Buses of Guatemala

While the buses within Guatemala City are mostly older transit style former school buses, the interurban buses tend to be newer conventional models. These newer buses, serving places like Antigua, are the most highly decorated ones I’ve seen in Central America. The paint jobs tend to be bright and polished, and I even saw a couple of buses with scrolling LED headsigns where they used to say School Bus. One reason for their relatively good condition may be the national government’s law prohibiting the importation of buses more than a certain number of years old (the bus owner I interviewed wasn’t sure of the exact age).

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Sights of Guatemala

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Transmetro – BRT in Guatemala City

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The week I arrived in Guatemala City, the municipality initiated service on the new Corredor Central (shown in green in the map above) of its Transmetro bus rapid transit (BRT) system. The city’s first line, Transmetro Sur (shown above in orange), opened in 2007 and was also the first BRT line in Central America. The municipality is continuing to expand on these two existing lines, with hopes of eventually replacing the old red school buses on many of the city’s most crowded routes.

Unlike many of the so-called BRT systems in the United States, the Transmetro has many characteristics of high quality transit, including prepaid fares, multiple boarding doors, level platform loading at enclosed stations, and well-enforced exclusive right of way (for most stretches). I’m not sure if traffic signal prioritization has been implemented, but at some intersections along the routes, officers directing traffic essentially served as signal preemption. The first line uses 160-passenger Busscar Urbanuss Plus articulated buses on Ciferal and Volvo chassis, while the new Corredor Central uses 119-passenger Busscar Urbanuss models on Scania chassis. Having police officers at each station and on each bus greatly improves boarding efficiency and security over the old red buses. The Transmetro Sur even has a mix of local and express services. In short, for the same fare as the old red school buses (about 12¢), the Transmetro is a much safer and more pleasant transportation experience.

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Museo de Ferrocarril

My first stop in Guatemala City was the great railway museum. The 25 cent admission gave me access to a selection of old locomotives (including a couple built near Swarthmore), coaches, other miscellaneous rail vehicles, and historical photos.

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Buses of Guatemala City

Red Type D transit-style buses, many of which have Blue Bird bodies, form the core of Guatemala City’s bus system. Interurban Type C conventional buses interface with the main urban routes at nodes throughout the city. See, for example, the aerial picture of Trébol below. About twelve Route 57 buses are queued along the overpass at the bottom of the picture. A couple blocks up, more than twenty intercity buses are queued along the street. When I walked through here to catch a bus to Antigua, the honking intercity buses were all constantly creeping forward. Boarding passengers had to navigate the crowd of people, scan the headsigns for their destinations, and jump onto the appropriate bus all while trying to avoid being run over.

The municipal government is starting to introduce a new bus rapid transit system (in which the buses actually come to a complete stop for boarding and about which more will be posted soon), but implementation is fairly slow, and the old red buses are sure to be around for a while.

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Finca Ixobel

To break up the long journey from northeastern Guatemala to Guatemala City (and to comply with my self-imposed rule of avoiding nighttime arrivals in new cities), I stayed at Hotel Ecologico Finca Ixobel outside of Poptún. The fresh air, delicious all-you-can-eat dinner buffets, hiking, and lake for swimming were all great ways to brace myself for the hustle and bustle of Guatemala City. Investigating the use of horses in rural transportation systems was obviously in order as well.

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On my way from Belize to Guatemala City, I stopped at Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to some of the world’s most magnificent Maya ruins. In addition to the stunning architecture and layout of Tikal, the plant and animal life that has taken over the ancient city was amazing. I ended up spending the night in the park; being able to climb the Temples at sunrise and have the Great Plaza all to myself was incredible.

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