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Hotel Theft in Guatemala

LIVINGSTON, Guatemala- At 7:30 AM I was awoken to a young American girl standing out in front of my hotel room door complaining about being robbed. “I just want to get out of here, my money belt was stolen,” she spoke with strong emotion. Her money belt was stolen from the dorm room she was [...]

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LIVINGSTON, Guatemala- At 7:30 AM I was awoken to a young American girl standing out in front of my hotel room door complaining about being robbed.

“I just want to get out of here, my money belt was stolen,” she spoke with strong emotion.

Her money belt was stolen from the dorm room she was staying in the night before.


hotel in flores guatemala

Guatemala hotel, not where theft occurred

“What is your name, man? Weed, can I just call you weed?” the new age hippy spoke with an intentional slur as he took another drag from the swag grass he was smoking openly on the upper street view balcony of the hotel. Apparently, my name was too difficult for this superstar to pronounce.

He seemed typical of a class of overtly hedonistic, depth stripped class of traveler perhaps still referred to as hippies. He had a fire dancing rod in his backpack, baggy clothes, was clad in earth tones, had messy hair that stuck up at odd angles like the business end of a used Q-tip. I call this guy a hippy for lack of a better word — perhaps suburban rich kid on the loose would be more appropriate.

He was traveling with two similarly grass stricken young Guatemala guys that he picked up somewhere along the way, and a couple skinny girls in spaghetti straps — one was from England and had a sleeve and back piece of tattoos. Not one of them was probably over 22.

Q-tip kept telling me how much he liked my tattoos, he kept calling me “man,” he asked me how long I had my daughter for.

“Since she was born,” was the only response I could come up with.

They told me that they were volunteers at an indigenous school in Antigua. I am not sure what they were volunteering for, but if it was to come to Guatemala and get really high, pick up chicks, and party they were doing a real good job at it. The group feigned at playing guitars and bongo drums through the night, one of the girls laid around like a zombie, the English one wanted to go out and party. The group sat in the front balcony of the hotel smoking and drinking, yelling to people in the streets, partying. It was Semana Santa and the rest of the town seemed to be doing the same thing.


At some point during the night I heard voices in the hotel that did not seem to be coming from Q-tip or his squad of hippies. Were they bringing people into the hotel?

I did not care enough to go out to investigate.


I found out later that a guy came into the hotel from the streets and alerted the staff that there was a rasta man in their hotel who was not suppose to be there. He told them that this rasta man was on the run from a group of men to whom he owed money, and he had taken refuge up on their balcony with the hippies. Apparently, the group of men who were after this guy were bad asses, and they wanted their money. The hotel staff was thus warned that trouble could ensue.

Q-tip and clan had dug up a real live rasta man to smoke ganja with them, they brought him into the hotel — perhaps authenticating their position as sub-culturally elite rock heads. “He was a rasta guy, dreads, he looked really f’cking sketchy,” my wife Chaya described the visitor. She then re-emphasized the sketchy part of her description.

There is a certain sort of “rasta man” that can be found in the streets of many beach side places in the world who seem to know that young, white, aspiring hippie tourists from the USA think they are real cool, and will therefore often take whatever bait they throw out.


The American girl, who was not part of Q-tips’s entourage, lost her money. Apparently, she left her money belt unlocked in a dorm room — a dorm room whose door was also not locked. She thought that no one would go for the easy picking, that she was in a safe, secure place — she thought wrong. Or maybe she didn’t think at all?

It is unclear who ganked the money belt. Maybe it was the rasta urchin? Maybe it was Q-tip or his clan? Maybe it was another person in the hotel?

All that is known is that the girl’s money is gone, she is upset, part of her trip to Guatemala had been spoiled.

And it is 90% her own fault.

If you make it easy for someone to rob you, there is a much higher chance that you will be robbed.

That which you leave open to theft stands a much higher chance of being stolen — this is an overly simply play of logic. I once rode through the Amazon on a large river boat with a friend. This is the type of boat that carries passengers on multi day journeys from one end of the Peruvian Amazon to the other — they are packed full of people who sleep in hammocks. She left her expensive looking hiking boots out in the open on this boat. She thought that the people around her were friendly and would not steal from her — that the stories that she had heard about Peruvians being thieves were just stereotypes not based in fact. I told her that if she did not pack her boots away that they would not be there by the end of the trip. She thought that I was disgusting — how could I say such a thing? Maybe so, but I was also correct — her boots were stolen.

