Getting there & away
Exotic Travel (7947 0048; www.bluecaribbeanbay.com) operates boat and minibus packages to and from La Ceiba in Honduras (US$35) and Punta Gorda in Belize (US$20, 1¼ hours) every Tuesday and Friday. Transportes El Chato (9948 5525) operates a daily boat to and from Punta Gorda in Belize (US$18, one hour). The Punta Gorda services connect with bus services to/from Belize City.
There is a US$10 departure tax when leaving Guatemala by sea.
Autotransportes Río Chancalá (5 de Mayo 120, Palenque) and Transportes Montebello (Calle Velasco Suárez, Palenque) run from Palenque, Mexico, to Frontera Corozal (US$5, three to four hours) on the Río Usumacinta, which divides Mexico from Guatemala. Boats across the river to Guatemala cost US$0.80 per person to La Técnica (five minutes) and US$5 to US$7 per person to Bethel (40 minutes). From La Técnica buses leave for Flores at 4am and 11am (US$6, five to six hours); from Bethel, buses leave for Flores at 5am, noon, 2pm and 4pm (US$4, four hours). Travel agencies in Palenque and Flores offer bus-boat-bus packages between the two places for US$30 to US$35. If you’re making this trip it’s well worth the time and expense of detouring to the outstanding Mayan ruins at Yaxchilán, near Frontera Corozal; packages incorporating this are available too.
There are other river routes from Mexico into Guatemala’s Petén department: up the Río de la Pasión from Benemérito de las Américas, south of Frontera Corozal, to Sayaxché; and up the Río San Pedro from La Palma, Tabasco, to El Naranjo. There are no reliable passenger services along either river, however. You may have to hire your own boat, which can be expensive. Both Sayaxché and El Naranjo have bus and minibus connections with Flores. La Palma has transport from Tenosique, and Benemérito has good bus and minibus connections with Palenque.
Bus is the most common way to enter Guatemala, though you can also do so by car, river or sea. It’s advisable to get through all borders as early in the day as possible. Onward transportation tends to wind down in the afternoon and border areas are not always the safest places to hang around late. There is no departure tax when you leave Guatemala by land.
Several car-rental companies have desks at the airport, including the following:
Hertz (7926 0332)
Nesa (7926 0082)
Payless (7926 0455)
Tabarini (airport 7926 0277; Santa Elena 7926 0253)
The mountain of paperwork and liability involved in driving into Guatemala deters most travelers. You will need the following documents, all clear and consistent, to enter Guatemala with a car:
current and valid registration
proof of ownership (if you don’t own the car, you’ll need a notarized letter of authorization from the owner that you are allowed to take it)
your current and valid driver’s license or an International Driving Permit (IDP), issued by the automobile association in your home country
temporary import permit available free at the border and good for a maximum 30 days.
Insurance from foreign countries is not recognized by Guatemala, forcing you to purchase a policy locally. Most border posts and nearby towns have offices selling liability policies. To deter foreigners from selling cars in Guatemala, the authorities make you exit the country with the vehicle you used to enter it. Do not be the designated driver when crossing borders if you don’t own the car, because you and it will not be allowed to leave Guatemala without each other.
When you enter Guatemala, by land, air, sea or river, you should simply have to fill out straightforward immigration and customs forms. In the normal course of things you should not have to pay a cent.
However, immigration officials sometimes request unofficial fees from travelers. To determine whether these are legitimate, you can ask for un recibo (a receipt). You may find that the fee is dropped. When in doubt, try to observe what, if anything, other travelers are paying before it’s your turn.
To enter Guatemala, you need a valid passport.
The best place to buy flight tickets out of Guatemala is Antigua, which has many agencies offering good fares. Some agencies also issue the student, youth and teacher cards needed to obtain the best fares.
The cheapest routings usually go via the USA (often Los Angeles). Many Australasians visiting Guatemala are doing so as part of a longer trip through Latin America, so the most suitable ticket might be an open-jaw (into one city, out of another) or even a round-the-world ticket. From Sydney, you’ll pay approximately A$2700 return to Guatemala City via LA or San Francisco.
There are no direct flights. Routings are usually via the USA. Montreal to Guatemala City costs in the region of C$900 return. Travel Cuts (1 866 246 9762; www.travelcuts.com) is Canada’s national student travel agency. For online bookings try www.expedia.ca and www.travelocity.ca.
Grupo TACA flies from San Salvador (economy return fare US$300 to US$400); Tegucigalpa, Honduras (US$330) via San Pedro Sula; Managua, Nicaragua (US$395); and San José, Costa Rica (US$310 to US$370). Copa flies direct from Panama City (US$285), and from San José (US$200). United Airlines also flies from San José to Guatemala City. Cubana flies twice weekly to/from Havana. Return fares cost around US$410.
Iberia is the only airline flying direct from Europe to Guatemala at the time of writing (with a stop in Miami), and the cheapest fares from many European cities are usually with Iberia via Madrid. Depending on the season, you can expect to pay from £800 (round-trip) from London and from €950 to €1200 from Frankfurt.
