The high price of being a drag queen in Guatemala

The high price of being a drag queen in Guatemala

“Tú te fuiste y yo me puse triple M: Más buena, más dura, más level” (You left and I went triple H: hotter, harder, higher level ….” It’s 5 p.m. on a hot day in June, and in a room in a Guatemala City apartment, the notes of Karol G. and Shakira’s latest song can be heard, a prelude to a night of partying. From a closet emerge a pair of 20-centimeter flame red heels. Several women’s suits are mixed with loose-fitting garments and men’s sneakers. Leaning against the closet, a full length mirror reflects a strong, muscular back, while, on the other side of the room, several make-up mirrors reveal a face in transformation.

Gloria Deus is 30 years old and a drag queen, or, as she puts it, “draga.” Today, Deus is preparing to participate in a contest at Shai Wa, a downtown bar that in recent times has become a space of acceptance and empowerment for the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex) community. Three other drag queens help her put on her wig. Deus calls them “daughters” because, as a mom of choice, she had the role of introducing them to the Guatemalan drag scene.

“I started drag five years ago as an art form, a form of [political] struggle and to explore all facets of gender. I am a mixed race person and the name Gloria is a tribute to my Latin culture, but also a satire of the Catholic world. I was a strong believer, but the Church excluded me because of my nature. I tried to change, but I could no longer live like that and I left the Church. Now I feel free to enjoy both my masculine and feminine natures.”

When I started doing drag, my boss fired me. In social networks they wrote that I was disgusting and they wanted to kill me.

In another house, Andromeda, a 25-year-old drag queen, is getting ready for Dancing Queer, a dance show and art exhibition to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Month to which Nauxea, another well-known drag performer, invited her. Andromeda, amidst brushes, false eyebrows and brightly colored palettes, sports a black dress, a purple corset, and a wavy blonde wig. “I was accepting of being gay,” they comment, “but I’m also a non-binary person and being drag allows me to express my identity.”

Gloria Deus, Andromeda and Nauxea are three of the dozens of drag queens that have been animating the artistic and dissident scene in Guatemala City since the 1990s. In the LGBTQI spectrum they are recognized in the letter Q for “queer,” a term that has been reclaimed by part of the LGBTQ+ community to reject traditional sexual orientation and gender distinctions.

But subverting the established order often takes its toll. “Drag is political from its conception because you’re breaking the rules and when you do that, you take risks. When I started drag, my boss fired me. People wrote to me on social networks that I was disgusting and that they wanted to kill me. Despite the violence, I continue to do drag, because we and the entire LGBTQI community have the right to exist,” says Deus.

Taking to the streets as a drag queen is a political act and also an act of courage in a country that takes the life of a person for being themselves. The death of Oscar Camey, an LGBTQI activist who died on June 17 in a nightclub in Guatemala City, is one of 17 violent deaths this year in the country. If confirmed as a homophobic attack, it would add to the 67 registered hate homicides that occurred between 2020 and 2022, as identified in a report by the NGO Cristosal.

Violence in Guatemala has soared against trans women. According to the organization Otrans, 65% of trans women have been victims of physical violence, 50% have suffered sexual violence, and 40% have been arbitrarily detained by the police. There is no reliable data on the number because many trans women are registered as men at death.

Although some drag queens are trans women, most are queer people, sometimes non-binary (outside of the male or female duality) and in many cases homosexual. By assuming traits generally considered feminine, drag queens face levels of violence similar to those of cisgender women (in which sexual gender and body are in line), say researchers Alba Luz Robles Mendoza and Danae Soriano Valtierra, from the Pablo Olavide University in Seville in a report entitled, Emociones en torno a la violencia hacia las mujeres drag queen (in Spanish). And the risks are intensified by being part of the LGBTQI community.

“People whistle at you and harass you. Being on the drag strip means exposure,” says Andromeda. “Years ago, I had my face slashed in the street. I left the hospital with 17 stitches,” adds Nauxia, also a victim of violence for being gay. “Another time I was in drag and a man spat on me. Recently, a co-worker found my Instagram profile and humiliated me in front of others. I was afraid of losing my job,” they recall.