It is true that a lock on a bag can be broken, a bag can be sliced open — a lock is not a full preventative against theft — but it will make it more difficult for someone to take what you have. A lock removes the possibility of “opportunity theft” — the sort of crime that seemingly happens almost in passing, easy theft where something that is left unprotected is taken. This sort of theft in passing, where a traveler simply fails to safe guard their possessions, constitutes 80% of the cases that I have heard of in travel.

Before leaving my gear behind in a hotel room, I always lock up my computer bag with a padlock and then lock it to an immovable object with a good bike lock. I do not bother locking up my backpack: if someone wants to lift my dirty underwear they cam be my guest – they probably need them more than me.

It is my strategy that if I stay in a dorm room I make sure that my bag is locked, that the door can be locked, and the only people who have access to the room are the people staying in it. I also make a survey of my fellow guests: if I am not in a good place, I leave.

No matter what you do in travel to prevent it, you may still be robbed, but a few simple precautions is all it takes to ward off most possibilities of hotel theft. 80% of theft in travel is easy theft, if you make it more difficult to steal from you then the chances of it happening proportionally decreases.

Though I also understand that sometimes these lessons need to be learned the hard way.


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Filed under: Central America, Deserts, Guatemala, Travel Safe

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

15 comments… add one

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  • Mike Crosby March 31, 2010, 5:39 pm

    Wade, the more I read your posts, the more I realize how much you use plain, common sense in your travels. From a few posts ago, “write down the cost” or something to that effect, to, if you don’t like the people sharing a room, split.

    Not sure if this is analogous–one time, upon my first entering a jail cell, a guy looked at me and said, “man, is he green”. I realized then I was in deep trouble.

    People see that one outside their element and are ever ready to take advantage.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 1, 2010, 6:00 pm

      Hello Mike,

      This is a good point: people out of their element are ever ready to be taken advantage of. But it is my impression that even more than this are people who are trying to get into an element that they are not really a part of. The person who is trying to be something they are not are really ripe for the picking.

      Interesting point, I know that I have never felt more uncomfortable in a circumstance than when I am TRYING to be like the people around me. I have found that it is easier and more respect worthy to just be different — even if that means being really out of place.

      When it come to traveling, I find that I make a lot more friends when I act like myself — a fool question asking, picture taking, tourist — then pretending to be a local.

      Though I really enjoy being the outsider.



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  • Caitlin March 31, 2010, 9:05 pm

    Another great story, Wade.

    I’m looking forward to when you someday make it to (Sub-Saharan) Africa. You’re gonna have a field day on all the “rastas” that hang out looking for white people (read: white girls.)

    I do feel kinda sorry for the girl though – it really is her fault, and that makes it feel SO much worse. I know hostels put up signs saying “lock your stuff up” but maybe they should put them in large neon letters with someone like “LOCK UP YOUR STUFF, YOU MORON.”

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 1, 2010, 6:20 pm

      It is amazing what a simple lock can do to prevent theft. I have yet to hear of a traveler having the lock broken on their bag and contents stolen from it in a hotel, though their are tons of stories like this one.

      I think you are a real good traveler, Caitlin, we look forward to meeting up someday! Maybe in East Asia?



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  • Bob L March 31, 2010, 9:37 pm

    Man….. you are getting old…..

    Your post is great. It shows the immaturity of some folks, shows that you are older and wiser and how your perceptions of these *kids* is right on and … oh whatever….

    Good post, shows an interesting view on a portion of us average people. These things are supposed to be learning experiences. Some learn, some don’t. Sometimes the only people that learn are the bystanders. Same same. We all screw up, some learn, some don’t.

    Bob L

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 1, 2010, 6:23 pm

      Right on, Bob, you can either profit on a mistake and the experience earned can be worth more than the material loss, or you can just loose without gain.

      Mistakes are good, I think, because this is often the only way to really learn a lesson.



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  • Mike Crosby April 1, 2010, 11:46 am Link Reply
  • Mike Crosby April 2, 2010, 4:14 am

    I realize now it’s April 1. He got me.

