Guatemala - Tecnica road to Flores

Palenque – Flores – San Pedro Sula – La Ceiba – Utila


JUNE 2017:


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OVERVIEW:

We started in El Panchan, Mexico which is a small settlement on the edge of the Palenque Ruins.

From El Panchan, we made our own way by public transport to Flores, Guatemala. We stayed in Flores 2 nights.

From Flores, we made our own way by public transport to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. We stayed in San Pedro Sula 2 nights.

From San Pedro Sula, we made our own way by public transport to La Ceiba, Honduras. We stayed in La Ceiba 3 nights.

From La Ceiba, we made our own way by public transport to Utila Island, Honduras.


EL PANCHAN & PALENQUE, MEXICO:

In El Panchan, we stayed for 1 week in Margarita & Ed’s (which is not listed on the internet).

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

El Panchan - Margarita & Ed Entry

Our room had 2 Double beds and a private hot water bathroom.

They quoted a low season rate of MXP340 / night but, after a bit of jousting, I got this down further to MXP320 (US$18).

You walk through jungle paths to get to the rooms.El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Pathway 1

They have a couple of different buildings.El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Building

Our room was on the ground floor.El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Room Front

The room was a reasonable size …El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Room EntryEl Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Room FurnitureEl Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Bed

… and there was plenty of hot water.El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Ensuite VanityEl Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Ensuite Entry

There was no wardrobe, so out came my washing line again!El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Wardrobe

It was nice sitting outside listening to the noises of the jungle at night. Especially the howler monkeys.


PALENQUE, MEXICO TO FLORES, GUATEMALA:

In El Panchan there are 2 routes offered by the local Travel Agents:

  • Via Tenosique and El Ceibo (MXP650) – which is the shortest and quickest route
  • Via Frontera Corozal and Tecnica (MXP550)

We went to Palenque town to see whether or not we can do this ourselves and/or get a better price. In Palenque, the Shuttle via El Ceibo was MXP550 (MXP100 cheaper than at El Panchan). they picked you up free from El Panchan.

From the ADO Bus Terminal in Palenque, walk 50 meters towards El Panchan and you will find a Colectivo Terminal. Here, they display Colectivo prices to about 40 destinations.

They had no direct Shuttle to Tenosique nor El Ceibo, but their price to Frontera Corozal was MXP100 each. We decided to make our own way via Frontera Corozal. The Shuttle leaves every 1/2 hour from 2:30am to 7:30am.

We were up at 5:00am and waiting at the entrance to the Palenque Ruins (outside of the Kin Balam Hotel reception) at 5:50am.

The first Colectivo passed by at 6:00am. We jumped on. It was MXP15 each to the ADO Bus Terminal in Palenque town. We walked down to the Colectivo terminal.

It was 6:10am and there was a Colectivo just about to leave for Frontera Corozal. It was full, so we didn’t want to catch that one. They said that the next Colectivo didn’t leave until 8:00am … we didn’t believe them.

We walked into the Colectivo Terminal and purchased our MXP100 tickets for the next Colectivo. We were the first on, so we got the 2 best seats behind the driver. It left at 6:30am. It was full.

Our Colectivo did not go all of the way to Frontera Corozal. It dropped us off at the road junction at 9:10am. We had to pay another MXP50 each for a shared taxi from there to Frontera Corozal town. On the edge of town, we had to pay another MXP30 each ‘Town Tax’. We were dropped off outside of the Mexican Immigration office at 9:30am.

I do not know for sure but, perhaps, the Colectivos that go direct to Frontera Corozal only leave at 4:00am, 6:00am, and 8:00am … this would have saved us the taxi fare (but, probably, not the ‘Town Tax’).

Mexican Immigration was quick and easy. We paid our MXP500 ‘Departure Tax’ each and walked 100 meters down to the boat dock.Guatemala - Frontera Corozal River 1 Guatemala - Frontera Corozal River 2

There, we stopped for a quick breakfast and negotiated the price of a boat / lancha to take us across the river to Guatemala. We paid MXP70 each for the boat (there were only 2 of us). With 4 or more people, this would have come down to MXP50 each.Guatemala - Frontera Corozal Boat MXP70

We disembarked on the Guatemalan side of the river and walked 100 meters up to the road junction. We had to put our clocks back 1 hour.Guatemala - Tecnica Boat Dock

At the junction, we found a kiosk selling bus tickets to Flores for MXP200 (GTQ80) each. The next one left at 11:00am, so we had to wait 1.5 hours. The locals were friendly and we had a bit of a laugh with a couple of young girls.Guatemala - Tecnica Amanda and Girls

The (small) bus left town on unsealed country roads. We were the only 2 people on the bus.Guatemala - Tecnica road to Flores

After 25 minutes, we arrived at Guatemala Immigration in the middle of nowhere near Bethel. Our bus driver told us that we would each need to pay a US$5 ‘Entry Fee’. This is a scam.

