Getting from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala to Utila, Honduras was no walk in the park but after some very good research on James’ behalf we got there in one piece over two days, saving boatloads of money avoiding flights and/or shuttles.
There’s a twice weekly shuttle from Antigua, Guatemala to La Ceiba, Honduras (where you catch the ferry onwards for Utila and Roatan), but this leaves at 2:00am (therefore requiring an overnight stay in Antigua).
Alternatively, in Antigua there are also shuttles (and bus connections through Hedman Alas) that will take you to Copan, Honduras, where you can overnight before catching an onward shuttle to La Ceiba, but again, these typically leave too early to make the three to four hour connection from Lake Atitlan on the same day.
We decided to overnight in Puerto Barrios as it was accessible in one day from Panajachel with late bus connections from Guatemala City, and is relatively close to San Pedro Sula, Honduras in order to connect onwards to La Ceiba in time for the 4:40pm ferry to Utila.
Jump down to the bottom of this post to see the quick step-by-step guide and costs for everything.
Day One: Panajachel to Guatemala City
Cost: 10Q (5Q each) for tuk tuk to Panajachel “bus stop”, 35Q each for chicken bus, 30Q (15Q each) for taxi from Zone 8 to Zone 1
Time: Approximately three and a half hours
We opted to take a chicken bus from Panajachel (Pana as referred to by locals) to Guatemala City to save a little money (and time, as it turns out, since they absolutely gun it) but it was unclear on where to catch it (and if there even was a single chicken bus that went all the way to Guatemala City).
We took a tuk tuk into the main part of town since our hotel was a little out of the way, and asked our driver to take us to the buses for Guatemala City. The driver took us to Comercial El Dorado, a small coffee shop on the tourist strip, where there was a man in a navy ballcap who seemed to be the authority on all things chicken bus. He told us to wait with our bags and called over to let us know when the bus we needed to catch was approaching. We were at the bus stop before 7:00am as we weren’t sure what time the bus would come; the bus man told us the bus would be coming at 7:15am but in reality it was closer to 8:00am.
When the bus made its final stop in Guatemala City, we weren’t really sure where we were. And looking at Google Maps we were actually in Zone 8 and not Zone 1 (where we assumed the bus would drop everyone). It wasn’t a big deal – we caught a taxi to the Litegua Bus Terminal. Sadly, we had just missed the 11:00am bus, but there was one leaving at 12:30pm so we got tickets for that one and waited (the last bus is around 7:00pm). James found a taco vendor just outside the bus stop so we also managed to get some lunch.
Day One: Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios
Cost: 100Q each for bus from Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios
Time: Approximately eight hours
The bus to Puerto Barrios took FOR-EV-ER! We knew it would take at least five hours (according to Google) but it actually took eight. We had to take a shuttle bus to another Litegua Terminal outside the city centre and transfer, which took a bit of time, and then there was construction which had us at pretty much a standstill for an hour. We also stopped for a 20-30 minute break – which I was initially annoyed at until I realized they had frozen yogurt. It was 8:30pm by the time we arrived, tired and without a place to stay. James had saved a few potential options on his phone and we headed to the one with the best reviews (Hotel Europe 2). They charged an obscene amount – $26 AU or 150 GTQ – for a very basic room that had stains on the ceiling and spiders in the bathroom. But, whatever – we were tired and just wanted a place to sleep. There were a few hawkers at the Litegua bus station offering rooms – next time I would have just checked those out.
Day Two: Puerto Barrios to San Pedro Sula
Cost: 25Q each for the collectivo to the border, $3 US each Honduras entrance fee, 70 HNL each for the collectivo to Puerto Cortes, Honduras, 52 HNL each for the collectivo to San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Time: Approximately four hours
The next morning, we were out of our hotel just before 6:00am and asked the owner where we should go to catch the bus to Honduras. He pointed us in the general direction, and when we got closer we asked someone else (one block north of the Litegua bus stop, on Calle 6a). Then a man started yelling “Honduras! Honduras!” and we headed over to that shuttle. We made it to the border by 7:00am, and crossed with ease. Note that you no longer need to stop at a Guatemala border post, and get back on the collectivo to Honduras, it is now a single border office.
Once on the other side, we exchanged some money knowing that we would need to pay cash for the rest of the bus rides that day (at a horrible $1 US to 21 HNL rate – when the going rate in Utila is $1 US to 23 HNL). We saw a few buses and asked if they were going to San Pedro. None were going direct, but we could transfer in Puerto Cortes, which we knew was a possibility based on some of the blogs James read.
We arrived in Puerto Cortes an hour later, and were immediately shuffled across the street and put into another identical looking shuttle bus heading toward San Pedro. It really couldn’t have been easier – the bus assistant even carried our bags and blocked traffic for us to cross the street.