In Guatemala there is no specific legal framework condemning hate crimes. But there are laws that restrict the rights of LGBTQI people. A representative example was Law Initiative 5272 for the Protection of Life and the Family, which sought to expressly prohibit same-sex marriage and refused to recognize homophobic attacks as a hate crime. The bill, approved in March 2022, was shelved shortly thereafter due to protests. And it became an alarming symbol of the possible regression of human rights in the country.

“Being a drag queen means resisting being made politically invisibile. They don’t want to see us? Well, here we are, doing political activism with our bodies,” Gloria Deus, Andromeda and Nauxia agree. From their real and virtual platforms they fight against discrimination and defend LGBTQI rights.

“With the Drag Besties community, we organize events in safe spaces where the LGBTQI community can enjoy our shows,” Deus continues. “We also promote the Street Queens initiative to make ourselves known in public places. Sometimes we are insulted, but many young people who have not yet come out of the closet need us as an example to find courage and be free. I am happy because we are fighting hard for the recognition of LGBTQI rights,” they add.



Gloria Deus is not afraid. Neither are Andromeda and Nauxia. They balance on their stiletto heels with the look of someone who wants to conquer the world. As Andromeda goes off alone to take an Uber to her event, a group of drunken people are yelling at her. She looks straight ahead, ignoring them. Nauxia is waiting for her to start the show. A few days earlier, Gloria Deus participated in Miss Shai Wa and did not win, but that night she took over the public spaces, walking proudly as she has done hundreds of times.

“Our way of resisting homophobia and transphobia is to exist. We will never give up,” Nauxia concludes with a grimace that turns into a smile.

Guatemala elections- Green issues low on the agenda in chaotic race

Guatemala elections: Green issues low on the agenda in chaotic race

Оn 25 June, Guatemala’s general elections threw up a surprise in the success of Bernardo Arévalo, the presidential candidate of the progressive Semilla movement, who claimed second place behind former first lady Sandra Torres, leader of the rightward-shifting National Unity of Hope party. The two candidates are now set for a runoff on 20 August.

The unexpected rise of Arévalo, a career diplomat and academic, and the son of former president Juan José Arévalo, has brought hope to many Guatemalans for a change in the status quo, given his anti-corruption and anti-impunity campaigns, and an engagement with environmental issues. He has stated that his and Semilla’s goals are to bring back confidence in state institutions, which are seen as having been co-opted by ruling elites in recent years.

Arévalo’s securing of a spot in the runoff was “a surprise”, said Gabriela Carrera, a political science professor at Rafael Landívar University in Guatemala City. But she added that his success was representative of “a feeling of an anti-vote, a rejection of what we call the ‘pact of corruption’.”

The pacto de corruptos is a term that has gained prevalence in Guatemala to refer to politicians, powerful business and organised crime figures, and members of the judicial system accused of acts of corruption, and maintaining a system of impunity that protects them from prosecution.

Semilla’s progressive platform has met resistance from the current government and elements of this so-called pact, as well as from the Guatemalan right wing. Claims of electoral fraud were lodged by a number of minor parties – and ultimately deemed to be false – while attempts have also been made in the country’s courts to suspend the Semilla party, and to launch investigations into citizen poll observers and those involved in digitising election results. Semilla also saw its offices raided by police after the attorney general’s attempted suspension.

These efforts have, however, been futile, as the country’s electoral tribunal, the TSE, has upheld the party’s legitimacy and the results of the first round of the elections.

The lead-up to the elections also saw controversy, as the TSE and Guatemalan courts moved to exclude several candidates, including Indigenous leftist leader Thelma Cabrera and right-wing populists Roberto Árzu and Carlos Pineda, leading many analysts to fear the elections were being manipulated to advocate for candidates who favored the status quo.

In this fraught run-up, policy plans have often struggled to make headlines amid the legal wrangling, and have met with an electorate seemingly frustrated with the entire political class – spoiled ballots led the way in the first round with 17% of the vote, ahead of both Torres and Arévalo. As the August runoff nears, corruption and security are likely to be the key issues for Guatemalan voters; the environment, in a country suffering from widespread pollution and degradation, has gained little attention, though Semilla, in particular, has made a number of pledges.

