Guatemala – How not to cross into a country


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Guatemala was calling my name. I’m not sure I was listening. It occurred to me that I really didn’t want to leave Mexico. I made lame excuses to stay. It was too hot. There might be some rain today. The pool is calling my name, I must stay another day, then another day. And on, and on. Crossing into Guatemala was not what I expected.

I don’t want to leave Mexico

It was lunchtime when my motivation level peaked.  I pack up and moved onward to Guatemala. It wasn’t long before I found myself cycling down a remote dirt road. Past farmland and small villages where horses, dogs and pigs outnumbered the chickens and humans. I was the novelty in villages when I would stop to grab a drink of water. Children would just stare at me. Not many Gringos make it to this part of Mexico.

A miscalculation on my part had me run out of toilet paper after an emergency toilet stop. It would be rocks and leaves from now on. I always make sure that I have ample supplies of this most important item. Lucky, the next village had some.

I was enjoying the back country cycling. The remote back road was a series of roller coaster style hills. Hummingbirds buzzed me on a regular basis. I guess my bright yellow cycling jersey summonsed there attention.

As the day started to turn to evening I arrived in the last major town that I would see in Mexico, Tenosique. Like many Mexican cities they love to have a large, bright coloured sign to advertise themselves. The town seemed to be the regional center for the area. It had all services, including cheap hotels. I bedded down for the night and gorged on a large meal.

Talking of big meals. I have struggled to eat while cycling due to the extreme heat and humidity. I have survived off fruit when I can find it and sugary drinks when I can’t find any. A bulky heavy meal just doesn’t sit well in my stomach. Despite being a warm blooded, heat loving, humidity craving creature, I seem to be struggling with the heat. Who would have thought it, not me.  I guess having spent so much time in colder weather it has softened me ability to cope.

Hello Guatemala

It was midday when I cycled into Guatemala. I will be returning to Mexico fairly soon when I travel up the Yucatan peninsula. So, it’s not good bye, it’s see you later.

I entered the overly large immigration building in Mexico to get my exit stamp. I was advised I didn’t need one. OK, how do you know I’ve left the country?

I crossed the border into Guatemala. Nobody stopped me and there was no obvious Migration building. There were some official looking dudes spraying chemicals inside a vehicle. I bypassed them. In the distance I spotted a large Guatemalan flag. Must be Immigration, I thought. Nope. I had just cycled into Guatemala. No stamp, no visa, nothing.

I was looking rather lost when a dude on the motorcycle pulled up next to me. The immigration building was down near the border, near the traffic cones on the road. I returned to find a small bit of photocopy paper taped to a pole with the word, Migracion, written in small writing. A guy wearing clothes several sizes too big for him was sitting out the front of this shipping container style building, feet up on a chair in front of him. I asked if this was Immigartion. He nodded, without saying anything. I gave him my passport. One minute later he returned my passport with a free 90 day visa. He said nothing, then sat back down and put his feet back up on the chair. Welcome to Guatemala.

The daytime temperature was oppressive. I asked around for a place to exchange some Mexican Pesos for the Guatemalan currency, Quetzales. Most of the small stores at the border in Guatemala exchanged money. The rate was surprisingly good. I must admit I expected that I would have to negotiate as they would try to rip me off. Nope, the rate was very fair.

Camping on a Soccer Field

I continued cycling into the late evening. I stopped at one spot to try and camp for the night but within minutes I had two ticks crawling on me. Ticks are horrible. I wasn’t going to camp in a field with ticks. I kept cycling. In fact, I have been plagued by ticks since entering the tropical jungle regions of Mexico and Guatemala. Almost everyday I have found tick on my legs. They are small light brown creatures that blend into my skin. They appear like a freckle or skin spot and are hard to distinguished. Death to all ticks, I say.

The day progressed to night very quickly. I passed house after house with no possible place to camp. The sun had set and I was starting to get stressed about a place to camp. I thought I would have to knock on somebodies door and ask to camp in their yard. A small village had a full sized soccer pitch. That would do me nicely. I set up camp in the dark on the edge of the field.

As I crawled into my tent I could hear the local church giving a loud nightly sermon in competition to another place across the road that blared impossibly out of tune karaoke.  Welcome to Guatemala.

Rural Guatemala

I was packed up and cycling before sunrise. For several hours I enjoyed the cool, still morning. It was Sunday and people were slower than normal to make a move. Often times I would ride past a small shack or village and watch people cooking their breakfast over a wood stove out the front of their house. Things move slowly in Guatemala. I like the country already.

