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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
8. Flying internally in Guatemala
You can fly to Flores. Do it.
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.
10. Taking luxury buses
The normal coach bus does exist as transportation in Guatemala. You can take these busses day and night from Oaxaca to Guatemala, 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.
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.