A view of the countryside between Guatemala Airport and Quetzaltenango

Five Ways to get from Guatemala Airport to Quetzaltenango

Guatemala is becoming an increasingly popular travel destination, and lucky for you guys, I went there whilst travelling in Central America at the start of this year. If you follow my column, you’ll be thinking “yeah… duh… this is like the fifteenth article you’ve written on this, can you please talk about something else now?”. I’m speaking to those of you that just found us on Google. Welcome!

There are a few popular destinations to travel to when you first arrive in Guatemala, especially when you land straight into La Aurora International Airport in the capital city of Guatemala. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: don’t stay in Guatemala City, it’s not safe and there’s nothing to see there anyway! My personal recommendation is to travel straight to Antigua and at least stay the night there before you go anywhere else (click here for transport options from Guatemala Airport to Antigua), but if you’re short on time you might want to head straight towards Lake Atitlan or Quetzaltenango (in which case you’re in the right place).

Quetzaltenango, also known as Xela for short (no surprises on why they gave this city a nickname!) is known for its rich culture and history. The city has a beautiful cathedral and Central Park, many bustling markets, and great museums. It’s also well known for its large number of Spanish schools, although you will find Spanish schools all over Guatemala.

Quetzaltenango is quite a way from Guatemala City Airport, but you have a surprising number of options to make the transfer. So, let’s get started! 

Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Quetzaltenango by Plane

*I usually don’t recommend flying short distances, because it’s so bad for the environment*

Probably the easiest and most fuss-free way of getting from Guatemala City Airport to Quetzaltenango is by plane. The easiest way to do this is to book this flight in conjunction with your international flight that arrives in Guatemala City, so that if your first flight is delayed they’ll have to help you out on getting to Quetzaltenango. However, if you’re here, I’m guessing there’s a good chance you’ve already booked your flight to Guatemala City and want to know what to do next.

Well, the good thing is that there are direct flights from Guatemala City Airport to Quetzaltenango Airport. Quetzaltenango Airport is a very small airport and no international flights arrive there, so no, you can’t change your flight to arrive straight there! Of course, all of these are nonstop flights. Because the flight is only an hour, it would be a bit ridiculous to take a layover somewhere!

Depending on the time of year you want to go, there’s at least one direct flight per day run by Tag Airlines, which usually leaves in the morning, so if you’re landing in the evening you may need to spend the night. 

The best way to find cheap flights is to book in advance, but you can also get some pretty good last minute deals on Google Flights (it’s still cheaper to take the bus, though). 

Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Quetzaltenango by First Class Bus

Taking the first class bus is only an option if your flight lands in the morning, because the last bus from Guatemala City leaves at 3pm. You also don’t want to find yourself out and about in Guatemala City after dark! Guatemala Airport is safe enough, but the rest of the city is not, really.

Please note that this information is based on what other (and what I deemed to be trustworthy) travellers told me, as well as a little research I did online to confirm the bus routes. 

A taxi from the airport to the bus station will cost you around 80 Quetzales (or just over $10 USD). This will take you into Guatemala City, so please be careful and travel with a group if possible! Double check with your driver before you set off that they’re taking you to the right bus station: tell them the name of the bus company you want to travel with, and that you’re going to Quetzaltenango. 

The bus company Alamo has a bus that leaves from Guatemala City at 12.30pm.

The bus company Linea Dorada has a bus that leaves at 12pm and a bus that leaves at 3pm.

A ticket shouldn’t cost you more than 100 Quetzales (around $13 USD) and will go straight to Quetzaltenango, plus a few stops along the way depending which company you travel with. 

You’ll be able to see on Google Maps that the ride is around 3.5 hours, but expect it to take 4-5 hours given the stops you’ll make along the way plus the fact that a bus usually goes a little slower than a car!

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

Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Quetzaltenango by Chicken Bus

Unless you land in the morning and want to spend your whole day travelling, this isn’t really an option without an overnight stop in Antigua or Lake Atitlan. If you really want to go by bus, I’d recommend following my guide to getting from Guatemala City Airport to Antigua or Lake Atitlan, stay overnight, then travel on to Quetzaltenango the next day.

The chicken buses (or just buses, as they’re known by the locals) are dangerous (mostly in terms of pickpocketing), but the ones that you can take from Guatemala City are especially dangerous, due to the dangers of the city itself. If you do want to take a chicken bus adventure, I’d recommend taking a safer mode of transport out of the city first.

(This is what we did; Ellie and I each took a different method of transport from Guatemala City to Antigua, stayed for a couple of days, then took the chicken bus up to Lake Atitlan, but you could do the same and get all the way to Quetzaltenango in one day).

There are many other great reasons to wait a day or two before you hop onto a chicken bus. If you’re travelling alone, chances are you’ll meet someone cool in your hostel that’s going in the same direction as you, which makes it safer. You’ll be able to get advice from your accommodation and/or new friends on how many buses you’ll need to take and where you’ll have to change buses. And you’ll have time to get some local currency (the Guatemalan Quetzal) before you travel, which is pretty important on these buses (the drivers don’t take kindly to large notes!).

Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Quetzaltenango by Booking a Private Shuttle

If you’ve read any of my other articles about travelling to Antigua or Panajachel from Guatemala City Airport, you’ll see that you can often book a shuttle on the spot when you arrive. Although I can’t be completely sure that it’s not an option, I didn’t see anywhere offering this service when I was in the airport!

If you want to take a shuttle service to Quetzaltenango, I’d highly recommend booking in advance (and I recommend booking in advance anyway).

The only company I know of that offers a shuttle from Guatemala City Airport is Adrenalina Tours. We didn’t use this company (we used Guatego Travel, but they don’t offer a service to Quetzaltenango). So, although I can’t personally recommend them, I did meet people on my trip that had used this company.

The shuttle bus from Guatemala Airport to Quetzaltenango with Adrenalina Tours is $45 USD and takes around six hours, which also includes a stop over in Antigua. This means they’ll drop you off at their office in Antigua and you may have a short wait for the next shuttle bus that will take you up to Quetzaltenango.

The great thing about this shuttle service is that it will drop you off at your accommodation in Quetzaltenango (whereas if you take the bus, for example, you will still need to travel from the bus station to your accommodation). The less-great thing about that is that if your accommodation is on the other side of the city, you may have to wait for everyone else to get dropped off before you!

Read more about Guatemala: A Backpacker’s Guide to the Guatemala Tourist Trail

Getting from Guatemala City Airport to Quetzaltenango by Private Transport

A standard airport taxi from Guatemala Airport to Quetzaltenango will set you back around $200 USD. Whilst that sounds like a LOT, if you can travel in a group of four people, it really isn’t a bad price because it is a long way to go. However, if you’re travelling solo (like I usually do) then the chances of you finding three other travellers going to Quetzaltenango at the same time as you are quite slim.

If you do want to take a private taxi, I’d recommend pre-booking. You can do this online, but they are usually quite overpriced. I’d recommend either getting in touch with your accommodation, to see if they can organise a private transfer for you, or finding a personal recommendation of a driver to come and pick you up.

This Facebook group, Backpack Guatemala, is pretty good for finding the email address or phone number of a driver you can pre-book with (and pre-arrange a price, too).

Obviously the benefits of a private transfer are that you get a door to door service, they will wait for you if your flight is delayed (a shuttle bus won’t!), and it’s usually a bit more comfortable, too.

The length of the drive will probably vary a lot 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 four hours.

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