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I stayed in San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlan for nearly 2 months … I went for 3 weeks to do Spanish Classes … but, it was such a nice ‘vibe’ that it was very hard to leave!
I made many good friends there. Thanks guys … hopefully, I will see you all again soon.
Read this post for a detailed break-down of costs in San Pedro LL.
In San Pedro LL, I ended up staying at the Hotel Jarachi’k.
TIME TO MOVE ON:
If you read my posts on Guatemala, you will see that I found Guatemala more expensive than I expected … and, definitely, more expensive than indicated on the internet … especially if you target the main tourist towns like Livingston, Flores, Antigua, and Monterrico.
Many sites on the internet say that Guatemala is one of (if not) the cheapest country in the Mexico / Central America region. I disagree. My experience (so far) is that Mexico is cheaper than Guatemala.
For the record, San Pedro La Laguna was most definitely my favourite spot in Guatemala.
You will not find much information on how best to do this if you search the internet; so, I decided to write this post.
From Lake Atitlan, for GRANDPAckers, there are 2 main routes:
- via San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico); or
- via Tapachula (Mexico)
These are, effectively, the same as the main ‘Visa Run’ routes from San Pedro.
VIA SAN CRISTOBAL:
This is the most common route.
It is a long journey that is stated as taking 10 hours but can, regularly, take as much as 12 hours. You arrive (probably knackered) in San Cristobal early evening.
From San Cristobal there are many buses that will take you to Oaxaca City or to the Oaxacan Coast. I don’t know for sure, but you should be able to get buses to Pochutla (see below).
For many GRANDPAckers, facing another 12 hour journey from San Cristobal that same evening would be too much. I would suggest that you will want to stay at least 1 night in San Cristobal before moving on.
That is not the end of the world … San Cristobal is said to be nice and reasonably priced … albeit a bit cold in the evenings.
I chose the more direct route via Tapachula.
I provide those details below.
SAN PEDRO TO PANAJACHEL:
If you are staying at any of the small villages around the lake, you need to get to Panajachel.
From San Pedro this leaves at 6:00am and costs GTQ25. Make sure that you get on the ‘Direct’ (‘Directo’) Lancha and not the one that stops at all of the villages to pick up school kids on the way. Just tell them that you are catching the 7:00am Shuttle and they will direct you to the correct Lancha.
You will be landed at the Panajachel Boat Dock at about 6:30am … in plenty of time for the Shuttle leaving at 7:00am.
It is only a 50 meter walk from the Boat Dock to the Lopez Office (the Shuttle Stop for Tapachula).
PANAJACHEL TO TAPACHULA:
I planned to catch an overnight bus that same day from Tapachula to Pochutla.
Pochutla, Oaxaca, Mexico is where the long distance buses stop. From there, it is only a short Taxi or Collectivo ride to Zipolite.
If I left on a Saturday, I would arrive in Pochutla on a Sunday. For various reasons, I don’t like arriving in new places on a Sunday:
- Places that you might need may be closed
- There are fewer transport options
- It is hard to get the best priced accommodation in the middle of a weekend
I chose the Wednesday Shuttle.
The cost from Panajachel is GTQ225. From the Lake Villages, they will add a charge for the Lancha to Panajachel on top of your ticket. I negotiated my total cost down from GTQ250 to GTQ235. I, effectively, paid the ‘local’ price for the Lancha instead of the ‘tourist’ price.
I was waiting outside the Lopez office by 6:30am.
At 6:40am this nice, new, roomy, and clean Shuttle turned up. I was the only person on it! We picked up 1 other person en route just before Xela.
We were at Tecun Uman on the Guatemalan side of the border by 11:00am.
At the Guatemalan side of the border, you get out of the Shuttle with your passport to clear Immigration.
Immigration may try to charge you an ‘Exit Fee’. It is a SCAM. If you have NOT over-stayed your Visa, there is NO ‘Exit Fee’. If they try and charge you, just politely ask for an ‘Official Receipt’ … this should do the trick … it will put the Immigration Officer off and they will let you through at no cost.
