Pot holes. Speed bumps. Livestock. Guatemalan bus drivers. Add a torrential downpour and constant lightning and you are in for the ride of your life.
Flores is wonderful, but its location within Guatemala is not. If you are one of the fortunate few who has the cash to fly in and out of the region, or one of unfortunate few who only gets to experience it as a relatively easy side trip from Belize, then these tips do not apply.
For the rest of us, it’s a long, terrible bus ride to our next destination. For us that was Antigua, and our chariot came in the form of an overnight bus traversing some of the worst roads I have seen.
The day we left Flores I had read an article about a Guatemalan bus tipping over and crashing, so I was not feeling too great about the whole bus thing anyway, but then we hit a massive rainstorm complete with shockingly bright flashes of lightning. The normally pitch black roads (I seriously don’t know how the bus drivers see) were therefore lit up, making it impossible for me to be blissfully ignorant of just how terrible the roads were.
I did not sleep basically at all during our 10-hour ride, but here are some tips so that others might be able to.
Don’t sit in the front, you can see exactly where you are going and you DO NOT want to be able to see where you are going.
We actually took this a step further and sat in the very front on the second floor of a two-level bus. So we were up high, with the great expanse of glass being the only thing between us, the badly maintained road, sheets of rain, and flashes of lightning. I constantly felt as if I was going to fall into the dark, cold, pot-holed abyss that lay before me.
The seats at the very front do have more legroom (which is why we chose them in the first place) but unless you have absolute nerves of steel DO NOT sit here. Terror will ensue.
No matter how hot it is outside, make sure you are prepared for the frigid air conditioning that WILL be blasting on the bus. Our driver kindly asked us if we had a sweater before we got on the bus in Flores (in charming broken English), but not all travelers were so lucky and many a backpacker crawled into their tank tops turtle-style to protect from the inescapable cold. On the same note, bring socks. Ah… warm feet.
Bring your travel sheet ONTO the bus (if you have one).
This kind of goes with #2, but an extra layer of fabric goes a long way to combating the air con. If you don’t have one then it’s no big deal, but if you do make sure you pull it out of your bag before your bag ends up in the belly of the bus. We were the envy of many fellow backpackers whose travel sheets were stuck five feet below them.
Take sleeping pills. Or Dramamine. Or whatever homeo-natural-pathic thing you can find to help you sleep.
I am generally not a pill-popper. In fact, I had never ever taken a sleeping pill of any kind prior to traveling, but I am now a convert. It is still a rare night that I pop one of these bad boys, but when your hostelmates are having a conversation at 3 am, or the rooster next door won’t shut up, or your are on a terrifying night bus, FDA-approved drugs can be your best friend. Logan has the doctor prescribe him super pills, but there are lots of over-the-counter options, including Dramamine, which is technically a motion sickness medication, but makes most people extremely sleepy (two birds with one chemically-based stone!)
Logan popped a pill at around 10 pm and slept all the way to Guatemala City. I counted sheep and didn’t sleep more than a few winks. Lesson learned.
Be active before you get on the bus.
We took a “down day” prior to this particular bus journey, which was a MISTAKE. Lying around reading and uploading pictures and drinking beer and eating ice cream burned less than no energy. We were not even remotely tired when we got on the bus, and when it finally was “bedtime” we were both restless from a whole day sitting around.
In hindsight it would have been better to pair our early Tikal day with the overnight bus journey.
Prepare for the chance that NOTHING will be open when you arrive in Antigua.
When we arrived in Guatemala City at 5:20 am the fact that nothing was open was not a big deal. We were so tired and there was a bus station where we could sit and wait for our shuttle to Antigua, so we wouldn’t have wandered around anyway. But fast-forward to 6:45 am in Antigua and you will see two hungry, grumpy travelers in desperate need of sustenance and caffeine. And a toilet. Business owners opened their doors around 7:30 or 8:00, so the wait wasn’t long, but when you are cranky and hungry and have to pee, 45 minutes feels like an eternity. Not the best way to start our week in Antigua.
Dollars and Sense
Overnight bus from Flores to Antigua (including transfer shuttle from Guatemala City to Antigua): $35 per person
Our bus left Flores at 8 pm and arrived in Guatemala City at 5:20 am, where we waited for the 6 am shuttle to Antigua, arriving at 6:45 am.
TIP: You can buy the tickets from Hostel Los Amigos. We were told that they often sell out (our bus was full), so try to book a few days ahead.