As Guatemala heads to the polls again, we weigh up the prospects for the environment in the upcoming election.

Guatemala’s environmental issues
Amidst a chaotic backdrop, the success of Arévalo and the Movimiento Semilla, or Seed Movement, has surprised some observers, in its break away from the traditional lack of environmental proposals that has marked party platforms in recent electoral seasons.

On the campaign trail, environmental issues and climate change received almost no attention from poll-leading candidates, besides consistent calls to clear Guatemala’s polluted waterways, an estimated 90–95% of which are polluted. But the unexpected rise of Semilla – which became a party in 2018, having emerged from anti-government protests in 2015 – has brought more environmental concerns into the debate, given their inclusion of a wider range of green proposals.

“There is a very rapid deterioration of natural resources and there are no efforts being made for their preservation or conservation,” says Karin Herrera, a biologist and Semilla’s vice-presidential candidate.

“Political will, commitment, and dialogue are needed to generate this awareness about the importance [of the environment],” she says. “The beautiful natural resources that we have cannot continue to be so neglected by the state. We need to enter with strength and commitment to preserve them.”

Guatemala has previously been ranked as one of the ten countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and has been increasingly affected by more intense hurricanes and periods of drought. The country is also facing environmental degradation due a lack of compliance with regulations, and a worsening situation for its small farmers.

The Central American country contains vast biodiversity, being the home to nearly 14,000 different plant and animal species. But Guatemala’s economy is largely dependent on the exploitation of its natural resources and environment, for the production of bananas, coffee, palm oil, sugar and spices, among other key products. While legislation exists to address the management of forests, solid and liquid waste management, and water, among other regulations, there is a general lack of compliance with legislation to protect the environment.

“The problem is that many of these laws only remain on paper,” says Raul Maas, the lead of the Institute for Research and Projection on Natural Environment and Society at the Rafael Landívar University. As a result, Guatemala has seen a rapid rate of deforestation, pollution of its waterways, and the degradation of soils, with their health facing pressure from agribusiness and farmers.

All these factors of environmental degradation have wider impacts on society, including increasingly driving many people to attempt to migrate from Guatemala, notably to the United States, in search of a better livelihood. The continuation of these often destructive extractive practices reflects the impunity that has spread in Guatemala, which contributes to further degradation.

These environmental challenges are being made worse by the effects of climate change. According to a recent study, the loss of forests in Central America due to climate change could lead to economic costs of as much as $314 billion dollars a year by 2100.

“The situation is quite precarious without the effects of climate change,” Maas says. “Add to this the variable of climate change, and the question becomes much more critical.”

Environmental policy proposals
As Guatemala faces up to these environmental crises, Semilla has proposed a set of policies within their government plan that would seek to address the degradation. These include the investment of nearly US$900 million into the country’s system for the protection forests and protected areas, with the goal of strengthening not only the forests themselves but also the sources of water that the country relies on, and coastal mangroves to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Within its government plan, Semilla says it hopes to also strengthen the communities that rely on natural resources for sectors such as ecotourism. Added to this, are pledges to expand support for the communal lands and forests of Indigenous communities, upon request.

These initiatives would be “a massive investment,” says Patricia Orantes Thomas, an environmental expert and Semilla deputy elected to the national congress in June. “Because this also has environmental returns, it has revenues in terms of water production, it has returns in the mitigation and protection from climate change, but it also has economic returns because people will be reforesting and managing the forests.”

Within its government plan, the Semilla party has pledged to expand support for the communal lands and forests of Indigenous communities in Guatemala
Within its government plan, the Semilla party has pledged to expand support for the communal lands and forests of Indigenous communities in Guatemala

Semilla is also seeking to address the impunity that exists in Guatemala in regards to the environment. Orantes Thomas says that, if elected, their government will seek to modify the legal code to improve the handling of environmental crimes, beginning with addressing the contamination of waters and the division of rivers for business interests, which has become a major issue in the last decade.

On the other side of the runoff, Sandra Torres and the National Unity of Hope party have made no clear proposals related to the environment. This continues what has been seen as a lacklustre record on the environment in recent years for the party – a formerly social democratic but increasingly conservative populist party, which has served one term in government (2008–2012), and faced allegations of corruption.

