Lake Atitlan (Guatemala) to Bay Islands (Honduras) – Journey (COVID-19)


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MAY 2021:


OVERVIEW:

I stayed in San Pedro La Laguna (SPLL), Lake Atitlan, Guatemala for 4 months during COVID-19.

Generally speaking, SPLL is pretty safe with bars and restaurants closing at 9pm. Alas, only about 50% of people there wear masks… and we had a COVID outbreak that came out of one of the young, party bars near the main Boat Dock. This resulted in the town being closed down for 2 weeks followed by bars closing at 6pm for a further 2 weeks.

It was time to move on to Roatan Island, Honduras. I decided to take on the journey by land:



In summary, the journey entailed:

  • A Lancha from San Pedro La Laguna (SPLL) to Panajachel (Pana)
  • A Shuttle Bus from Pana to Antigua
  • 2 nights in Antigua so that I could get my COVID Antigen Test
  • A Hedman Alas Bus from Antigua to Guatemala City
  • A Hedman Alas Bus from Gautemala City to Copan, Honduras
  • A Hedman Alas Bus from Copan to San Pedro Sula
  • A local bus from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba
  • A night in La Ceiba
  • A taxi from La Ceiba town to La Ceiba port
  • A ferry from La Ceiba port to Coxen Hole, Roatan Island
  • A taxi from Coxen Hole to where I was staying in West End town

PLEASE NOTE:

The currency in Guatemala is the Quetzal (or the ‘GTQ’). At the time of writing, the exchange rates were:

US$1EU€1GB£1
Published Wholesale RateGTQ7.75GTQ9.37GTQ10.64
Effective (Actual) Exchange RateGTQ7.44GTQ8.99GTQ10.21

You will NOT get these wholesale rates (read the ‘Money’ section, below); expect to lose 4%.


The currency in Honduras is the Lempira (or the ‘HNL’). At the time of writing, the exchange rates were:

US$1EU€1GB£1
Published Wholesale RateHNL24.01HNL29.07HNL33.78
Effective (Actual) Exchange RateHNL22.81HNL27.61HNL32.08

You will NOT get these wholesale rates (read the ‘Money’ section, below); expect to lose 5%.


Over time, these exchange rates will change. Please check the current rates.


COVID REQUIREMENTS:

In May 2021, Honduras required you to have either a negative PCR Test or a negative Antigen Test to enter the country. Both are required to be no more that 72 hours old when you arrive at their border.

In addition, you have to get online and go to the Honduras Government site (see, below). Here, you have to fill in 3 forms. This can only be done within 72 hours of your arrival date. One of these forms requires you to supply details about your negative COVID test.

Simply put, you have to get you negative COVID test before you complete the online forms. The online forms are best completed at least 24 hours before your arrival at the Honduras border (to allow them time to electronically approve your application).

In Guatemala, you can get an Antigen (‘Rapid’) Test done at a Centre De Salud (a sort-of local Emergency Clinic). These are usually free of charge.

However, the Centre De Salud in SPLL was not reliable… They regularly ran out of test kits… and this could last for a few days. I decided to ‘play it safe’ and get my test done in Antigua.

PLEASE NOTE: The SPLL Centre De Salud is not at the location shown on Google Maps. It’s new location is half way between SPLL and the neighbouring town of San Juan La Laguna … a Tuk Tuk will get you there from anywhere in town for GTQ5.


SPLL TO ANTIGUA:

You have 2 options:

  • A direct shuttle bus from SPLL to Antigua (GTQ100);
  • A Lancha from SPLL across the lake to Pana and a shuttle bus from there to Antigua (GTQ125).

As the road out of SPLL was being repaired, the direct shuttle left at 6am to avoid the road shut down at 7am. This was too early for me. So, I chose to go via Pana.

I was down at the main SPLL Boat Dock at 7:50am and I caught the 8am Lancha. The Lancha to Pana costs GTQ25 (this should already be paid for in your GTQ125 ticket which should include a Lancha Voucher).