Day Two: San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba (and Utila Ferry)
Cost: 110 HNL each for the bus ticket to La Ceiba, 70 HNL (35 HNL each) for the taxi from the highway to the ferry dock, $25 US each for the one-way ferry ticket to Utila
Time to La Ceiba: Approximately four hours
Once we arrived in San Pedro Sula (aka the murder capital of the world), we weren’t sure where to get off. There are a lot of stops, and some of them are bus terminals. But the driver’s assistant was helpful – he knew we were heading to La Ceiba so he made sure to tell us when to get off, and even walked us into the terminal and showed us where to buy our tickets. By this time it was 10:00am – we’d covered a lot of ground in just a few hours. We bought tickets for the 10:30am bus and held tight. Despite San Pedro Sula’s reputation, the bus station was actually fairly modern and clean – looked more like a suburban mall than a typical Central America bus station.
The bus from San Pedro to La Ceiba was pretty comfortable, and fast (relative to the 8 hour bus ride we’d had the day before!). We were dropped off around 2:15pm, and caught a taxi to the ferry terminal where we would have to wait until 4:40pm (the ferry only operates twice a day).
By this time we were hungry, and found that one of the shops near the terminal served lunch. We shared one meal – a plate of chicken, rice, salad and plantains – which totally hit the spot. We then headed to the ferry terminal waiting room where we were pleasantly surprised with free wifi and water.
As we boarded the ship, we opted to sit on the top deck outside to get some of the fresh air we’d been lacking the past few days. As the boat started to move, the crew began to hand out plastic bags for anyone who may experience sea sickness. We smiled and waved it off, thinking ‘How bad could it be?’ About 5 minutes in, the waves were crashing up onto the top deck and we promptly moved inside. Luckily we weren’t sick, but it was a pretty intense ride!
We couldn’t have been happier to step off the boat and onto the island of Utila, ready to spend the next few days diving, soaking up the sun, and relaxing after our journey.
Below is a step-by-step guide with prices of how we got from point A to B (errr…or point A to B to C to D to E… you get it). We successfully made it from Lake Atitlan to La Ceiba for less than $50 AU in two days – not bad, eh?!
TL:DR – How to get from Panajachel, Guatemala to La Ceiba, Honduras (and Roatan/Utila) in two days for less than $50 AU
- Ask around Pana to figure out where you can catch the bus ‘direct’ to Guatemala City (direct in air quotes since there are a few stops along the way, but they don’t really add any time). The earlier the better. Cost: $6 AU pp (35 GTQ pp).
- Depending on where you are dropped in GC, you can either walk or take a taxi to the Litegua Bus Terminal. Download the map offline ahead of time so you can get there easily. Cost for taxi: $5 AU (30 GTQ).
- Take any bus going to Puerto Barrios. By the time we arrived, our best option was the 12:30pm bus. Cost: $17 AU (100 GTQ pp)
- Find a hotel in Puerto Barrios for the night.
- Be out the door by 6am, and ask around for where you can catch the bus to Honduras. You will be pointed in the right direction, or better yet watch for shuttle buses driving around town with a man yelling “Honduras! Honduras!” out the window. Cost: $4.50 AU (25 GTQ pp).
- Cross the border (relatively straightforward). Exchange some money so you have HNL – we found the rates were the same on both sides but worse than what you will find in Utila. Ask around if there is a bus heading to San Pedro Sula.
- Since the direct bus to SP is at 7am, you have likely missed it. No biggie! Someone will point you in the direction of the bus going to Puerto Cortes. Tell your driver/assistant you are going to San Pedro Sula. Cost: $4 AU (70 HNL pp)
- Just before you arrive in PC, someone will probably come onto your shuttle and yell ‘San Pedro!’ Put up your hand and your bag will be grabbed and you will be quickly escorted across the road where the other shuttle is waiting. I hope you went pee at the border. If no one comes on, your bus assistant will let you know where to get off if you told them you are going to San Pedro Sula. Cost: $3 AU (52 HNL).
- Make sure you tell the bus assistant on this shuttle that you want to go to La Ceiba. Although you can’t miss where to get off (the final stop at a massive bus terminal), if you’re lucky he will even walk you into the terminal and let you know where you purchase your ticket. We arrived in SP by 10:00am, and took the 10:30 am bus. Cost: $6 AU (110 HNL pp).
- Arrive in La Ceiba. They will not drop you right at the ferry dock, but there will be heaps of taxis waiting to take you (be sure to negotiate the price). We were at the ferry dock by 2:30 pm. Cost: $3 AU (35 HNL pp).
- You’re almost there! The afternoon shuttle to Utila leaves the dock at 4:40pm so you probably have some time to kill. Luckily there are a few shops that offer lunch, and there is free wifi (and water) in the waiting lounge for the ferry. The only thing you need to do now is board the ship. And hopefully you’re not one to get seasick because this is surely the most nauseating part of the trip. Cost: $32 AU (or $25 US, you can pay in USD, HNL or by credit card).