The Adventures of Local Travel in Guatemala

Yesterday, I was in San Marcos La Laguna and I wanted to get to Quetzaltenango. However, I didn’t want to pay 10 times more for the tourist shuttle, so I decided to try local travel.

First, I had to take a lancha, or small boat, to Panajachel across Lake Atitlan. That was the easiest part of my journey. From Panajachel, I took a tuk-tuk to the bus station and hopped on a local bus, or pimped out US school bus, to Solola. I was sandwiched between a well-dressed man about my age and an older Mayan woman. The man on my right decided to take the opportunity to practice his English pick-up techniques. The woman on my left was trying to figure out what we were talking about. I’m sure she had a pretty good idea. It’s pretty uncomfortable to reject someone’s advances when you’re sandwiched next to them and you have an audience. US school bus Guatemala

The next jaunt, from Solola to Los Encuentros was a little less eventful. I spent this ride squished next to a dad and his 4-year-old eating an ice-cream cone and an older man. However, due to the way the men had positioned themselves, my bum was in one place and the top half of my body leaning at an awkward angle to the right.

I made a switch to another bus heading to Xela. This was the longest part of my journey, and I only had to share a seat with one other person for most of the way. At this time, however, my bladder was getting ready to burst. So what do I do? I sit in the back. Why? Good question… every school kid knows the back of the bus is the bumpiest. I must be subconsciously sadistic.

Finally, I made it to Xela! My guide book says I should hear people screaming, “Parque!” to get to the center of town. I look around like a lost tourist, and don’t hear anyone offering rides to the Central Park. I ask for directions to the vans in broken Spanish. They tell me I have to walk through the market. With my now unbearably heavy backpack. And it’s sweltering. I pass some taxis that look very inviting… but I didn’t take 3 buses and 1 boat to give up at the end! I push myself and keep trekking through the market.
I get to the cramped minivan, but for some reason I can’t understand the Spanish the boy who collects money and passengers is speaking. I feel stupid. At various points throughout the journey, he stops attempting to speak and resorts to wild, frantic hand gestures. They make me anxious, so I decide to ignore them. Finally everyone gets out of the van, and the driver informs me we have already passed my stop and I need to transfer.

I’m wiser on the next jaunt, so I ask the driver to please let me know when we get to the Park. One boat, three buses, and two minivans later, I’m at my guesthouse, traversing a total distance of 30 miles.

  • Is Guatemala safe for a single woman to travel to and are there places in specific to avoid?

  • jasminewanders

    Good question. I’ve been here almost 3 weeks and I have had no problems at all, and in fact I’ve felt very safe. However, locals and tourists alike dismiss the capital as being too dangerous, so I have no intentions of going there. I suppose there’s the occasional mugging in certain places, but if you came here you’d just need to talk to people and read about places to avoid in a guidebook. Above all, trust your instincts! I made a video blog about how trusting my instincts has helped me several times in my travels.

  • Sounds like you’re having a great time. Traveling alone can be a great way to meet people you might not meet otherwise.

  • Andrei A.

    interesting article.good work

  • thanks,
    it’s very interesting

  • beautiful place to travel, I want to go to vacations.

  • I have read many stories about Guatemala. It seems to be very interesting place to visit to.

  • Its need real courage to wonder around the world. Being a Girl of your age with real beauty, it makes you more dangerous for you to wondering around the world. But i believe you are a courageous girl and will survive all the hurdles. Best of luck and when you come to India let me know.

  • Eric Vanschoor

    This is a superb post, but I was wondering how do I suscribe to the RSS feed?

  • Jasmine, thanks for your insightful article. What advice would you give to those of us who are less adventurous? I know that we all dream of discovering more about ourselves and adventurous situations can help one achieve this. But we rather most people try to be “sensible” by traveling safe in numbers, safe through packaged tours:-) Have you had any scary moments?

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  • “It’s pretty uncomfortable to reject someone’s advances when you’re sandwiched next to them and you have an audience.” That’s HILARIOUS!!!

    I can just picture it… “So senora… You are liking the moonlight today? I can see you glowing like a firefly” or something equally funny.

    When we were in the hills of Ecuador, this indigenous Incan woman who was about 1 meter tall (and maybe 80) got on the super crowded bus I was on and I was starting to get up to offer her my seat, but she just plopped herself on my lap and sat there for the remainder of the bus ride (another 45 minutes). Travel brings AWESOME experiences. Thanks for sharing your and your advice on difficult situations.


    (Fellow world vagabond)

  • Lol Jonathan that’s awesome! I would love to see photos of that:)

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