Playa del Carmen to Antigua, Guatemala. The drive!

So we made it. We drove about 900 miles in the end, touched 3 countries and crossed 2 borders, and things went almost perfectly well. I say almost perfectly because any time you cross borders it can be a little frustrating, and despite having our car for about 8 months and never having trouble with it, we had car trouble!

The borders I have to say were surprisingly easy, and I will write up a separate post about crossing them for all you future road trippers out there. The Mexico to Belize border we had done before, yet it ended up being the most annoying one.

As you can imagine we have a fair bit more stuff now than when we got to Mexico, aside from the obvious inclusion of a Paramotor and it’s associated bits and pieces taking up a fair whack of the car. We also seem to have accumulated essentials like blankets, pillows, cutlery, a bucket and a blender. You know, the sort of things you have to have on a continental road trip.

This isn’t really an issue because we have the car, it only became and issue when the less than friendly porter at the Belize border told us we have to unpack everything or they won’t let us through, “I am the porter, so I know,” he replied to my statement that I hadn’t had to do that last time. So we took all we could carry in with us and I pleaded a car full of “essentials” with the customs people, who actually said “OK you can leave it in the car.” !

Also I had my paramotor wrapped up like a backpack (the harness straps look like that of a backpack) so they didn’t charge me import fees! I couldn’t believe it but I got away with this at both borders. Belize – 0, Team Tyrhone – 1.

Guatemala border

The Border on the Guatemalan side

The Guatemalan border was even easier, the people a lot friendlier, and the whole process way less stressful. I followed the procedures I read about on drive the americas, and aside from a few little differences I will talk about in another post, it made the whole thing really quite easy.

The drive from the border to Santa Elena (Flores) is beautiful with good roads, and we found a great hotel with indoor parking for cheap cheap just off the main drag which meant we didn’t have to unpack everything again. The following day we did Tikal early in the morning and wandered around the ruins and the park it lies in, the park playing an equal part in how stunning these ruins are.

Definitely go see them if you pass by.

Mayan Ruins Tikal Guatemala

Tikal, it is better than a photo can show, that’s why I’m doing a video…

That evening we hit the little island of Flores and watched the sun go down before heading back to our hotel for an early night.

flores guatemala

Sun setting over Flores, Guatemala

Then the drive from Santa Elena to Antigua. Where do I begin?!

The first part of the drive was amazing, truly beautiful scenery, lovely people and really good roads (especially compared to Mexico). We were flying along admiring the scenery, occasionally screeching to a slowdown for a hidden speed bump, constantly stating our admiration for Guatemala, until we reached about half way. The road was still great, and the scenery was still beautiful, but there was a stretch of windy mountainous road where the locals drive like maniacs and trucks and buses seem to make up fifty percent of the traffic.

For about 100 miles, trucks, buses and cars alike are trying like crazy to overtake each other on sharp blind bends, often having to screech back in to place to avoid a head on collision with an equally over zealous vehicle from the opposite direction. In this 100 mile stretch we saw three accidents which had just happened, cars flipped over, a mini bus rolled off the road, and the last one, a huge fuel truck tipped and slid blocking the entire road. This last one caused a massive queue of cars to form, which once past the tipped truck, proceeded to drive even worse than before.

I tend to drive fast, but I drive safely, I drive within my control and measure any risks before I take them, if there is no chance of backing out of a risky choice, I won’t take it. This is not the case on this stretch of road for most of the cars abusing it. Fortunately you can mitigate your own risks by driving defensively and sensibly, and so we came out unscathed. Well, almost…

I mentioned before that we had car trouble. I know very little about cars so still don’t know what happened, but at some point the car stopped responding properly to my accelerating. I would push the accelerator and it would either react with a delay, wouldn’t react at all for a few seconds, or would react perfectly. This had the effect that I couldn’t be sure what would happen when I pushed the accelerator. It got worse as we progressed on the journey, so much so that at certain points I would accelerate, the rev meter would do nothing, and I would actually slow down!

