Guatemala, probably one of the most underrated countries in Latin America.

Guatemala: a land of colourful wildlife, dense exotic jungle, and authentic coffee that will have you running up mountains on a next-level caffeine high. You’ll find no Mayan ruins as tall and no people as welcoming as in this Central American paradise.

Time is definitely a great healer. More than two years have elapsed since I last visited Guatemala, and I had forgotten just how physically demanding (read extremely uncomfortable) it can be travelling here using public transport. My route to Cobán (central Guatemala) from San Ignacio (western Belize) took two days. It’s is a distance of about 367 kilometres (228 miles), in theory it should only take about 8- hours.

A short change of microbus in Flores facilitated a trip to the supermarket for provisions (comfort food), and a visit to a mobile phone company (Claro) to buy a SIM card (chip). Having easy access to the internet is essential for booking accommodation and other relevant travel resources.

My next (mid way to Cobán) stop was in Sayaxché. A ‘rough and ready’ sort of town, little more than a transportation halt between Flores and Cobán. What Sayaxché does offer is a welcome overnight respite after 7-hours of being squashed inside a microbus. There’s also a river ferry crossing here, so you normally have to change vehicles. It is therefore a logical place to break up a journey.

During the first leg of this journey, Flores to Sayaxché, the impossible was finally achieved when the jubilant ‘conductor’ successfully crammed a total of 40 adults into a ’15-seater’ microbus. Nearly 50% of these adults were women armed with babies or small children. Does this therefore equate to 60 people? If so, is it a world record in such a vehicle?

When any woman climbed on board, with a baby in their arms, the men folk dutifully gave up their seat and resorted to standing bent double, thanks to the somewhat restricted head room. This act of respect is a common occurrence in Guatemala. During the entire journey none of the children on board misbehaved or cried once; on the rare occasion that a baby became restless, out popped a breast and the suckling infant was swiftly pacified and fell asleep. In Guatemala breast feeding in public is a normal everyday occurrence.

Travelling in such a manner (using public transport) provides a fascinating window into every day life in this very much underrated country. I wouldn’t travel any other way.

Next stage: Cobán for New Year.

Independent Traveller Tips.

San Ignacio to Cobán (vía Flores – for Tikal):

    San Ignacio to Benque (nearest Belize town to border crossing) – local bus – every half hour – 2 Belize Dollars
    Benque to the border crossing – shared taxi – plentiful – 5 Belize Dollars
    From the Guatemala side of the border to Flores – microbús – regular (once full) – 30Q
    Flores to Sayaxché – microbús – regular – 30Q
    Sayaxché to Cobàn – microbús – regular – 30Q

About Richard Griffith

My first independent travel experience was a trip to Israel, in 1997, it was here that I caught the 'travel' bug! In 2001 I took an 8-month sabbatical and traveled around South East Asia. Since then I have managed to visit most of Eastern Europe along with India, Bangladesh, and a few other destinations in between. I love travel and I love meeting new people.
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