Rough guide to transport in Guatemala
One of the biggest challenges for any first-time visitor to Guatemala is just getting around the country. Transport in Guatemala can be bewildering, but with the right information the experience of getting from point A to B should be safe and fun.
Before you arrive in Guatemala, check what your options are for getting to the places you want to see, so know how you will be getting from place to place.
For example, you can get from Guatemala City to the gorgeous old city of Antigua by taxi, but if you want to enjoy the music and culture of Livingston you can only get there by boat.
Keep safety in mind, especially if you are travelling alone, and generally avoid travelling at night.
Road travel is key to transport in Guatemala
Guatemala is a small country and roads are the main way of getting around, because it does not have a functioning train network or frequent domestic flights. The mix of taxis, buses and minibuses is the main way of getting around.
The quality of the roads varies a lot (to say the least!), from well-paved roads in the cities to simple dirt tracks in more remote areas.
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“Chicken buses” are legendary across Latin America, and Guatemala is a proud part of the tradition of importing old school buses from the US and re-fitting them for use as public transport.
As well installing a new engine and seating, a bus’s owners will apply a colourful and dramatic new paint job, and these vehicles are a common sight on most of the roads around the country.
The route is usually marked on the front, and the driver’s helper will sell you your ticket and shout out each destination as you arrive.
To hail a chicken bus, just stick your arm out when you see it coming. If there’s space it will stop to let you on, and if there isn’t room then it will probably still stop to let you on.
These buses are usually packed with passengers, and occasionally with livestock. It’s an experience you will not forget!
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Some bus companies operate scheduled services between Guatemala City and the other big cities. These are usually known as Pullman buses, but might also be called ‘primera clase’ or ‘especial’, and they often sell tickets in advance so you will have your own seat.
Another option for getting between major tourist destinations is one of the scheduled shuttle minibuses operated by travel agencies.
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Most large towns have lots of taxis vying for your business, and the driver will usually agree the fee with you before setting off. Don’t be afraid to haggle over the fee.
Cycling in Guatemala can be a stunning and rewarding experience, as you can access some of the dramatic scenery more easily than if you are driving.
You do need to have the equipment and experience to handle some rough roads, and be aware of the risks of travelling alone or at night. But it’s worth it for the views and the chance to see rural Guatemalan life.
Boats do pop up as an option for getting around some parts of Guatemala, most notably as the only way to get to the town of Livingston on Caribbean coast. You may also find opportunities to travel along some of the country’s rivers, and boats are a popular way of getting between the villages which surround Lake Atitlan.
If you want to fly within Guatemala then the only scheduled domestic flights are between Flores in the north and Guatemala City in the south.
However, flying is a popular way of getting into and out of Guatemala. The major airport is La Aurora in Guatemala City, and it is served by major hubs in the USA, as well as all the Central American capitals. Direct flights also operate from Mexico and Colombia. You can get direct flights from Madrid in Spain on a seasonal basis.
Overall, experiencing the transport in Guatemala is a fun part of any visit. Just make sure you plan ahead and understand the need for safety, and don’t expect to be jumping on trains or planes to get around.