If you’re flying into La Aurora Airport in Guatemala City, chances are you’re not hanging around for very long. (And if you were planning to, you might want to rethink things – Guatemala City is not the most welcoming place for backpackers).
At most, stay one night in Guatemala City after a late flight, but stay close to the airport and take precautions when travelling to and from the safety of the airport, especially at night time.
Antigua Guatemala is often the first stop for backpackers in Guatemala, especially for those without a rigid travel plan. This is mostly because of its proximity to the capital city (and therefore La Aurora Airport), its relative safety for travellers, and the range of activities you can do there including the Acatenango Volcano Hike, Cerro de la Cruz, and a whole bunch of outdoorsy tours.
This is based on our recent trip – not on the way we did things, but on the way I wish we’d done things now that I have a little more experience of travelling in Guatemala. This itinerary actually includes Antigua as the last stop on your trip, instead of the first (or the place you go back to three times due to lack of planning…).
You can, of course, do the itinerary in reverse, or follow these steps in reverse to get back to the airport at the end of your trip. I don’t regret a thing about the way we travelled in Guatemala, every experience we had was amazing and every wrong turn was a lesson learned. But, if I was going to do it again, this is how I would spend 7 days in Guatemala.
Anyway, back to the topic.
What do you do when you’re exhausted, you just got off an international flight, and you just want to get to your damned hostel in Antigua?
For me, the easiest answer is “book a shared shuttle bus in advance”, but let me run through the options and explain why…
Or, jump straight to a travel guide:
Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Antigua by Chicken Bus
The Chicken Bus is the travellers’ affectionate way of referring to the local buses in Central America. They range in quality, price and danger, so do your research before you get on. For example, local buses in Costa Rica are so safe it’s almost like getting on a bus at home. Buses in Nicaragua, however, I’m not sure I’d dare to step foot in.
The Chicken Bus in Guatemala (don’t call it that in front of the locals, by the way) is somewhere in between, and you can get a better feel for them by reading my article on how Ellie and I took the chicken bus from Antigua to Lake Atitlán. They are the cheapest way to travel in Guatemala, but you need to have your wits about you!
I haven’t taken the chicken buses from Guatemala Airport to Antigua, and I wouldn’t recommend it as your first activity in this beautiful country (especially if it’s your first time here). You should definitely get one at some point, purely for the experience, but you definitely want to do it early in the day, when you’re not feeling tired, and you have your bearings a little more in Guatemala.
If you are feeling adventurous, here’s how to do it:
Firstly, you need to get some local currency, and preferably in small denominations. You can change money or withdraw cash in the airport, but both of these options usually land you with large bills and there isn’t really anywhere in the airport to get change.
Leaving the airport, you can easily follow signs or ask someone where the bus terminal is. Honestly, you may get a funny look or two, or even have people tell you that taking the bus is not a good idea. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!).
It will not be hard to find the right bus: Drivers will stand around (loudly) inviting you onto their bus to Antigua.
The ride will cost you 20-30 Quetzales; there’s no official price, and your driver might try to rip you off for clearly being tourist.
Keep your belongings close, keep your wits about you, and whatever you do, if you don’t feel safe, do not get off in the middle of nowhere. You’ll soon realise you were safer on the bus.
Going off-topic a little: leaving the tourist trail in Guatemala can be dangerous. The country is still relatively new to its booming tourist trade, and although the cities and locals on the ‘tourist trail’ have made the country a beautiful and relatively safe place to be, going off the beaten track is not a good idea and you could easily find yourself in a spot of danger. (New article on this coming soon!)
Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Antigua by Airport Shared Shuttle
Originally, this was the option I had planned for. Shared shuttles from Guatemala City Airport to Antigua are 15$USD (cash only) per person, but here’s the catch: they don’t go until they have at least four people (enough to fill a taxi). You could end up in luck, with four or more people walking straight off your plane and in the direction of the airport shuttles.
Or, like me, you could end up being the only one in the waiting area, wondering when on earth the next plane is going to come in…
I was supposed to wait 2 hours in the airport for Ellie to arrive so we could travel to Antigua together. Then, at least the shuttle would be half-full! However, I actually arrived in Antigua slightly before my scheduled time and Ellie arrived a little later… that is to say, 24 hours later. (She got stuck in Houston after her first flight was delayed).
You get the on-demand shared shuttles and taxis from the Yellow “Airport Taxis” booth in the airport, which will either be just to your right or facing you directly, depending on which arrivals exit you come out of. There will likely be someone leaning out of the booth and waving, inviting you to order a taxi. No, it’s not a scam, those are the real airport taxis!
