We had one crazy ride from Antigua, Guatemala, to San Cristobal, Mexico! If you hold on tight, and accept the fact that drivers are more aggressive in this part of the world and keep telling yourself the drivers are accustomed to driving on a twisting route to the border, you’ll have a comfortable 12-ish hour ride.
Did I mention – hold on tight!?!?!
There is one major road that goes from Antigua, to the north side of Lake Atitlan, that leads to the Mexican border and beyond – the Pan-American Highway. Beyond Lake Atitlan, beyond Xelha, the road is only two lanes. Through countless villages there are speed bumps with little or no warning. Sometimes only one lane is paved. The road makes it impossible for cars and trucks to go fast. But all drivers try anyway.
Our driver frequently passed other vehicles on blind curves, passed with oncoming cars and trucks in sight, and passed two or three vehicles at a time. Our driver even passed police cars! He’s getting ready to leap ahead in the shot below.
Yes, this trip on our shuttle bus was quite the experience. Often we hung on to the rail on the seat back in front of us. We had to brace ourselves on each bend and twist in the road. A few times, I even covered my eyes before some of the vehicle passes! (I tend to be nervous when I’m not in control, which is why I learned to ride a motorcycle, but that’s another story for another time.)
Keep in mind, I never really felt in danger. Too much. Drivers in Guatemala in general are pretty aggressive. They also take risks drivers in other places, such as the U.S., would not take – like driving without lights, as we experienced on our drive back from a day trip to Monterrico Beach. All in all, our driver actually was pretty talented. I’m just glad I didn’t opt to sit in the front seat. The tourist in that seat must’ve had nerves of steel – and I even complimented him on his composure once we left the van at the border.
The shuttle bus is really an extra large passenger van that can fit up to 21 people. We booked our ride with the Frank & Fre Hostel in Antigua. (This hostel and gastropub has a cool rooftop area, by the way.)
Other passengers booked their trips through other businesses, and the businesses all call the same driver or drivers to put together enough people in the passenger van. The various prices usually mean the business where you book the trip takes a greater or lesser cut of the fare. For example, we found the same trip at different hostels around town that charged anywhere from $5 to $20 more each. That simply means the organizer is taking a larger cut off the top – it appears to be the same driver, and the same van. The driver seems to get the same fee from each business.
It’s worth noting that we were advised to book the trip several days out – so we made our arrangements four days in advance. Frank & Fre charged us 400 quetzales for two people, or about $55 USD total.
Sure, we could have done it cheaper, but this price includes transportation over the border, and all the way to San Cristobal de las Casas. As it was, the trip took 12 hours to go 200 miles. On chicken buses, I have no idea how long it would have taken. Because it takes so long to go such a relatively short distance, it may not have been possible in one day. So, we opted to pay $27.50 for each of us.
The driver got us to the border safely, and relatively timely, all things considered. Once we got through immigration, passengers from our van combined with passengers from another Guatemalan tourist shuttle van. We all bordered a mini-bus driven by a Mexican driver to go the rest of the way to San Cristobal. The bus went much slower.
I would make that trip again. It was a bargain considering the border crossing, and we got to our destination just fine. We’ve been on some crazy rides so far on our journeys, so I expect this won’t be the last wild ride where we’re both holdin’ on tight. The truth is, each of us were able to sleep just a wee bit on this ride, so it wasn’t like we were always bounced around.
And I’ll just close with a little payback to my spouse for the shot he took of me on our 20+ hour bus ride from Mexico in Guatemala City a few months ago.