As you can imagine this was a little disconcerting, especially when we found ourselves skirting Guatemala city in afternoon traffic on a Friday (we got in later than wanted because of the multiple traffic jams on the crazy road). Lane upon lane, smokey yuck yuck vehicle upon smokey yuck yuck vehicle, hooting and trying frantically to jump ahead of every other car on the road, passed us as our car sped up for a few seconds, then slowed down for a few, then sped up and so on and so on. All of this while trying to navigate an almost exclusively lacking in appropriate signage main road system.

Lets just say it was a little hairy. But rather than freak out too much, we decided to keep going until we at least left the dodginess that is Guatemala city behind, and we almost Β made it. On a road which was definitely leading out of the city, the revs stopped revving, the dashboard lit up, and the steering wheel lost power. With a bit of brute force I managed to steer the car off the road and shut it down. We sat there for about ten minutes and weighed up our options and thought about what could be wrong. The oils was fine, coolant was fine, it didn’t feel hot, battery was new and full. So what the fuck?!

We eventually decided that it had started after our last fuel refill, and that maybe we got dirty gasoline, any mechanics out there can let us know if that sounds right. We decided to try again and see if we could get to a petrol station. We turned on the car, and slowly made our way up the road, things seemed OK so maybe cooling down had something to do with it as well. About 5 minutes later we pulled into a gas station, filled up with fuel, and…

It worked again! The car started moving like normal, and we slowly drove out of the city and 20 minutes later were pulling into Antigua.

It was a bit hairy there for awhile, but we didn’t panic, we still had daylight, and everything worked out.

We hadn’t booked anything in Antigua, and didn’t really even look much for places to stay, but after circling for about half an hour, we started asking locals. One place said no, another said too much money, and then as we were wandering down a random road, a dude selling butane gas got our attention, said something in Spanish which I deciphered to mean “What are you looking for?” Sarah said something in Spanish which I think meant “Accommodation”.

Within 2 shakes of a lambs tail we were at a door 10 meters away, chatting to a lovely local woman and being shown a great room and indoor parking for about $25 a night, 10 minutes walk from the center. It just goes to show you should never come prepared.

antigua guatemala

Our new temporary home, with an impressive Volcano as its backdrop…

All in all the journey was fantastic. Beautiful scenery, friendly interactions, amazing sites, and even a few blood pumping, hair raising moments to make you go “Phew, we really are lucky”.

Lets see what happens next! πŸ™‚

P.S. We have LOADS of video which I need to sort, that’s coming soon you lucky lucky people…


For more cool stuff to your inbox, subscribe here. It will make your day…

0 thoughts on “Playa del Carmen to Antigua, Guatemala. The drive!”

  1. We’ll be doing the boarder crossing trip in a few weeks, minus car and ‘essentials’ so hopefully it’ll be a breeze… As always any tips appreciated.

    I know nothing about cars either but I like the sound of dirty gasoline (good band name too) as an explanation, so I agree!

    Love reading about your adventures, I’m already excited for Guatemala and its at least 5 months away.

    1. Well it is taking a little bit of getting used to, like not sleeping in the same bed every night is a strange feeling, but in all we have just slipped right back into the flow of things. It’s exciting and nerve wracking all at the same time! Which is kinda why we do it, I think…

  2. We had the same thing happen to our old jeep — same symptoms. A Mexican guy in west Texas told us to keep the gas tank at least 50% full until we could get the tank flushed. He said the weight of the gas would keep the gas going thru the sediment and into the engine…. It worked.

    1. Thanks Wendy, I hope that is all it is, now we just have to find a decent mechanic and see how much it will cost to drain it. I might let it get a bit lower and see if it happens again, and then we know for sure-ish!

