectations of safety than me, etc. But I did know I was nervous because no matter what I read or who I talked to, I didn’t actually know what to expect because I had never been there myself.

Guatemala ended up being very safe for me. I did hear stories while down there, and did meet people who shared their own stories first-hand. But I never witnessed or experienced any crime myself, and while I’m not naive enough to think it didn’t exist, I do think taking standard precautions (like considering where, when, and how you travel) mitigates much of the concern.

That said, when this video came across my radar it definitely shook me up a bit. Filmed along the road between San Pedro – where I spent over two weeks of my trip – and Santiago Atitlan along Lake Atitlan, this footage illustrates the crime that I was fortunate enough to avoid while also demonstrating just how close to it I was or could have been.

The couple we see robbed are in no way at fault for what happened to them. But when considering where, when, and how to travel, I think when they traveled is the only one of the three that they did the way I would have. Riding alone on a motorbike along a road known to be dangerous is putting yourself in a risky position. Unfortunately, while I hired tourist shuttles to take me from city to city, which always traveled on major roads in addition to traveling during the day, when traversing Central America by motorcycle there’s at least one of those three precautions (traveling in a group or with a local) that is pretty difficult to take.

Luckily for this couple their attackers were only after valuables, and let them go without any real damage besides a stolen bag and an extremely emotional experience. As the cameraman notes: “We don’t want to in any way put people off from visiting San Pedro La Laguna or Guatemala in general as it’s a beautiful place with generally warm and kind inhabitants. We have felt safe for the majority of our trip.”

I’ve embedded the video below, and while there’s nothing graphic or violent about the imagery, the audio does cut out part way through out of respect for the driver’s girlfriend who was, understandably, distressed.

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