My Unexpected Tour Of Guatemala City

My only option to get from Antigua to Guatemala City was to take a shuttle bus. Once the completely full mini van arrived airport destine passengers were dropped off first. Of course these passengers were the type of folks that can not spend their annual two week vacation without bring the kitchen skin along. Each had 2 or 3 suitcases that had to be handed down from the roof of the van, a slow process without the examination of every bag but its owner. Then there was the predicable complaining to the totally disinterested driver about scratches, dents and assorted abrasions… followed by the equally predicable rants about never traveling with his company again, and the odd promises never to even visit Guatemala again.

Photo overlooking Guatemala city by Oscar Velazquez

Photo overlooking Guatemala city by Oscar Velazquez

Passengers going on to Tikal National Park or other destinations north and east of the city were dropped off at their respective departure points. Backpackers collected their backpacks and headed to the lines forming beside chicken buses or Pullman buses (a step up from a chicken bus, but often not a big step). Those passengers needing to wait while their second, or even third bag was handed down from the roof rack alternately checked their watches and the growing lines of passengers waiting to board the waiting transports. The anxiousness was palatable, so rather than wasting time checking bags and pointlessly complaining about scratches, they rush off to find their rides as soon as they had their bags in hand.

I was obviously the only person on the shuttle heading south. Between the ridiculously long disembarking of passengers at the airport, and the rather quick dropping off of passengers at the first bus depot, I was very early for the next bus to Santa Ana. That was because I missed the bus the travel agent said I’d be on time to connect with. Rather than just dumping me off at the bus depot for El Salvador bound passengers, where I would have to wait on the next bus, the driver was nice enough to give me a tour of Guatemala City. He explained that he had to wait until it was time to pick up passengers for the return trip to Antigua, and that to do so he had to go back to the airport anyway so will show me some of the sights. The same driver had had me as a passenger before, on a previous visit to Antigua, so I guess he assumed I’d be repeat business in the future too… and I most likely will be.

Driving through Guatemala City's street market

Driving through Guatemala City’s street market

The highlight for me was to drive through the street market, many, many blocks of streets choked by vendor stalls and merchants running beside vehicles with their wares in their arms. Throngs of shoppers never block traffic completely, seeming to flow around the vehicles rather than be run down by them.

If a driver wanted something a running merchant was selling, and was unfamiliar with the protocol, he or she would pull over to complete their purchase. Apparently that’s not advisable. Any car that stopped was a potential customer and was immediately set upon by other mobile merchants, each pushing and shoving to gain access to the open window. Only this ill advised action would halt the flow of foot traffic, vehicles and running merchants. My driver showed me the correct procedure to making a purchase while keeping one’s foot off the brake.

Earlier, the driver had purchased an insulated cup from a volunteer firefighter working an intersection. It was obviously part of their fund raising because he was in uniform and wore ID around his neck. While driving through the street market the driver bought a Pepsi from a man running beside the van, not slowing down at all while making the transaction, Nor did he slow down while opening the bottle and poured the contents into the insulated drinking cup. Obviously vendors and shoppers in the street market know enough to avoid vehicles driven by distracted drivers because there were no fatalities.

The stalls reduce traffic to a single lane in many places, and people driving go slow so they can check out the merchandise. Cars stop so a passenger can jump out to make a purchase, the driver protected from mobile vendors by locked doors and rolled up windows. The stopped car acts like a stone in a brook, with the flow of shoppers on foot streaming around it without slowing. Obviously anyone in a hurry avoids streets with market stalls, but I was in no hurry at all.

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Vagabond Travel came into being April 16, 2014 when I departed Canada heading for Mexico City. I have no destination in mind, nor an itinerary to follow. This is a sort of website, journal and travel blog all rolled into one. That’s about it.

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