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They have agreed to share a single Tourist Visa of up to 90 days. As you cross the borders within these CA4 countries you do not get a new 90 day visa … instead, they deduct how many days you have been in other CA4 countries from those 90 days and give you the remainder.
This means that you have to do a Visa Run out of the CA4 every 90 days.
ENTERING THE CA4:
I started in El Panchan, Mexico and cut across the north of Guatemala via Flores into Honduras … passing through San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba on my way to Utila Island.
I received my 90 day Visa on entering Guatemala at the Mexican border. On entering Honduras 2 days later, they gave me an Honduran Visa with 88 days remaining.
THE BAY ISLANDS, HONDURAS:
THE VISA RUN TO BELIZE:
Roatan Island has an airport and it is easy to fly out of the CA4 from there … but it is expensive for GRANDPAckers.
From Puerto Cortes, Honduras you can catch a boat to Placencia, Belize; this boat leaves twice each week.
From Puerto Barrios, Guatemala you can catch a boat to Punta Gorda, Belize; this boat leaves every day.
From Rio Dulce, Guatemala you can catch a boat to Punta Gorda, Belize; this boat leaves daily … but, it is on the well-trodden Gringo Trail and it is more expensive than the boat leaving from Puerto Barrios.
I chose the Puerto Barrios – Punta Gorda option.
RONEEY SHUTTLE SERVICE:
Roneey Shuttles provide a Shuttle / Boat service from La Ceiba to Punta Gorda via Puerto Barrios. You can stop in Puerto Barrios and not continue on to Belize if you want to.
Roneey runs this service every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday for US$80 each. The price includes:
- Taxi from La Ceiba port to La Ceiba town
- Shuttle from La Ceiba town to Puerto Barrios (approx 6-7 hours)
- Overnight in Dorm accommodation in Puerto Barrios
- Boat from Puerto Barrios to Punta Gorda the next morning (approx 1 hour)
For an extra US$5 each, you can upgrade your accommodation to a Private Room; I chose the upgrade and paid US$85.
You can contact Roneey online or call him on +504-3313-6948.
ROATAN ISLAND TO LA CEIBA, HONDURAS:
When I first arrived in Roatan I caught a taxi in the reverse direction for only HNL100 (US$4.50). Alas, going back in the other direction at 6am, I was a ‘captured market’ … this meant that I had to pre-book a taxi … the best price that I could get was HNL400!
Roneey is waiting for you at the ferry dock and organises for you to jump in a taxi (free) to get you to Wendy’s in La Ceiba town. Wendy’s is the gathering point for their travellers and you have enough time to grab a breakfast if you want one.
You need to sign transit paperwork and provide passport details. It was now that Roneey said that we would be staying over-night in Rio Dulce instead of Puerto Barrios. Obviously, the choice between the two depends on who they have on the Shuttle that day and where everyone is going. Going to Rio Dulce adds another 1 hour to the Shuttle trip (and another 1 hour the next morning to catch the boat from Puerto Barrios to Punta Gorda).
LA CEIBA, HONDURAS TO THE GUATEMALA BORDER:
Our Shuttle was underway by 9:45am.
We stopped at 11:20am for 10 minutes at a gas station so that people could use the toilets and grab a coffee.
We were delayed for about 30 minutes getting through traffic jams near Puerto Cortes.
By 4pm we were at the Honduras-Guatemala border.
THE HONDURAS-GUATEMALA BORDER:
You quickly learn that Guatemala Immigration is always in a strange place well away from the actual border. In remote locations, it can be 10 kms away … in busy locations as little as a few 100 meters.
On entry into Honduras, the Guatemala Immigration Office was 1km away from the Honduran Immigration Office. On my return through the same border 3 months later, they had moved the Guatemala Immigration Office into the same building as the Honduran one – which made everything a lot easier.
We disembarked our Shuttle with only our passports. Honduras Immigration quickly gave us our exit stamp. The Guatemala Immigration window 2 meters away quickly gave us our new Guatemala Visa. Our baggage was not checked.
As I walked away from the window, I noticed that Guatemala had given me a new Visa with 90 days on it! This is NOT meant to be allowed! But he just did it automatically.
I showed the driver and asked if this meant that I didn’t need to go to Belize … he pondered a while, said nothing, and we all got back into the Shuttle.
1km down the road we came to the old Guatemala Immigration Office. There was an Immigration Officer there relaxing. We stopped, showed her our Visas and asked her the question … she said that the Visa was legal and valid for another 90 days!
My lucky day.
ONWARDS TO RIO DULCE, GUATEMALA:
We arrived in Rio Dulce (on the same Shuttle Bus) at about 5:30pm.
Our first stop was the Rio Dulce Bus Terminal … the driver had stopped to buy one of our fellow passengers his onward ticket to Antigua.
