Living in Guatemala: Is Antigua Safe and What is the Expat Mindset?

Is Antigua guatemala Safe

I was walking to church with my family last Sunday, on a sunny, beautiful, perfect day – one of those by which Antigua is known.

As we neared our church, we came across this scene:

Is Antigua guatemala Safe?

Petty Crime in Antigua

Yup. That’s a busted window alright. Something that happens with alarming frequency to cars parked overnight on the streets, usually around La Merced church, at the intersection of 1st Calle Poniente and 6ta Avenida Norte. One should never leave cars parked outside overnight if one can help it. There are plenty of secure, overnight parking lots available.

Is it safe in Guatemala?

Your answer will depend on a couple of things, mainly your outlook on life and the awareness to surroundings you develop.

I’m a positive person. At least I make a concerted effort to be one. The world around us is filled with too much negativity, one of the reasons I abstain, as much as possible from watching the news on TV. Too depressing and frankly, 99% of it is either irrelevant to my daily life, or they’re things I can’t really do anything to change the outcome of.

Why do I bring this up? Because it reflects my outlook in life. I’m by nature – and force of habit – a positive person. Tell me a problem and I’ll try to find you a solution. At least point out the silver lining. This trait can be uplifting to some at times, highly irritating to others. Sometimes, my wife just wants a little empathy from me, not a 7-step action plan.

This positivity also carries into my work, which this blog happens to be part of. You’ll rarely hear me gripe about things that I perceive to be wrong, different, or annoying about where I live. My life here in Antigua is pretty interesting and I enjoy it, so why let petty things out of my control – like rain, for example – linger on my mind? Which is why I rarely bother talking about them.

Well, that will change, starting today. I’m an optimist, but above optimism I value facts and accuracy. If I don’t show you the negatives – or at least make you aware of them – then I’m not being true to myself.

The Expat Mindset

One of the things I battle constantly online with – whether on forums or on Facebook – is with the perception that Guatemala is an inherently dangerous place. I’m not going to get into that discussion today, as it’s a lengthy topic, but I do want you to know that it’s something I make an effort to be consciously aware of every time I step outside my house.

Mind you, nothing has ever happened to me or my wife in the two years I’ve lived here, thank God, **knock on wood**. But crime does happen, which is why I’m always vigilant and safety-conscious, as any husband and father should be.

UPDATE: Ha! No later than a week after I published this post, my brand-new bicycle was stolen, in broad daylight, just a block away from Parque Central. And yes, it was chained to a bike stand. Goes to show you, focus on the negative, one is likely to attract it :-/

Even in a place as beautiful and safe a place as Antigua, evil happens. People live here, so they’ll behave like people everywhere do. The whole range of evil – and good – humans are capable of – murder, rape, robbery, extortions, etc. – manifests itself here.

Is something like that likely to happen to you? No, not really. But to deny it happens or ignore it is to walk about with a false sense of confidence. Which is why you need to develop the “Expat Mindset”.

What is that? It’s recognizing that you’re a foreigner out of your natural habitat. It’s knowing that because you’re different to most people, you will invariably draw some level of attention to yourself. It’s knowing how to keep a low profile, blend in, as to keep this attention to a minimum. It’s recognizing you have to keep your wits about you and learn to develop street smarts.

To live with fear is to deny yourself the opportunity to live fully. Replace fear with conscious mindfulness. Don’t sleepwalk through life, and you’ll be fine here. Or anywhere, really.


How has your experienced living abroad impacted your outlook on life?

Things to Do in Guatemala: Visit Theme Park IRTRA Petapa

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala

One of the advantages Antigua Guatemala has over similar expat havens is its proximity to Guatemala City. Don’t laugh, I’m serious! It’s nice to live in a tucked-away small town like Antigua and know that big-city conveniences are an hour away, give or take a few minutes.

Guatemala City (or “Guate”, as it’s often referred) gets a bad rap for its high crime statistics, but the truth is it isn’t all that bad, provided you don’t wander into the bad areas (like Zone 18, 5, 3, and 7 for example). If you know where you’re going and drive during daytime hours, these areas fairly easy to avoid and typically safe.

Guate has the big shopping malls, National Theater, IMAX movie theaters, and a very good zoo, among other things. If you have children or are a fan of theme parks, you’ll be glad to know there’s a pristine, beautiful, and fairly inexpensive theme park – Mundo Petapa – within driving distance of Antigua.

I’ll give you all the details like hours and prices at the bottom of this post, but first, let me give you a quick tour.

IRTRA Theme Parks

The Instituto de Recreacion de los Trabajadores de Guatemala (IRTRA) was set up as a joint enterprise between private companies and the government back in the 1960s to offer recreational options for employees of said companies. Today, employees of companies that belong to IRTRA’s charter can qualify to contribute 1% of their salary to IRTRA, which entitles them to free admittance to all IRTRA facilities (six theme parks total) and reduced rates for the IRTRA-owned hotel complex in Retalhuleu (Reu for short).

