Tapachula – Mexico – to – Lake Atitlan – Guatemala

Zipolite - Another Sunset 2

APRIL 2017:


Click here to read our Guatemala Retirement Reviews.

Click here to read our Mexico Retirement Reviews.


OVERVIEW:

I stayed in Zipolite, Oaxaca, Mexico for 6 weeks … I initially planned to stay only 3 weeks … but, it was such a nice ‘vibe’ that I decided to stay longer.

Read this post for a detailed break-down of costs in Zipolite.

In Zipolite, I stayed at the Brisa Marina; this hotel is not listed in BOOKING.COM nor AGODA.COM.

I paid MXP150 / night (US$8.25) for a Double Room with Cold Water Private Bathroom (no Breakfast included).Zipolite - Brisa - Rooms Zipolite - Brisa - Ensuite Shower Zipolite - Brisa - Ensuite Entry

This was a very good price … many locals told me that I was lucky to get a room that size for under MXP200 / night.

But, to secure this special rate, I booked it for 3 weeks and paid in advance (see Tips, Tricks, and Traps).Zipolite - Brisa - Room Beds

And, I just loved lazing in those hammocks! 🙂Zipolite - Brisa Marina - Beach Hammocks


TIME TO MOVE ON:

I needed to make my way to Honduras and I still had a few weeks to burn up.

I decided to go back via San Pedro La Laguna, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and to spend another 3-4 weeks there with friends first.
San Pedro - View from San Juan Road

I needed to reverse the journey that I took previously from San Pedro to Zipolite.

The main difference, this time, was that I couldn’t catch a shuttle directly between Tapachula and Lake Atitlan … this time, I would need to do that part of the trip using public transport.Guatemala Oaxaca Map

As with my original journey, you will not find much information on how best to do this if you search the internet; so, I decided to write this post.


ZIPOLITE TO TAPACHULA:

First, you need to get to the main Bus Terminal in Pochutla.Pochutla - ADO Bus Station

This is the town where the long distance buses stop to service the beach towns of Puerto Angel, Zipolite, Agustinillo, and Mazunte.

From Zipolite you can take a Taxi to Pochutla for MXP150.

Puchutla - Blue Colectivo TruckAlternatively, you can catch a Colectivo:

  • A Colectivo via Mazunte costs MXP20 each and takes about 60 minutes
  • A Colectivo via Puerto Angel costs MXP12 each and takes about 45 minutes

I did a day trip to Pochutla the week before to go to the Monday Market. I stopped off at the Bus Terminal and bought my ticket to Tapachula for the following Monday. They had a promotion on the fares … I got my ticket for MXP441 instead of MXP771. You get an assigned seat number.Pochutla - Bus Terminal

The bus is scheduled to leave Pochutla at 6:50pm, drive over-night, and arrive in Tapachula at 6:30am.

I started my journey from Zipolite at 4:00pm. I walked up to the main road junction, caught the Colectivo via Puerto Angel at 4:30pm, and arrived at the Pochutla Bus Terminal 1.5 hours early.

The long distance buses in Mexico are, generally, well run and reliable. The bus pulled in just before 7:00pm and by 7:05pm we were on the road. I was lucky … the seat next to me was empty.tulum-ado-bus

The bus stops about 4 times along the way about 1 hour apart. We were in Crucecita by 8:00pm and Salina Cruz by 10:30pm. They pick up more people at each stop and drop others off … not everyone is going all the way to Tapachula. At different legs of the journey I had people sitting next to me.

At 2:00am in the morning the bus stopped at a 24-hour motorway cafe for 30 minutes to give everyone a comfort stop.tulum-ado-bus-seating

From there, it goes non stop all the way to Tapachula. This is the only real sleep that you get. We arrived in Tapachula 30 minutes late at 7:00am.


TAPACHULA TO THE GUATEMALAN BORDER:

On arrival, I went up to the Bus Terminal ticket booth and enquired about buses to Guatemala. I read on the internet that you can catch a bus from Tapachula to Xela. You cannot.

The lady at the counter directed me to a Tour Agent across the road. I enquired at the Tour Agent. He told me to stand in front of the Bus Terminal main entrance and flag down a Colectivo. Which I did.Rio Dulce - Colectivo Seating

By 7:30am I was in a Colectivo heading for the border. The ride takes about 30 minutes and costs MXP40.