“Unfortunately, the National Unity of Hope party does not specifically address issues related to the environment within its [government] plan,” says Elvis Caballeros, a climate risk researcher at the Rafael Landívar University. “It does not have any proposal – they do not give it priority.”

If Arévalo and Semilla are able to win the presidency in the 20 August runoff, they will face a considerable challenge in congress, as the party was only able to win 23 seats in the legislative branch, out of 160 seats.

While the party as a whole performed better than in the 2019 elections, successfully addressing the issues facing the country will require Semilla to build alliances – something which there is a chance of establishing, given the fluid nature of Guatemalan politics.

“[The congressional representatives] that have been elected from the majority of parties do not follow political guidelines, or respond to the politics of their parties,” Orantes Thomas says. “They respond to their own interests. This is very sad for our system of political parties.”

But, the congresswoman adds, “What we want is to try to build bridges with the greatest number of [congressional representatives] who are willing to fight the battles that the population wants.”



Guatemala developed an innovative policy of criminal prosecution in domestic courts of those responsible for serious crimes, including genocide, war crimes, forced disappearance, and sexual violence committed during that country’s internal armed conflict (1960-1996). Transitional justice efforts in Guatemala led to the conviction of a former head of state, senior military officials, and others for these crimes and centered the voice of survivors and families of victims of wartime atrocities.

For the past decade, Dr. Burt has monitored these war crimes prosecutions. She has interviewed survivors and families of victims, documented courtroom developments, and traced the ongoing efforts by military officials and conservative politicians to obstruct criminal trials or end them altogether. In this presentation, she will analyze the contentious politics of transitional justice in post-genocide Guatemala and what this case study tells us about the politics of truth, justice and memory in post-conflict societies.


Jo-Marie Burt (Ph.D., Columbia University) is a public scholar who researches and writes about political violence, human rights, and transitional justice in post-conflict societies. She is associate professor of Political Science in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Dr. Burt is the author of numerous books and scholarly articles, most recently, Transitional Justice in the Aftermath of Civil Conflict: Lessons from Peru, Guatemala and El Salvador. Her research has been supported by the Open Society Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Fulbright, and the U.S. Institute for Peace, among others. Dr. Burt has monitored and written about ongoing war crimes prosecutions in Guatemala for International Justice Monitor and for online and print publications. She is currently President of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA).

Event raises over €7,000 for eye clinic in Guatemala

Event raises over €7,000 for eye clinic in Guatemala

Vini e Capricci by Abraham’s, a local wine and food importer and distributor, raised €7,200 for the Guatemala Foundation during a tribute dinner to honour Italian winemaker Michele Chiarlo. These funds will go towards the building of a specialist eye clinic in Guatemala, a project led by ophthalmologist Franco Mercieca.

The tribute dinner, held at the retail, dining and events concept store in Xewkija, brought together wine aficionados, culinary enthusiasts and industry professionals to celebrate the esteemed career of Chiarlo. Known for his winemaking skills and dedication to his craft, he has been an ambassador for Italian wines around the world for decades.

Guests were treated to a menu specially curated by the chefs at Vini e Capricci, who paired each course with Chiarlo’s wines.

The Guatemala Foundation, a non-profit organisation committed to improving the lives of underprivileged communities in Guatemala, expressed its gratitude for the remarkable support and generous contributions from guests and partners.

“We are immensely grateful to Vini e Capricci and all the attendees for their incredible generosity,” Mercieca said.

“Thanks to their support, we will be able to make a positive impact on the lives of many individuals and communities. It is events such as these that help make the impossible, possible.”

Vini e Capricci founder and director Abraham Said added: “Events like these underscore the power of bringing together like-minded individuals who share a common vision for making a difference within our global community and the evening provided a fitting tribute and celebration to our dear friend and partner, Michele Chiarlo.”

UIPM Congress switched from Guatemala to online event

UIPM Congress switched from Guatemala to online event

Some also criticised the process by which riding was replaced, complaining of a lack of transparency, but an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport by the Danish Modern Pentathlon Association was dismissed.

Advocates of the new fifth discipline argue it makes modern pentathlon more accessible.