IRTRA’s best theme parks – Xetulul and Xocomil  (water park) – are also in Reu (3 hours from Antigua). Those that have a company pass are known as “afiliados (affiliated) while the rest of the public is the “No Afiliados” (non-affiliated). Which for most people this means they have to pay to play.

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala

Of all the IRTRA theme parks, the closest one to Antigua is Mundo Petapa, a beautiful place that has something for everyone. We went on a Thursday (during a school day), and the park was blissfully empty. I’m not really a fan of theme parks, having lived in Florida for many years. Dealing with oppressive heat, throngs of people, long lines, and having to pay exorbitant prices junk food is not my idea of fun – the type of “fun” the Mouse so handsomely profits from. Mundo Petapa was *gasp* a highly enjoyable experience, which I would not hesitate to visit again. In an off-day, of course.

If you’ve ever been to any of the Disney properties, one of the things that will stand out is the lack of recognizable “characters”. There are clowns about – very competent ones I might add, but not anything that you can point to specifically as the “brand”. Instead, each park has an identity it owes to its main “landmark”. For Mundo Petapa it’s the rainbow arch gateway at the entrance. For comparison, the main landmark at the Xetulul park is an immense, scaled-down replica of a Mayan pyramid at Tikal.

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala

Colorful park

The park is loosely split into different plazas, some which feature games and rides for young children. There are very clean bathrooms throughout the park, concession stands, and restaurants, all which are reasonably priced. Near the entrance, you can rent lockers (something to keep in mind, as hats and bags are not allowed on rides, which means leaving your belongings on a nearby bench – not the best of ideas).


IRTRA Petapa Guatemala

The park is very well-maintained

The main attraction in the park is the Rascacielos (Skyscraper), a 53-meter high free fall tower. The views from up here are amazing, as on a clear day one is able to see Guatemala City entirely and get a glimpse of nearby volcanoes. If you’d like to catch the views, but don’t have the stomach for this ride, I recommend the beautifully polished, gentle Ferris wheel at the other end of the park.

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala

Plenty of rides

Mechanical rides are well-maintained and in excellent shape.

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala Juegos

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala Juegos

From atop the Ferris wheel, I was able to see nearby volcanoes.

Volcan Fuego and Volcan Agua

 Volcan Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango

Volcan Pacaya

Volcan Pacaya

I don’t know if it’s because I’m a history nut or because I’m getting older, but I really enjoyed the quiet end of the park, which features a small replica of Guatemala City’s colonial-era buildings and streets. There was a replica of a 1950’s ice cream shop – which sold gigantic, inexpensive sundaes and milkshakes – and other nice touches.

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala JuegosThere’s also a small train that loops around part of the park.

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala

In addition, there’s a “social” area that features an Olympic-sized pool and a kiddie pool.

I also enjoyed the small zoo, which not only was very well-kept but featured an amazing aviary one could walk through and get pretty close to the birds. They also have the somewhat rare white peacock, which amazingly, it’s even more stunning than the colorful ones.

White Peacock - IRTRA Petapa Guatemala

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala Juegos

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala Peacock

The zoo also features monkeys, lions, jaguars, deer, crocodiles, ostriches, and other animals.

IRTRA Petapa Hours

IRTRA Petapa Horario

Mundo Petapa is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and until 6:00 p.m. on Sundays and holidays.

IRTRA Petapa Prices

IRTRA Petapa Tarifa

Prices are incredibly reasonable. Adults and children taller than 1.40 meters (4 feet 6 inches tall) pay Q100 ($12.50), while children between 1 meter (3 feet 2 inches) and shorter than 1.40 meters pay Q50 ($6.25). Under 1 meter and entrance is free. Adults 60 or older pay only Q50.

Now, keep in mind that this is only the entrance fee. If you want to use the mechanical rides, you have a couple of options.

IRTRA Petapa Guatemala Precio Juegos

You can either buy an unlimited-use bracelet for Q50 (can’t share the bracelet), or a 12-ride ticket (shareable) for the same price. One can also buy three and six-ride tickets (comes out to Q5 each ride). Arcade game tickets are Q5 each. If going on a busy day, it might make sense to buy a ticket. Because it was an off day and often we were the only ones standing in line, I easily did more than 12 rides.

IRTRA Petapa Precios Parqueo

IRTRA has its own parking garage and it is secure. For cars, it’s Q20 (cash only), and progressively more for buses depending on size.

I loved it and highly recommend it.


Have you visited any of the IRTRA theme parks?