I had just looked at the clock: noon. “So, I guess we won’t be crossing into Guatemala today?” I said to Ike. We were still waiting to hear from our mechanic who was fixing Sweetcakes’ rear swingout. Ten minutes later we received a facebook message from them. The car was done and they would drop it by our campground after their lunch break. Ok, let’s do this! We kicked it into high gear, tearing down our tent and campsite, hopping through the shower, and quickly reviewing our notes on the border crossing. We pulled out of San Ignacio around 1:30 and were at the border with Guatemala 20 minutes later.
A few young boys came up to the car as we parked it at the Belize border. “Do you speak Spanish?” “Yes”, I told them, “and I understand the process for crossing the border, so I don’t need your help. Thanks.” We paid our exit fee, had our passports stamped, next up was canceling the vehicle import permit. “Just go out the door, around the corner, and into the next building,” we were told by the border workers. Ok, easy enough. We walked outside and the next building had “Do not enter. Entry to Belize.” Hmmm, that must not be the right building. We poked around but didn’t see any others, so we went back inside and asked a couple of other employees. “Yeah, it’s that building.” “But it says ‘Do not enter.’” “Just ignore it, that’s where you need to go.” Ahhh, Central America! :)
Now officially out of Belize, we had our car fumigated, then had to park it to take care of the Guatemalan paperwork. Tourist visas stamped into the passport (for a $5 unofficial fee): Check. Next up, wait in line for a half hour to get the vehicle import permit. Keep in mind that it is the middle of the afternoon, peak heat, and it is HOT! Mid-90s and humid. We finally get up to the counter and the very friendly, helpful border agent (a rare species) asked for Ike’s drivers license. Oops, that was in the car. Back out into the sun, Ike goes to fetch the license and is told he has to move his car “a little.” So he backs it up 10 feet. “Nope, not good enough, you have to move it more,” said the man brandishing a shotgun. Meanwhile I’m standing at the counter watching all this happen, hoping that Ike is able to fend for himself without me translating. And he did, like a pro. All of our documents in order, we had to go to the bank window to pay for the permit. We didn’t have any Quetzales (Guatemalan currency) yet, so made a deal with a money exchanger in the lobby. (Note for other travelers: we found the exchange rate better on the Guatemalan side of the border. We had been quoted 3.3Q for 1 BZE on the Belize side, but 7.3Q to $1USD on the Guatemalan side.) Vehicle permit sticker: check. We drove through the barricade and were waved over by another border agent. We handed him our paperwork, he took a few minutes to review it, then waved us on our way. New country: check!
There is a bridge leading from the border crossing zone into the border town. As we drive across it a woman comes out of the toll booth and lowers the arm. I had read online that they make tourists pay something here and that it was likely an unofficial toll. She asked for 50Q and we said we didn’t have the cash. She wasn’t buying it. We tried to pawn off our Mexican pesos on her, but she wouldn’t accept coins. We finally paid partially in Quetzales and partially with Belizean dollars. We needed to find an ATM, grocery store, and gas station before heading up to Tikal for a couple of days. The border town looked a bit sketchy and I hadn’t been able to find information online about services. We hastily decided that we’d drive on into Flores before heading up to Tikal. It was 3:30. We saw a pig cross the road; welcome to Guatemala!