It was about 10am when the heat started to slow me down. I would ride for 45 minutes then find some shade to guzzle as much water as possible. When near a town I would seek out a cold bottle of fresh water from a shop, if lucky and frozen ice cream.

I struggled to make miles in the afternoon. With an early start I had hoped to make it to the town of Flores before sunset. It would have meant a big day of almost 150km of cycling but I felt I could have done it. Specially with the promise of a cool lake to swim in, great food and several days to rest and relax. By 4pm I rolled into the town of La Libertad. A couple of Quetzals (the name of the Guatemalan money) and I had a hotel room. It was all I could do to have a cold shower, no hot water in this hotel, and lie under the fan to cool down.


With only 30km to Flores I took a detour on a dirt road past many small rural villages. The riding was easy in the morning coolth. At lunch I arrived on the island township of Flores. A well known town on the central American Gringo trail. For less than US$5 per night I was set up with a place to stay and within minutes Iwas sharing a beer with other wandering souls.

I have at least a week until I rendezvous with Spontanious and Sky, my favourite South Korean hikers and cyclists. In the mean time I am making some epic travel plans. And with a week to kill I have found several cheap places to learn Spanish. It’s time I had some professional tuition.

One Horse town. Small town Mexico, park the horse outside the front of the house
The Sun starting to get low in the sky next to an abandoned railway
Mexico has a fascination with bright coloured signs displaying the city name.
The rolling hills of Guatemala in the late afternoon
When darkness fell I was left with nowhere to camp, the soccer pitch in a small town was good enough for me
Sunrise in rural Guatemala, a great time to be on the road and cycling
It was so hot I started to consider a swim in some of the local cattle pond to cool down. But, can you see the crocodile in the water?
This dam was maybe 10km from the nearest river and no floodplain in sight. How did this crocodile get here. It was only about 30cm (1ft) long
Unable to swim in dams to cool down I settled on Ice Cream
Flores is a tourist town in northern Guatemala. Watching sunset is a popular past time here. Time for a rest and good food
Seeing the world through rose coloured glasses

Next : Spanish Language school in Flores – Guatemala

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Chile.

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12 thoughts on “Guatemala – How not to cross into a country”

  1. That’s cool that we ran into each other. Sorry to say I don’t remember the interaction. I just talked to my wife and she remembers chatting with you. You were telling us about all the body aches we could expect. Haha – well that was true.

    Oh, yes rainy season. It’s typically not too bad in CR – just an hour or two in the afternoon. That being said, the weather patterns have been crazy there over the past year, so who knows. Enjoy your trip.

    Not sure what all you have planned but i read about some of the ruins you have come across. Costa Rica has these huge spherical balls that are worth seeing. I wrote about it here: and if your travels take you to the Orosi Valley (highly recommended) check out Parque De Las Ruinas De Ujarrás – ruins of a church from the 1500’s.

    Oh. and the most magnificent waterfall to see is Catarata del toro – off the beaten path and strenuous climb down, but worth it. Here are some of my pics from there –

    Have fun. Shoot me an email if I can help with anything Costa Rica.

  2. I too thru-hiked the AT and in digging around for blogs I found yours. I didn’t realize I was going to go along on a multi-country bike ride. Thanks for taking us along.

    We lived in Costa Rica for the 4 years leading up to our AT hike. While there we followed a couple, also long-distance cycling, named Long Haul Trekkers and was often in awe and inspired by their travels. I look forward to jumping into your posts.

    Thanks for sharing your adventures!

    ~ Sunsets

    • Hi sunsets, I saw you and your partner at Damascus, we both arrived on the same day. I don’t think you remember me. I was following your Facebook (and subsequently YouTube) after that. Currently I’m in Nicaragua and will be crossing to Costa Rica in a couple of days. I’m looking forward to exploring the country, although it’s crazy hot and the rains are a coming.

    • Yeah it was a very small croc, I do live in a part of Australia that has a big population of crocs. I’m used to seeing them at home.

  3. I would find it very hard to cycle or do anything active in the opressive humidity of the area. I can remember going to a small lookout hike on the other side of the lake in Flores and totally struggling with it. Nothing a sunset watching and cold beer didn’t fix! Enjoy Flores, I loved it!

    • I know the lookout hill you are talking about. I love the heat and humidity, I guess my body has been in cool weather for so long it has gotten soft!


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