I am happy that so many people visit my pages and read my travelogues. Sometimes people send me questions, so I decided to answer the most important ones in a FAQ.
Answers to questions regarding security abroad:
"I heard that Guatemala [or Mexico or any other country] is very unsafe. Can I really go there?"
In principle I would like to answer: No, these countries are not unsafe, yes, you can travel there. But there are certain rules one should have in mind:
- In all big cities of the world, especially in poor countries, there are areas you should not go to (e.g. Guatemala City, Mexico City). In fact some of these cities are so ugly that you don’t have to visit them at all.
- Travelling to countries with current or frequent riots (like Bolivia throughout the last years) should be planned very carefully if at all.
- Going out at night, alone and in remote or unsafe areas, best carrying lots of valuables (watches, cameras …) is a good way to get robbed. So avoid it.
- If you get into a hold-up: DO NOT RESIST!
These rules sound scary, therefore a little about my personal experiences:
- I don’t know any tourist who was murdered or injured.
- I don’t know any female tourist who was violated.
- I know a tourist and heard of some others who were hold up. Most of them were disobeying the above stated rules and they suffered nothing but the loss of some valuables.
- I know several people who got there back packs stolen. Most of them did not pay enough attention.
- I know lots of people who travelled these countries safely and returned with lots of beautiful experiences and memories.
With common sense, attention and (not exaggerated) caution you can avoid almost all risks. If you don’t want to risk anything stay at home! You won’t experience anything and probably be run over by a car in front of your doorway.
Please keep in mind that these answers are nothing but my personal opinion and that they reflect my experiences only. I can not guaranty that nothing will happen to you if you follow these rules and I do not update this page on a regular basis so the situation in a country or region might have changed.
Have a good and safe trip full of wonderful experiences!
Answers to questions regarding Spanish schools:
- One should learn Spanish in a country with a clear accent. I can recommend Guatemala and also heard good things about Ecuador. Of course you may learn Spanish in Spain but I personally do not fancy the Spanish Spanish accent and of course lessons are far more expensive in Spain, one-to-one lessons far over the budget of an average young tourist.
- Do also consider what other options you have in the country: Will the trip be worth it apart from the hours spent in school?
- Never book the school from abroad, there are only disadvantages. You pay more and loose flexibility.
- First do only pay for one week till you are sure that you like the school, your teacher and the family you stay with. If you don’t like your teacher or family don’t hesitate to ask for a change. If they don’t find something you like or if you don’t like the school then quite.
- Four hours of one-to-one lessons a day are enough. You will need the afternoon to study vocabulary (and to enjoy your vacation).
- In Antigua Guatemala I can recommend Escuela Cabaguil. I was always content and never tried another school:
ACADEMIA DE ESPAÑOL CORAZON
DEL CIELO CABAGUIL
5a. Calle Poniente No. 6
Tel: +502-7832 7005
If you call them or send an e-mail they will pick you up at the airport in Guatemala City and organize a family to stay with. The school is only a couple of meters from Parque Central.
Answers to questions regarding car rentals:
- If you already know, where and how long you will need a car, booking the car online through on of the big sites on the web can be cheaper, offer you better conditions and save you a lot of time.
- If you did not book in advance the local tourist information might lead you to a reliable company.
- Carfully check the conditions of the insurance, especially the amount of coverage of the indemnity insurance. It is often far too low to save you from trouble if you cause an accident, especially if someone gets injured. Check if your private car insurance or credit card insurance covers such cases. If not consider a special insurance which will be much cheaper if you don’t buy it from the rental company (sorry, I can not recommend an insurance company, I only know a German one).
- Make sure that all existing damages are properly noted on the contract when you pick up the car. You might consider taking photos. However I once had a rental company who denied doing so and did not make me any problems when returning the car.
- Check the amount of the deductible, the amount that has to be paid by you in case of an accident. For some rental companies this is a business and if even the tiniest thing happens to the car they will charge you the whole amount.
- Ask about the service. Make sure that they will help you in case of a break-down whereever you are. I already needed this twice.
- Before you book look at the price of extra services like 2nd driver or navigation system.
- If you want to rent a scooter or motorbike consider bringing your own helmet. The ones of the rental companies often are cheap, don’t suit you good and offer limited protection.
- Rent a navigation system or bring one from home. You will enjoy your trip more if you don’t have to focus all your attention on the route.
- Buy a good map. The rental companies normaly give you one but they are normally miserable. And don’t think you don’t need a map just because you have a navigation system. In many countries you will need the map and anyway it gives you a much better feeling about distances and where you are.
© Volker Umpfenbach