Transportation Central America
The travel in Central America never ceases to amaze me. It doesn’t matter if I am traveling to a town in the same country or traveling to a country three borders away, the travel time will no doubt take a minimum of eight hours. There are many ways to travel throughout Central America…None of them will be quick or easy.
Mexico seemed to have the most organized travel out of the five countries I visited in the last six months. In Mexico I could walk up to the ADO bus station look at departure times and purchase my ticket. These buses were usually on time and were always direct. The other option in Mexico was the Collectivo. Collectivo’s are how locals get around and are significantly cheaper. The Collectivo “bus station” is a section of the street where these mini micro buses pull over and you find one headed in the direction you are going. It is a little more difficult to travel far in the collectivo’s when having bags as there is not much space in them. The ADO buses are proper buses and have space underneath for baggage. We had planned on taking the bus the next morning from Tulum, Mexico to Belize City, Belize. However when I went to the bus station the night before to purchase tickets I saw that they had a bus leaving at eleven p.m. for Belize City. We bought tickets and ran back to the hotel to pack. Crossed the border at five a.m. and arrived in Belize City around eight. That was a nice nine-hour bus ride.
In Belize I headed straight for Caye Caulker so being on an island I did not need anymore transportation than my Chevrolegs I brought with me. The water taxi was fairly quick it only took forty-five minutes. It was easy to book travel here as well. I used a travel agent and paid a little more than I should have but it was still only thirty dollars to get from Belize to Guatemala. The bus was small and had no air conditioning but it served its purpose and I made it safely.
The travel in Guatemala is by far the most fun of any country. There are essentially three options pay high gringo prices for a direct micro bus or a proper greyhound type bus, or travel with the locals via chicken bus. The micro buses are nice for a few reasons you are guaranteed a seat, they are a direct route, and most of the time will drop you off at your hotel. The downside to these buses is the cost. They can run anywhere from thirty dollars up to seventy dollars one way. The chicken buses are in my personal opinion the way to travel.
A chicken bus is an old bluebird school bus that they have transformed into a fusion of art and transportation. These old school buses are chromed out and painted with exotic art to stand out from the others. The chicken bus station is a place of organized chaos. Buses are everywhere and being a gringo I am immediately surrounded by men asking where I am going. Sometimes I tell them and other times I wander around until I find the bus I want. The stations are typically located next to an open air market where I can purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and of course fried chicken for the ride. The buses have two people working on them one is the driver and that’s all he does is drive. The other guy is working his ass off. He is climbing up on top of the bus tying down bags and throwing bags off before the bus even stops. The same guy is climbing over people collecting money. He has to remember every face and who has paid and hasn’t paid. I know your thinking big deal a bus doesn’t hold that many people. Think again! Normally there are two people in each seat but not in Guatemala those seats normally hold three and sometimes four! The chicken buses are extremely cheap, a ride in a micro bus that would cost fifty dollars cost around five dollars with the local transport.
If you would prefer to travel in comfort you can find a bus station in the bigger cities and book on one of the big travel buses. These buses usually have air conditioning and sometimes are playing movies. Now that does depend on the bus and the company. Some of the buses will over sell their tickets on a non air-conditioned bus. I had both happen to me. One was extremely enjoyable the other I had to sit in the aisle on a four-hour bus ride. Needless to say I wasn’t super stoked about that.
I left Guatemala for Costa Rica by plane. Traveling by plane is similar to everywhere else not much different. The one major difference is the price. Where most other travel is relatively cheap travel by jet is rather expensive. It’s important to shop around when looking for flights here. Also keep in mind that most of the airlines do not have deals with the online booking agents so contacting them directly is usually what gets you the best price. Once arriving in Costa Rica I was in shock at the price differences. Costa Rica is expensive. It cost me twenty dollars to get from the airport to the bus station. The bus was relatively cheap around ten dollars for a two-hour ride.
Leaving Costa Rica headed back to Honduras was the same bus route back to the airport but then had to fly to El Salvador and then to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. From San Pedro I caught another flight to the island of Roatan.
One thing I have learned is that travel here will ALWAYS be a day long adventure. You will no doubt run into cancelled buses, changed routes, overcrowded benches, babies puking, and lots of body odor. So pack a lunch grab your camera and take a chill pill cause it is going to be a long day. It may sound strange but I enjoy how it is not an easy task to get somewhere. It’s all of the hiccups and strange customs that make the travel memorable. Whether I am hanging out the door of an old school bus going forty miles an hour down a road in Guatemala, sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned bus watching The Punisher, or laying in the aisle cause there are no seats left I find that it is the adventure I remember, not how much of a pain in the ass it was. I appreciate the small things. Travel in Central America can be cheap or expensive but no matter how much you pay you are guaranteed an experience you will never forget.