1 Week, 7 buses, 2 boats, 1228km, 6 people – The Tourest Route of Guatemala
And so, after living and studying in Xela for 3 weeks we departed one Saturday morning, destined to meet 2 friends flying in to join us for a week of travel along the tourist route. We’d encounter honeymooning Israelis, inappropriately dressed Australians and paranoid as shit Americans. What follows is my attempt at a guide, how we did it, and approximately how much I spent. So if you are considering a whirlwind trip through Guatemala, here is one option.
Our Saturday was a travel day, the locals, the 4 of us who had been living in Xela hopped a Chicken Bus for Guatemala City and then a taxi for the bus terminal. We learned that the City of Guatemala is trying to make things easier for those getting around it’s country and had centralized many of the bus companies (but not all) in town. This is fairly recent and many guide books don’t reflect this yet. A taxi ride from the Chicken bus terminal to the bus terminal was (I think) around 150Q. As we walked into the Monja Bianca bus terminal we were greeted by the smiling faces of our friends. And 25 minutes later we were on a 4 hour bus ride to Coban.
Arriving past sunset in a place is usually hectic, confusing and a bit nerve-wracking. I was usually always distrustful of people who greet gringos by buses and try and sell me shit. And as we disembarked in Coban this is what happened. We already had a reservation for the night, but this gentleman decided to follow our group of 5 females and I to our hostel. A bit much if you ask me, but he turned out to be quite helpful to us in the future. After dinner at Casa D’Acuna and basic but passable accommodations next door we decided to use the tour company suggested to us for the caves, breakfast, lunch and Semuc Champey the next day.
After a breakfast among the orchids (frijoles, pan, huevos y cafe) we clambered into a minibus with a few others and headed toward Semuc Champey, a natural limestone bridge. The plan was to hike to an overlook, then down to swim and enjoy before heading back to some caves and Coban. I think in all honesty this was one of my favorite things I did in Guatemala. I love water and being able to jump, slide, and swim around with my friends in such a stunningly gorgeous location is a memory I’ll remember forever. While it came with a price tag it was here where we encountered again Guatemalan generosity.
At one of the final jumps of the day one of our group members happened to forget that she was wearing prescription glasses (it happens, I understand it). She jumped. They fell of her face. Several of us spent the next 15 minutes diving to the bottom trying to recovery the glasses to no avail. While prescription sun glasses were back at the hostel it was still a bit of a bummer. After a brief foray into the caves and the bumpy, winding road back to Coban we tipped our guide and headed to find some dinner. In retrospect, always, always tip your guide…
Our travel week was generally a day of fun followed by a day of travel, and this was no exception. While public micro buses could have gotten us to the Peten region (home
of Tikal and our next few days), chicken busses are generally not found outside the highlands. In instances like these it may be worth using a shuttle company. And so, we joined a shitload of other gringos for perhaps one of the most hellacious rides of my life. If you do hire one of these companies. Bribe the driver to pick you up first so you don’t have to sit in a broken jump seat for 6 hours as your hurtle through the Guatemalan countryside. I can however say that approximately 4 hours in to this shuttle ricde our diver got a call and after some Spanish much to rapid for me to pick up the driver yells to the van “Katie?” and passes the phone back. Our guide to Semuc Champey the previous day had done another tour. And found her glasses. His company didn’t run a shuttle to Flores the following day, but he’d find another company to get them to her. And the next day, he did.
Upon arriving in Flores we were, as usually, approached by someone who was more than happy to help book our tour of Tikal, and of course transportation to El Remate. Generally, this guy didn’t steer us astray. We were getting used to this, and having some random person pick us up (with a company of course) the next day. And after piling in a minibus (which, might have just been a friends car) we ended our day in El Remate, our hostel. And while a bit tired, everything had worked our rather well.
We spent two nights in El Remote, a smaller location closer to Tikal. The tienda’s don’t carry as much food as a grocery store might, so bear that in mind if you head this way. We stayed two nights at Hostal Herman Pedro. I liked this place quite a bit, we had access to a full kitchen (we may have needed to pay a few quetzals for use, but it was worth it to us). The showers were hot, the place was quiet and clean.
When in Guatemala, you may as well opt for the sunrise tour of Tikal. My alarm went off at a piercingly early hour of 3:45 am as our bus was to pick us up at 4am (I think, that was all a blur). We had prepped breakfast/lunch the night before in an attempt to save some money by not buying anything in the park and future grumpiness. And while our guide escorted us with a firearm on his hip to Temple 4 for the sunrise you really can’t help but smile at the pre-dawn howler monkeys. A sound I had never heard before as we walked through a dark and foggy jungle. I spent a good portion of the morning in the park, mostly doing some semi-successful birdwatching (list below), but I think one of the highlights for me was that walk in to the park.