This was Hurricane Season and Tropical Storm Irma (grade 5) had just passed over Cuba on its way to Florida, USA. The seas on the Honduras-Guatemala Caribbean Coast were as flat as ice … ‘the quiet before the storm’ … I wasn’t looking forward to a rough, wet, small boat trip to Belize.
I asked my driver if I could change my boat ticket to Belize for a bus ticket to Guatemala City instead … as the bus ticket was cheaper he agreed. He was very helpful about it all. I said that he could keep the price difference for himself. So, I now had an 8am bus ticket to Guatemala City. The boat to Belize had been avoided!
MY RIO DULCE HOTEL:
Our next stop was our Rio Dulce hotel: Bruno’s.
If you read my links, above, you will discover that this area of Guatemala is a bit of a ‘Tourist Trap’ … so, I wasn’t expecting much from my accommodation for the total of US$85 paid. I should have gotten a Single Fan room with Shared Bathroom.
I struck lucky again! They had cocked up my booking. They had not reserved me one of the cheap Private Rooms.
The downstairs restaurant was pleasant too …
I hit the main street to find an ATM and took out the maximum GTQ2000. With GTQ cash now in hand, I put GTQ100 on my Smartphone Mobile Plan (I already had a TIGO SIMcard from when I was in Guatemala previously), and bought a 1 month 2GB Data Package for GTQ99.
I returned to my hotel, had a couple of beers.
I got online and cancelled the 3 night booking that I had already made at the St Charles Inn, Punta Gorda. I didn’t mind. Belize is relatively expensive and a Single Room at the Inn was US$35 / night. The cancellation fee was 1 night (US$35). I was going to make up this loss in San Pedro LL – where I pay GTQ100 / night including Breakfast.
Once done, I headed for bed.
RIO DULCE TO GUATEMALA CITY:
I was out of my hotel by 7am and across the road to the Bus Terminal in a couple of minutes.
I grabbed a cheap breakfast: A Baleada (GTQ5) and a Rice Soup (GTQ5) … and waited for the bus.
The bus was on time and we left at 8am sharp. It was a ‘First Class’ bus that was a bit old but still comfortable. It was a Saturday and the trip was uneventful. We stopped once for 10 minutes on the way. We arrived in Guatemala City over 6 hours later at 2:30pm.
GUATEMALA CITY TO SAN PEDRO LL, LAKE ATITLAN:
I knew from my previous stay in San Pedro LL that you could catch a Chicken Bus from there to Guatemala City without needing to go via Panajachel.
I could have asked for a bus ticket from Rio Dulce to Antigua (Roneey throws in the 1 hour Shuttle from Guatemala City to Antigua for free) … but, for this blog, I chose Guatemala City so that I could try and and find the bus to San Pedro LL … on reflection, I wish that I had chosen Antigua.
From Antigua it is easy to get to Lake Atitlan. Antigua is small and it is easy to get to the Bus Terminal. At the Bus Terminal, there are regular Chicken Buses to Panajachel. From Panajachel it is only a 30 minute GTQ25 lancha ride across the lake to San Pedro LL.
There are several Bus Terminals in Guatemala City. Ours was on the north-east side of the city (servicing the northern routes). For Lake Atitlan, I had to get to the west side of the city. If you don’t speak good Spanish, you are in trouble. I was in trouble.
In the end, I gave in trying, and paid GTQ50 for a taxi to take me to the ‘San Pedro LL’ Chicken Bus terminal. We were there in about 20 minutes which included some pretty hairy, fast driving through traffic.
These buses go from Guatemala City to Xela. They pass Antigua on the main road to the north.
I arrived at Los Encuentros at about 5:30pm. The Chicken Bus was very full and uncomfortable – with, sometimes, 3 people sharing a seat. I got a sore bottom.
At Los Encuentros you swap to another Chicken Bus that takes you to Solola for GTQ3 (sometimes you are lucky and can catch one all of the way to Panajachel). In Solola you catch another Chicken Bus to Panajachel for GTQ3.
You get off at the first stop entering town and walk 400 meters down to the boat dock.
At the El Barrio, my friends were waiting for me.
I was knackered.
I started my travels in Roatan at 6am on the Friday morning … it was 7pm before I was able to sit down in the restaurant in Rio Dulce.
I continued my travels at 7am on Saturday morning … it was 7:30pm before I sat down in the El Barrio.
My attempt to go direct from Guatemala City to San Pedro LL failed. In hindsight, I should have gone from Rio Dulce / Puerto Barrios to Guatemala City by bus (5-7 hours), Guatemala City to Antigua by Shuttle (1 hour), stayed overnight in Antigua, gone from Antigua to Panajachel by Shuttle (2 hours), and from Panajachel to San Pedro by Lancha (30 minutes).
At least, now, you know how to do it.
Meanwhile, I still have the new 90 Day Guatemala Visa to worry about … it won’t be until I next leave Guatemala into El Salvador that I’ll find out whether or not I have a problem. The worst case scenario is that I’ll be fined US$5 for each day of over-stay. I’ll let you know what happens in a future post.
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