We crossed into Guatemala at the Melchor de Mencos border. To our surprise things went pretty smoothly as most of the information out there about crossing the Guatemalan border implied that it would be absolutely insane. We canceled both our tourist and car permit at the Belizean border and drove through a fumigation tunnel into Guatemala.
We paid the $3 for the delightful fumigation and headed over to immigration… no problems; Canadians and New Zealanders are eligible for a 90 days tourist permit, so we handed over our passports and asked for the full 90 days, our books were stamped and we paid the 20 quetzales to enter the country. We shifted counters to obtain our car permit — again a very simple process, we had arrived prepared and produced photocopies of our licenses, car registration and passports. The official filled out a document, gave us a sticker and then we paid a small importation fee. With all that done in less than half an hour we left the border not, of course, without paying a random town fee for “various” items.
We had a lot of ground to cover so we got moving right away, border zones are rumoured to be unsafe areas so we bee-lined it straight to the highway without stopping. The funny thing is there aren’t any highway signs so you really have no idea where you are or if you’re headed the right way. Our Spanish is good enough to ask for directions and we were pleased to find out that Guatemalans are extremely friendly and have a great knowledge of their country. Everyone we asked for directions happily pointed us to the right road. So, other than the fact that the roads weren’t signed and our map didn’t include a lot of the back roads, it wasn’t too bad. After 6 hours of driving, on a newly yet numberless paved highway, and a rather interesting boat/ferry (check out the video below) we made it to Coban.
The following morning we got up early because we needed to make it to Quetzaltenango (or Xela, pronounced Shay-la, by the locals) by the end of the day. After some discussion with the hotel manager we found a route, which bypassed Guatemala City, the notoriously dangerous capital that we won’t be visiting. We took a beautiful, though long, route through the highlands which did have us on the edge of our seats looking out for crazy drivers, trucks overflowing with passengers and potholes the size of Marlin while trying to check out the amazing scenery. The road went from slippery mud to perfectly paved and back again. We are proud to report that our little VW handled the journey in fine form!