I spent 7 weeks in Guatemala City so let me explain the best zones you should know about and zones you should avoid.
To keep it short and simple, there are 4 zones in Guatemala City you should know about: 1, 4, 9 & 10!
In this article, I will cover:
Zone 10 & 9
Best areas to stay
Areas you should avoid
Zone 1 is the historical center of Guatemala City. This will be the best place to have a walking tour and learn more about the city and Guatemala in general. Zone 1 is where you will find the city's main square featuring the main Cathedral and National Palace which is also a museum. In this zone, you will find a long shopping street full of international chains and local restaurants. A great place to go for a long walk if you want to feel the local busy life.
Safety-wise you do not need to worry about serious danger as there is a strong police presence. You will see a security guard at each shop or cafe entrance. There is the local police guarding all the important monuments and buildings. Said that, due to this being a popular tourist destination, pickpockets will still try their best. So you need to be extra aware of your belongings. But apart from pickpockets, you have nothing to worry about. This goes for the daylight hours while you are exploring the city and the sites. Zone 1 is not a zone where to wander around alone during the late hours. You want to ensure you are always between people.
Zone 4 is the upcoming hipster area. You will find a lot of modern apartment buildings, street murals, and cool funky bars and restaurants. I really like how they have a cool outside food court there that offers around 10 different cuisines. That was the top spot for me in Zone 4.
I have been traveling South and Central America for a year now and I can see how this area in 2-3 years will be the next place to be in. I don't feel like it has reached its full potential yet. But it is definitely already shaping very well.
Safety-wise, from my research, I can say it is safe there but purely because it is next to Zone 1, 3 & 5, I would still be a bit vary and avoid walking alone during late hours.
ZONE 10 & 9
Time for my favorite zone - Zone 10! This is the safest zone in the whole city. This is based not just on my personal experience but the research I have done. I have walked alone at 10pm in Zone 10 and felt completely fine.
This Zone is full of restaurants, shopping centers, and office buildings. Offering a bubbly nightlife and amazing food scene this place is also called the 'Live Zone'. As a foodie, I have been enjoying a variety of cuisines for a such great value. Starting from brunches in cute breakfast places, to sushi, tacos, and all my favorite dishes in a variety of restaurants around Zone 10. They also have an amazing cinema with reclining chairs and you can order food during the movie. A ticket for a cinema like that costs $5 per person, which is an incredible value. A cinema like that in Europe would cost a minimum of $20.
As an absolute foodie, I have prepared a whole separate article on the best eats in Zone 10!
This area might not be full of historical monuments and museums but definitely caters for those who simply want to eat good food, feel safe, and catch some city vibes.
Uber in Guatemala City is cheap and safe so you can easily get to Zone 1 from Zone 10.
In this section, I also have to mention Zone 9 which is basically an extension of Zone 10. Zone 9 is more residential and quieter so I would still recommend staying more in Zone 10 but more about the best places to stay and why I will explain in my next section.
Best areas to stay at in Guatemala City
No surprise - personally I think the best place to stay is in Zone 10. Here are some facts why:
Close to the airport. Very convenient location for those who are staying in Guatemala City purely because of flight arrangements. You save time and money.
The safest zone in the city!
Amazing food places to choose from for even the pickiest eaters.
Much cheaper accommodation than anywhere else (like Antigua, Lake Atitlan, etc.) because it is not the typical tourist destination so the value you get for your money is incredible. I stayed in an amazing apartment on the 14th floor overlooking the city for twice less than I would have paid in Antigua with a way worse view.
Zone 9 also is close to the airport, safe, and much better value for money but it is quieter and you will still need to walk to Zone 10 to enjoy the live zone. So I would still recommend choosing Zone 10 over Zone 9.
Zone 4 will be your pick if you like hipster areas. Offering modern apartment buildings you will definitely find cool apartments on Airbnb. Also, at a great value for money. If you are staying only for a day or 2 then this might be a great choice as you will have some cool food places around you and you are very close to Zone 1.
Lastly - Zone 1! This will be your pick if you are backpacking and looking for cheap hostels where to meet other travelers. It is a lively area for backpackers but not the safest one so you need to weigh your pros and cons. Also, the main bus station to other popular destinations in Guatemala is there, so convenient location for those traveling by bus.
Areas you should avoid in Guatemala City
As much as I love Guatemala City, I understand and know that there is a dangerous side to the capital. Guatemala City is the biggest capital city in the whole of Central America so of course there will be dangerous parts but also there are safe and fun areas. So all you really need to know are the zones and what zones to avoid. As long as you stick with that and do not wander into the more dangerous zones you will be completely fine. I spent 7 weeks in Guatemala City and had no incidents or even uncomfortable movements because I stayed within 'my' zones.
These are the areas you should definitely avoid: 3, 5, 6, 12, and 21!
These are the areas that are not as bad as the above but also I would recommend avoiding them: 2, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 24.
This is based on several resources and also local recommendations.
Is Guatemala City safe?
I have summarized and visualized all areas I have mentioned above in the map below.
Red areas you should definitely avoid. Orange areas you should also avoid but they are not as dangerous as the red ones. The 3 green areas are 4, 9, and 10 which are safe. And zone 1 I marked as yellow as it really is somewhere in between. It is safe because you have a lot of police presence there but the historical centers in South and Central American countries are usually the most dangerous areas. So I think if you have common sense, look after your belongings and you do not wander around in the late hours you will be fine, but you need to be extra cautious.