If traveling by bus, there are two classes of buses. The pullman (first class) buses (pullman, expreso, especiales, primera clase), if available, are usually direct routes and are the best option for most. These buses vary in the quality of vehicles. They range from the older MC coaches (older Greyhound buses from the U.S.) to the newer single or double deck Marcopolo or Volvo coaches and anything similar in between. They are comfortable, have washrooms/toilets and will generally show movies, which may or may not be in English with Spanish subtitles (or vice versa) with reserved seating. Others may even offer a drink and a little snack. They may make limited scheduled stops (semi-directo) at specific places en route otherwise they make no stops en-route. They operate on limited schedules and usually from their own offices or terminals rather than from a central bus station in the cities they serve. The first class pullmans are more common on the route between Guatemala City and Flores and on to neighboring countries but also from Guatemala City to Coban, Huehuetenango, Chiquimula and Quetzaltenango (Xelaju) as well.
The most common option are the second class buses (chicken bus, camionetas, autobuses de parrillas, polleros, mini-bus, microbus); the more ubiquitous are the decommissioned U.S. school buses painted in all sorts of funky colors and patterns. Other second class buses exist in a Toyota Coaster mini-bus, a smaller Toyota “HiAce” van (referred to as “microbus” or “minibus”) or a pick up truck (picop) or some similar type of vehicle that functions the same way as the “chicken bus”. Second class bus routes are more frequent and reach more places for a cheaper fare than first class pullman but they also take considerably longer to travel over longer distances (such as from Todo los Santos to Guatemala City) with multiple stops and maybe multiple transfers. They are the most common way for most to travel in and they get crowded with everything and everyone crammed in. Large cargo and luggage usually get placed on and tied to the roof, including live chickens going to market, hence the term “chicken bus”. To a visitor riding along, the bus may appear to be full but to the driver and his ayudante (helper or conductor) there’s always room for another person even if the space is just a sliver between two people. If it’s physically impossible to squeeze on more people there’s always room up on the roof or cling on from the outside as the bus barrels down the road. The chicken buses operate from a central bus terminal (Terminal de Autobuses) which usually is nothing more than open lot next to an informal market with no ticket offices. You just walk into the lot, hop on and grab a seat. Once the bus is underway and start picking up others along the streets an ayudante will eventually come around to collect the fares (usually Q10 per hour) and he’s usually very good at knowing who paid and giving change, which may not come right away. Check with fellow passengers on what the fare is to a particular destination as it may be more or less than Q10.
Robberies of the buses are frequent along the highway in the countryside and in the capital itself. Usually several people, one or more in the front, middle and back of the bus get up, take out their guns and announce a robbery or simply a group of people -or even children- surround you and demand your possessions from you. Sometimes this is part of the regular routine of the bus drivers, sometimes even the drivers organize these robberies.
A third option many travelers opt for is the tourist shuttle which costs 5 to 15x more than buses but they are more comfortable to ride in and quicker in getting there. They can be in a Toyota HiAce van, a larger Toyota Coaster minibus or some similar type of vehicle. They can make scheduled stops for bathroom and eating breaks at a restaurant en route but otherwise they run non-stop. They typically connect between different popular tourist destinations such as Antigua, Guatemala City, La Aurora Airport, Panajachel, Chichicastenango (on market days), Lanquin, San Cristobal de las Casas, Ruinas de Copan, etc. Tickets on these are available at the travel agencies in the tourist towns they serve. Pick-up and drop off may be at a their office where everybody meet at or is pre-arranged for pick-up and drop off at hotels and hostels.
See the By bus under Get in in the above and in the Guatemala City article for a list of available bus companies.
Regular domestic flights only operate between Guatemala City GUA IATA and Flores FRS IATA on Transportes Aéreos Guatemaltecos (TAG) and Avianca Guatemala (formerly Taca Regional and Aviateca). TAG also offer flights from Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios.