11 Things you need to know about Transportation in Guatemala

everything you need to know...really

tuk tuk in flores guatemala

1. The shuttles are almost never on time

No actually, not almost, they are never on time. If they tell you they will pick you up at 8:00am that actually means sometime between 8:00 and 9:00. You just have to be waiting and ready the entire time. This is slightly inconvenient but not horrible, they always come…just at their own transportation in a Guatemalan kind of pace. Try not to get rattled when the shuttle does not come within 20 minutes, you likely did not miss it, and they haven’t forgotten you…they just run on Guatemalan time.

a tuk tuk driver in flores guatemala

2. It will take way longer than you are told to get anywhere while traveling Guatemala.

When traveling Guatemala, never look at the physical distance of somewhere to determine how long it would take to get there, 400km does not mean 4 hours, nor does it mean 6…it means 400km of transportation in Guatemalan hours. The problem? The shuttles in Guatemala have very limited times of departure. With road work and traffic, it is pretty safe to add about 1 hour to every 2 hours they tell you it will take…for example, a 2 hour trip should take 3. Do the math so you are prepared.

waiting for the boat to come in lake atitlan guatemala

3. Traveling from Lanquin and Semuc Champey to Antigua.

A ride so terrible it deserves its own category. Say you have been traveling Guatemala for a while now. You have taken the INGUAT shuttles from the airport to Antigua, from Antigua to Lake Atitlan, and maybe even from Flores to Lanquin. ‘Hey, the shuttles aren’t so bad’ you think while using transportation in Guatemala, “everyone is just being dramatic about how terrible it is”. WRONG! This is what you think until you try to get from Antigua to Lanquin, or Lanquin to Antigua. This single journey alone is so horrid that it will make you forget about every good ride you have had in Guatemala. 8 hours actually means 14 hours with 1 food break, 2 pee breaks and nothing else. Be warned….I warned you. Luckily the trip to Semuc Champey to see Guatemala’s gem was worth it.

waiting for a tuk tuk in flores guatemala

4. Pack snacks

Yes, please for your own good pack snacks…or even purchase them at your first food stop. The shuttle is cramped and lasts what seems like forever. Just imagine how much worse a cramped shuttle is when your stomach is cramped from lack of food. At the first stop buy some snacks, some cookies, chips, and maybe a drink to take on the road. Remember transportation in Guatemala can last up to 14 hours with only one food break. Bring some.

motorcycle transport in guatemala

5.  Pee at every chance you get.

Transportation in Guatemala via shuttles are not the same as coach buses in other locales. There are no bathrooms on board, and the shuttle driver doesn’t have to stop at other bus stations or mandatory locations. What I am trying to tell you is that…if they personally do not have to pee they see no reason to stop, and sometimes they won’t. So do yourself a huge favour. Anytime you are presented with the opportunity to pee while traveling by shuttle, even if it’s the littlest tiniest bit…please do…please pee.

walking around  guatemala

6. If you have the opportunity to stop for fast food. Get fed.

Sometimes the shuttles will stop at a Pollo Campero or a McDonald’s. If you are lucky enough to have this wonderful treat, enjoy a meal. Even if you are not hungry you will not regret having a snack here.  Force it down. Make it happen. Buy some ice cream for the extra calories and enjoy some food because you might not see it again until 9:00 at night.

waiting for the boat to depart from san marcos la laguna

8. Flying internally in Guatemala

You can fly to Flores. Do it.

flying from guatemala city to flores

9. If you are brave enough to take a chicken bus….it will take you way longer than you want.

Ahhh the famous Guatemalan chicken bus, brightly coloured, puffing black carcinogenic smoke down the street, packed with locals getting to and from work. I have found a few travelers who say they want to take the chicken bus for the ‘experience’, to feel like a local. Ok, to each their own, do it. Just be aware that you will likely have to switch busses frequently due to route, or engine issues. A journey that on paper takes 1 hour can easily take 4 hours. The busses are hot, cramped, unreliable, and occasionally pocket theft-y. HOWEVER, if this is a journey you wish to take…go for it.

tuk tuks on the street of flores guatemala

10. Taking luxury buses

The normal coach bus does exist as transportation in Guatemala. You can take these busses from Antigua to Flores, and from Antigua to El Salvador. They are really hit and miss. Sometimes you get a decent experience, even traveling overnight. Sometimes your bus breaks down. Sometimes there is a bathroom on board, sometimes it is broken. Many people harp on the idea of getting robbed on these busses. My personal opinion is that it is a relatively rare occurrence, but at least you are aware of the possibility, the rest is up to you.

waiting for the bus in antigua guatemala

11. Enjoy the view

The road systems in Guatemala are ok. They are not great, but they are ok. You will not be cruising on some sort of busy 4 lane straight highway, but on a road that twists and turns through Guatemala’s various mountains and lakes. The view you will be presented with while traveling in Guatemala is almost always absolutely stunning and so overland travel does present an opportunity to really enjoy and get close to the Guatemalan countryside. While not the greatest of rides in terms of length and comfort, the view can make up for a somewhat tumultuous experience.

everything you need to know about transportation in guatemala

8 Comments

  1. Sounds like quite an experience traversing the roads of Guatemala! I’ve personally experienced quite a tough drive in Laos myself – in a super packed minivan and with a single toilet-plus-snack break along the way, so I understand how it feels. Oh well, part of the vacation and the views make it worthwhile!

  2. These are very good pointers about the transport system in Guatemala. A first timer there could be in for a shock if he were not aware about these facts. The point about buses not stopping for hours is something anyone using these services should take note of and take all necessary steps.

  3. This is a useful blog post for most people forget the travel within the place and then, end up getting shocked with what they have to encounter. They seemed pretty laid back and the roads do seem remote given you say that one needs to take the first stop and get their necessities in place. Cheers

  4. Thanks for sharing these great tips! How was the travel from antigua to Panahachel? Can you offer some tips on whether tours are good or transportation from one point to the next? Are the roads very windey and topsy turvey? Dangerous? etc? Had a Horrific experience travelling to Cajas from Guayaquil in Ecuador and never want to experience that again!

    1. Hey Janeth! Thank you for writing in! The travel from Antigua to Panahachel is pretty easy! Those are the best roads into Lake Atitlan, most maintained. You can get a shuttle from Antigua to Pana quite a few times a day, it takes about 4 hours and is a pretty easy drive. There are like 474446747 tour companies in Pana because its the bigger town on the Lake, and also there are many in the other cities to grab basic tour from i.e. the Devil’s Nose hike, lake tours, e.c.t. Id say the roads from Antigua to Pana are windey, but as I said, well maintained so safe. Driving into San Marcos on the other hand, or the other towns, are a little more sketchy and season pending!

      Ive been on some interesting bus rides (Ecuador and Peru too aha) but This one from Antigua to Pana I would say was not one of them!

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