This Lancha goes via several other lakeside towns along the way.

It normally takes 45 minutes to get to Pana … we were running late and didn’t get there until 9:05am.

PLEASE NOTE: DON’T PANIC if you are running late. Your shuttle bus will wait for the Lancha to land.

You walk about 50 metres up from the Pana Boat Dock to the main road. Your Shuttle Bus will stop here.

There are many different Shuttle Bus companies … ask each bus as it arrives until you find yours. Mine arrived at 9:10am.

These a comfortable tourist shuttle buses.

As we wound up the hills from Pana, we got some beautiful views of Lake Atitlan behind us.

We arrived in Antigua at 11:30am.


ANTIGUA:

Most shuttle bus companies will drop you off at your Antigua hotel for no extra charge … so, make sure that you know its name and address when you jump on the shuttle back in Lake Atitlan. Otherwise, the shuttle will drop you off at the Parque Central or at the Main Bus Terminal.

I booked 2 nights in a cheap hotel (Hotel Antigua Inn & Services) situated near the Antigua Centre De Salud.

It was a Double with Private Bathroom. I paid GTQ68 per night including Breakfast.

CENTRE DE SALUD:

It was now 12:30pm. I headed straight for the Centre De Salud. At the entrance, I was told by a security guard that COVID testing was closed for the day and that they are only available between 7am and 11:30am each morning. I walked around central Antigua sightseeing for a few hours.

I had already booked 2 nights in Antigua to cover for such an eventuality. I returned at 6:50am the next morning to find a 50 metre long queue. Thankfully, most of these people were there for non-COVID reasons. At 7:05am a nurse came out and separated out all of the people wanting COVID testing into a separate line and led us all to the testing tent.

I was number 11 in the line. Before entering the tent, a man came around gathering passport and other personal details on a form. One by one we entered the tent to complete the registration process… then, into an adjacent tent to get our nasal-swab. We, then, had to wait outside for about 15-20 minutes for our results.

The test was free. After the short wait, a man calls out your name and hands you your COVID Test Certificate.

By 08:15am, I was on my way back to my hotel.

HEDMAN ALAS:

I got online and booked my seat on the Hedman Alas bus before leaving SPLL: Hedman Alas.e-Ticket System. I reserved seat number 25 on each of the 3 legs from Antigua to San Pedro Sula: Antigua to Guatemala City (1 hour), Guatemala City to Copan (6 hours including the border crossing), and Copan to San Pedro Sula (3-4 hours depending on traffic).

The online price was displayed as USD43 for an ‘executive’ seat and about USD70 for a luxury seat. COVID rules require each person to be separated from others by at least 1 empty seat. As a result, the seat next to you has to be empty. On that basis, I booked the cheaper USD43 seat. There must have been hidden costs (perhaps tax and/or an online processing fee) because I was actually charged a total of USD48.50.

The bus leaves Antigua at 3:30am. Hedman Alas offer free pick up from your Antigua hotel. You can request this pick up online when you book your ticket (you enter your Hotel name and address) … if you forget, you will have to find your own way to the Hedman Bus Terminal (I have no idea where that is!) … read on …

I didn’t want to have a problem at 3am in the morning. So, I emailed Hedman Alas with a copy of my booking and asked them what time they would pick me up from my hotel. They NEVER replied to that email. As a double precaution, I decided to go to the Hedman Alas office in Antigua.

PLEASE NOTE: The Hedman Alas Antigua Office is NOT at the location shown on Google Maps. You will find it at Reception in Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo Antigua.

The receptionist could not confirm pick up online. Instead, she sent Head Office another email confirming my Hotel name and address. She advised me to be ready at 3am as the free ‘shuttle’ will pick me up between 3:00am and 3:15am.

HONDURAS PRE-CHECK FORM (ONLINE):

I headed back to my hotel and went to the Honduras Government web site: INM – Prechequeo Migratorio.

You have to register. This will take you to the Pre-Check Main Page.