Recommended UK ticket agencies include the following:
Journey Latin America (020 8747 3108; www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk)
STA Travel (0870 160 0599; www.statravel.co.uk) For travelers under the age of 26.
Grupo TACA and Mexicana both fly daily direct between Mexico City and Guatemala City, with round-trip fares starting around US$430. Inter, part of Grupo TACA, flies most days from Guatemala City to Flores to Cancún and back. Round-trip fares from Cancún to Flores/Guatemala City are US$342/334.
Nonstop flights to Guatemala City arrive from Atlanta (US$800) with Delta; from Dallas with American; from Houston (US$390) with Continental; from Los Angeles (US$825) with United and Grupo TACA; from Miami (US$680) with American, Grupo TACA and Iberia; and from New York (US$600) with American and Grupo TACA.
The following websites are recommended for online bookings:
The border is at Benque Viejo del Carmen/Melchor Mencos. Línea Dorada/Mundo Maya (7926 3649; Playa Sur, Flores) runs two direct daily buses from Belize City to Flores (US$15.50, four to five hours) and back. San Juan Travel (7926 0041; email@example.com; Flores, Playa Sur; Santa Elena; 2a Calle) also covers this route daily. Otherwise, buses depart Belize City for Benque (US$4 to US$6, three hours) and vice versa about every half-hour from 11am to 4pm. Buses and minibuses run between Melchor Mencos and Flores (US$3 to US$3.50, two hours). There are also a few buses daily between Melchor Mencos and Guatemala City via Poptún and Río Dulce.
There are road borders at La Hachadura/Ciudad Pedro de Alvarado on the Carretera al Pacífico (Hwy 2), Las Chinamas/Valle Nuevo (Hwy 8), San Cristóbal/San Cristóbal (Interamericana Hwy, or Hwy 1) and Anguiatú/Anguiatú (Hwy 10). Several companies run buses between San Salvador and Guatemala City, taking five to six hours and costing from US$8 to US$45 depending on the service. One of them, Tica Bus, has buses between San Salvador and all other Central American capitals except Belize City. Crossing at the other border points is usually a matter of taking one bus to the border and another onward from it.
The main road crossings are at Agua Caliente (between Nueva Ocotepeque, Honduras, and Esquipulas, Guatemala), El Florido (between Copán Ruinas, Honduras, and Chiquimula, Guatemala) and Corinto (between Omoa, Honduras, and Puerto Barrios, Guatemala). Hedman Alas (Copán Ruinas 651 4037; La Ceiba 441 5348; San Pedro Sula 557 3477; Tegucigalpa 237 7143) runs daily 1st-class buses via El Florido to Guatemala City from Tegucigalpa (US$68 one way, 11½ hours), La Ceiba (US$68, 12 hours), San Pedro Sula (US$59, eight hours) and Copán Ruinas (US$46, 4½ hours). Cheaper local transportation serves all three border points. Shuttle minibus services run between Copán Ruinas, Guatemala City and Antigua.
The main border points are at Ciudad Hidalgo/Ciudad Tecún Umán and Talismán/El Carmen, both near Tapachula, Mexico, and Ciudad Cuauhtémoc/La Mesilla, on the Interamericana between Comitán, Mexico, and Huehuetenango, Guatemala. All these borders are linked by plentiful buses to nearby cities within Guatemala and Mexico, and a few buses run all the way between Tapachula and Guatemala City by the Pacific Slope route through Mazatenango and Escuintla. There are also direct buses between Guatemala City and all three border points. Línea Dorada/Mundo Maya (7926 3649; Playa Sur, Flores) runs two direct daily buses from Chetumal, Mexico, to Flores (US$25, seven to eight hours) and back, via Belize City. San Juan Travel (7926 0041; firstname.lastname@example.org; Flores Playa Sur; Santa Elena, 2a Calle) also covers this route daily for US$28.
The airport at Santa Elena is usually called Flores airport and sometimes Tikal airport. TACA is the only airline with regularly scheduled flights between here and the capital (US$127/204 oneway/return). Two Belizean airlines, Tropic Air and Maya Island Air, each fly twice a day from and to Belize City, both charging US$103 each way for the one-hour trip.
Guatemala City’s Aeropuerto La Aurora (GUA) is the country’s major international airport. The only other airport with international flights (from Cancún, Mexico and Belize City) is Flores (FRS). The Guatemalan national airline, Aviateca, is part of the regional Grupo TACA, along with El Salvador’s TACA, Costa Rica’s Lacsa and Nicaragua’s Nica. The US Federal Aviation Administration has assessed Guatemala’s and El Salvador’s civil aviation authorities as Category 2, which means they are not in compliance with international aviation safety standards.
Airlines flying to and from Guatemala:
Aviateca See Grupo TACA.
Inter See Grupo TACA.
Lacsa See Grupo TACA.
TACA See Grupo TACA.