It should also avoid a repeat of the upsetting scenes of Tokyo 2020, where German coach Kim Raisner was sent home in disgrace for punching a horse that refused to jump during the women’s competition.

All of this means that this year’s UIPM Congress, while not elective, promises to be a contentious gathering.

The UIPM has said the Congress will be streamed on the UIPM TV platform.

Modern pentathlon has been left off the initial programme for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics.

However, the International Olympic Committee has said there is a “pathway” for it to be added.

UIPM President Klaus Schormann has led the organisation since 1993 and is in his eighth term as President.

The German chaired the UIPM Fifth Discipline Working Group which was tasked with overseeing the process of finding a replacement for riding.

Guatemala- UN Human Rights Chief deplores persistent attempts to undermine outcome of elections

Guatemala: UN Human Rights Chief deplores persistent attempts to undermine outcome of elections

GENEVA (9 December 2023) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on Saturday raised the alarm about persistent and systematic attempts by the Attorney General’s Office in Guatemala to undercut the general election results, in full disregard of the voters’ will.

“Friday’s announcements, aimed at nullifying the outcome of the general elections and questioning the constitution and existence of the Movimiento Semilla party are extremely disturbing,” the High Commissioner said.

He stressed that judicial harassment and intimidation against electoral officers and elected officials was unacceptable.

“It is encouraging that, despite the long list of judicial and political actions taken by some authorities, which clearly undermine the integrity of the electoral process and breach the rule of law and democracy, people have been standing up for their rights and have been opposing what they perceive as a theft of their political will,” he added.

Türk urged the authorities to preserve and respect all human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly at all times.

Pollo Campero's Annual 'Luces Campero' Event Goes Virtual From Guatemala

Pollo Campero’s Annual ‘Luces Campero’ Event Goes Virtual From Guatemala

The event, typically held in Guatemala and El Salvador with thousands in attendance, will be on the CamperoUSA Facebook page (, which will show the event in five countries, including HondurasEcuador and, for the first time, the U.S.

“Our annual Luces Campero event, while a little different this year as so many of our holiday traditions are during the pandemic, will bring a beloved tradition to life in a new way,” said Campero USA Managing Director Luis Javier Rodas. “Though it will be virtual, we are happy to bring it to more people this year, including those in the U.S. for the first time, to enjoy music, fireworks and fun to kick off the holiday season.”

Luces Campero will offer viewers a 360-degree immersive experience via Facebook Live. The event will kick off with a virtual performance by the Cuban group, Gente de Zona, and end with a festive fireworks show for all to enjoy.

In addition to the event, Pollo Campero locations across the U.S. will be offering $5 off any $25 or more purchase Friday, Dec. 4, through Sunday, Dec. 6, with the code “LUCES” via the Pollo Campero app, online and in-store.

About Pollo Campero
Founded in Guatemala in 1971, Pollo Campero is a fast service chicken restaurant brand specializing in uniquely flavorful chicken and a wholesome menu offering individual and family meals. Using family recipes passed down from generation to generation, Pollo Campero offers tender, juicy, hand-breaded fried chicken, citrus flavor-infused grilled chicken and extra-crunchy chicken that is always fresh and hand prepared daily. Since its beginnings as a tiny, family-owned restaurant, Pollo Campero has grown to more than 350 restaurants around the world. To learn more about Pollo Campero visit and follow the flavor on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Contemporary Art in Guatemala

Contemporary Art in Guatemala

In recent years Guatemalan artistic production has been extremely powerful, with an emergence of critical artistic practices responding to the violence, repression and historical memory of the previous decades in Guatemala, but also its unique sense of contemporaneity, indigeneity, and radical urban imagination. Contemporary Guatemalan artists such as Regina José Galindo, Benvenuto Chavajay, Jorge de León and many others are recognized widely not only in the context of Central/Latin America, but receive much acclaim on the world stage, while contemporary urban art spaces like NuMu and Proyectos Ultravioleta are notable for their inventive curatorial practices and creative public engagement.