“So how far is Flores past the turnoff to Tikal?” Ike asked once we were a ways down the road. We didn’t realize that it was nearly 20 miles past the turnoff, and we were getting worried about daylight. The golden rule of overlanding is don’t drive after dark. I pulled up the map on our phones and zoomed in to Flores to see if I could find the services we needed. Turns out there is a huge shopping mall complex on the edge of Flores, perfecto! We pulled in, all business. Let’s take care of these errands so we can get our butts up to Tikal before it’s pitch black. [It’s really weird driving through abject poverty, then round a corner and see a huge mall with a Pizza Hut…]
First up was pulling money from the ATM. Perhaps this is the time to explain how we access our money on this trip. We set up a checking account with Charles Schwab specifically for this trip. They reimburse all ATM fees, including international ones, so it really pays off when you are traveling abroad. For example, we just received this month’s ATM fee reimbursement for $23. We keep a small amount of money in this account, so that in case it is hacked, we don’t lose much money. (Plus they have 100% fraud protection, but still an extra precaution.) Our normal checking account is linked to the CS account and we transfer money over as needed. Due to some boring details I won’t get into here, we didn’t have any funds available. No bueno! We went back to the car and grabbed our ATM card for our real life checking account from the safe box. It didn’t work either. Thanks a lot, US Bank, for not being there when I need you, even though I informed you about this trip! Time for Plan C: pull some of our US cash stash and do an old-school money exchange at the bank. We needed our passports to get past the armed security guard, and I had just grabbed the $100 USD in cash that the mechanic in Belize gave us in exchange for our torn up rear bumper. Waiting in line at the bank, I realized this probably wouldn’t be enough cash for groceries, gas, and camping/entrance fees at Tikal. I sent Ike back out to the car to grab some more cash from the lock box. He returns with the cash just in time, I had already been with the bank attendant for a couple of minutes. By this time it’s pushing 5pm and the sun is setting. After what feels like an eternity, but is probably only 5 more minutes, she finishes talking with her boss and prints out a receipt for me to take to another counter to exchange the money. He carefully inspects each bill, setting aside one that had a small tear in the corner, and then he took that one over to some other boss to talk it over. Oh, COME ON! Ike and I are both starting to sweat now. [I actually kept my cool by watching a prank show on the TV they had mounted for people stuck in line. Hi-larious] Finally he gives me the cash, I quickly count it, and we practically run out of the bank and over to the grocery store. We grab a few things for dinner, waste 5 minutes looking for the eggs (which we don’t find), hand over some cash (our brains still hadn’t adjusted to the new exchange rate of 7.5Q=$1), and throw our groceries in the car. We decide with a half tank of gas we can easily make it to Tikal and back out to Flores before filling up, so we leave that for manana (tomorrow).
Ike drives aggressively as the sun sets and we both get a little nervous. We know that the road between Flores and Tikal sometimes has safety incidents, having heard stories of tourist buses being pulled over by robbers after dark. It’s not pitch black yet, but it’s getting there. Everyone that lives in the small villages we pass appears to be out for the evening, kicking around a soccer ball or gnawing on a roasted ear of corn right along the side of the highway. About 10 minutes after it’s dark we pull up to the gate of Tikal National Park. We had intended to camp at the gate, but turns out the campground is within the national park, outside the gate of the ruins. Doh! It’s 6:03 and the park closed at 6….
“Do you have reservations?” the gate employees asked. There are 3 hotels within the park itself. I informed them that we intended to camp. “Hmm, camping…” he thought it over for a minute, then decided he would generously let us into the park for the night. We purchased our entrance passes, which were good for the next day, they wrote down some info about our car, and we were on our merry way. We slowed down and let out a sigh of relief. There wouldn’t be any robbers hanging out on the road within the park. Another 20 minutes down the road and we pulled up to the hotel/restaurant area outside of the ruins. We found the Jaguar Inn and set up our tent in the lawn. To top off our hectic afternoon/evening, a large thunderstorm was approaching. We were racing the lightning all the way from Flores to Tikal. We quickly set up the tent, then decided to treat ourselves to dinner in the hotel restaurant instead of cooking out in the rain. The rain didn’t turn up until we went to bed, but you have to indulge sometimes.
The next morning we woke up around 6:15 and were in the park soon after. We heard it was best to explore the ruins first thing in the morning, before the tour buses from Flores and San Ignacio arrive. Tikal is much larger than the other ruins sites we have explored in Mexico and Belize. Many of the palaces and temples are separated by large areas of jungle. There are also many different ways one could go about exploring the ruins, instead of having a main “circuit” like many other ruins sites have. The effect is that you feel as if you are some of the only ones in the ruins. Most of the time we were either by ourselves or there was another group of 2-4 people in sight. We chose to explore the ruins in a counterclockwise fashion, hitting up some of the pyramids around the edge, then finishing with the grand plaza. Many of the pyramids were much taller and steeper than others we had seen, and much of the site remains unexcavated. [Tikal was the Mayan ‘capital’ (as much as a group of city-states can have a capital)]
We were done exploring the ruins by 10:30, and were met with hordes of tour groups as we exited the ruins. Glad we didn’t have to deal with that all morning! We spent the afternoon doing research online and watching spider monkeys crawl through the tree tops above our heads. Thankfully a cold front had passed through the area overnight. We enjoyed the 75 degree day after a week of 90 degree weather in Belize, and we even slept under our sleeping bags that night!
That evening we returned to the ruins, walking back to Temple IV, the tallest pyramid in the complex, for one last view of the park before it was dark. As we walked through the jungle we heard the birds and animals becoming more active for the evening. Approaching the pyramid, we started to hear human voices. Temple IV was hopping! We climbed up the wooden staircase to get to the top platform and there was a handful of armed soldiers up there, along with a dozen unarmed soldiers. We sat down on the stairs and soon realized that all these soldiers must be guards for 2 Guatemalan officers that were there with their families. The two officers had very good English and were speaking with a couple of middle aged guys from Turkey. You never know what you’re going to find here. The frogs serenaded us on our walk back to the campsite.
Crawling into our tent for the night, we noticed that somehow it had become overrun with ants! They must have been able to crawl through the mesh part, and were now marching along the edges inside our tent. On the list of things you don’t want to see right before going to bed, that has to be in the top 10. We quickly pulled all our bedding out of the tent and set about killing the ants with wads of TP. Ike wiped the tent down with soapy water, and we prayed that would be enough to keep them out of it for the night. The ants here are tiny, but they are biters! Ike had (purposefully?) destroyed an ant hill near our car earlier in the day, and they angrily swarmed around… eventually finding my feet. I’m assuming these same ants had decided to make our tent their new home. Even though the ants were out of our tent, they still made their way into our dreams that night. Thanks, Ike! [When we first laid down and noticed them, Bethany’s initial idea was to ignore them and hope they wouldn’t bite us. She seriously wanted to just leave them alone. And there were hundreds of them in there. Mmmm hmm, and I’m the crazy one. Also, the soapy water was to clear our the pheremone trails ants use to figure out where to go.]
That morning we woke up to howler monkeys in the jungle nearby, packed up the tent, and were on our way. We stopped by Flores to buy more groceries, fill up with gas, and purchase insurance for our car. Auto insurance is optional in Guatemala, and we weren’t planning to get it, but given our recent accident with the 14-year-old in Belize, we thought it was worth the $30.
We had a fairly long drive south that day to reach Coban, our stopping point for the night, which included a surprise ferry crossing in Sayaxche. [The ferry included a lot of waiting in line, with some stupid drivers pulling off on the left-hand side, alternately blocking the traffic coming off and trying to cut the line to get on the ferry. We actually just missed one ferry-load because some jerk cut us off. I was getting pretty close to escalating before I realized I was close to starting an altercation with a pickup full of guys in the middle of Guatemala. Isn’t that how Discovery Channel ‘LOCKED UP ABROAD’ shows always start out?]
We planned to camp in Parque Nacional Victoria, which was within the city. We followed our GPS to the coordinates, but saw no evidence of a park. I hopped out and asked a few guys standing around a mechanic’s shop, and was relieved to hear that the park entrance was just down the hill. We rolled down the hill and saw a steep driveway to the right… maybe that’s the park entrance? Ike popped Sweetcakes into 4WD and we rolled down the road/driveway. Nope, definitely not the park. There wasn’t any room to turn around, so Ike had to reverse back up the very steep and narrow driveway. Thankfully Sweetcakes made it back to the top. We continue on down the road another block, then see a sign for the park. Third time’s a charm! Turns out the GPS coordinates we used were for the actual camping area, which was a ways back into the park, so our GPS had no idea how to get us there. After an unnecessarily long check-in process, we drove Sweetcakes back to the camping area, which was really just a parking lot outside of an administration building inside the park. The parking lot was full, but we soon figured out all the cars were for the office workers. We were the only ones camping there that night. We had hoped to bump into some other overlanders since it was Thanksgiving, but no dice. We were shocked how cold it was when we stepped out of the car in our shorts and tshirts. We were up in the mountains, and the cold front had brought with it a slow drizzle. We pulled on sweatshirts and set about to making our Thanksgiving dinner, crouching under the shelter of the back door as we cooked dinner. Pan roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, and rice pudding. Not bad for life on the road after driving all day! We both scarfed down the food and went back for seconds, in typical Thanksgiving fashion.
The next morning we were back on the road. We had two options for our destination that day: the first was to follow the main highway south to Antigua, a city just outside of Guatemala City; the second was to follow a secondary road to Lake Atitlan, likely taking us through some rural mountain villages. We opted for the second, and soon found ourselves at the edge of the pavement on a very washed out bumpy gravel road, evidence of fresh mudslides every so often. We soldiered on down the road for about 5 kilometers, then came to a stop. A dozen vans and trucks were waiting along the side of the road, so I hopped out to see what was going on. A backhoe was working on a stretch of the road, I assume clearing a fresh mudslide, and was done soon after we got there. While I had been scoping out the situation on the road, Ike was scoping out the map, and didn’t like what he saw. We could only assume the road conditions would stay the same, in which case we would definitely not make it to Lake Atitlan that night. Our car had developed several new squeaky noises on the rough road, so we decided to throw in the towel and head back towards the paved highway. Later we found out that road is referred to as the “Road to Hell,” but that in fact the road conditions improved. Oh well, next time! [By and large we like or Reise ‘Know-How’ maps we splurged on, but this story is a perfect example of one of the main issues we have with it. The maps use bold red for expressways, red for primary roads, yellow for secondary, and gray for ‘other’ roads. The road to hell was marked in yellow, but so was a large chunk of the road up to Tikal, which was pristine pavement most of the way. It can make planning difficult, especially when Bethany is trying to triangulate between the physical maps, the GPS’s open source maps, and the open source MAPS.ME program we have on our phones.]
Back on the highway we made good time. The main highway is in very good condition, and Guatemalans don’t seem to have a love affair with speedbumps like the Mexicans do. (Although we quickly learned the new term for speedbumps here: tumulos.) We wound through the beautiful hills of the Guatemalan country side, stopping at Los Leones, a cute restaurant, for a scrumptious lunch. Traffic was pretty terrible coming through Guatemala City and we tacked on at least an hour to our ETA. But eventually we found ourselves bumping along the cobblestone roads of Antigua Guatemala.
The entire town of Antigua is a UNESCO world heritage site, which means the city is largely preserved in it’s colonial state, with brightly painted stucco buildings and rough cobblestone roads. That, in combination with the volcanoes surrounding the town, makes for a very picturesque city, but I’m sure it is difficult for the residents, being unable to modernize the city’s infrastructure.
We eventually found our way to the Tourist Police complex, where they allow tourists to camp for free! You can’t complain about that price. We pulled in and found Nikki playing with Laika, from SprinterVan Diaries, but no Sprinter Van… The van was in Guatemala City to have a window replaced. Their window was broken the night before and they had been burgled while out hiking a volcano. Major bummer, but it was great to see a familiar face. We waited with Nikki for Jakob to return, then feasted on fajitas, rum drinks, and leftover rice pudding.
The next day was beautiful weather: sunny and mid-70s, which is a real treat after the hot and humid weather we had in Belize. We strolled around the city, checking out the bustling Saturday market, the beautiful colonial churches, and eventually finding a traditional textiles market where I had a very hard time not spending all our money! That night we had made plans for an overlanding feast of hamburgers, french fries, and beer. Nikki made ginormous American-sized cheeseburgers, Ike made a mountain of french fries, and Tim & Chris (heading south in a Land Cruiser) brought the 6 litros of beer. A good time was had by all as we feasted and swapped tales from the road. We were joined by our Swiss neighbors, Heidi & Andy, traveling north in a customized Land Cruiser, and J.F., a man escaping the Montreal winter by backpacking around Mexico and Guatemala. Heidi & Andy were an inspiration to all of us – they have been traveling together throughout the last 40 years, backpacking through India in the 70’s, China in the 80’s, and now making the drive from Argentina to Alaska. It was a real pleasure to meet them and they definitely left us thinking with how we could make travel a centerpiece of our lifestyle moving forward. [They also left everyone thinking on how we could all get customized Toyota LandCruisers, and how best to circumvent the awful US car import laws.]
The next morning we hiked up to Cerro de la Cruz, a miradorproviding a beautiful view of the city. We watched as a nearby volcano puffed out smoke every so often.
Then it was time to set out for Lake Atitlan, a quick 2.5 hour drive from Antigua. We set out along a very nicely paved 4-lane road and got our first glimpses of the lake, which sits at 1500 meters and is surrounded by a ring of volcanoes. To arrive at San Pedro La Laguna, our destination on the lake, we turned off the main road and soon started climbing up a steep road. Not long later and we were plummeting down towards the lake. We were up at the top of the mountains and had a steep decent to the town nestled along the lake shore. I started to get nervous about our brakes and several times confirmed with Ike that they were still working. All of a sudden Ike engages the e-brake and calmly turns to me and says “We have no brakes.” This actually happened at a convenient time. We had just passed a relatively flat section of road that had a few homes and shops along the side, and we saw a sign warning us of the steep decline up ahead. Ike popped it into reverse and I guided him back along the road where we could wait for our brake to cool. A family of what seemed like 15 people came out into their yard and I explained to them that our brakes weren’t working and we needed to let them cool down. They immediately offered that we pull into their front yard/parking spot so Sweetcakes would be completely off the road. We continue to be amazed at the kindness of strangers. Ike and I let Sweetcakes rest for about a half hour, then the brakes seemed to be back. [The real issue here was that there was lots of long inclines and declines along straight roads, allowing us to build up quite a bit of speed before needing to brake around a turn. Hopefully it will be the last time we run into this, as we picked up some tips later on dealing with these kinds of areas]
Ike knew that to make it the rest of the way down the mountain he would have to engine brake, but we weren’t entirely sure of the proper way to do it. Lacking internet, I figured that I’d put it in 4Hi for some added traction [to slow us down; but not 4Lo, because I didn’t wanna drive 5mph the entire way] and put it in low gear, but keeping it at 2k RPM’s or lower. This worked pretty well for us, keeping us around 20 mph for the duration of the decent down towards San Pedro. Have since learned that 4Lo with OD disengaged would have been easier on the transmission.
We set up camp and headed into “Gringolandia,” a series of narrow winding roads & walkways past delicious restaurants, tiendas, and Spanish language schools. We hit up the Alegre Pub to watch the Packers beat the Patriots, nomming on some American appetizers (mozzarella sticks ftw!), and meeting AJ & Kat and their dog Alex. [I opted for the fantastic Bloddy Mary specials, passing over the options for various Gallo’s, the good beer of Guatemala] We spent the next couple of days meandering around town and enjoying the stunning views of Lake Atitlan. We had planned to return to the Antigua area to hike Pacaya Volcano, but had heard some safety concerns about camping at the trailhead. We decided to stay in San Pedro one more day, hiking its namesake: Volcan San Pedro, a 3000m summit.
We hopped in a tuk tuk and were on our way to the base (which is slightly above the 1500m altitude of Lake Atitlan). We had read online that it was hard to find the trail at the bottom of the mountain due to all the coffee plantation trails, and so it was recommended to hire a guide. Our tuk tuk driver convinced us to hire his brother-in-law as our guide. Pedro (“Pedro from San Pedro”) set off at a brisk pace up the trails, winding through rows of coffee plants and avocado trees. Since the base of the trail was already at a decent altitude, Ike and I were soon out of breath. We soldiered on for about an hour, stopping for a break at the mirador, and heading a bit further up to the tree line. By this point Ike was not feeling well at all, and I was quite pooped, so we decided to turn around and head back. It was a beautiful hike up with lovely views overlooking the lake, but the trail was quite relentless in its incline. I guess we need to start hiking to build up our tolerance for South America. We treated ourselves to a scrumptious lunch at the Blue Parrot with Kat & AJ. It was so good that we went back that night for dinner!
We had heard from a northbound traveler that we met in Mexico that the road that runs south around Lake Atitlan was a bit dangerous, but you could request a police escort. I asked our tuk tuk driver about the road, and he said if you were walking it, it was a bit dangerous, but not so if you are driving. So that night at the Blue Parrot I asked the chef (also an American) about the road. He said it was dangerous, but you could request an escort from the police station. Walking back to our campsite that night we passed a group of police, so I asked them about the road. (I like to triangulate on these things…) They said it was a little dangerous, but if we just showed up at the police station in the morning we could get an escort. So that’s what we did the net morning. The police were a bit baffled by us. I guess they prefer that people request an escort a day in advance. One of the police officers spent a good half an hour trying to call the other police division to make arrangements for them to escort us around the mountain. She finally told us she had arranged it, and that two officers would meet us along the road and hop in our car with us. “In our car?” I clarified. “We don’t have room for them in our car. There are only two seats.” Back to the phone… after waiting another 10 minutes she informed us that police would be waiting along the road by the dangerous spot. They wouldn’t be able to escort us, but they would be there so “there wouldn’t be any problems.” Ike and I weren’t totally convinced, so we decided to just take the northern highway back out around the lake (the one that had cooked our brakes on the way down).
We wasted another half an hour trying to get out of town since our GPS didn’t know which streets were one-way. Not a great way to start a long day of driving which is supposed to end with a border crossing. Our ETA continued to slip once we got on the road. First we had to stop on the highway for 15 minutes to wait for some construction work. Later in the drive we had to stop for 5-10 minutes for two accidents, the first looked like a head-on collision between semis, and the second also involved a semi that somehow lost its cab. Sheesh, get it together Guatemalan semi drivers!
Time for our plan B: we camped at a beautiful (and free) ranch/hotel called Los Laureles, about an hour from the Honduras border at El Florido. We pulled in and saw a Porsche SUV, a $70,000 car Ike informed me, and went into the restaurant to ask about camping and found a couple (we assume the owners) totally macking on each other right in the middle of the restaurant in front of the waiters. Awkward. The boss told us where we could park our car and we set up as the sun set behind the mountains. We cooked deep dish pizza, watched South Park, and tried to keep our feet clear of the ant super highway near our campsite. Not a bad way to spend the evening. We also enjoyed watching some of the other rich patrons take photos out by the pool.
The next morning we set off towards the border, which we had read online was pretty low-key as far as border crossings go. We rolled up to the border and the helpful official told us to park our car, and then go to the customs building to cancel our Guatemalan car permit and then to the immigration office to have our passports stamped. All our documents in tow, we headed over to the customs office. A guard there waved us to the end of a long line. We soon figured out that the 20 or so guys waiting in line were semi drivers, so I asked them about the wait. They said that sometimes there isn’t a line, but today we all just had bad luck. That’s how it goes, I guess.
While Ike waited in line I headed over to the immigration office to get my passport stamped. The man asked where I was going in Honduras and then smiled and said in English “10 quetzales.” I knew there wasn’t a fee to exit Guatemala, so I just said “por que?” (why?) and he shrugged and handed back my stamped passport. I told him that I was sending my husband over, but that he didn’t speak Spanish. I went back to waiting in the customs line while Ike had his passport stamped. After 45 minutes, we were finally at the customs window to have our permit canceled. The woman informed me she needed a photocopy of our vehicle import permit. She waved me off to a building to have the copy made. They pointed me to a tienda across the street, who then told me that no, I have to go down a block to a different tienda. And then they told me I had to go to a different one across the street. Fourth tienda’s a charm? The guy tried to charge us 1Q per copy, but we only had 1Q total and needed 3 copies, so he finally relented and gave the copies to us. 1Q per copy is definitely the gringo price. Copies in hand, we headed back to the customs office. I went to the front of the line again, but the woman had left her post. While standing there, I hear one of the other customs officers say that their system went down. Oh great, this could take awhile. Finally the woman comes back and tells me she needs 2 copies of the permit (good thing I had made 3!), she takes our copies of some other documents, then eventually walks with us to the car to check the VIN and take the permit sticker out of our windshield. A few minutes later we are done! Now time for the Honduras side.