You get back in the Shuttle and travel the 200 meters to Mexican Immigration. Again, you get out of the Shuttle with your passport. At Mexican Immigration you will need to fill out an Entry Form. This gets processed and you keep the ‘Departure’ part of the form. Make sure that you do not lose it. You need it when you exit Mexico.
You get back in the Shuttle to travel another 50 meters to Mexican Customs. Here you get out of the Shuttle with all of your bags and belongings.
You are subject to a random bag check. I was asked to open my main suitcase but not my backpack.
Because there were only 2 of us on the Shuttle, we passed through the border very quickly. The whole process took less than 25 minutes. With a full Shuttle, this would (probably) take over 1 hour.
Within 40 more minutes, we were in Tapachula being dropped off outside of the ADO Bus Terminal.
You will find some hotels listed on the internet search engines but many hotels are not listed.
For the cheaper hotels, walk to the Central Park and turn left just after the Scotiabank.
You will find some cheap hotels on this road but, if you walk just 2 blocks from the Central Park you will find a road where most of the cheapest hotels can be found.
Have a look yourself:
TAPACHULA TO POCHUTLA:
Before entering the ADO Bus Terminal, I wandered down the street in search of a Mobile Phone Plan and an ATM.
MOBILE PHONE PLAN:
I already had the AT&T SIMcard that I purchased in Playa Del Carmen a few months before. Even though I had no credit on the SIMcard, it was still operational 5 months later.
I found an OXXO Store and loaded it with MXP150. With that, I purchased a 1 month Mobile Plan that included 200 Talk minutes, Texting, and 300MB of Data.
My previous experiences in Mexico taught me that HSBC Bank has the best ATMs.
With my ‘now operational’ Smartphone, I was able to get onto Google Maps and search for HSBC ATMs. Luckily, there was one on a side road on the way back to the ADO Bus Terminal.
ATMs from other banks can limit your withdrawal to as little as MXP5,000. The HSBC ATMs allow you to withdraw up to MXP10,000 in a single transaction. Withdrawing such a large amount in 1 transaction helps to keep your ‘Cost of Travel Money‘ down. HSBC charge a reasonable MXP33.35 for this MXP10,000 withdrawal. Obviously, you will still have your Home Bank Foreign ATM Transaction Fee to pay on top of that. In New Zealand, this is NZ$5.
ADO BUS TERMINAL:
With my ATM cash in hand, I arrived at the ADO Bus Terminal and queued for a ticket.
Don’t expect the cashier to speak any English.
In my newly-learnt Spanish, I asked for a bus to Pochutla. I explained that I wanted to leave on an over-night bus that same evening. Showing the cashier Google Maps helped me make sure that she knew exactly where I was going.
The ticket cost MXP764. The bus leaves at 10:45pm and is scheduled to arrive in Pochutla at 10:10am the following morning. An 11.5 hour trip.
I purchased my ticket, hit the streets, looked for somewhere to settle for lunch, and started to slowly burn away the 9 hours that I needed to wait.
If you book an over-night hotel, will have the same problem … but, you can leave your luggage at the hotel whilst you check out Tapachula between the 12 noon check-out time and 10:45pm.
I arrived at the ADO Bus Terminal at 10:00pm.
There is a counter where you drop off your stowed luggage. They tag your bag and give you a receipt. They will load stowed luggage on the bus for you.
They call you to board the bus over the intercom. You pass through a security scan and a hand luggage check before boarding.
We left on schedule at 10:45pm.
POCHUTLA TO ZIPOLITE:
I had been up since 4:30am and it had been a long boring day. I tried to sleep.
Luckily the bus was not full and I had an empty seat next to me.
I finally fell asleep but only to be rudely awakened at 12:15am. The bus was emptying. An official asked me to collect all of my luggage and follow the other passengers. Which I did.
At the first counter, I was asked for my passport. I looked around to see ‘Customs’ signs.
Where the hell was I? I looked ahead and there was a luggage scanning machine. It looked like I was at a border … BUT, I was travelling within Mexico! I was tired, half asleep, and a bit confused.
Was I on the wrong bus? Did I buy a ticket to the wrong place? Am I going back into Guatemala?
I took out my Smartphone and booted it up … I wanted to have a look at Google Maps to find my location.
