Getting to Guatemala

Torre Latinoamericana, Latin America's first s...
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Getting to Guatemala

Getting to Guatemala is easy and, better still, it’s not a top-of-mind tourist destination for many travelers, though it should be. In fact, when Mrs. Yolkobsen’s sister called Toronto two years ago to say she was staying the winter in sunny, warm Antigua Guatemala, Mrs. Y said, “What are you doing in Guatemala?”  When Mrs. Y finally went down and saw for herself the beauty, warmth and charm of this country she was sold in a heartbeat.

When she told her neighbors she was getting to Guatemala permanently.  They said, “What are you doing in Guatemala?”  This, of course is a blessing.  While there are many tourist and expat amenities in Guatemala, there are plenty of people out in the world who don’t know about its many qualities and attractions, which helps keep it one of the best secret traveling destinations in the world. One of its best features is that getting to Guatemala is easy.

The following nationalities do not need a visa to if they are planing to visit and getting to Guatemala: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United States, United Kingdom, Vatican City, Venezuela.

Valid passports are required of everyone except citizens of Central American countries.

By plane
Getting Guatemala is easy through its main airport, La Aurora International Airport (GUA), which is near Guatemala City. International flights arrive mostly from other Central American countries and North America. The airport is currently undergoing modernizing reconstruction. It is now a glass-and-concrete edifice with modern shops and the duty-free shops that you might expect in any large airport. Food options are still limited, however, although construction is not complete.

Getting to Guatemala is also easy via the country’s secondary airport, situated in Flores, Petén. This small airport receives flights from a small number of close destinations including Belize, Mexico City and Guatemala City. It is sometimes cheaper to fly into Cancun and take buses through Belize or to fly into Mexico City and then take a low-cost airline flight on Aviacsa for around $100 US to Tapachula, which is the Mexico/Guatemala border. Now Interjet is flying for $120 US from Cancun and Mexico City to Guatemala City as well. Spirit Airlines offers great ticket prices from a number of US destinations (normally connecting through Miami/Ft. Lauderdale) and were recently priced at $166 US one-way to Guatemala City.

By car
From Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador, access is via the Pan-American Highway. Road access is also possible with more difficulty from Belize. This is a fun way of getting to Guatemala.

By bus
From Belize,there are regular tourist buses from Belize City to Flores or Guatemala City via the border town of Benque Viejo, passing through San Ignacio and Xunantunich. From Benque, you get a taxi to the border for around 3 Belize dollars, and from there a colectivo to Flores or Guatemala. Walk across the bridge to the Colectivo van headquarters to get better deals.From El Salvador. Buses are available from San Salvador and Santa Ana. From Honduras, services run from Copan, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba and Tegucigalpa.

From Mexico, buses are available from Tapachula, Palenque, Chetumal, Tulum, Cancun and Mexico City. From further afield, it is possible to reach Guatemala from Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

Tica Bus is a bus company that has newer buses and mainly travels between Central American countries with limited stops. From any direction getting to Guatemala by bus might not be a straight line, but you will see much of the surrounding landscapes, village and towns of Guatemala and its neighboring Central American countries.

By boat
There are several ferries to and from Puerto Barrios and Livingston, and Punta Gorda, Belize that make getting to Guatemala a treat for the eyes and a balm to the spirit.

Getting to Guatemala Places

Once you have accomplished getting to Guatemala, it’s hard to miss the colorfully-decorated buses that crowd the streets of major cities and highways of Guatemala. These are chicken buses, or camionetas in Spanish, and are a common form of travel for Guatemalans and a travel adventure for tourists. They are much cheaper than tourist vans or taxis and are usually very crowded, with three people squeezed into seats barely big enough for two children, and more people standing in the aisles.

The buses are often used North American school buses with the “Blue Bird” and “Ford” logos clearly visible. In addition to the driver there is usually a conductor standing in the door. The conductor collects fares, and from time to time jumps out to direct the bus through a blind intersection or around a tight turn. On the highways, the chicken bus drivers are aggressive, not hesitating to overtake in the face of oncoming traffic. Riding these buses on the steep highways of the Western Highlands is especially harrowing, but may be the most quintessential Guatemalan experience there is.  In fact, the chicken bus experience is a good reason, in and of itself, for getting to Guatemala.

Bus conductors may sometimes charge out of country tourists more than the going rate. If you look to see what other travelers are paying you can usually avoid this problem, however, they often charge you the same as everyone else. If this happens to you, send a message to the Guatemala tourism department, Inguat, and let them know of this problem.

You can board a chicken bus almost anywhere along its route. If you put out your arm, it will stop. You board and find a space to sit or stand. The conductor will come back to you after the bus is underway, and collect your fare. You need to recognize where your stop is, and move to the door in time. You ask the bus to stop, more or less wherever you want to get off.  Getting to Guatemala is sometimes easier than negotiating a chicken bus stop, but it’s all part of the grand experience we call “Guate.”

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