We entered Immigration and got our passports stamped. They could see that we had been to Guatemala before and made no attempt to charge us an ‘Entry Fee’.Guatemala - Tecnica Immigration

By 1:30pm we were on paved roads. At 2:45pm we were dropped of in Santa Elena to connect with a Colectivo to take us the 2kms to Flores Island. This Colectivo is included in the price.

At Santa Elena you get the ‘hard sell’; the whole thing is a scam.

Our new driver tried to sell us all sorts of tickets at inflated prices. The normal ‘angle’ is that you have to book everything 2 days in advance … so, you need to buy it from them NOW. This is rubbish … ignore them.

Our driver’s name was Lazarus. He wanted GTQ380 each NOW for a bus ticket from Flores to San Pedro Sula saying that it would cost us GTQ560 each if we bought our tickets tomorrow.

He failed to sell us any tickets and drove us to Flores Island in a bit of a ‘huff’. He didn’t take us to our hotel. He took us to another hotel and tried to scam us 1 last time … he tried to sell us a room in another hotel for GTQ320 / night. We said no … we already had a booking at Los Estudiantes for only GTQ94 / night.

Lazarus got into even more of a ‘huff’ and told us to walk the rest of the way (which, luckily, was only about 200 meters). I advise everyone not to deal with Lazarus.


FLORES, GUATEMALA:

We pre-booked 2 nights at Los Estudiantes. We finally arrived at 3:00pm.

We got a good last minute discount on our Double Room with Private Bathroom through BOOKING.COM. The normal rate for our room was GTQ175.Flores - Estudiantes - Rooms

The reality was that they just gave us their worst room.

The ceiling fan was missing … so, we had to ask them to put in a floor-standing fan.

The room was ‘basic’ and ‘functional’. There was no wardrobe … so out came my washing line (again!).Flores - Estudiantes - Room EntryFlores - Estudiantes - ShowerFlores - Estudiantes - ToiletFlores - Estudiantes - Bed

Our rate included a free Breakfast.Flores - Estudiantes - Free Breakfast

It also included the free use of their bicycles. This came in very handy the next day as we used them to visit a couple of tour agents and to cycle up to the bus station.

I had been in Flores a few months before … I was not impressed then and I was not impressed now. Whatever Flores was has gone … it is now just an over-priced tourist trap.

We went out to Burger King on our first night – it isn’t cheap.

On our second night we went to a local restaurant. We had a Chicken Meal for GTQ60 and Chicken Fajitas for GTQ55.Flores - Fajitas MXP55 Flores - Grilled Chicken GTQ60

They were not good value for money.


FLORES, GUATEMALA TO SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS:

Tour agents were offering a bus to San Pedro Sula for GTQ320. We managed to get this down to GTQ280 by asking around.

Instead, we went to the ticket office at the bus station and bought our own tickets for GTQ240 each. When you book the tickets, you need to show them your passport(s).

The bus leaves the bus terminal at 6:00am. Our hostel told us that Tuk Tuks start at 5:00am so we wouldn’t have any trouble getting one from Flores Island to the bus terminal at that time in the morning. The hostel also told us that the Tuk Tuk price should be GTQ5.

We were up at 5:00am and on the street by 5:30am. We flagged down the first Tuk Tuk … he wanted GTQ10 each … we declined and flagged down the next one … he wanted GTQ5 each … so, we hopped on. We were at the bus terminal by 5:40am.Flores - Bus to San Pedro Sula GTQ120

The bus finally left 30 minutes late at 6:30am. The bus was a bit old and tired … not like the usual long distance tourist buses that you get in Mexico / Guatemala. It had no on-board toilet.Flores - Bus to San Pedro Sula Inside

At 7:30am we stopped for 5 minutes at the Melchor road junction to pick up more people (probably connecting from the Belize border).

At 8:05am we stopped for 15 minutes in Poptun to pick up more people and to allow others to have a comfort stop and get some breakfast.

At 10:20am we were in Rio Dulce. We only stopped to let people off.

At 10:55am we stopped at a large cafe where Route CA13 meets the main road coming up from Guatemala City.Morales - Bus Stop Cafe Street

We had to get off to change buses … we needed to join the main Guatemala City to San Pedro Sula bus. Morales - Bus Stop Cafe

The bus from Guatemala City was delayed due to an accident. It didn’t arrive until 2:30pm.Morales - Bus Stop

This was a proper long distance bus … more comfortable with an on-board toilet.

You were given Honduras Immigration forms to fill out on the bus. This helped to speed up the border process later.

