The stats for Central America aren’t good, you know this before you arrive. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are synonymous with drug related violence, they hold permanent positions on the ‘most homicides per 100,000 people’ list each year and our governments warn travellers to exercise a high degree of caution.
As a visitor I assumed that these problems were regional and not something that affects tourists.
There are, after all, hoards of travellers flocking to the area every year and so I assumed that if I took my usual precautions then I could keep out of harms way and enjoy life the same as any other place I’d visited.
I didn’t expect my travels to change as much as they did, I didn’t expect to be writing this blog post and I never thought I would be calling Central America the most dangerous travel hub in the world… but I am and if you are not, then you’re kidding yourself. It seems to me that travellers have become adept at creating a false sense of security in this dangerous place, which in itself makes the place all the more dangerous. Awareness is safety and with every traveller in denial about the risks of traveling in Central America, we want to be the first voice to open up and express our concerns.
I know that travel brings extra risk and you have to compensate for those risks but after a decade of travelling all over the World, the extent to which my travels have adapted for my own safety has never been so prominent as in Central America. I have left Central America slightly ashamed of myself: I didn’t make a single detour from the Gringo Trail, didn’t take a single nighttime stroll and felt unsettled at the isolation of simple sunset beach runs. These behaviours tell me one thing, that I did not feel safe. It was only when I opened up and laid my feelings on the table that other travellers, sort-of admitted that they had felt the same. Fearful of looking less culturally sensitive and travel savvy, these honest expressions were cloaked behind a barrier of embarrassment. But once the gates were opened, a flood of stories both first and second hand were shared. In no other country have I known of as many armed robberies, assaults and murders as I did here. So what really shocked me, was even after all of this storytelling and incredibly scary amount of stories, each storyteller would finish with the familiar shrug, sigh and words:
That is correct, but I beg you to find me a place where this statement is said so often as it is in Central America. When the lady dies on a beach barely 20metres from our hotel… “that can happen anywhere.” When a person is held at knifepoint for the cash in their pocket…”that can happen anywhere.” When you take public transport you have a chance that the ‘bus’ mafia will rob you at gunpoint… “well that can hap…. wait what?!”
The repetition of this attempt at ‘reasoning’ is not only tiring but downright absurd. Of course this is not happening everywhere, it is really only happening in Central America, right now and everyday. What travel hub on Earth has unsafe public transport, it was only on my third tourist shuttle in Guatemala that I realised I hadn’t even visited a bus station and that is unheard of in my previous travels.
It’s not just public transport that we are warned about, hostel owners urge us not to walk around at night, not to stray away from the bustling parts of the beach, to only get in a taxi they have called, and even not to visit certain national parks without a police escort because of numerous violent attacks on tourists in recent years….. and we don’t. In all the countries I have been to, this is the first time I have treated these warnings like gospel.
Why are you even making this statement, do you consider yourself lucky? I’ve never left a country and felt relieved that nothing has happened to me, I just assume it is not going to happen and am disappointed if it does. More than once I have heard this statement from travellers and travel bloggers.
Please know, I’m not trying to sway you from visiting Central America, there are incredible highlights, wonderful people and some world class monuments, but I am trying to illuminate what most travellers try and hide, your travels will change, there are added rules and if you don’t follow them you could find yourself in real danger. In Central America everything is certainly not hunky dory, so lets not allow our bravo to get in the way of what we are really feeling. After all being aware of our surroundings and limitations as a tourist rather then disguising them is the way to keep safe.