8 Days in Guatemala: My Nightmare Trip and What I Learned

Me at the beginning of the trip, loving the chicken bus. I still love the chicken bus, actually.
This is a post about doing too much on a trip with too little time. Prepare yourself for a sequence of disaster scenarios which involve blocked credit cards, being shoved off a bus because you can't pay for it, and hours on a cramped bus with your almost husband where you both wish the other was dead, or at least made of 100 dollar bills.

Let us begin.

It was a simple concept: I needed to renew my six month Mexican visa. A flight to Chiapas from Mexico City was reasonably priced while a direct flight to Guatemala City certainly was not. How hard would it be to simply take a bus across the border and see a few things? In eight days? And also call it your honeymoon even though you're not even married yet? And do it without a budget and much cash at all?

Oh boy.

First, let's take a little look at the transportation we took from November 22-30, so about eight days:

Planes: 2
Chicken buses: 6 (but felt like 1000) 
Ferries: 4
Tuk Tuks: 2
Taxis: 4
Minibuses/vans: 8
Regular buses: 3
Cars: 1 (on a tour)
Subways: 2

Places visited:

San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico: 2 nights (the first and last night of the trip)
Huehuetenango, Guatemala: 1 night
Quetzaltenango, Gautemala: 3 nights (exhausted)
Lago Atitlan, Guatemala: 2 nights (please I never want to see another bus again)

Lessons Learned:

Book Your Flights With Sanity in Mind
Flying in and out of the same place when you are traveling far from your original destination = NEVER A GOOD IDEA. You will lose an entire day just getting back and you will hate yourself for it. 

The money saved is not worth your sanity, no matter how much you love San Cristobal de las Casas. You will not love it when you stumble off a 12 hour return voyage that involved little food, no money and so many forms of transportation you can't even remember how to use your legs anymore.

Make a Budget

I had this half-assed idea that I'd have enough money to cover the trip. So did my almost-husband. SPOILER ALERT: we did not have enough money. This resulted in a particularly desperate scene where our shuttle bus company dumped us off at the Mexican-Guatemalan border because we didn't have enough cash to pay them. 

The driver gave us about 5 minutes to find some money we could get on the connecting bus. Of course that was going to be impossible. We didn't have any money. Still, we both soldiered on and found an ATM a zillion miles away and tried to get an advance on my Visa. Oh. Oops. My Visa appeared to be blocked. We desperately tried to find an Internet cafe with a microphone but yeah, no dice. So calling my bank was impossible. 

Finally, after a lot of begging we managed to get a hotel to lend us their wi-fi password. I called my bank, unblocked my card, and then got out the cash. When we finally got back to the border our connecting bus had, of course, already left. We still had to cough up the cash to pay for it and then pay for another bus to get to San Cristobal so we could make our flight the following day.

Also, I hadn't eaten hardly all day, it was hot, and Miguel and I wanted to kill each other. Travel NIGHTMARE. I will never, on the pain of death, repeat this scenario again.

Don't Call a Visa Run a Honeymoon

Trying to see eight zillion things in eight days with no money is not the time to try and take your honeymoon. Ever little bump in the road will drive you insane because you are supposed to be having a relaxing, expensive, romantic trip. Not some half-assed, cold as hell, cheap as fuck, crap vacation that involves being on a chicken bus (and squished against a window for three hours because a row for four people now holds about six and maybe a child or two as well). 

You will hate yourself, your future husband and anything anyone ever tried to call romance. A trip that might have been hilariously bad takes on a grim cast when it is supposed to be the most romantic trip of your life. You will eat your feelings the entire trip. And when you run out of money and eating becomes less possible, you will stick your nose in a paperback and try to forget you ever existed on this sorry earth.

Packing Light is Amazing

Oh, this is a plus side! Yay! After my eight month trip in Asia lugging around a 60L overcrammed backpack I definitely realized that less is more. Nothing is more frustrating then trying to drag around the equivalent of a dead body in weight on eight thousand types of transportation.

So on the Guatemala trip I only brought a small backpack and the following:

-one pair of full-length running leggings
-one pair exercise shorts
-trail running shoes
-flip-flops (for hostel showers, non-negotiable)
-4 pair socks
-1 sports bra / 4 pair underwear
-four T-shirts (two long-sleeved)
-one fleece-lined hoodie
-face cream with SPF
-toothbrush (travel-sized)
-travel shampoo
-deoderant (shared with boyfriend)
-soap in a plastic travel case
-Diva cup 
-travel towel
-comb, hair elastic
-meds (including Gravol, thank God)
-scarf (doubles as pillow on buses)
-one paperback book
-money belt (essential in Guatemala)
-passport. cash, cards

It all fit nicely into my backpack with room to spare. I downloaded the Highlands Guatemala chapter on Lonely Planet for $5 and read it off my iPhone so I was spared a hefty guidebook. I ended up washing clothes in the sink or just re-wearing them, whatever. Cleanliness is for squares.

I could totally see taking the same stuff on a much longer trip. Having a variety of stuff to wear is completely outweighed by the need to carry said stuff. Not having to check-in anything on our flight or stow away our backpacks on buses was the saving grace of this trip and kept disaster at bay. 


That's my disaster honeymoon from hell. There were actually some great times and I'll share that in a seperate post. Look out for photos and less rant-y stories in the next week.

And for those of you afraid for my marriage (in less than two weeks!) we are actually going to the beach in Oaxaca afterwards with my parents and his where we will hopefully chill the fuck out and take zero buses.

What was your worst trip ever? What happened? Have you ever run out of money in a really inconvenient place? Tell me about it in the comments.

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Unknown said...

Hi Bronwyn,

I've been a reader for a couple of years now, and I'm happy you're back in CDMX. I'm a little west of you in Cholula, Pue (originally from San Antonio, TX).

I have also made the same mistake in my planning stages of a trip, when I'm still excited and energetic, of thinking that saving a few dollars would be worth the time and hassle of a longer journey. Because, it's the journey that matters, right?

Wrong. Way wrong, Wrongie McWrongenstein.

I finally got it right this past Christmas when I traveled from Puebla to Oaxaca City to San Cristobal and back. I paid the extra money to take Interjet from Tuxtla to DF instead of taking the overnight ADO bus. I lost some money but I saved a sleepless night.

I'm still a budget traveler, but I've also learned the hard way that sometimes paying a little more pays off a lot.

Thanks for the great blog!

- Amber

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