All of these shuttles and taxis will take you straight to your accommodation for a fixed price.
Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Antigua by Private Taxi
When I spoke to the woman at the shuttle/taxi booth, she told me that I could also opt to share a taxi with someone if we were both willing to split a 50$ taxi ride 50/50. This option became more and more appealing the longer I waited, and the longer I spent looking at the 60$ Uber ride on my phone. It was around 5.30pm: prime rush hour.
I crossed my fingers when I saw someone else walk up to the airport taxi booth. It wasn’t long until the woman came running over to me and asked if I wanted to share a private taxi with this guy (25$ each). After 30 hours of travel from Lisbon, it was an easy decision to cough up the extra 10$, and having a private taxi definitely beats a shuttle bus when you’re stuck in traffic for 2.5 hours (!). Speaking of rush hours and travel time: the airport taxis and shuttle buses are a fixed price, so you won’t pay more if you do end up stuck!
Later, the lovely gentleman I shared a taxi with asked why I was in such a rush. I looked at him, confused, and he told me the lady at the airport taxi booth had told him I wanted to share a taxi because I was in a rush.
I don’t know for sure, but I have a suspicion that this guy was about to get a taxi for himself, and the woman in the booth did me a solid and convinced him to share with me because I was “in a rush”. She didn’t get any extra from that sale… I like to think she just did it to be kind.
Read more about Guatemala
Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Antigua by Uber
As I mentioned above, if you’re landing in rush hour, local time, an Uber is going to be expensive (especially if there’s only one of you). If Ellie hadn’t missed her connection in Houston and I’d waited hours for her to arrive, we may have found a much more reasonably priced Uber later in the evening. This could have ended up the cheapest option for us (other than the bus, which you should not attempt after dark!), but alas, like the best laid travel plans, it didn’t work out the way that we hoped.
The rush hours local time are between around 7-10 am and 4-8 pm. Outside of these times, you may have more luck ordering an Uber.
If you do want to go with this option, there is Airport WiFi (which is easy to connect to and reliable), but beware that you’ll lose connection the second you leave the building. I’d always recommend going prepared with a travel plan from your phone provider or an eSIM, at least for the first day in a new country.
I’m using Airalo eSIM on my current trip through Central America, and it’s worked perfectly. (A little too perfectly, actually, you wouldn’t believe how much data you can eat through on a long-distance bus ride!)
Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Antigua by Booking a Shuttle in Advance
Saving the best until (almost) last… after everything I’d learned on my journey so far, this was the advice I gave to Ellie when she squeezed on a flight from Houston to Guatemala the next morning.
I’ve already mentioned that (at the time of writing, January 2024) the on-demand shuttle (for which you may get lucky, or you may have to wait), is 15$. After a quick google search, I found shuttle services that you can pre-book with Guatego Travel for 19$. For the extra 4$ it wasn’t worth the wait, especially after a stressful delay and being stuck overnight in a dingy Houston motel…
Ellie had a seamless ride with Guatego Travel, so we can definitely recommend them. Another company I’ve found with good reviews (but that we have not used) is Adrenalina Tours. Both of them have a variety of departures to suit your arrival time.
Of course, the problem with booking the shuttle buses in advance is that it may not wait for you if your plane is delayed, and they won’t give you your money back, either. Ellie was able to book hers just a few hours in advance as she sat waiting for the plane to take off (I offered to do it for her, I promise, but she’s a boss). Of course, there’s no guarantee that there will still be pre-bookable spots if you leave it this late, but at least she could be reasonably sure there wouldn’t be a huge delay to her flight.
The great thing about the shuttle service from Guatemala City to Antigua is that they’ll drop you right at your final destination (i.e. your accommodation), just like a taxi.
The less-great thing about the shuttle service is that you’ll have to wait for everyone else on the bus to get dropped off if your accommodation is on the wrong side of the city…
Read more about Guatemala
Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Antigua with a Private Transfer
Of course the most expensive of all options (except maybe an Uber, depending on the time of day!), is booking a private service.
If you’re arriving very early, very late, or don’t deal well with jet lag, taking a private driver from Guatemala City to Antigua may be the best option for you.
The best way to do this is to ask your hotel or hostel to book you a ride, or to recommend you a trustworthy driver. If you’re lucky enough to already know a few people in Antigua or Guatemala City, you could ask them, too! I don’t know how much this would cost these days, but our hostel quoted us 300Q for a private shuttle service, so I imagine it would cost more than that!
The great thing about this is that there will be someone waiting for you at the airport, they can have your flight number to be aware of any delays to your flight, and they’ll take you straight to your final destination without interruptions. If you’re looking for peace of mind to start your trip, this is the way to do it.