Traveling via bus in Central America is common for travelers and locals alike. Not being familiar with how the transportation system works can be frustrating for foreigners. You are typically sold a ticket for a certain kind of bus and told vaguely how things will work. More often than not things do not go as expected and “surprises” pop up that you have to deal with in order to get to your desired destination. Especially when you are crossing a border during the trip. Our trip from San Pedro Sula, Honduras to Tikal National Park was full of these “surprises”.
Maya De Oro /Fuentes del Norte Bus Line
"Luxury Class" San Pedro Sula to Tikal
We got up early that morning to catch a cab for the bus terminal. Taxis were not very plentiful that early in the morning. By the time we arrived at the terminal it was 5am. We knew we needed to take the Fuentes del Norte/Maya De Oro bus across the Honduran/Guatemala border. This bus was leaving at 5:30an which didn't give us enough time to do much before leaving. We hopped on the nice air-conditioned luxury class bus and were surprised that this was so easy. We were even able to get some sleep.
We arrived at the border checkpoint called Corinto which was about 3-4 hours away. The movement through this border was actually seamless. Very easy and hassle free. Or maybe we now know better what we are doing and what to expect. Having cash is helpful. We’ve found it best to have USD, and currency from the country you are traveling from and too. It was at this time that we found out that we were going to be switching buses in the town of Morales, Guatemala which was 30 minutes away. The next bus would take us directly to Flores, Guatemala. Something they failed to mention when we bought the tickets. What could we do but say okay and get back on the bus. We soon pulled into a bus station, and saw our bus sitting there waiting for us...... and hell began.
The Bus Ride
Surprise Switch in a Sweaty Bus
This bus was much smaller with more seating than the first bus. I realized I had to go to the bathroom, but I could hold it for a while. And indeed I had to as it seemed the new bus driver was rushing us to get on the next bus that was supposed to have left already. This leg of the trip was going to take at least 8 hours and we were wondering if there would be any stops along the way as the bus did not have a bathroom. When we got on the bus there were two seats left way in the back.
We loaded our luggage, sat down and prepared ourselves for the long ride. Soon after leaving the station we realized this bus had no air conditioning. EEEKS... The heat of the day was already starting to beat down on us, this did not bode well for the long ride. As we made our way along the bus kept stopping to pick up more and more people. Before long, there were about 20 people standing in the aisle. It was packed, hot, sweaty, and pretty uncomfortable. The seats were straight-backed and there was some sort of bar that dug directly into your hip-joint. It sucked. We dozed in and out of sweaty sleep as we bumped along with butt-jarring discomfort.
Quick Bathroom Break
We stopped about mid way, for a bathroom break. By this time we both really had to go due to the rushing in Morales. Every bump for the last 3o minutes had been almost painful. We took turns going to the bathroom to 1. save our seats on the overcrowded bus and 2. so we didn’t have to bring our day-bags with us. I went first (I really had to go and I’m much quicker) and Shelly went after I got back. Within 2 minutes of her leaving the bus people started to get back on. I was slowly starting to get worried, I couldn't see where she was or if she was even on the bus. Within 5 minutes the bus was full again, started and drove off. PANIC SET IN!
Stuck in the Crowd
I jumped up and tried to stick my head out the window half expecting to see Shelly running down the road after the bus. Unfortunately the window wasn't big enough for my head to fit through and I banged it, hard. Nearly braking my sunglasses as they cut into my head, I was dazed for a minute. Just as I was coming to my senses, I see Shelly making her way to the back of the bus. AHHHHH, I was freaking out for a few seconds, but was so glad to see she had made it. All the people standing in the aisle didn’t know I was saving a seat for her, so she had to fight her way through the packed bus to get to the back. She is very short, so I couldn't see her past the sea of people. Whew!!! Funny story though.
Another Surprise Switch
After another 4 hours we made it to Santa Elena, Guatemala. It was late afternoon and we had been on the bus for what seemed like an eternity in 90-100 degree heat with no a/c. The bus stopped just outside of Flores when two local guys started gathering up Gringos (white skinned people) saying that they will take everyone into town. We noticed that no local people were getting on the other bus so we were skeptical and stayed put. One of the guys comes back and tells us we should get on the other bus to go to Flores which is basically the same city as Santa Elena where this bus was supposed to be going. Something about this didn’t seem right to us.
When the man came back again, he said he worked with the bus company and it was a free shuttle to Flores, we conceded reluctantly and got on the next bus. We drove 10-15 minutes to the city of Flores, Guatemala, which is a Peninsula-town on a big lake called Peten Itza. It was a pretty little place, similar to Antigua but smaller and less crowded. The bus stopped in front of a hotel where they encouraged us to get a room for the night. Funnily enough in front of the hotel, there was also a travel agency. We realized that these guys probably did not work for the bus company, but instead got a commission for people who booked with their hotel/ travel agency. They weren’t bad guys, just not very forthcoming and trying to make a living. We can understand that.
Tuk Tuk Ride To Santa Elena
Taxis and Tuk Tuks
We decided to make our way to Tikal instead of staying the night which was another 2 hours away in city bus. Apparently we had missed the last bus to Tikal for the day which left at 2pm. So we hopped in a tuk-tuk and started looking for a way to get to Tikal. The driver told us his uncle had a cab and could take us for about $40. We drove around town stopping different places looking for his Uncle, who was nowhere to be found. Now mind you, we are both in a Tuk Tuk, with all our baggage…it was a little cramped to say the least, but fun nonetheless.
We enjoyed driving around a bit and seeing different parts of the city, however at this point we were done. We were tired, sweaty, and ready to just get to a taxi to Tikal. He obliged and took us to part of town where taxis were waiting. We quickly found a guy who said he would take us for $35, we wanted to be on our way so we agreed and left. Halfway there the driver tried to tell us that the $35 price was EACH. What?!?! When we told him this was not what we agreed to and that he could just drop us off, he recanted. We finally made it to Tikal around 5 pm. YEAH!!!!
The Jaguar Inn - Tikal, Guatemala
Tikal National Park
We checked into the Hotel Jaguar Inn Tikal, 50 yards from the front gate of the National Park and settled in. We had heard from a girl we met at Semuc Champey that the Sunrise Tour of Tikal was amazing and we wanted to check it out. A nearby tour guide center that explained that admission tickets to the park were $15 and for an additional $10 we could enter the park 2 hours before it opened, climb the tallest pyramid and watch the sunrise . After we bought our tickets, we ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, then hit the sack almost immediately. It had been a super long day! We had to be at the front gate at 4am. Excited!!!! We can’t wait to see this wonder of the world on my 40th birthday!
Change In Perspective
Many situations you come across while traveling can be exasperating, baffling and exhilarating all at once. Learning to “go with the flow” or “roll with the punches” as they say, is part of the experience and the fun. And while sometimes things don’t happen as you want them to, everything usually turns out okay. Although today was long, hot, frustrating, uncomfortable and full of surprises, it is a day we will never forget. Days like today while not necessarily enjoyable at the time, make the best memories and the greatest stories!