Getting Around in Guatemala
There are all kinds of ways to get around Guatemala. The options vary depending on your budget, timeframe, and expected level of comfort. Domestic flights are virtually non-existent, but there are many good shuttles that can transport travelers between popular destinations. Rental cars are widely available and in some places (like Lake Atitlán) the easiest way to get around is by boat. Public buses go virtually everywhere in Guatemala and offer a cheap and authentic (albeit crowded) option.
Guatemala doesn’t have the best domestic airline service. In fact, the only domestic flight service currently scheduled connects Guatemala City and Flores. Domestic carriers that fly out of Guatemala City operate from the La Aurora International Airport (GUA). The only airline operating domestic flights is TACA.
Ongoing improvements are being made to many smaller airports across Guatemala, and it’s possible that the country will be well connected by domestic flights in the coming years. New domestic airports are being constructed in Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, Coatepeque, San Marcos, and Puerto San José. Other airports may soon be built at Puerto Barrios and Retalhuleu.
By Rental Car
It’s easy to rent a car in Guatemala. Having a rental car will allow you to explore the country on your own pace; it’s nice to have the freedom and flexibility to chart the course of your travels. If you do decide to rent a car, it’s a good idea to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle, as the Guatemalan roads can be bumpy and rough (especially in rural areas). Also be sure to do your homework on your home insurance policy and figure out if you need to buy additional insurance. To rent a car you’ll need a driver’s license from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP).
Guatemalan roads can be hazardous and have poor signage. Driving etiquette is also quite different in Guatemala — it’s not uncommon to pass on blind curves, for example. Take caution while exploring this country in a rental car.
Buses are the main method of transportation for most Guatemalans, and many travelers choose to save money by taking buses. Often referred to as “chicken buses”, these local inter- and intracity buses are often set in old U.S. school buses. They can be crowded and you might have to stand for the entire bus ride. However, they are very inexpensive and are thus a good option for economically minded travelers. They’ll also give you a real taste of the local Guatemalan lifestyle. The buses go most everywhere and stop anywhere. Do note, however, that robberies and accidents have occurred on public buses.
There are also first-class (primera clase) buses running between major Guatemalan destinations, including Guatemala City, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, Flores, Cobán, and Puerto Barrios. On these buses you’re guaranteed to have your own seat, and some buses even have restrooms. The buses are set in large luxury coaches.
Shuttles are one of the easiest ways to get around Guatemala. These include both private and shared transports — in both of these options, travelers are picked up at their hotel in the original destination and dropped off at their hotel in the final destination. Shared shuttles usually include an hour of wait time and thus allow travelers to stop and take photos or get lunch. Private shuttles allow you to go where you want, when you want. Both options offer door-to-door service.
If you’ll be visiting Lake Atitlán, Río Dulce, Lake Izabal or Lívingston, it’s possible that you’ll use a boat to get between various destinations and attractions. Small motorboats frequently run between the villages, hotels, and attractions in these areas. Boats also run along the Canal de Chiquimulilla on the Pacific side of Guatemala.
Taxis are readily available throughout Guatemala. In larger towns cabs can be hailed in upscale, touristy areas; in small towns taxis tend to hang around the central square. Try to get a cab with a meter. Small towns also have tuk-tuks, motorized rickshaws that offer yet another mode of transportation. These are cheaper than taxicabs and are great for going short distances.
If you’re going to stay in one area for a longer period of time and need a way to get around, you can often negotiate deals with local taxi drivers for a daily or weekly rate. You can usually score a good price if you use the same driver or company for multiple days. Guatemalan taxi drivers are helpful and friendly.