Most international travelers to Guatemala arrive by plane. Several factors work together to make Guatemala more easily, though not always cheaply, accessible in this regard. First, Guatemala has become increasingly popular as a travel destination. Tourism statistics show the country has welcomed more than a million visitors annually since 2004. The Guatemalan government has recognized this and has invested millions of dollars into remodeling the country’s two international airports while developing local airports for the creation of a domestic route network. U.S. have stepped up their presence in Guatemala in recent years and are expected to continue this trend, particularly with the vastly improved infrastructure at Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airportand the Mundo Maya Airport in Flores/Tikal.
In addition to increased tourism, more and more Guatemalans have family living in the United States, which means this is easily one of the fastest-growing markets on U.S. carriers’ radar screens. As for cost, the market is very elastic. The arrival of a new carrier into Guatemala often signals an all-out pricing war, as seen with service start-ups by Delta in 1998 and US Airways in 2005, when flights from the United States to Guatemala hovered around $300 round-trip. Demand quickly catches up with supply, however, and prices double as carriers see little reason to discount flights in a market where planes are already flying full.
The future looks uncertain, however, as airlines attempt to do business amid record-high oil prices. Rising fuel costs have forced airlines to charge for services such as baggage handling, meals, and even seat selection. Airline routes worldwide have been cut in an attempt to streamline operations and reduce operating costs.
In 2008, new flights from Mexico City via Interjet and Aeromexico were cut almost as quickly as they were added. U.S. carrier ATA went defunct just days before it was set to begin service to Guatemala City from Miami. The year also saw the departure of U.S. Airways from the Guatemalan market. In 2010, Continental and United Airlines announced a merger, restoring service to Guatemala. The new airline retains the United name and maintains Continental’s flight schedules (via Houston and Newark).
As for airfares, the price of an average plane ticket from the United States to Guatemala varies widely depending on route and season, but ranges from about $350 to $750 round-trip. Still, deals can be had if you know where to look and are willing to give up comforts like advance seat selection and ticket changeability. Internet sites offer discounted tickets and air ticket consolidators are worth checking out; a particularly useful tool for comparison shopping is www.kayak.com.
Guatemala has an open-skies agreement with the United States, meaning that any carrier from either country can fly to any point in the other. Guatemala once had an official flag-carrier, Aviateca, but Salvadoran-owned TACA has since absorbed it. Domestic flights between Flores and Guatemala City are officially operated by Aviateca, but this appears to be a mere formality, as the aircraft livery, ticket jackets, and related travel documents all clearly make it known that you are flying TACA.
TACA operates the majority of flights into and out of Guatemala, flying nonstop from a handful of gateway cities in the United States as well as via its hubs in San Salvador and San José, Costa Rica. The U.S. carriers also have a strong presence here. Several Latin American carriers, some of them noteworthy, operate here as well. The only European airline serving Guatemala at this time is Iberia, the Spanish flag-carrier.
When departing on a flight from either of Guatemala’s international airports, you will pay a $2.75 security fee in cash prior to passing through the security checkpoint. A $30 departure tax is also collected, but is included in the taxes paid at the time of ticket purchase.
Most international travelers flying to Guatemala arrive via Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport (GUA). La Aurora could not be more conveniently located for Guatemala City residents, lying in the heart of the city just minutes from the business and hotel district. A recent renovation and expansion brought the once-obsolete La Aurora into the 21st century, though the transition to a new government in early 2008 delayed the project’s completion and put planned future phases in limbo.
Regardless, the new glass-and-steel north and central terminals are vast improvements over La Aurora’s former facilities and feature a number of good restaurants and duty-free shops. The check-in lounge, with a high, angular ceiling somewhat resembling an egg carton, is actually part of the original construction dating back to the 1960s. It was given an updated look and restored to full functionality.
It can be a bit chaotic when exiting La Aurora, as families of arriving Guatemalans tend to load up cars (and sometimes entire buses) to welcome a returning loved one. The same is true for departing family members. Making your way out of the terminal (before merging with the crowds outside), you’ll see an INGUAT tourist information kiosk. The English-speaking agents can provide maps and answer basic questions about ground transportation.
Taxis and shuttle buses also operate out of kiosks found in the arrival area. A taxi to Zona 10 or Zona 14 costs about $9; trips to Carretera a El Salvador or elsewhere beyond the city limits cost more. Most of the Zona 10 hotels have courtesy shuttles to and from the airport. A shuttle bus to Antigua costs between $12 and $15. Likewise, car rentals can be booked from kiosks inside the airport terminal, located just after clearing customs. The actual car rental lot is across the street fronting the airport terminal’s three-level parking garage.