We drove across the parking lot and headed into the immigration office. We had to fill out a form and then pay a $3 visa fee (price listed in USD, but they didn’t accept USD). We tried to pay with Guatemalan quetzales, but the man didn’t have change. We went out to the street and exchanged all our Quetzales for Honduran Lempira (exchange rate 2.5L = 1Q), then back inside to pay the immigration man and collect our passports. We had to head next door to obtain our vehicle import permit. The man at the reception desk walked us inside and motioned towards and empty office desk. He pointed at a woman standing by the window talking on her cell phone and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, you’ll just have to wait until she finishes her (personal) phone call…. We stood around awkwardly for another 5 minutes, then finally a different person decided he would help us. He informed us we needed 3 copies of all our documents, including the canceled Guatemalan vehicle permit. So it was back out to find the copy shop on the Honduras side. We headed back in, handed over our mountain of paper work, and after another 10 minutes we were given a form and told to go pay the 703L fee at the bank next door. Once we finished that, we headed back in to finish our paperwork. On our way back to the vehicle, the man who completed our vehicle permit chased us down because he had forgotten to have us fill out the customs form stating what goods we brought into the country. Ok, now we are done! We hopped in the vehicle and showed our paperwork to the guard at the border, then were on our way. Another new country, check! All in all, the border crossing was very easy because we weren’t constantly being hassled, but it took a lot longer than we excpected (2 hrs 15 mins).
Up next, our brief trip through Honduras & Nicaragua before meeting family in Costa Rica for Christmas! Happy holidays, all! Sending you warm thoughts from Central America.
Guatemala budget recap:
Expected days in country: 12
Actual days spent in country: 9
We have to rush through Guatemala and its neighbors to make it to Costa Rica in time to meet our family.
Daily budget: $60 USD
Actual expenses: $74 USD
Difference: $14 (24%). We feel good about our expenses in Guatemala, since our budget only includes day-to-day expenses such as food, lodging, and gas, but doesn’t include things like visas, insurance, and gifts. If we ignore those items, we were right on for our budget.
Average price for gas: $3.99/gallon (30 quetzales per gallon. Yes, they use gallons in Guatemala), including a small tip for the gas station attendant. Gas prices varied significantly throughout Guatemala. We saw prices as low as 26Q/gallon and as high as 32Q/gallon.
Expected miles driven: 1,300
Actual miles driven: 749
It’s nice to be under for a change! We spent less time in Guatemala than we had planned, so naturally we did less driving.
Average gas mileage: 17.8 mpg, which is better than the 17 mpg we budgeted, but not as good as the 20 mpg we’ve been averaging on the trip so far. The lower mileage is probably due to all of the elevation change in Guatemala — it’s a mountainous country — and all of the rough roads. It could also be due to poorer fuel quality, but we don’t have strong evidence of that.
Average miles driven per day: 83
Hooray for small Central American countries! We still did quite a bit of driving. Looking forward to getting this number down even further.
Biggest daily expenses ($/day):
#1: Food- $19
#2: Gas – $19
#3: Entertainment – $13
We totally blew our food budget, partially due to eating out a bit more than usual, but also because food just wasn’t as cheap as we anticipated. Lodging doesn’t make the top 3 expenses this time, due to nearly half of our nights in Guatemala staying at free campgrounds. Half our our entertainment costs were for our attempted hike up Volcan San Pedro, which included 100Q/person entrance fees, 100Q/person guide fee, and 10Q/person each way tuk tuk fee.
Our thoughts on Guatemala: Another country down where we felt safe the entire time we were in it. The Guatemalan people came off as a bit stiff at first, but as soon as you greeted them they were all smiles and happy faces. We enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of the country and its people. Between Antigua and Atitlan there are easy points of ingress for tourists who want to experience Central America, and enough hiking to keep you busy for months. Also very pleased with the road conditions and a police force that was focused on dealing with real issues instead of hassling tourists.