A wooden pier on Lake Atitlan

Five Ways to get from Guatemala Airport to Lake Atitlán

La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City is likely going to be your first stop in Guatemala, unless you’re lucky enough to be travelling down from Mexico. (If that piqued your interest – you can enter Guatemala either by land from Mexico or Belize, or fly to Flores from Cancun or Merida). But that’s not what this article is about!

Guatemala City is not the most welcoming of places, so chances are you’ll want to travel onward pretty much as soon as you land. If you’re travelling as a group it is probably safe to stay a night or two in Guatemala City, but there’s not a lot to see or do there, anyway. If you’re travelling solo, I’d definitely recommend hightailing it out of there ASAP. When I landed in Guatemala City (after a twelve hour flight from Madrid, I might add), I jumped into a taxi with a lovely German fella I met in the airport. I probably wouldn’t recommend winging it this way (it’s a long story – I was going travelling through Central America with one of my best friends, Ellie, and we were supposed to meet in the airport but she got stranded in Houston for the night), especially not if you want to get all the way to Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is honestly the most beautiful lake. The scenery is simply stunning, full of breathtaking views, and I can’t think of a better way to start your journey through Guatemala. Lucky you! 

Travelling from Guatemala International Airport to Lake Atitlán is quite the journey, so I’d only recommend doing it if your plane lands in the morning or early afternoon. There’s always a way to do it, of course, but if you’re feeling pushed for time I would recommend spending the night in Antigua. 

If you want the short answer of how to get from Guatemala City Airport to Lake Atitlan, here it is: either book a shuttle bus in advance, or book a shuttle to Antigua and then take the chicken bus to Lake Atitlan the next day. (Personally, I spent a couple of nights in Antigua waiting for Ellie to catch up before we took the chicken bus up to Lake Atitlan. And that was a bit of an adventure, let me tell you!).

Anyway, below you’ll find a complete guide on how to do this, plus a few other options if the chicken bus is not for you. All of these guides will be on how to get from Guatemala Airport to Panajachel, the main town around Lake Atitlan. You can easily take the public boat or private transportation to any other destination around Lake Atitlan from Panajachel, including Santa Cruz La Laguna, San Marcos La Laguna, Santa Catarina Palopó, and San Pedro La Laguna.

If you’re not sure where to go, here’s my guide on where to stay around Lake Atitlan

I haven’t written anything here about taking a rental car. This is simply because I don’t know enough on the subject: I don’t know if it’s safe (although I do know that they have roads you should avoid because they are dangerous, especially on the way to Panajachel), I don’t know what the road conditions are like (only that the bus rides were bumpy AF), and I don’t know what the insurance situation is. Maybe I’ll try it out one day and let you know, but for now renting a car won’t be covered in this article.

Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Lake Atitlan by Chicken Bus

You’ll hear this phrase everywhere you go in Central America. The Chicken Bus. This is what travellers call the local buses in Central America. The locals just call it… well… the bus. 

I wouldn’t recommend trying to take the bus directly from Guatemala Airport, but you could take one of the other options from the Airport to Antigua then follow my guide to taking the chicken bus from Antigua to Lake Atitlan. It’s best, and safest, to take the chicken bus in the morning, so it would be a good idea to spend the night in Antigua unless you’re arriving really early. 

I also wouldn’t recommend taking the chicken bus straight from Guatemala City, just because of how dangerous it is around there. You could give it a go if your Spanish is good and you’re travelling in a group (or a particularly adventurous solo traveller) but I wouldn’t do it myself. The drivers of the chicken buses between touristy cities and towns, like Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and Quetzaltenango, are a bit more used to dealing with foreigners (but that doesn’t mean they’re going to speak English). 

If your flight does arrive early enough, your total travel time for this option would be around 5-6 hours.

Remember about the chicken bus: keep your bags and belongings close to you, know confidently how to say where you’re going and ask for directions, and you must have the local Guatemalan currency (the Quetzal) in small denominations.

