Crossing the border to Guatemala at Ciudad Hidalgo

Trip Start Jul 04, 2010
Trip End May 10, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hotel Kiktem-ja

Flag of Guatemala  , Quetzaltenango,
Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tapachula to Tecun Uman 40 km on bikes. From there, a bus to Quetzaltenango (or "Xela" as the locals call it)

We exited the city through the east side of Tapachula passing a nice neighborhood with gated communities and well groomed gardens. Something we haven't seen a lot of in the past 6 months. This part of the city is much more upscale than the older north side of town where we came in the day before. We dropped into the riverbed then had to make the long climb back up and then up somemore. 10 km out of Tapachula, we turned south onto a newish looking highway that took us on a nice long low grade downhill for 30 km, all the way to the border crossing of Ciudad Hidalgo where sign-posted directions zigzagged us through town past Bodega Aurrera grocery store to the gate for the border crossing.


Contrary to reports we had read and heard where the Mexican border agents extorted an unofficial "exit fee" of 250+ pesos, our crossing went smooth as butter. We were ushered to the front of small office where the agent looked over our passports, tore out the visa, and requested (for some reason) the bank receipt from our entry visa payment which Dave miraculously produced out of the depth of a pannier. We exited on day 180 of our 180-day visa. Dave, in time, had realized that our visa was not valid for a full 6 months, which we had assumed all along, but actually 180 days, which is about 3 days short of that!! Next, we paid a peso to cross the pedistrian bridge to Guatemala. The border agent on the Guatemala side took his time to read every page in our passports before asking for 10 Quetzales, or 20 pesos each, before giving us the entry stamp in our passports, which entitles us to stay in Guatemala for 90 days. We didn't question this fee because others were scrambling for money too. But we later read, that had we asked for a receipt, the fee would have been 'waived". It was so little money and we were just happy to have crossed without more hassle. 

It was 10 am and it felt good to finally arrive in Guatemala. Tecun Uman was teeming with colorful tricycle taxis. We got some quetzales from an ATM on the main street then stopped for lunch at the small zocalo. Restaurant 'Las Vegas" caught our eye but offered a disappointing meal and much more expensive than a similar meal in Mexico. 

We decided to take the bus instead of arduous 2300 meter climb to Quetzaltenango. Quetzaltenango is commonly known by its indigenous name, Xelaj˙, or more commonly, Xela (shey-la). It is the second largest city in Guatemala. 

We asked for directions to the bus station which was about 8 blocks away. We found a 'direct' bus to Quetzaltenango and our bikes where quickly hoisted on top of the bus. Dave climbed on top to make sure that the bikes and luggage were secure. 

We would not have wanted to ride our bikes on that road. Not only was it extremely steep, but narrow and in bad shape. The traffic is heavy as well and bus drivers, especially ours, drive like suicidal maniacs. Michelle let out several uncontrollable screams when the driver passed slower traffic into oncoming traffic that was barreling down on us. Dave said to be quite because screaming will only encourage the driver to drive more recklessly. We  figured the trade off of 4.5 hours of risking our lives on the bus compared favorably to the days it would have taken us to climb here on our bicycles. The bus was full of colorful clad indigenous people whom are alway fun to observe.

It is a nice change to be here in Guatemala, especially high in the mountains where the scenery is breathtaking. We passed some neat towns which we would have loved to explore. Stands of nothing but fruit often appeared along the road. And in the higher up villages, root vegetables, huge bunches of the most beautiful carrots, beets, potatoes, radishes ever seen. They use traditional indigenous agricultural practices in many of the high mountain areas.
We're at 2333 meters (7,655 ft) above sea level here in Xela and sleep under thick blankets. It's Sooooo nice to be cool again. Our hotel is quite nice: plentiful hot  water, fireplace & iffy wifi. And they let us store our bikes in an empty room downstairs for no extra charge for and gave us the key.  
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Hugo on

Congrats! I know you arrived some time ago but it sure has been fun to follow your blog along the Mexico portion of the trip. Hope Guatemala is going well for the two of you. Thank you for sharing this adventure and the amazing pictures!

jason on

well guys, nice post but its about bloody time! Now you just have to fill us in on
the past what.months or so, haha...Anyway hope you had or have a nice ride out
of there....Im in tulum, will visit the sites tomoroow and then take a night bus to
palenque, and then onward to san cristobal, pura vida

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