THE MEXICO / GUATEMALA BORDER:

The Colectivo stops about 100 meters from the border. It is an easy walk.

The exit procedure on the Mexican side is a bit confusing.

You have to walk up a wire-grid covered walkway on the opposite side from the Immigration Office. About half way along, you cross the road (through a break in the wire mesh) and double back to the Immigration Office.

A sign in Immigration says that they are open between 8:00am and 10:00pm. I was there at 8:05am … but still had to wait for them to get organised.

First, I had to go to the cashier and pay my MXP500 ‘Departure Tax’. This fee is compulsory if you stay in Mexico for more than 7 days.

With my receipt in hand and my Departure Card (that you have to keep with you from when you enter Mexico) I quickly got my exit stamp.

From there you walk into Guatemala. You run the usual ‘gauntlet’ of Money Changer touts.

The Guatemalan side of the border is also a bit confusing.

You actually walk into Guatemala about 50-100 meters before you find their Immigration Office. It is easy to miss, BUT DON’T miss it. If you don’t get your entry stamp, you will have major problems leaving Guatemala later.

Guatemala Immigration asked me where I was going. I asked for a 90 day Tourist Visa. They duly obliged.


TIGO MOBILE PHONE PLAN:

I already had my TIGO SIMcard from my previous visit to Guatemala.

In Zipolite, I used an online Mobile Recharge service to top it up with GTQ100.

At the border, I used my TIGO Mobile Phone app to buy a 1 month Mobile Plan that included 2GBs of Data for GTQ99.

This gave me the online access that I needed to get into Google Maps and to search for other information to help make my way to Lake Atitlan.

I needed it. The journey is NOT straight forward (see, below).


BANK / ATM:

I already had a few hundred GTQ from when I was in Guatemala previously.

This proved to be very useful.

There are no banks nor ATMs at the border.

If you can, try and bring some GTQ with you … if not, you will need to change some MXP into GTQ with the touts. The exchange rate is poor … just get what you need.


GUATEMALA BORDER TO LAKE ATITLAN:

On entering Guatemala I needed to put my clocks back 1 hour.

As I exited Guatemala Immigration, I was accosted by Taxi touts. Ignore them and don’t believe a word that they say.

They told me that there were no buses and that I had to catch a taxi to Malacatan for GTQ400. I laughed and continued walking.Tapachula to Lake Atitlan Route

50 meters up the road I found a group of Colectivos. They asked for GTQ50 to get me to Xela. I agreed and jumped in. They gave me the front seat with the driver. We left at 7:30am.

This is where I struck lucky.

I young lady from Spain jumped in the front seat next to me. She spoke perfect English. Her name was Luna. Luna was also on her way to Lake Atitlan. We partnered up and, with her fluent Spanish, she helped me all the way there.

This first Colectivo was not going to Xela as promised. It stopped at Malacatan. With Luna’s guidance, I re-negotiated the Colectivo price down from GTQ50 to the GTQ20 that it should have been.

We got off at the Malacatan Bus Terminal. Immediately we were directed to a Chicken Bus to San Marcos. Our suitcases were thrown up top and off we went within 2 minutes of arrival. We left at 8:10am. The trip took just under 2 hours and cost GTQ15. We arrived in San Marcos at 10:00am.Pochutla - Chicken Bus

We got off at the San Marcos Bus Terminal. Immediately we were directed to a Chicken Bus displaying Xela as its destination. Our suitcases were thrown up top and off we went within 2 minutes of arrival.

The bus was, in fact, going all the way to Guatemala City along the Pan American Highway (route CA1). If your bus doesn’t continue on past Xela, you will just need to change buses in the same Xela Bus Terminal and take the same route. We passed through Xela at 12:15pm.

Please Note: If you do stop at the Bus Terminal in Xela, you may be able to get a Chicken Bus direct from there to Panajachel or San Pedro. But, I don’t know how often nor when.

Luna had already talked to the bus driver and he agreed to drop us off at the junction of route CA1 and route 14. This junction is known by the locals as ‘Los Encuentros’. The trip took 3 hours and cost GTQ30. We arrive at Los Encuentros at 1:00pm.