In Step 1, you follow the link to the Pre-Check Form. You will need to know which Immigration Office you will use when crossing the border: I was crossing at El Florido. You will be emailed a PDF of this completed form. You will need to print this off as you will need a hard copy at the Honduras border.

On completing the Pre-Check Form, you will be asked to continue on and also complete a Customs Declaration Form. You will be emailed a link to the PDF of this completed form; follow the link. You will need to print this off as you will need a hard copy at the Honduras border. Don’t forget to sign it at the bottom.

In Step 2 you follow the link to the COVID Survey Form. They do NOT email you a copy of this completed form and YOU ARE NOT required to provide a hard copy of this form at the border. This form is held electronically within the Honduras Immigration System and is available to the Immigration Officer in real time as they check you into Honduras and give you your Entry Stamp. To complete this form, you will need to scan and upload a copy of your passport photo page and also scan and upload a copy of your negative COVID Test Certificate.


ANTIGUA TO GUATEMALA CITY:

I was waiting outside of my Antigua hotel at 2:50am. 3:00am passed. 3:15am passed. At 3:20am I get a phone call (it is LUCKY that I have a Guatemala Mobile number and that I gave this to Hedman Alas as my contact number rather than giving them the telephone number of the hotel … if I had done the latter, they wouldn’t have been able to contact me).

The man from Hedman Alas spoke no English. I speak a little Spanish. He asked me where I was … I said that I was waiting outside of my hotel. He asked me if the ‘car’ had arrived yet. I said no. After say more to me that I did not understand, he hung up.

He called me about 5 minutes later. He said that the ‘car’ was waiting for me. I said that there was no car at my hotel. He sounded confused. LUCKILY, I was able to get on to Google Maps with my Smartphone and read out the exact address of my hotel (in Spanish).

At 3:35am a car arrived just as the Hedman Alas man phoned me for a 3rd time. I told him that all was well.

We loaded my luggage in the car boot and set off. 5 minutes later, we stopped at another hotel to pick up 2 more young Dutch guys. Their luggage went in the front passenger seat … and we had 3 large men sharing the back seat. There was NO bus with seat number 25 between Antigua and Guatemala City. This little car was it 🙂 I guess that they send a vehicle suitable for the number of passengers that they have.

PLEASE NOTE: If I hadn’t booked the free pick up service … and, given that there was no Hedman Alas bus to catch from the Main Bus Terminal … I have no idea how I was ever expected to find this car.

I RECOMMEND: That you book the Free Pickup from your hotel when you buy your on-line ticket.

We arrived at the Hedman Alas Bus Terminal in Guatemala City at 4:30am. Before boarding our 5:00am bus to Copan, we were required to show our passport, completed hard-copy border documentation, and hardcopy negative COVID test.

Our cabin bags were searched as we boarded the bus. We left on time at 5:00am.

The seating was old but comfortable … having 2 seats per person definitely made the difference.


GUATEMALA CITY TO COPAN:

We were offered no complimentary services: no free water, no snacks, etc. There were pop down TVs showing movies dubbed in Spanish with sub-titles. Most people slept all of the way to the border.

Due to COVID the on-board toilets were closed. The bus had no scheduled stops. A man had to ask the driver to stop for people to go to the toilet. He stopped at a Petrol Service Station that had decent free toilets. Everyone took advantage of this unscheduled stop.

THE BORDER CROSSING:

By 10:15am we were at the Guatemala-Honduras El Florido border. We disembarked and joined a queue. This was to get our temperatures checked … if our temperatures were OK we were allowed to enter the Immigration building.

The next queue was for Guatemala Immigration. Check out was fast and simple.

Immediately adjacent was the queue for Honduras Immigration. Honduras Immigration is now fully computerised (rumour has it that this was paid for by the USA to help control the flow of illegal immigrants heading north to the USA border). They take your photo and scan your fingerprints.

