Travel Tips: Antigua to Atitlan Via Chicken Bus

If you’re traveling through Guatemala, chances are, you’re going to want to head from Antigua to Lake Atitlan, or the reverse, at some point in your travels.  It’s a logical step between two beautiful and popular tourist destinations that doesn’t span a terribly great distance.  While you can arrange for a private shuttle to take you between the two, you’ll end up paying way more than the trip is worth.  However, since there is no luxury bus that runs between the two, that means you’re left with chicken buses.

Antigua to Chimaltenango: Q5 each, 30 minutes

Get on a chicken bus at the main terminal in Antigua.  The terminal is located right behind the outdoor market on the west side of town and any local can tell you where it is.  The terminal is chaotic, with lines of buses, every single one with a driver screaming an abbreviated version of the bus’ destination.  Look for the bus going to Chimaltenango.  If you just ask one of the people shouting, they should direct you where to go.  Just double check to make sure it’s the right bus.  When we left here, a driver falsely told us his bus was the one we wanted just to get us on board.  Luckily, we double checked with a local on board to find out he had lied to us in enough time to get off and get the right bus.

Chilaltenango to Los Encuentros: Q15 each (Be wary: we were ripped off and charged Q30 each simply because we were gringos), 1 hour

This is easily the worst leg of the journey and prepare for it to be crowded.  The bus will probably already be very full when you get on, so be prepared to stand or straddle the two isle seats, one cheek precariously on each seat.  This bus gets into some pretty high elevation, practically climbing a mountain.  If you’re sick with a head cold like me, it might be murder on your already highly pressurized ears.  If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a once an hour Rebuli bus direct to Panajachel (on the shores of Atitlan) but if not…

Los Encuentros to Solola: Q2.5 each, 30 minutes

Don't wander around too much in Los Encuentros.  The town doesn't have the best reputation.  Thankfully, the transfer is pretty much immediate and the next bus is much more pleasant and less crowded.  It takes you to Solola, a town perched high on the cliffs above Atitlan. 

Solola to Panjachel: Q3 each, 15 minutes

From Solola, you merely need to descend down a steep and winding road to the shores of the Lake

Tuk-tuk (optional): Q5 each, 2 minutes

We only paid for a taxi to the shore because we had no idea where it was and it was beginning to rain.  Had the weather been better, we wouldn’t have minded walking, as it isn’t that far.

Boat to destination: Q10 each to Santa Cruz, Q20 each to most other locations

Unless you’re staying in the chaos of Panajachel, you’re probably hitting one of the other many little villages alone the lake, all only accessible by boat taxi.  We arrived at the boat dock in just enough time to load our bags in a rickety boat before the rain hit.  The driver was clearly very frantic about the weather, and because we didn’t know any better, he ripped us off for it… big time.  We got charged a whopping Q100 together, five times as much as he should have charged us.  We didn’t find this out until we reached the hostel and he and his crappy boat that felt like it was going to break apart each time it hit a swell were long gone.  We were also later told that they usually try to double the price on you, but the hostel receptionist had never heard of anyone being ripped off as badly as we were.  It was a harsh lesson, but one we learned from.  If a boat driver tries to rip you off, simply say no and the price you know to be correct as firmly as you can.  They’ll back down eventually.