However, by now, there was a traffic jam on the road between Morales and Puerto Barrios. We didn’t reach the Guatemala Immigration office until 4:50pm. The office is about 10kms from the actual border. We only needed to show our passports.

We got back on the bus and drove on to Honduran Immigration. They take fingerprint scans and a photo. You are charged US$3 ‘Entry Fee’ (yes, you do get a receipt). I had a US$20 note but they refused to change it … instead, I had to pay in GTQ … the price should have been about GTQ22.50 but they converted it to GTQ30 (no doubt someone was lining their pockets).

A couple of Asian guys had a problem and were thrown off the bus.

We cleared the border at 6:20pm. At 7:20pm we were in Puerto Cortes. We only stopped to let people off.

We arrived at the bus terminal in San Pedro Sula at 8:30pm. We were over 5 hours late.


SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS:

We pre-booked 2 nights in San Pedro Sula using EXPEDIA.COM.

Hotels in SPS were a bit more expensive than what we were expecting. We could get a ‘basic’ Double Room in a hostel in an ‘iffy’ part of town for about US$25 / night but, instead, we chose a Bed & Breakfast for US$32 / night: Los Dos Molinos.San Pedro Sula - Dos Molinos - Rooms

Los Dos Molinos offer ‘free pickup’ from the Train Station. I messaged them in advance and asked if they also offer ‘free pickup’ from the Bus Station. They did.

We figured that the free pick up and free Breakfasts were worth the extra money that we paid.

As we got off the bus, a taxi driver was waiting with our names on a big piece of paper.

The SPS Bus Terminal is large and has an attached Shopping Plaza. Alas, at 8:30pm everything was closed. In the Plaza, I tried to get money from 2 different ATMs without success. Our taxi driver took us to a nearby petrol station. There, I was able to take out HNL5,000 (the maximum) from their ATM.

We finally arrived at our hotel at 9:00pm.

We had a Double Room with aircon, Private (hot water) Bathroom, and Cable TV (almost all were in Spanish).San Pedro Sula - Dos Molinos - Room EntrySan Pedro Sula - Dos Molinos - Ensuite EntrySan Pedro Sula - Dos Molinos - Ensuite ShowerSan Pedro Sula - Dos Molinos - Bed

Yet again, there was no wardrobe …but, this time, we didn’t bother rigging up my washing line. We used the spare bed.

There was a communal balcony with a view out over the street.

That night, we walked 1 block from the hotel and ate in a little local cafe: HNL75 including drinks. The streets are dead at night and there were a couple of very drunk men staggering around. We went straight back to our hotel.

In the area around us, all of the shops had grid bars and they served you through pigeon holes. The streets were deserted after dark.

Our Breakfast was a bit ‘simpler’ than we were expecting. The first morning was scrambled egg, toast and a banana. The second morning was pancakes and a banana. Both came with unlimited coffee.

Our hotel was 1 to 1.5 kms from the Central Square. We walked into town the next day.

I bought an Honduras TIGO SIMcard for HNL55. It came with 100MB of data for 1 day. I added a 1 week promotional internet package (for new users) for another HNL100 which came with 800Mb of data, unlimited Whatsapp, some free texts, and 300 minutes of TIGO-to-TIGO call time. Later, I found that they had also given me 500Mb of free data for 2 weeks.

We walked around town trying to get money out of various ATM machines. The maximum withdrawal on most was HNL5,000. Alas, my favourite, HSBC do not have ATMs in Honduras … but I was able to withdraw HNL10,000 from a Banpais ATM.

Whilst in town, we got caught in a thunder storm and took shelter in the central park.San Pedro Sula - Afternoon Rains

Many locals seemed surprised to see us. One guy got a bit too close to me (and my pockets) with another guy standing in front of him as ‘cover’. All of my trousers have zipped pockets to deter pickpockets. He was unsuccessful and we moved on as soon as we could.


SAN PEDRO SULA TO LA CEIBA, HONDURAS:

Our hotel was very friendly and helpful. They told us that there were only 2 ferries per day from La Ceiba to Utila: one at 9:00am and another at 4:00pm.

To catch the 9:00am ferry we needed to catch a 5:00am bus from the SPS Bus Terminal. To catch the 4:00pm ferry we needed to catch a 10:00am bus. These were the only 2 buses going directly to the La Ceiba ferry port … all others stopped at the main La Ceiba bus terminal.

We were tired so, after due consideration, we decided not to rush … we decided to just get to La Ceiba and book into a hotel.

The taxi from our hotel back to the Bus Terminal was not free. Our hotel booked it for us (with a trusted taxi driver) and we were charged HNL80.

