The following interview on solo female travel in Guatemala comes from Val Bromann.
I’m Val. When I turned 30 I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Europe. Over the next three years I traveled around Europe, Southeast Asia, Central America, and South America. Now I’m back home in Chicago, working full time in digital marketing, and having fun decorating my apartment with all my travel souvenirs.
Why did you decide to travel to Guatemala by yourself?
I had recently returned home from 15 months of solo traveling around Europe and Asia and was ready to see another part of the world. A friend I’d met on the road loved traveling in Central America and convinced me that the region wasn’t as scary as I had in my head. I decided to start my Central America trip in Guatemala because I had heard it was a great place to study Spanish. Since I didn’t speak any, I spent a month in a Spanish school in Antigua to get the basics down before traveling around the rest of the country and the region.
Did you have any trouble traveling solo there?
I had a couple of problems traveling in Guatemala. First, my bank card was cancelled…twice. My card wasn’t actually compromised (to my knowledge) but my bank was being overly cautious from suspicious ATMs. So be prepared with a backup card just in case. Luckily all I had to do was fax them authorization and they FedExed me new ones both times.
The second problem was a little more troubling. I was on a cave tour near Semuc Champey and, due to my fear of heights and falling, kept falling behind the rest of the group. The tour guide seemed great at helping me through, at first. But then he started subtly touching me. And then his touches became less subtle. And then he tried to kiss me. I learned that I really need to speak up sooner if I’m uncomfortable, even if I don’t know any of my fellow travelers that well, they are always there to help.
Editor’s note: Incidents like this are unfortunate, but they can happen anywhere and it is not necessarily a reflection of the country itself.
Did you ever feel unsafe?
Besides the incident above, I always felt fine in Guatemala. Sure, there’s always those moments where you end up on a sketchy street, are a little unsure of the bus you’re on, or are out a little later than you should be. Just exercise normal caution though by finding other travelers to go out with at night and not staying out too late by yourself.
>> You may want to consider checking out this post on paying for your safety.
Tell us about one of your favorite experiences from traveling solo in Guatemala.
I was in Guatemala for Semana Santa: holy week. But they don’t celebrate for just a week there. For the entire month of lent we’d see holy processions (think large religious parades) of all sizes, at all times of the day and night.
One of the best activities was creating alfombras: beautiful, intricate “carpets” made of dyed sawdust. In the days before Easter everyone came out to create these masterpieces, some were blocks long. They take so much time and effort and in the end ruined to nothing when a procession comes through. We got to make one at our Spanish school and went through the whole process of dying the sawdust, creating the design, and then watching it get trampled.
Were there any special precautions you took to feel safer while traveling solo?
Nothing specific to Guatemala, just the normal precautions everyone should practice when traveling solo, like not walking home alone at night and going out in groups. Just be aware of your surroundings.
Did you meet any other solo female travelers while you were there?
One of my best friends in my Spanish school was a solo female traveler from London. We bonded over the fact that we were both terrible at learning languages. We still keep in touch and I even met up with her when I was visiting England later that year.
What luggage did you bring with you to Guatemala?
I brought a 50 liter Eagle Creek Explorer LT backpack that packed all my clothes, shoes, toiletries, etc. It got cool in Guatemala, especially in the mornings, so it was good having some room for a sweatshirt or two in my backpack. I also brought a daypack that I carried my laptop, camera, and guidebook in.
Were there any items you were glad you brought with you or that you wished you had brought?
I’m so glad I brought hiking boots. I bought a pair to bring especially for this trip and they came in handy many times, including hiking Volcan Pacaya, an active volcano about an hour and a half outside of Antigua and walking through Tikal.
What’s your number 1 tip for females traveling solo to Guatemala?
Learn some Spanish! While I had no trouble speaking English (and a few essential words like Hello and thank you in the local language) in Europe or Asia, in Guatemala (and the rest of Central America) having at least a basic grasp on the local language was extremely helpful, especially being on my own. Even limited Spanish is helpful for asking prices, finding a bus, or booking a hostel. Starting the journey with a stop at a Spanish language school was a great decision. I was able to get down the basics and made friends I met up with through the rest of my trip.
About the author: Val didn’t have a passport until she turned 25. Five years later, at 30, she quit her job to travel around the world “for around 9 months” and ended up traveling for three years. She’s now back in Chicago, working full time in digital marketing, and decorating her apartment in teal and travel memories. Val blogs about travel, decorating, and her life at Choosing Figs. Find her online on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.