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Robbed on Lake Atitlan

Jaibalito, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala – Setup: Yesterday I moved from San Pedro to Jaibalito with the sole purpose of getting a better view of the lake and to do some hiking in the hills surrounding the lake. While eating dinner I met another American named Angelo who had recently moved to Jaibilito for at least [...]

Jaibalito, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala –

Yesterday I moved from San Pedro to Jaibalito with the sole purpose of getting a better view of the lake and to do some hiking in the hills surrounding the lake. While eating dinner I met another American named Angelo who had recently moved to Jaibilito for at least the next year. Talking with him I found out he wanted to some hiking as well. We met at 8:45 and started walking on the trails up in the hills. At first our goal was to hike up to a small village with a Mayan name that I can’t pronounce. Along the way we changed course and started walking to another town on the lake called Tzununa. The walk along the way was amazing. The sky was clear and the sun was shining creating some great views along the way of the lake and surrounding volcano’s.

The Event:
Angelo and I were almost to Tzununa. We were descending the mountain walking through a wooded area of the path. As we were rounding a bend there was a younger looking man standing alongside the path holding a machete. Seeing someone on the path doesn’t raise any alarms since there were many people in the hills working on the farms. Also, a local holding a machete isn’t anything uncommon either. Everyone has a machete and I’ll see dozens of people a day carrying them in the streets or out in the fields. As we were about to pass he holds up his machete waving it wildly saying “Dinero! Dinero!” Seriously? I thought. Is this guy really about to rob Angelo and I? I’m not about to put up a fuss with a guy waving a machete at me so I just stood there ready to empty my pockets. He went to Angelo first and grabs his backpack and rifles through his pockets. Next he came to my pockets and grabbed 7 Quetzals (about $0.85). I was holding out my bag trying to show him that there was nothing in it but my hat and water bottle. Of course, my camera was in there as well within a small pocket in the front of the bag. I was strategically holding my bag showing him the insides and holding the bag by the camera so he couldn’t feel the camera. Unfortunately he wanted to hold the bag and rummage around himself so he found the camera in the smaller pocket and nabbed that as well. At this point I thought, “Hell, he has my camera maybe I can at least get my memory card.” I asked for it three times but with no luck. Once he thought he had all our money and valuables we went on our way to finish off the trail.

Post Thoughts:
I had heard that it’s possible to be robbed on the trails around Lake Atitlan but I’ve also heard I could be robbed in just about every place I’ve been. To me there has always been no doubt in mind that I would be robbed at some point during this trip. I’m white so I automatically stick out as a human cash machine. Knowing this I will take precautions anytime I go out hiking or walking around in cities.

I always carry the bulk of whatever money I have in my hidden pockets and might leave a little change in my pockets. The goal is for anyone that robs me will only take the small change and not think it odd that I have no money and try to see if I’ve hidden money anywhere else. This worked perfectly today. He grabbed 7Q (about $0.85) but had no clue there was another 60Q (about $7.50) zipped in my pocket.

As far as my camera is concerned there isn’t much I can do about that. If they notice my camera and take it then they take it. The camera was the only thing of real value he took from me but when I go out I’m going to take my camera. What’s the point of having it if I’m not going to use it? Before I left the U.S. I looked at my gear and assumed that at least one piece of electronic gear would either break or be stolen along the way. It’s not ideal and I try to prevent such occurrences but at the end of the day you just have to roll with it. If I go out with my camera I check to see if there are a lot of photos on my memory card that aren’t on my computer. If so, I’ll download them in case I lose the camera. Because of this I only lost photos from the morning and a couple taken yesterday. It’s still a shame to lose those though since they were the majority of my Lake Atitlan photos. It looks like the only photos I’ll have of here are the five I had backed up two days ago.

In the end I’m more annoyed by the fact that I need to start searching for a new camera. I liked the colors that my camera produced and I was used to the menu screens. For those reasons I’m going to try and get another Canon. Unfortunately it won’t be as durable as the Canon D10 I was using.

On the bright side most things I carry with the exception of my camera are things no one wants. I carry a small satchel bag that most people use here. The thief looked at it and immediately cast it aside. Angelo, however, had a regular backpack that the thief might be able to sell for a few quetzals and lost his phone, keys, hat, camera and sweatshirt that were in the bag. I was able to keep my hat and Kleen Kanteen and small compass that were in my bag. Again, nothing of great importance but it’s always better to lose less than more. I’m glad I still have my Kleen Kanteen since I already lost my first one in Mexico (Thanks to Kate for bringing me a new one).

Filed under: Cubicle Ditcher, Guatemala, Security

About the Author:

Sam Langley left a comfortable and profitable job with an insurance company in the USA to travel the world. He has been going for years, and has not stopped yet. Keep up with his travels on his blog at Cubicle Ditcher. has written 147 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • Kate November 8, 2010, 5:29 pm


    Sorry to read this post. I love the pictures and will miss seeing them until you get a new camera. Guess you cannot wait until I visit in Peru 😉

    Miss you!

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  • Wade | Vagabondjourney.com November 9, 2010, 1:36 am

    Yes, robbery is rampant around Lago Atitlan, so much so that giving away your stuff to some guy with a machete is almost a required tax. Don't worry too much about this, it is an unfortunate part of hiking around in this region.

    Tourists = money. Lots of tourists in a place where police control that is more or less a joke = lots of thieves.

    Next time kick him in the balls.

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  • craig | travelvice.com November 9, 2010, 3:25 pm

    Use CouchSurfing to help find someone flying to a location near you from the USA. Typically these folks are planning their trip, looking for advice in the country they'll be touching down in. Approach profiles that look respectable.

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  • Sam November 9, 2010, 10:52 pm

    Thanks for the advice guys. I'm still looking around in Antigua but it looks like I have 3 options.

    1. Bite the bullet and buy the Canon SD1200 I have my eye on that's marked up by about $75.
    2. Keep asking around town for the possibility of finding a decent used camera.
    3. Scour message boards for someone to bring a camera from the US or have one shipped down here and wait.

    I'm wondering if the shipping of shipping a new camera would come close to the mark-up price.

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  • craig | travelvice.com November 11, 2010, 12:36 am

    DO NOT get your camera shipped to you. I made this mistake in Guatemala and paid the same price of the camera in customs fees:


    Paying $75 markup on a $130 camera isn't much fun.

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