Roads in Guatemala are surprisingly good in some places, particularly on well-trodden paths like the Pan-American Highway. They are much better, overall, than the roads in neighboring Belize and Costa Rica. Roads in and around tourist areas are generally well marked, some courtesy of the Guatemala state tourism agency, INGUAT (Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo).
If while driving, you come across a large tree branch in the middle of the road, be prepared to stop. This is Guatemalans’ way of officially signaling that danger lies ahead, usually in the form of a car stopped by the side of the road. Whether it be by bus or by car, do not travel on rural highways in Guatemala after dark.
Guatemala has several main highways. The Pan-American Highway (CA 1), also known as the Interamericana, runs from the Mexican border at La Mesilla through much of the Western Highlands, to Guatemala City and east to El Salvador at San Cristóbal border. This is the road taken (at least for much of the journey) from Guatemala City to many of the main travel destinations, including La Antigua, Lake Atitlán, Quetzaltenango, and Huehuetenango. CA 1 has been expanded to four lanes from Guatemala City all the way to the Cuatro Caminos junction near Quetzaltenango.
The Pacific Coast Highway (CA 2) crosses the Pacific slope from the Mexican border at Tecún Umán all the way to Ciudad Pedro de Alvarado and El Salvador. A new, wider Pacific highway is in the planning stages.
Highway CA 9 runs from the Pacific Coast to Guatemala City, encompassing the country’s only toll road: a good, fast autopista, or freeway. From Guatemala City, the highway heads east to Puerto Barrios and is being widened to four lanes from the capital to El Rancho Junction. CA 14 branches north from El Rancho into the departments of Baja and Alta Verapaz.
Continuing east along CA 9, the next junction is at Río Hondo, where CA 10 branches southeast to Zacapa and Chiquimula before linking up to eastbound CA 11 for Copán, Honduras. Back on the main branch of CA 9, CA 13 is the designation given to the road branching off at La Ruidosa junction, just before Puerto Barrios, heading north to Río Dulce and continuing to Petén. It arrives in Flores and then branches eastward to the Belize border at Melchor de Mencos.
A road crossing the country from Izabal department west all the way to Huehuetenango, called the Franja Transversal del Norte, was under construction at the time of publication. Also in the works is an Anillo Departamental allowing traffic between CA 1 and eastbound Highway CA 9 to bypass traffic-congested Guatemala City altogether.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com