Book! Pack! Go Travel! by Robbie Mamo

Onward to Guatemala

Onward to Guatemala

After spending most of yesterday relaxing and hanging around near the beach in La Punta, I decided it was time to move onward to check out Guatemala and more importantly the colonial city of Antigua and further North, the ancient Tikal Ruins.

Central America has an amazing bus system used by locals, tourists and business travellers alike. I decided to use ADO bus lines which is the prominent bus line in Mexico. I bought myself a ticket to the Mexican/Guatemalan border town of Tapachula that travels along the Panamerican Highway and passes through all the major cities en route. This bus was going to be around 12 hrs and costed 575 Pesos/$50. I tried booking in advance online but had trouble using the website so decided to show up a few hours early and buy my ticket in person.

At the bus stations you can always count on vendors selling anything from food, phone cards, drinks and whatever else you could imagine!  I bought 4 doughnuts off of a guy for 20 Pesos/$1.50. These were filled with custard and had icing sugar sprinkles. Definitely a fan of Mexican doughnuts. I was hoping the guy would come around again so I could buy more.

The bus to the Mexico – Guatemala border and the man selling the doughnuts!

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Mexican doughnuts!

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The ride was what I had expected from using the bus in the past for travelling between countries in Latin America. The roads were winding for most of the way and we were often either going up a hill or down one. You definitely want to avoid sitting at the back or you will be bounced around quite a bit, especially since they often have manual transmissions and you spend a lot of time jolting between gears as the driver adjusts to the mountainous terrain. Also, if you’re prone to motion sickness it’s probably a good idea to take something for it.

The good thing about these buses is how comfortable the seats are and how far back they can recline. I was lucky enough to have two seats to myself so that meant I didn’t have to put my bags in the overhead compartment. I like to keep my bags beside me or at my feet at all times. If I hadn’t had a few seats to myself I would have been riding with one bag on my lap and another at my feet because these overnight buses are notorious for theft. I’ve never been able to sleep very well on the bus and it’s not always easy when you want to watch your bags at all times.

I left at 5:45 pm from Puerto Escondido and arrived at the Mexican border town of Tapachula at around 6:45 am. Once we arrived, I had to buy another ticket to make my way to my final destination of Antigua, by way of Guatemala City. When I went to the ticket booth to buy the ticket, I was told that they aren’t selling anymore tickets for the 7:00 am bus and I would have to wait until the 12 pm or 3 pm departures because the early bus was leaving soon. My next choice was bribe the bus driver which I figured would be an easy task since I’m getting off at the first stop. I handed him $20 and my luggage was quickly loaded and I got on the bus.

It’s a good thing I did get on as there were a few other travellers that had to hang around the bus depot all night. The bus that was scheduled to leave the day before was cancelled due to lack of passengers. A lot of buses and shuttles work like that. If you want to rent the whole bus to yourself they will more than gladly do that, but if not they have to meet a quota before you or anyone else will be going anywhere no matter what departure you bought your ticket for. This goes for shuttles too which are otherwise known as “collectivos” here.

Once we got underway it was only a 10 minute drive to the actual border crossing where we all got off the bus, paid our 400P/$30 mandatory exit fee from Mexico, got stamped out of the country and then crossed into Guatemala on foot inside this caged walkway that spanned across a bridge. The next step is to pay an entrance fee into Guatemala which costed 10 Quetzal/$1.25. You had to do it at a little ticket window further down the road. One thing I noticed is that you need to closely watch what you pay because they mark it as 10 for the fee but don’t check off whether it’s Dollars or Guatemalan Quetzal on the bill they hand you. They hope you are going to give them $10 and don’t go out of their way to tell you otherwise!

One US dollar is worth 8 Quetzal but usually it will be exchanged at 7 or 7.5 Quetzal for 1 US dollar.  Alot of hotels, restaurants and tour companies will accept US dollars but don’t expect any small stands, take away only restaurants or small convenience stores to take them. It is usually because they don’t keep much change on hand to give you back the difference.

Once crossing into Guatemala, I bought some freshly squeezed orange juice and some food from a taco stand. My 4 tacos and a drink was less than 15Q/$2.  After my quick meal I was soon back on the bus headed for Guatemala City where I would then take a shuttle to Antigua.

Greeted in Guatemala…

My first steps into Guatemala at the border town were greeted by street vendors, traffic jams and people trying to exchange your money and sell you anything and everything!

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Tacos for breakfast!

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Part way through our 6 hour bus ride to Antigua we started getting to a higher elevation and the landscape completely changed to rainforest and lush green mountains. The temperature also dropped off quite a bit and even in the sun we were getting a really nice cool, humid breeze blowing off of the nearby mountains. There were quite a few mountains that rose up into the clouds and this made for a nice scenic drive. On the bus ride this morning we went through a lot of poor areas, many of these had businesses where the transactions are made through a locked gate. A good sign that crime is an issue there in some places more than others.

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Once I got off the bus at the terminal in Guatemala City I was greeted by a man with a shuttle bus asking if I would like to go to Antigua. This worked out great and costed 100Q/$12 which I paid directly to the driver. While waiting until a few more buses rolled in with passengers to fill the shuttle I decided to get another meal.

At the bus station they were serving lunch at this hour and it was 2 pieces of chicken, rice, salad, soup, tortillas and lemonade. The chicken was stewed in a tomato base similar to a lot of other food I’ve had down here so far and they also put some of the sauce over the rice. Here in Guatemala they have a green hot sauce(salsa verde) at each table everywhere you go. I really like the heat and flavour of this sauce and will definitely be bringing a few bottles home with me. This meal was 40Q/$5 and tasted amazing!

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The shuttle lasted an hour and I was soon in Antigua, Guatemala ready to start my next adventure and eventually make my way to the Tikal Ruins which would be the highlight of my stay in this country.

Gone on a whim…