Showcasing the exciting energy around contemporary artistic and curatorial practices emerging in Guatemala today, this event features artists including: Jessica KairéTerike Haapoja, and Jaime Permuth, who will present recent projects conducted in Guatemala; curators Anabella Acevedo and Pablo José Ramírez (joining remotely from Guatemala); and Prof. Nitin Sawhney from The New School Media Studies program. Sawhney, Acevedo and Ramirez are co-organizing the exhibition initiative Guatemala Después which will open this April (on view April 9-29) at The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons/The New School and at Ciudad de la Imaginación in Guatemala this June, featuring the work of over 40 Guatemalan and US-based artists.

Please see the recently launched Kickstarter Campaign for Guatemala Después to learn more and contribute to this exciting new project.

The conversation will be moderated by María Del Carmen Carrión, ICI’s Director of Public Programs & Research, followed by an informal mixer with Guatemalan food and drinks, and a performance by Guatemalan musician Isabel Ruano.

Organized in collaboration with Ciudad de la Imaginación as well as The School of Media Studies, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center (SJDC), and Vera List Center for Art and Politics; it is co-sponsored by the University Student Senate (USS) at The New School.

This event is free and open to the public. To attend, please RSVP to [email protected] with GUATEMALA in the subject line.

Guatemala security- 'Those who can afford it buy protection'

Guatemala security: ‘Those who can afford it buy protection’

On the bustling Avenue Reforma in the capital of Guatemala, in Central America, he has to keep his wits about him.

He has to be prepared at all times for the very real threat of armed robbery, a kidnapping attempt, or even murder.

With an average of 13 murders per day across the country last year, Guatemala is one of the most dangerous nations in the world, outside of a warzone.

Bedevilled by drug gangs, grinding poverty and an abundance of guns, violent crime rates are sky high.

In the capital, no suburb “including the upscale shopping, tourist and residential areas” are “immune to daytime assaults”, warns the US State Department.

It adds that the situation is a “serious concern”, not helped by “weak law enforcement and judicial systems”, or the country’s “legacy of societal violence” – a reference to the Guatemalan Civil War that ran from 1960 to 1996.

Under such circumstances it is perhaps no surprise that the country’s private security sector is booming.

“The demand is always increasing,” says Alredo Rosenberg, a manager at one such security firm, Sedicop. “Unfortunately this comes from the problem of insecurity that we all experience as Guatemalans.”

Sedicop is one of almost 100 legally registered private security firms protecting citizens and businesses in Guatemala. A similar number of other security businesses work without government approval.

In total, there are estimated to be as many as 150,000 private security guards in the country, compared with a police force of just 30,000. This is in a country with a population of 15.5 million, of which 4.5 million live in and around the capital.

Sedicop and its 500 employees offer a range of services. If a business would like to see a shipment safely delivered, Sedicop can send a patrol car to drive with the van or lorry, for a price of $2 (£1.50) per km.

Want a security guard to watch a business premises? Prices start from $545 a month. Need a bodyguard? That’s from $775 a month.

“People will pay for security,” says Sedicop operations director Hans Castillo. “That’s because it’s a person’s life we are talking about.”

For fans of US heavy metal band Metallica, the group’s 2010 concert in Guatemala City was an incredible night full of crunching guitar riffs and pounding drum solos.

But for Julio Colon, the outdoor gig of 27,000 people simply screamed “security hazard”.

Mr Colon, a manager at private security firm Seguridad Integral, was given overall responsibility for the safety of the event.

He equipped the football stadium where the concert took place with metal detectors, formulated an exit plan, and ensured that security personnel with walkie-talkies were stationed everywhere. Thankfully the event passed without incident.

With people in Guatemala wanting life to go on as normal despite the daily security concerns, concerts and football matches continue to be held in the country. And Seguridad Integral has now provided security at thousands of such events since it was founded in 1990.

“At the time there weren’t any companies that specialised in covering large events,” says Mr Colon.

“Overseeing an event where there is movement of a lot of people in a few hours is very different to just looking after a building.”

While most security firms in Guatemala provide general security services for companies, Seguridad Integral continues to specialise in large events, carving out its own niche. It charges as much as $26,000 per event.

Mr Colon says that demand has steadily grown, and that the firm now has 150 employees.