Read more about Guatemala: A Guide to the Guatemala Tourist Trail

Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Lake Atitlan by Private Transfer/Taxi

A standard airport taxi from Guatemala Airport to Lake Atitlan will set you back around $150 USD. Whilst that sounds like a LOT, if you can travel in a group of three or four people, it really isn’t a bad price to go all that way. The chances of you finding those other people as a solo traveller, however, are quite slim.

When I took a taxi from Guatemala Airport to Antigua (for a set price of $50), I shared with what seemed to be the only other person going in that direction at the time, and Antigua is a much more common destination from the Airport than Panajachel or anywhere else around Lake Atitlan. So, I wouldn’t take my chances! If you do want to take a taxi when you arrive in the airport, be prepared to pay the full fee. 

In this case, I’d also say it’s a better idea to book a private car in advance. There are a few companies that will arrange this for you online, but they tend to be upwards of $200 USD. The best way to book a private service is to get in contact with a private driver.

If you’ve pre-booked your accommodation in Lake Atitlán, you can ask them if they organise private transport for you or if they can offer any suggestions. Another easy way to book a reliable private transfer service is by getting recommendations on forums and Facebook groups. Here is a great Facebook group for recommendations on travelling in Guatemala: Backpack Guatemala.

The length of the drive will vary greatly depending on the time of day. The rush hours local time are between around 7-10 am and 4-8 pm. Within these times you can spend several hours just stuck in traffic trying to get out of the city! At quieter times, the drive can be as quick as three hours.

Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Lake Atitlan by Uber

Uber in Guatemala is legal and safe, but actually booking one that is willing to take you all the way to Lake Atitlan may be another story.

I’ve more included this option to let you know that you can try it if another method of transport lets you down last minute. I wouldn’t necessarily rely on this as an option, even if you are travelling in a group!

If you want to order an Uber, there is reliable Airport Wifi in Guatemala Airport, but be aware that you’ll lose connection as soon as you walk outside. 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 until you can buy a SIM card there.

I use Airalo eSIM and it has personally been great for me – although it is more expensive than buying a SIM once you arrive, it’s great to top up with a small amount of data that will get you by in the meantime.

Read more about Guatemala: What to Wear & Carry-On Packing List for Guatemala

Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Lake Atitlan by Booking a Shuttle Service in Advance

After everything I learned on my journey from Guatemala Airport to Antigua, and advice from my new friends I made in our very first hostel, this was the advice I gave to Ellie when she arrived the next day. Book a shuttle in advance. Yes, it may cost a little more, but it’ll be waiting for you when your plane lands and you don’t need to worry about last minute availability. Especially when you’re landing in Guatemala after a long flight, for me this is the best option.

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.

Both of these companies offer a transfer to Panajachel, but they include a stop in Antigua. So, you’ll get on a shuttle bus with a bunch of other travellers to Antigua, get off in the company’s office there, and wait for another shuttle bus to take you to Panajachel. The whole ride will take between 4.5 hours and 6 hours depending on the time of day that you travel, and it costs $42 with Guatego Travel or $40 with Adrenalina Tours.

Most shuttle services will drop you at the door of your final destination, but this does not seem to be the case with shuttles from Guatemala City Airport to Panajachel. But, don’t worry, Panajachel is pretty small so you’re unlikely to have a long walk on your hands when you arrive!

Whilst some shuttles (e.g. the one to Antigua) are available to book last minute, some of these options need to be booked 48 hours in advance, so make sure that you’re prepared!

Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Lake Atitlan by Airport Private Shuttle Service

Originally, this is how I had planned to travel onwards from Guatemala Airport (only, I was going to Antigua, not to Panajachel). There will be several options for shared shuttles at a variety of prices, starting at around $30 USD, for a trip to Panajachel. They will all most likely also involve a change in Antigua. So, they’ll stick you on a shuttle bus to Antigua, leave you waiting at their office for a while, and then take you on another bus to Panajachel. This can increase your travel time considerably, depending on how long you have to wait for.

This is just like the above method, except you don’t pay in advance and, therefore, there are no guarantees! Although it is usually a little more expensive, I’d always recommend booking in advance to make sure your trip goes smoothly (especially when you’ve just come off a long plane ride).

There’s also a catch: the shared shuttles don’t budge until they have at least four people to go (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… lucky thing I met that old German dude in the airport.

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