CA-4 TOURIST VISA:

I had 54 days left on my Central America 4 (CA-4) 90 day tourist visa. This is a common visa shared between Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. I asked the Immigration Officer for a new 90 days for Honduras … she said no. Due to the level of computerisation this can no longer be done. I was given the remaining 54 days.

You pay a USD3 ‘Processing Fee’ to enter Honduras. In the old days, this had to be paid in USDs. This time, I was allowed to pay in GTQ … I was charged GTQ30 (which is worth USD4) 🙂

PLEASE NOTE: I hear that if you fly into Honduras from another CA-4 country you can get a new 90 day visa … but, you cannot at a land border.

MONEY:

There were no ATMs and no Money Changer Touts at the border … so, there was nowhere to get any HNLs.

ALSO NOTE: there were no toilets either.


COPAN:

We arrived in the Hedman Alas Bus Terminal in Copan at about 11:15am. This is separate from the Main Bus Terminal and about 4 blocks from the town centre.

Their terminal had a small canteen where you could buy snacks. I didn’t have any HNL.

There were free toilets available.


COPAN TO SAN PEDRO SULA:

The bus left at 11:30am. There were no scheduled stops between Copan and San Pedro Sula.

We were scheduled to arrive at 2:30pm. Due to roadworks, we arrived at 3:15pm.

Hedman Alas stop at the main Terminal Metropolitana de Buses; This is where you connect to all other long and short distance buses out of San Pedro Sula.


SAN PEDRO SULA TO LA CEIBA:

I strongly advise you NOT to stay in San Pedro Sula. Budget travellers will find it cheaper to move straight on to La Ceiba.

To get to La Ceiba, find an appropriate bus company in the main foyer (ask and people will tell you where to go). You have to go upstairs and walk past all of the quick food restaurants to get to the buses; where to go should be printed on your ticket (again, ask if you need help).

There are a couple of bus companies that go to La Ceiba. I booked my ticket with Diana Express. It costs about HNL150.

The journey to the main La Ceiba Bus Terminal take up to 4 hours. The last ferry to Roatan leaves at 4:30pm.

I RECOMMEND: You will not make it to La Ceiba in time to catch the ferry that same day. You will need to spend 1 night in La Ceiba. Given that you are likely to arrive at 7:00-8:00pm at night, I suggest that you book a hotel room in advance.


MY LA CIEBA ACCOMMODATION:

I booked a Double Room at the El Dorado Hotel. I chose the El Dorado because of its location: it is next to the main Bus Terminal. I paid US$17 for a Double Room … and it came with aircon and Cable TV. The ensuite was adequate and it came with a hot water shower.


LA CEIBA TO THE BAY ISLANDS:

The online information about the ferries is confusing. It looks like you can only get to Roatan via Utila. This is not true.

The direct ferry to Utila leaves at 9am. The direct ferry to Roatan leaves at 9:30am. They leave from different ferry docks. Make sure that you tell your taxi driver which island you are going to.

The standard price for a taxi from town to the ferry dock is HNL100. This is for the whole taxi. You can share this with up to 4 people.

I arrived at the Roatan ferry dock (Galaxy Wave) at 8:30am. The ticket to Roatan was HNL850. You also have to pay US$1 ‘port tax’ (which can be paid in HNL).

When you buy your ferry ticket you need to show your passport.

To enter the Departure Lounge, you need to show your ticket and Port Tax receipt.

There is a Banpais ATM outside of the ticket office. Handy if you need more cash. With Banpais you can withdraw HNL10,000. This is good because most other banks limit you to only HNL5,000 per withdrawal.

We left at 9:05am. We arrived in Roatan at 11:15am.


ROATAN FERRY DOCK TO WEST END:

You arrive at the Galaxy Wave ferry dock which is a few kms north of Coxen Hole.

Taxi touts are waiting for you. They will quote you US$25 to the West End. This may drop to US$20 if you keep walking.

The cheapest way is to get out into the carpark where you can catch a shared taxi for US$5 per person.


CONCLUSION:

You’ll be hard pushed to do this journey any cheaper. Enjoy!

TTFN


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