Such is the continuing demand in Guatemala for private security firms, that it has attracted entrants from overseas.

Ohad Steinhart moved to the country in 1994 to work as a firearms instructor after completing his service in the Israel Defence Forces.

About two years later he opened his own private security firm, Decision Ejecutiva, which offers personalised security packages, mainly to Guatemalan, Mexican and American businesspeople.

At the time his clients’ biggest concern was kidnapping.

However, Mr Steinhart says he needs to continue to adapt to an ever-changing security situation in Guatemala. He adds that in recent years there has been a big rise in the number of extortion cases.

“In this country when you close one hole, another two open,” he says in regard to Guatemalan security issues.

Decision Ejecutiva charges from $1,500 per month for a personal bodyguard, and now employs 300 people.

While Guatemala now has more than 200 private security firms, Mr Steinhart says there is ample work for all of them. And this situation is not likely to change any time soon.

Adriana Beltran, a security expert at US think tank Washington Office On Latin America, says that private security firms are so in demand in Guatemala because people don’t believe that the police or other state institutions can protect them.

“Those who can afford it turn to private security firms for protection,” she says.

Back on Avenue Reforma the security guard is still walking back and forth, and doesn’t stop to talk.

He was hired by a building that has cafes and restaurants at street level, with offices above containing a law firm, travel agent and TV station.

Hector Bernhard, the building’s administrator, says: “We had lots of robberies, so we had to put guards outside… when there are guards people think more carefully [about committing a crime].”

Everything you need to know about visiting Guatemala with kids

Everything you need to know about visiting Guatemala with kids

Guatemala is full of color and wonder, making it an exciting place for children to explore.

Like all Latin American countries, family is a central tenet of the culture – children are treated with a special tenderness that will lift even the most travel-weary of hearts. Expect lots of big smiles, kindness and general accommodations for little ones and mothers-to-be.

This genuine hospitality, coupled with incredible sights such as towering volcanoes, crater lakes and jungle ruins, make Guatemala a wonderful destination for families.

Is Guatemala good for kids?

Guatemalans welcome little ones in all of their chaotic glory. Children are not only invited but expected to be everywhere, from the fanciest five-star restaurants in the city to remote volcano hikes in the highlands.

This is a country full of sensory delights for those discovering the world: think sprawling markets with colorful textiles, sparkling jewels and sweet treats around every corner. For older kids, seeing an active volcano, jumping in limestone pools or exploring the ancient ruins where Star Wars was filmed can make them feel like they are in another world.

Despite all the goodwill and jaw-dropping nature, a Guatemalan adventure does not come without its challenges. There is little in the way of family-friendly amenities, such as changing tables in washrooms, and both car seats and high chairs are hard to come by.

A baby carrier will serve you better than a stroller due to the cobbled streets and narrow footpaths that dominate the country. There are not a lot of open play spaces, but many restaurants have play areas inside, so it’s possible for parents to take a breather while kids burn off some steam.

Where is best in Guatemala for kids?

The first stop for almost everyone in Guatemala is the charming city of Antigua, and for those traveling with kids, this should be no exception. There’s plenty here for everyone: museums, markets, green spaces and volcanoes. From Antigua, hop on the shuttle to Lago de Atitlán for the ultimate experience in boating, swimming and paddling on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

Alternatively, head in the other direction to the black-sand Pacific beaches or the heart of Guatemala City for museums and culinary delights. Further east, jungle escapes await where the crystal clear pools of Semuc Champey and the ancient ruins in El Petén make for epic outdoor adventures.

Best things to do in Guatemala with babies and toddlers

Release baby turtles at Monterrico Beach

From September to January, the university-run project Tortugario Monterrico in the beach town of Monterrico allows visitors to show up at sunset and adopt a baby turtle.

For a small fee, your child can choose their own turtle to cheer on as the little creature scrambles towards its forever home in the water. Profits from the project go directly towards helping preserve the local turtle population and other reptiles native to the area.

Visit Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum)

Don’t let the name fool you – this is less a museum and more a recreational center, with lots of colorful, interactive displays and super enthusiastic staff. There’s plenty of open, well-maintained space for running around and exploring, both indoors and outside, and educational games that range from very simple to more science-based and Guatemala-specific, such as learning about volcanoes and why they erupt.