Your exhausted, a little disoriented, and never really get used to seeing guns around. But as I set out on the predawn hike to Temple 4 I realized a few things:
1)This was the jungle, and no longer the highlands. It was humid and I was super thankful that I had quite a bit of water with me.
2) Holy shit, this is Tikal. Home of the ancient Mayans.
Those two realizations, with the armed guard, collective group silence and howler monkeys was truly a moment to remember. As was walked by lurking remains of a now mystical civilization you could begin to image what it was like in this area when it was actually inhabited. Reality is suspended a bit as your un-caffinated mind runs wild trying to picture what exactly life was like. Whether you go for the birds or the history of the place; pay the extra 150 quetzals for the sunrise entrance. Who knows, you may even see this rumored glorious event.
Tikal is beautiful, regardless of your reason for going. A friend and myself spent the day birdwatching, and saw a rather impressive collection of birds, many of which I had never seen before. We left the park after eating our makeshift lunch, took a nap, showered and spent the rest of our day in El Remote, sipping helados and relaxing.
Following an early night we awoke, cooked a breakfast of eggs, bread, fruit, and fresh butter from one of the few roadsides stands in El Remate. We paid, hailed the first passing microbus (yes, it really is that easy), and explained where we were going, and why. Now. In retrospect this was a rather good idea. Halfway through the short 30-40 minute drive back to Flores our driver begins flashing his lights and slowing down. The Fuente del Norte bus returns the favor and the assistant driver hops off, grabbed our bags and hustles us onto the bus. It was this event, coupled with the guides finding of the glasses that made our group adopt the slogan ‘En Guatemala, tengo confidenzia”. While, basically means, In Guatemala I trust. After 3 and a half weeks there we had met nothing but kind people willing to help. I was stunned.
The bus let us off in Rio Dulce, and after and excellent launcha ride down the Rio itself to our hostel we settled into our jungle home for the next two nights, Hostel in the Forest. Accessible only by boat this eco-ish hostel was run by two friendly guys who spoke a combined 6 languages. One responsible for the check-in/bookkeeping and the other for the drinks. We like the place. It was out of the way, made some attempt to hire and employ locals (throughout our trip we grew frustrated by the lack of places that we found that were owned by Guatemalans). And the drinks were good, the mosquito netting worked well, and the weather for at least the next day was ideal.
What’s there to do at Finca Tatin hostel in the forest? Take kayaks up or down the river, relax, loose their foosball (sorry guys, I keep meaning to mail you a new one), and enjoy the cheap drinks. I wish we could have stayed longer…
Finca Tatin has spotty cell reception, so we just decided to show up and were the only ones in the dormitory above one of the main social areas. It proved to be no problem as the rest of the guests seemed to be in the private bungalows scattered throughout the jungle. While not run by Guatemalans the place hires locals and has what appears to be a great relationship with locals and trys to help the economy. I loved this place and would recommend it. You’ll be at the whims of their cooking, which can add to the price, but its good, hot food in the jungle. You can rent kayaks for the day, including pick ups from Livingston (or you can paddle your way back up river, not that hard).
After catching a boat over to Puerto Barrios we transferred to our fancy bus and settled in for the 6 hour bus ride to Guatemala City, followed by another, smaller, full bus ride to Antigua, where we’d be tourists and spend the rest of our time in Guatemala. The transitions were a little rushed, but worked just fine. We arrived in Antigua without having a place to stay and were able to find accommodations that suited us without much of a problem.
Because sometimes, you just need to be a tourist and see the things you see in Antigua…
The genius that I am decided to stop keeping track of my expenses the last week of travel. That means that I only have my records from my bank to reference. So I think it came out to around $164.59, including 3 bank fees (well done Huntington Bank, never using your card again internationally…).
Well, that I can tell you a little more in detail.
- Roundtrip Airfair from Cleveland: $540
- Tuition to Pop Wuj Spanish School for 3 weeks: $550
- 3 Weeks of living/travel expenses: 2166.5 Quetzals, or roughly $288.87
- Final week of travel: $164.59
- Total: $1,543.46
Posted on July 29, 2013, in Guatemala, International Travel and tagged Antigua, budget, Coban, Guatemala, guatemala hostal, Puerto Barrios, rio dulce, Semuc Champey, Tikal, tourist trip, travel budget. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.