At ‘Los Encuentros’ we were immediately directed to a waiting Colectivo which took us to Santa Clara for GTQ15. It should have been GTQ7.50 … but the driver failed to give the next Colectivo driver his part of our fare.

In Santa Clara, we changed to another Colectivo that took us to San Pablo (on Lake Atitlan) for an unexpected GTQ7.50.

In San Pablo, I caught a Tuk Tuk to San Pedro for GTQ25.

I arrived in San Pedro at 2:30pm.

The whole journey from Zipolite took me 22.5 hours.

The total cost from Zipolite to the border was MXP493. It would have been MXP823 if I had paid the full price for the long distance bus.

The total cost from the border to San Pedro was GTQ112.50.


SAN PEDRO ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

I provide a lot of detail about hotels and where to stay in my previous posting: San Pedro Information & Spanish Classes.

Have a look yourself:


Booking.com






MY ACCOMMODATION:

My friends in San Pedro organised my accommodation for me.

The last time I stayed in San Pedro, I ended up staying at the Hotel Jarachi’k: I got a small room with Double Bed, Cable TV, Private Bathroom, and Breakfast for GTQ100 / night. This was an excellent rate as the ‘rack rate’ for Single Occupancy is GTQ240.

My friends thought that they could match the value for money at the El Barrio.

The El Barrio has 6 rooms that they rent out that all face a small courtyard. It doesn’t have the view out over the lake that Hotel Jarachi’k does.San Pedro 2 - El Barrio - Courtyard

The rooms are nice and spacious but each floor of 3 rooms has a Shared Bathroom.San Pedro - El Barrio - Rooms

I prefer a Private Bathroom but there were only 2 of us staying so sharing didn’t matter that much.San Pedro - El Barrio - Room EntrySan Pedro 2 - El Barrio - Shared Washing San Pedro 2 - El Barrio - Shared Sink

The Shared Bathrooms were clean and the Hot Water shower has good water pressure.

San Pedro - El Barrio - BedSan Pedro 2 - El Barrio - Shared Toilet San Pedro 2 - El Barrio - Shared ShowerThe rooms do not have Cable TV but the wifi is good and fast enough for streaming.

San Pedro - El Barrio - FurnitureA simple Breakfast was included at the El Barrio restaurant. The only downside is that the El Barrio restaurant doesn’t open until 9:00am. I am usually up well before then, which meant that I had to wait a couple of hours each morning before I could have breakfast.

The property comes with a Shared Kitchen which is very useful for keeping costs down. This is where I had a morning coffee and waited for the El Barrio to open.San Pedro 2 - El Barrio - Shared Kitchen 1 San Pedro 2 - El Barrio - Shared Kitchen 2


CONCLUSION:

It is a long, tiring, and complicated journey.

If I had not had Luna to help me, the journey probably would have taken me longer than 22.5 hours. The problem is that there are few natural places to stay over-night along the way …

You arrive in Tapachula so early that it isn’t really worth waiting 7 hours to check into an hotel.

You could, perhaps, stop over-night in Xela. Xela is said to be quite nice.

ALTERNATIVE 1:

The shuttle from Panajachel (Lake Atitlan) direct to Tapachula leaves every Wednesday and Saturday at 7:00am. It leaves Tapachula to return to Panajachel at 2:00pm the same day. The cost is GTQ225 … which is, effectively, double what you pay using public transport … but, it is definitely more comfortable. GRANDPAckers should seriously consider this Direct Shuttle option.

You can read more here.

Therefore, you could plan to arrive in Tapachula on a Wednesday or Saturday morning. If you do, you can catch the direct shuttle to Panajachel that same day. This will land you in Panajachel at about 8:00pm.

If you plan to stay in Panajachel, all is good … but if you plan to continue on to another village around the lake, you will miss the last lanchas of the day (which stop at about 6:00pm – before sunset) … forcing you to stay over-night in a Panajachel hotel.

ALTERNATIVE 2:

A friend mad the same reverse journey via San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

From Pochutla, you catch a long distance over-night bus direct to San Cristobal.

You stay over-night in a San Cristobal hotel.

Then catch a 7:00am shuttle from San Cristobal direct to Panajachel, Lake Atitlan. This is scheduled to land you in Panajachel by 5:00pm. This should give you time to catch a Lancha out to any of the other villages around the lake the same day to complete your journey.

TTFN


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