Flores/Tikal (FRS), officially known as Mundo Maya International Airport, serves the northern department of Petén and the ruins of Tikal. It now has air conditioning and is a much-improved facility. Flights arrive several times daily from Guatemala City, Cancún, and Belize City. The flight to Flores from the Guatemalan capital takes about 30 minutes.
Most travelers arriving here head straight for the ruins of Tikal, about an hour away via numerous minivans, or to the city of Flores, just five minutes away by taxi. A colectivo van to Tikal costs about $4. A taxi to Flores costs about $2. Arrival procedures are fairly straightforward thanks to the airport’s smaller size.
Flights to Guatemala City
The majority of nonstop flights come from a handful of North American hub cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York/Newark. San Salvador and Panama City are becoming increasingly important as connecting points for flights from South America on TACA and Copa Airlines, respectively. Madrid holds the distinction of being the sole European city with direct service to Guatemala City via a nonstop flight five times per week on Spanish flag-carrier Iberia.
Among U.S. carriers, American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300 U.S., www.aa.com) flies nonstop three times daily to Guatemala City from Miami and daily nonstop from Dallas/Ft. Worth. It code shares with British Airways on flights from the U.K. as well as offering excellent European connections of its own.
United Airlines (tel. 800/231-0856 U.S., www.united.com) has three nonstops daily to Guatemala City from Houston Intercontinental (IAH) as well as a Saturday-only nonstop flight from New York/Newark, which sometimes operates twice on Saturdays and/or a few times per week.
Delta Airlines (tel. 800/221-1212 U.S., www.delta.com) flies daily from Atlanta to Guatemala City with additional service from Los Angeles on an ever-changing frequency. At last check, flights from LAX were operating Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. The newest U.S. carrier to arrive on the scene, Spirit Airlines (tel. 800/772-7117 U.S., www.spiritair.com) flies daily nonstop to Guatemala City from Fort Lauderdale.
Among foreign carriers, Copa Airlines (tel. 800/359-2672 U.S., www.copaair.com), the Panamanian flag-carrier, flies nonstop three times daily to Guatemala City from its hub in Panama City, with excellent connections to/from South America and the Caribbean. There are additional flights between Guatemala and Panama stopping in Managua and San José.
Cuba’s national airline,
(www.cubana.cu), flies nonstop to Guatemala City several times a week from Havana.
If you’re flying to Guatemala from Europe, you’ll be happy to know that Iberia (www.iberia.com) offers nonstop service to Guatemala City five times per week (Tues., Thurs., Fri., Sat., Sun.) from its hub in Madrid with excellent connections to the rest of the continent.
Mexicana (tel. 800/531-7921 U.S., www.mexicana.com) offers three daily nonstops to Guatemala City from Mexico City and has started daily service from Cancún.
Maya Island Air (www.mayaislandair.com), a Belizean carrier, flies to Guatemala City from Belize City with stops in San Pedro Sula.
Salvadoran conglomerate Transportes Aereos del Continente Americano, or TACA (tel. 800/400-8222 U.S., www.taca.com), flies daily nonstop to Guatemala City from Miami and Los Angeles with three or four weekly nonstops each from Chicago, New York, Orlando, JFK, and Washington, D.C. Other nonstops include flights from Mexico City, Cancún, and San Pedro Sula. There are numerous daily flights from TACA’s hubs in San Salvador and San José, Costa Rica, with onward connections to/from South America.
Flights to Flores/Tikal
Flights to Flores/Tikal arrive primarily from Guatemala City, Belize City, and Cancún. TACA (tel. 800/400-8222 U.S., www.taca.com) operates three daily flights between Guatemala City and Flores using 40-passenger ATR-42 aircraft. TAG (800/528-8216 toll-free U.S. or 2332-1897 Guatemala) has a daily flight to Flores from Guatemala City leaving at 6:30 a.m. The return trip from Flores is at 5 p.m. The flight is operated with a 15-seat turboprop.
Maya Island Air (www.mayaislandair.com) is a Belizean carrier flying to Flores/Tikal from Belize City. Tropic Air (tel. 800/422-3435, www.tropicair.com), also a Belizean airline, flies to Flores/Tikal from Belize City twice daily.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com