  3. Pretty sure that’s dirty gas mate. Especially if it’s working fine after a refuel.
    Dirty gas has sediment in it that will impede the flow of fuel through the fuel pump sometimes. It should work its way through, but it’d be a good idea to get it drained properly given the trip you’re doing and the availability of any kind of services wherever you may have more issue.

    1. Thanks mate, to be honest I am more worried about getting dirty fuel in my paramotor (although breaking down on some random back road would be equally sucky). I can see a few engine out landings coming my way.

  4. Tyrhone, first time to reply to your blog, but your title got my attention. I have driven that same route two times. However, it’s been quite some time ago, when the road from Tikal south was gravel with a gillion pot holes. Then that last hundred miles to Guat City was just as dangerous then as it sounds like it is now.

    Our last trip was in a pickup with a camper on the back. I’ve driven in Mexico many times and on that last trip, we drove all the way to Costa Rica, taking a year to do it. So, I can say with much experience, dirty gas was probably your problem. Have your mechanic change out the fuel filter. It’s usually between the gas tank and the fuel pump. It was easy to get to in my truck, so I carried an extra one in my tool box. It got us back on the road, in the middle of nowhere, several times!

    Now, for the highlight of our trip. We also arrived after dark into Guat City. Our guide book suggested there was an RV park/ campground in the “UN Park”, south of the city. We finally pulled in and couldn’t find the place to camp, so we just pulled off the side of the road and called it home for the night. A long story short, I stepped out the back door of our camper while we were fixing dinner, only to be met by a couple guys (thugs), one of whom had a knife. Nothing said, I was immediately stabbed in my chest, just under my arm. We chased them away by yelling and my wife wielding our cast iron frying pan. Blood everywhere, I managed to drive down to Lago Amatitlan to the nearest hospital. The Dr. said he was sorry for our harrowing introduction to his country, and that even he was afraid to take his family out for a walk after dark. He also said I was lucky to find their hospital, as they were very good at treating stab and gunshot wounds. Ten days of penicillin injections, and I was good to go, continuing on our journey further south.

    The lesson we learned the hard way, and also one that everyone should adhere to is never be in a place where you’re alone after dark. You’ll always be a lot safer if there are other people around.

    Good luck on your trip. BTW, check out Volcan Pacaya. You’ll be able to hike to the top of a live volcano. But, do it with a group as there are robbers that take advantage of hikers on the trail. It’s just southwest of Guat City. Even if you are not religious, you’ll see God when you stand right next to where the lava spurts skyward, sounding like a 500 pound bomb going off!

    Also, you’re gonna love Antigua. By all means, stick around for Easter! You’ll be blown away with the pageantry as the whole town carries a huge coffin around town !!!!!

    1. Hi Steve, thanks for dropping by and sharing your adventures. I think your night near Guatemala city is every travellers worst nightmare, and also a cautionary tale about becoming too complacent. I think after 2 years of trouble free travel I need to be reminded sometimes that it is always best to err on the side of caution.

      I am glad that things didn’t end up worse for you, and that now you get to drop handy hints on me and fellow travellers πŸ™‚

      It’s funny someone else told me today to do the live volcano hike but to be careful of the robbers and do a tour.
      We’ll be here for easter for sure, already stumbled upon a random procession yesterday. Anymore tips be sure to let me know. Cheers πŸ™‚

  5. Wow. I think my parents would die if I did that road trip. πŸ˜€ We are going on Monday by bus from Belize to Flores and then Antigua. I don’t know if it’s safer or not. πŸ˜€

    I look forward to your videos. Especially the one with Tikal. I hope it comes before we are going.

    1. I always think at least if you are driving you are in control, but then the bus drivers do the trip every day, not sure if that is a good or a bad thing though!

      Flores is pretty cool and Tikal is up in my top 2 ruins in the world, I am sure you will love it mate.

      I am putting the finishing touches on the Tikal video in the next few days, I think it will be a good one so check back πŸ™‚

      Safe trip mate

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *