I don’t write too many personal posts. However, every now and then something crazy happens and it warrants a post about my experience. Yes, the title is dramatic but I got a scorpion sting in Guatemala, it was dramatic! I honestly did think I was going to die in a dorm room in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
So what happened how did I get a scorpion sting in Guatemala?
I decided to take a little break and visit Lake Atitlan from my temporary home in Antigua. It’s only a few hours on the bus and you get views like this.
Needing a mini-break and I also wanted to get some treatment after a car accident in the UK a few weeks before had left me quite a bit of back and neck pain.
Things that go STING in the night…
After having a wonderful weekend I went to bed in my wooden hut on the lake feeling blissed out…until at about 1 am I woke up with excruciating pain in my neck/ shoulder area. I rolled slightly and felt this burning pain again. I then went to touch the spot that hurt in a bit of a blind/ still half asleep panic to then experience this pain in my wrist.
This third wave of agony caused me to shoot up and start flapping around like a crazy person as I realized I was under attack from something that had a nasty bite/ sting.
Did You Get Travel Insurance Yet?
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you need to be prepared for anything! Travel insurance has always been high my list of things to get before I travel but now more than ever its at the top of my list.
I’m pretty sure we have all had travel plans messed up because of COVID and not all insurers covered this. So when looking for travel insurance it’s important to check it covers travel disruption due to COVID-19, Hey Mondo, Passport Nomads, Safety Wing, and Travel Insurance Master all provide cover for this.
Hey Mondo is great if you are looking for a great value flexible policy. They offer single trip cover, annual multi trip cover, and long term travel cover. You even have the option to start the cover when you are already on your trip, although you won’t be covered for the first 72 hours. For me my favourite feature is their app which offers you a 24/7 Dr chat and the ability to file a claim direct in the app.
Passport Nomads provides the most comprehensive cover for Digital Nomads. The game changer with them is that you have a red card and if you find yourself in need of medical care you just contact them and they will pre load your card with the funds to cover your treatment, meaning you won’t need to pay out of pocket and then put in a claim later.
Safety Wing is great value with monthly cover starting at $39. It’s super easy to use and it just renews each month. They have an excess of $250 and it’s simple to make a claim through their website. I currently use them as they offer me free cover for my son as part of my policy and I like that it renews on a monthly basis, so I don’t have to pay out a big lump sum up front.
I also use Travel Insurance Master for some short vacation type trips.
If you are doing shorter trips or an extended backpacking trip then Hey Mondo or Travel Insurance Master are the best option. If you are a digital nomad or planning travel of at least 6 months then go for Passport Nomads or SafetyWing.
WTF… Did I just get a scorpion sting in Guatemala!
In my haze, I had no idea what happened. I think I may have managed to throw whatever it was from me. And I have a vague memory of crushing something. But the pain was so intense that was all I could focus on. So I grabbed my phone and checked my bed but I couldn’t find anything. I was safe, although I felt anything BUT!
But what happened next was even more terrifying.
Once the initial shock started to subside the pain continued to get worse and my fear and panic started to really kick in. At this point, I had no idea what had attacked me and therefore what my reaction was going to be. It was 1 am and everyone was asleep.
I was in a remote part of Lake Atitlan with no idea where I would find a Dr or medical professional. There was no pharmacy in the area, no hospital for miles, and the main form of transport is a boat. Which at 1 am isn’t going to be running. I was also staying in accommodation which had a lot of steps to get up to the main road for a Tuk Tuk or down to the lake for a boat.
My mother always told me…
After thinking all of this through I realized I didn’t have very many options here. But having a nurse for a mother (all you children of nurses know what I’m talking about) I’m also conditioned to know your fine so long as your airway doesn’t start to close. And to never leave home without ibuprofen and antihistamine. Unfortunately, I had neither, the ONE TIME I leave home without my mini first aid kit!
Anyway, I tried to keep calm in spite of the realization that if my airway did start to close, I had no antihistamine and no way of getting any medical help. There were 4 other people around, so I bargained with myself that if it did start to close I’d wake them up and one of them would surely have some antihistamine right?
Deciding that I shouldn’t go back to sleep because I might not wake up was easy as I was in too much pain to sleep anyway. If you have ever been stung by a bee or a wasp, times that by 20 and then again 3 stings. That’s how much this hurt.
The pain I can cope with, it was when I realized my lips and tongue were tingling that a new wave of panic set in. It didn’t stop there, the tingling quickly spread to my whole body and I realized this was probably pretty serious. That’s when the googling began.
The struggle of being British and getting stung by a scorpion…
For the next few hours I split my time between googling what kind of things can bite/ sting you in Guatemala, and can any of them kill you and watching Netflix on my phone to try and take my mind off my looming death. But also reminding myself that I could still breath, therefore I was probably going to live.
After 2-3 hours of still being alive, I decided I probably wasn’t going to die because I would already be dead. Although I still didn’t know what it was that had bit/ stung me by about 5 am I decided I needed to go to the bathroom. I tried to stand but my legs completely gave out and then my whole body started to do weird things. My muscles all contracting and I had no control over my movements.
That was it, the final straw, it was too much and I started shouting to wake up the room (it only took me 4 hours haha).
I did so in the most British was possibly being awfully polite and apologizing profusely for waking everyone up but that something had bit/ stung me 3 times and now I couldn’t walk. They were all very lovely about the situation and even carried me to the bathroom haha. After calming me down they told me they would get me some help as soon as they could, but it was 5 am, so that wouldn’t be for another few hours.
That was enough to calm me down, just knowing help was there.
Scorpiongate… Does Guatemala have scorpions? And did a scorpion sting me?
By this point my google searching had told me what I was experiencing was the effects of being stung (3 TIMES) by a scorpion, IN MY SLEEP. That’s right I was stung 3 times in my sleep by scorpion in Guatemala.
People can react in 2 way to a scorpion sting:
Localized pain and swelling
Total body reaction to the neurotoxin
This can cause temporary paralysis and your body to do some pretty crazy things. Plus the localized pain. BUT you hardly have a mark on you when the sting happened.
This second was what happened to me.
I hardly have a mark on me where I was stuck but my reaction was terrifying. The effects normally last for 12 hours. For me, it was more like 24 hours. By the following day, I just had one leg that had a mind of its own and a burning right hand (the site of the third sting) plus my lips and tongue were still pretty numb.
There are scorpions in Guatemala?
I found out after this happened that scorpions are really common at the lake and that most local people hardly have any reaction to the stings, so you are unlikely to get much sympathy! So, yes there are scorpions in Guatemala and yes you can get a scorpion sting in Guatemala.
How do you deal with a scorpion sting?
If this happens to you there really isn’t a lot you can do. You just have to wait it out. It’s a good idea to take some antihistamines just in case you have an allergic reaction to the neurotoxin, which is what would cause your airway to close.
- Try not to move about too much (you will likely not be able to anyway) as this will move the toxin through your body. I found every time I moved all of my muscles contracted in a weird way and it felt awful, so I tried to stay as still as possible.
- Drink a lot of water. Drinking wasn’t pleasant for me as the muscle in my throat contracted every time I swallowed which terrified me as I struggled to take a breath. I had to sip the water slowly. Water is really important to flush out the neurotoxin though.
- I also took activated charcoal. Don’t take this with the antihistamine as it will cancel it out. But activated charcoal helps get rid of poisons in the body. I’m not sure who well it worked but it made me feel better! It’s also great for a hangover apparently.
How to avoid getting a scorpion sting in Guatemala
- Always check your bed, shoes, and clothes. Just give them a quick shake out.
- Put a few drops of tea tree oil around your bed. This should act as a deterrent.
What did I learn from this experience?
- Guatemala has scorpions and I do not react well to their neurotoxin
- Next time I think I’m dying I should probably wake people up sooner
- Never ever leave home without antihistamines
- Make sure you have activated charcoal in your first aid kit
- ALWAYS check your bed and drop some tea tree oil around it
- I’m pretty tough, getting stung 3 times by a scorpion and not completely losing my mind, crying and booking the next flight home is proof of that.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Lake Atitlan?
If you want to stay in San Pedro then I’d recommend Zoola San Pedro Atitlan, AmiGos, Hotel Tinamit, or Cristalinas Cafe, Hotel & Restaurant at Lake. If you are planning on staying in San Marcos and enjoy yoga then I cannot recommend Eagle’s Nest Atitlán enough. If yoga isn’t your thing and you want something a bit more upmarket then you can’t go wrong with Lush Atitlan.
My friend Julia is developing an incredible retreat center close to San Marcos. They have several places to stay and I can’t recommend them enough! I stayed there and it was the most blissed-out I’ve been in years. In Panajachel, I recommend PanaHouse or Selina Atitlan
I also wrote a whole accommodation guide for Antigua, Guatemala City, and Lake Atitlan. And I have gathered all the best places to eat in Antigua here in case you need any recs.
This post was proofread by Grammarly
Thursday 6th of October 2022
Thanks so much for this article, my friend and i are looking into going to Guatemala for Christmas and trying to find the perfect place to stay, would you mind sharing what hostel you stayed at? Is this a common thing with most hostels on the lake would you say?
Wednesday 6th of January 2021
I was just stung by a scorpion at the lake. Thank you so much for this article. I found it immediately and am able to relax knowing I'll be okay. My mouth is numb and well.. I'm a little hesitant to go back to sleep...
Tuesday 12th of January 2021
Oh my gosh. I feel your terror! Hope you recovered quickly x
Monday 30th of March 2020
Wow crazy, so glad you were okay! I saw one scorpion in my bathroom at a place I was staying on the beach in Nicaragua. A remote fishing village and not many tourists just this one lodge (people come to do volunteer work with the locals) and one other. The bathrooms are outside the room and when I flipped the light on it was behind the toilet. I let out a scream and the night guard came to my rescue but the creepy crawly was gone by then. Another tip is to leave the bathroom light on if you are in your own room, after that I left the light on - they hide in the dark.
At the same beach lodge, one of the other guests (a Canadian fireman, they come there to train the locals and do volunteer work) got stung by one. It was in his pants and it stung when he put his leg in. Luckily there were many other firemen and paramedics around to help him.
Claire, Rob also got stung by a stingray on the same beach the night of new year's eve one year. Ask him about that experience some time - and how one of the local teens told him NOT to go for a midnight swim "muy peligroso" he said!
Very similar to yours with the scorpion. The village is a 45-minute drive to the nearest town, but as it was new years literally everyone was hammered so there would be no driving to town, and I was the one googling things and I kept checking his lips to see if they were blue and he was breathing. ALL NIGHT. Turns out you need to put a base compound on that kind of sting as it's an acid. Putting it in hot water apparently speeds it up, but apparently also intensifies the pain which he said came in waves every minute or two.
Wednesday 4th of March 2020
DARN!!!! I was at LUSH ATITLAN the nicest hotel there and a scorpio just missed falling on my head and there was another in my bathroom. I had to sleep with the lights on the last 3 nights there. They were HUGE!!!!!
I was thinking of maybe going back to a meditation center there but the scorpion thing is bit much.
Tuesday 9th of July 2019
I live in Pana. I have found 6 so far scorpions in my house this month. That's one a day ! I've checked all the screens are patent. I've checked under the sinks in both kitchen & loo. I've completely cleaned the whole house & put everything away into ziplock bags &/or storage bins. There's no food or other bugs around my house. Where are they coming from? 6 in 7 days! Full grown scorpions! I have a genetic condition that causes severe allergic reactions. If l get stung it could be curtins for me. What do l do to KILL them? before they kill me!??