Whilst it was booting, an official approached me to tell me that no Smartphones were allowed and to move on quickly to luggage scanning.
I didn’t want to clear customs to somewhere that I didn’t want to go … so, I played dumb, ‘no comprendo’, and carried on into Google Maps.
To my surprise we were still in Mexico on the main road just north of Huixtla … it wasn’t even the border between Chiapas and Oaxaca …
Satisfied that I was on the right route and that I wasn’t crossing back into Guatemala, I proceeded to luggage scan.
By now the officials were suspicious of me. They must have thought that I was trying to avoid the luggage scan. An armed guard appeared. Another official turned up to immediately take my luggage from the exit conveyor belt to the inspection table. I was asked to open my suitcase. They rummaged through but found nothing.
I had nothing to hide … but, if they had checked my orifices, they may have found my hemorrhoids. Thank god it wasn’t a strip search. 🙂
We were all, finally, back on the bus and off again. The aircon was set at a cold 21 degrees c. Out came my silk sleeping bag liner that I bought in Hoi An, Vietnam.
At 1:30am we were stopped at another police check point. This time, I was asked to show my passport.
In the first 2 hours, we also stopped at 2-3 rural bus stations to pick up more passengers.
This was a first class bus, but it was still hard to sleep. At 4:15am the bus stopped at a roadside cafe for 30 minutes so that everyone could get off and have a comfort break.
It is not a big terminal. I walked up the steps and out of the building. Several Taxi Drivers approached me but I declined.
Outside, I saw an old Gringo gentleman with a pink beard. He looked like he had been around Zipolite a while. 🙂 I approached him for advice.
The Colectivos are not the Minivans that I am used to. They are blue, flatbed trucks that have been converted into people carriers.
As the crow flies, Zipolite is only about 10kms from Pochutla but the road loops around to get to it. The journey is more like 20kms with constant stops as people get on and off. It took nearly 1 hour to get to Zipolite. The cost was MXP20.
I advise GRANDPAckers to catch a Taxi.
ZIPOLITE ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:
Many of the cheaper places are not listed on the internet … but you can find the odd one with a website. There are many places to stay that are not listed.
AGODA didn’t have many properties. VACATION RENTALS are few and expensive.
Have a look yourself:
Friends in San Pedro suggested the Casa Del Mar hotel. I found it on Google Maps and headed towards it. They had negotiated MXP250 / night for rooms for 1 week with a balcony and seaview.
I hit the beach and decided to enquire at other hotels on the way. I wanted to stay 2 weeks.
The room did not have sea views but, at that price, I took it. The view from the room was back across the hotel room tops to the road.
The Brisa is nothing flash.
It has no restaurant (but there is one next door at the ‘A Nice Place’ hotel).
I settled into my room … once again, out came my washing line so that I could hang my clothes. I’m so glad that I brought that washing line!
By 2pm I was ready to eat so I hit the street … I bought a 1.2L bottle of Dos Equis beer (MXP32 / US$1.75) and sat down in a small local cafe for a meal of 1/2 BBQ chicken, rice, macaroni, and tortillas (MXP80 / US$4.35). It was so big that I could only eat half of it … besides, I had to save room for the beer!
I wandered along the beach that afternoon and had a quick look around.
The odd male nude walked by swinging low. The odd female nude lay sunbathing on the beach with legs open. I thought to myself … ‘I might keep my clothes on’. I didn’t want to embarrass anybody (especially myself). 🙂
After going back to my hotel for a ‘shit, shower, shave, and shampoo’, I hit the main street by 7:30pm. I sat down on a street table outside of a Supermini for a 1L pineapple water drink (MXP15 / US$0.80c).
I was there 10 minutes before a man that I met in San Pedro came to join me with his bottle of rum.
10 minutes later, the man with the pink beard came up to say hello … and invite me to join him and his friends further down the street.
5 minutes later, we were joined by a young German girl that I met in San Pedro. She sat with us and played ‘Space Oddity’ on her Ukulele. We bought her a beer.
We split company and I wandered down the street to meet Pink Beard. He was sitting with friends smoking a pipe of marijuana.
I will tell you more about Zipolite in a later post.
HELLO ZIPOLITE! … LET THE FUN BEGIN!
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