There is a fast-food restaurant (Pollo Campero, think Guatemala’s version of KFC) on site, but a better option would be to pack a picnic lunch and eat outside on the lovely lawn.

Best things to do in Guatemala with kids

Swim in the pools of Semuc Champey

It’s an adventure in itself getting to Semuc Champey (eight hours from Guatemala City, including some bumpy backroads), but the turquoise pools are well worth the trek. A short hike up to a mirador offers spectacular views and chances to spot wildlife, such as colorful birds and elusive iguanas.

After the walk, it’s easy to spend a day splashing around in the cool waters, rock hopping around the pools, or just kicking back and sunbathing in the middle of the jungle.

Ride a horse up Volcán Pacaya and roast marshmallows at the top

It would be a shame to visit Guatemala and not climb one of its many spectacular volcanoes. Fortunately for parents, there is Volcán Pacaya. Located near Antigua, it’s the only volcano that offers local guides on standby with horses ready to help carry the weary to the top. It’s a moderately paced hike and is perfect for kids who want to try out a climb but might grow too tired on the trail.

Since this is one of the country’s designated national parks, there are plenty of amenities, including well-maintained washrooms and stands where you can buy local snacks. The best part of the trek? Roasting marshmallows over cooled lava at the top.

Make (and eat) chocolate at the ChocoMuseo in Antigua

The ChocoMuseo will lure people of all ages in with its free samples and then keep you entertained with information about the history of chocolate in Guatemala. Located in the heart of the shopping district of Antigua, it hosts excellent workshops where the friendly and knowledgeable staff teach participants how to make chocolate.

They show how it’s all done, from bean to bar, with the opportunity for kids to get as weird as they want when customizing their own treats.

Best things to do in Guatemala with teenagers and tweenagers

Explore underground caves in Lanquín

Located near the stunning pools of Semuc Champey in Lanquín, the K’anba caves tour is a unique experience for those who dare to delve into the dark.

Thrill seekers can walk, slip, slide and swim through an underground river cave system, lighting the way with a candle in hand. The tour takes about an hour and a half and includes a tube down the Río Cahabón at the end.

Paddleboard around Lago de Atitlán

A morning session with Stand Up Paddle Atitlán is the perfect start to the day and is suitable for beginners and experienced paddlers alike. Glide across Lago de Atitlán in the morning while the water is still tranquil and enjoy the spectacular view of the crater lake’s impressive trifecta of volcanoes. The tour includes interesting tidbits about the history of the area and a stop at a special spot for cliff jumping.

Explore the ruins of Tikal

The ancient ruins of Tikal are buried deep in the jungle of El Petén and will satisfy young history buffs and nature lovers. Kids will love the strange sounds of howler monkeys screaming throughout the park and the chance to spot tropical birds, snakes and crocodiles.

The site is home to more than 200 structures, some of which are partially or completely swallowed by jungle. The most dramatic pyramid in the park, Templo IV is an incredible spot to watch the sunrise, for those able to corral everyone out of bed in time. Older kids may also enjoy the Tikal Canopy Tour, a zip-lining adventure inside the park every morning at 9am.

Planning tips

  • The water from the faucet is never (ever) drinkable in Guatemala, so always have bottled water on hand.
  • The rainy season runs from May to November, and parents should be extra cautious about potential food-borne illnesses during these months. The fresh fruit sold on the street will definitely tempt everyone in the family, but it’s best to stick to fruit with a peel. Some kids might also be happy to hear that salads are a no-no, as raw produce runs the risk of having been washed in contaminated water. Stick to warm, cooked food whenever possible.
  • The local buses may be a little too chaotic for kids (not to mention some adults), so it’s best to go with the pricier shuttles that move between the touristic parts of the country. When visiting Lago de Atitlán, the lanchas (water taxis) are a fun way to get around the different villages, and children under 12 ride for free sometimes, but not always (depending on the captain).
  • There are no car seat laws in Guatemala, and they are not readily available. For those who need a car seat or other specialty items like breast pumps, the chain store Jugueton carries them at a premium, so it’s best to come prepared.