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  • T. Beck April 2, 2010, 11:17 am

    Hi Wade,

    I have been reading your stories and they are interesting. I am really trying to figure out if travel
    is safe in Guatemala right now… my boyfriend and I will fly in next week.
    We will be traveling to the coast – Iztapa maybe stop at Antigua. We are world travelers so
    just want to know the real story of what’s going on there…. people really kidnapping for organs
    and stealing kids????
    I know your traveling with baby and don’t seam concerned or are you just out of your mind????
    Your thoughts would be helpful…….
    Wishing you and your family safe travels.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 2, 2010, 2:03 pm


      Guatemala is a reasonably secure country for traveling. As with any country, if you stay out late in bars, trust people who tell you they are your friend, or get wrapped up in local issues, the chances of having problems rise considerably. But for a tourist traveling the well trod rounds, Guatemala is just as secure as any other country in the region.

      From looking at the thousands and thousands of tourists here — the country is packed full of tourists — it is my impression that most of these people are not out of their minds.

      Don’t fear traveling here.



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      • T. Beck April 2, 2010, 9:39 pm

        Great, thank you for your reply Wade!
        Nice to hear from the travel groove…

        Travel on,

  • Lucy Lands November 20, 2011, 8:46 am

    I was robbed last night in Livingston Guatemala. Yes I left my bag with my dancing shoes unattended in a club so it is my fault that it was robbed. The difficult part comes when you start to look around at the people and wonder ‘who did it and why?’. Why would someone want to steal someones dancing shoes that are sweaty and smelly. In the days that followed a new story emerged – the central character a local woman who calls herself ‘Ti’ or ‘Thelma’. You will see or hear of her pretty quickly as she is loud and has what you may think of a ‘big personality’. She is very thin, dark, has her hair braided and hangs our at tourist places to braid people’s hair, she is about 30 or 35 years old and a crack-addict. She is also a wonderful story teller to try and get money out of you to support her drinking and drug habit. She also has young children but despite this stays out at night late. So as it turns out she has my shoes but at the same time makes big stories about another women having them who ‘refuse’ to confront me but if I give her 50Q then she might be able to convince them to give it back. blah blah blah. or if i give her 25Q then she may be able to borrow the other 25Q from someone else to give it back. I know she has no intention to give it back honestly or ‘help’ me like she acts like she is. IT is a very disappointing experience of Livingston, and if you are into music and dance like me then it is better just to stick with the more innocent 7pm Garifuna performances at Hotel Caribe. As you can probably tell I am a bit angry and revengeful, not so much about the shoes, but the way some human beings treat people with manipulation and lies when relationships could be so much more respectful.
    Be careful of this women if you are travelling to Livingston.

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    • Wade Shepard November 20, 2011, 10:43 pm

      Well, all I can say is chalk it up to a travel experience. Garifuna culture has some pretty sharp edges, consider yourself fortunate for the direct experience and what you were able to learn from it. This, in my opinion, is far more valuable than watching their booty shaking dances for the tourists.

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  • hafeez Malik May 21, 2012, 9:10 pm

    You are right, Wade. No matter what you do, there are chances of your being robbed. You can only reduce the risk, you cannot eliminate it by 100%.
    I was robbed by a Hotel Manager whom I trusted a sealed bag for safe-keeping. When I found $200 missing and complained to the General Manager, would you believe what he said,” You should not have left hard cash for safe-keeping”. Was I suppose to leave only dirty towel. It was in a 3-star hotel in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Now I ask for a signed list of articles I hand over but sometime, I am asked to either to leave in the box or take it with me. I ponder over the choice and mostly leave it with them and pray all the time for its safe return.

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    • Wade Shepard May 21, 2012, 10:01 pm

      It’s disappointing that you’re not alone it being robbed by a hotel’s staff. I don’t know if I would even leave my dirty towel in a hotel safe box. All too often, anybody working in the hotel can access the box if they really wanted to. I’ve worked in hotels and hostels and I know how the key to the “safe” box tends to float around, and is not really too secure. Carrying a small lockable metal box that you could chain to something in the room and conceal in a bag may prove a better alternative.

      Thanks for your comments. It’s great to have such well-experienced travelers commenting here.

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