It was a 10 minute taxi ride and we were at the SPS Bus Terminal by 9:20am.San Pedro Sula - Bus Terminal Entry

There are a number of different booths selling tickets to La Ceiba. We asked around and found the cheapest one: HNL100 each. Buses leave every 30 minutes. We stopped for a coffee (HNL81 for 2).San Pedro Sula - Bus Terminal Plaza

Our bus left at 10:00am.San Pedro Sula - Bus Terminal Buses

At 11:15am we stopped for 10 minutes at a roadside cafe.San Pedro Sula - Bus to La Ceiba HNL100

At 12:10pm we were in Tela.

At 1:30pm (only 10 kms out from La Ceiba) we were stopped by police. All men had to get off the bus. We all had to spread against the side of the bus for a frisk down. All IDs were checked … they asked to see my passport … but, when I told them that it was in my suitcase in the luggage compartment, they didn’t bother.

We arrived in La Ceiba at 2:00pm and walked the 1km to our hotel: the Guacamayos that we had booked through EXPEDIA.COM.


LA CEIBA, HONDURAS:

Our hotel was closed for renovations. The Guacamayos has 2 hotels, so they gave us a free ride to their other hotel.La Ceiba - Guacamayos - Reception

There, we found that they did not have a reservation for us … they were having trouble getting paid by EXPEDIA and had tried to stop all bookings from them.

I showed them my confirmed booking and that I had already paid. They were really good about it and put us into a big King Room with 2 Double Beds, a Single Bed, Private (cold water) Bathroom, and Cable TV (with some English channels). La Ceiba - Guacamayos - Room EntryLa Ceiba - Guacamayos - Ensuite ToiletLa Ceiba - Guacamayos - Ensuite Shower La Ceiba - Guacamayos - Room

Yet again, there was no wardrobe … so out came my washing line.

We paid EXPEDIA US$18 / night (US$14 / night after I applied my EXPEDIA POINTS discount).

We had been emailing places on Utila to try and organise an apartment. We had not had any replies. Prices on Utila are expensive for GRANDPAckers, so we didn’t want to arrive without a booking that we could afford. On the internet, hotel prices started at US$35 / night!

We asked the Guacamayos if we could extend by 2 nights at the same price. They agreed but said that they could only match the EXPEDIA price if we paid by PAYPAL. There is good reason for this … PAYPAL payments go into their USA Bank Account so it is not traceable back in Honduras for Tax purposes. We extended by 2 nights at US$17 / night and paid by PAYPAL.

On our first night they didn’t have any clean towels … But, at least the Gaucamayos had a decent rooftop bar.La Ceiba - Guacamayos - Rooftop Bar Seating La Ceiba - Guacamayos - Rooftop Bar

From the Rooftop Bar you had a view out over the street. The hotel is located in the centre of town near the Central Park. These streets are busy with market stalls during the day … but at night, they are dead … and, you can see the Neighbourhood Watch patrolling the streets and shops on their bicycles and mopeds talking on walkie-talkies.

There isn’t much ‘endearing’ about La Ceiba. It is just a normal Honduran town with a poor beach … but we were only there to buy some time so that we could sort out Utila.La Ceiba - Waterfront LeftLa Ceiba - Waterfront RightLa Ceiba - Waterfront PierLa Ceiba - Waterfront Left from Pier La Ceiba - Waterfront Right from Pier

A typical meal in a local cafe costs about HNL90-100. If you get around the side streets you can get a meal for as little as HNL60. A beer in the Rooftop Bar at Gaucamayos starts at HNL30 for a SalvaVida.

Just outside Gaucamayos you could buy a Breakfast from a street stall for HNL30.La Ceiba - Street Breakfast HNL30

The Guacamayos provides free coffee up in the Rooftop Bar and free Water down near reception.

At this time of year, you usually get heavy rain in the afternoons and nights.


LA CEIBA TO UTILA, HONDURAS:

We will be catching the Monday 9:00am ferry out to Utila from La Ceiba.

I will tell you more about that in my next post.


CONCLUSION:

It is a long, tiring, and boring journey.

GRANDPAckers will, almost definitely, want to split this journey up and stop on the way.

If I were to do it again, I would do the following (to make it more comfortable and manageable):

  • 7:00am Colectivo El Panchan / Palenque, Mexico to Flores, Guatemala
  • 1 to 2 nights in Flores
  • 6:00am Bus Flores to Rio Dulce, Guatemala (or Puerto Barrios)
  • 1 to 2 nights in Rio Dulce / Puerto Barrios
  • 7:00am Bus Rio Dulce / Puerto Barrios to La Ceiba, Honduras
  • 1 to 2 nights in La Ceiba
  • 9:00am Ferry to Utila
  • Avoid San Pedro Sula

TTFN


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