One great advantage of renting a car is that you can visit many of the secluded beaches and mountain areas. And with the power of the Internet, you can now rent just about any vehicle online and have it waiting for you when you arrive.
For USD150-500 a week you can rent a econocar/mid size 4WD. Insurance is the majority of this cost and it is not optional. Four-wheel-drive is good for extensive travelling outside the main tourist centres, especially in the wet season.
You have to exercise caution when renting a car in Guatemala; where it is not uncommon for rental companies to claim "damage" they insist you inflicted on the vehicle. It is by far the best policy to rent a car through a Guatemalan travel agent. Make sure to check the car carefully before you sign off on the damage sheet. Check the oil, brake fluid, fuel gauge to make sure it's full and that there is a spare tire with good air pressure and a jack. Look up the Spanish word for "scratches" rayas and other relevant terminology first, so you can at least scrutinize the rental company's assessment. Ask them to write down all the minor damages, not just check on the drawing, and keep a copy of this document on you.
Rental car companies such as ""Hertz"", ""Budget"" and ""Tabarini"" offer GPS navigation systems for rent on a daily basis. The maps are provided by GPSTravelMaps and can be purchased before arrival through (http://www.gpstravelmaps....) and will save you money by loading to your own Garmin GPS instead of renting from the car rental company.
Private "picops" pick-up truck operators will drive around the rural areas of Guatemala. These are small Toyota mostly, Hyundai or Ford trucks that have a metal frame placed in the bed so people can hold on during travel while standing. For a very low fee, cheaper than bus and van, you can travel to remote locations. Like bus and van, people are packed in tight. In some places these are the only thing available for public transportation.
The closest thing to having a trolley for regular public transportation are the green Transmetro buses in Guatemala City that run on dedicated lanes to bypass the parallel traffic and stopping at a limited number of stops along the road. There's also has a local trolley tour actually a bus made to look like trolley service aimed at tourists.
Prepare to travel by van around central and north-western Guatemala, especially the Ixil Triangle region and the area surrounding Coban. The Ixil Triangle lacks any real infrastructure, and what is there is unkempt. As well, Central Guatemala's population does not warrant chicken bus existence.
Public transportation van rides are only slightly more expensive than bus fare. However, be warned, the equality in price rule of buses does not apply to vans. Public buses are truly public transportation, the vans are not; they are privately owned. Plan to pay more than the domestic next to you in these vans. This price difference will be obvious and the assistant will blatantly ask for it. Attempting to haggle is worthless, you might as well pay the requested fare.
The tourist can always pay the USD price for tourist-oriented van rides. These rides are non-stop transportation to cities. Public van and bus rides will always stop at multiple bus stops and for anyone else wishing to board. These van rides are much more expensive than normal van fare, often 5 to 7 times the price.
Guatemala has several first-class or Pullman inter-city bus companies:Adrenalina Tours, Linea Dorada, ADN, Fuente del Norte, Galgos, and Alamo. In addition, the international companies Tica Bus and King Quality provide service in Guatemala. See the " By Bus" entry in the Guatemala City chapter for a list some major national and international bus companies and their Guatemala City addresses as Guatemala City is the principal transportation hub for the whole country. Each bus company maintains their own bus terminals in Zona 1 central Guatemala City and/or other parts of the city.
It's hard to miss the colourfully decorated buses that crowd the streets of major cities and highways of Guatemala. These are chicken buses, or camionetas in Guatemalan dialect Spanish, and are a common form of travel for Guatemalans and a travel adventure for tourists. They are much cheaper than tourist vans or taxis and are usually very crowded, with three people squeezed into seats barely big enough for two children, and more people standing in the aisles.
The buses are often used North American school buses with the "Blue Bird" brand of school bus and "Ford" logos clearly visible. In addition to the driver there is usually a conductor standing in the door. The conductor collects fares, and from time to time jumps out to direct the bus through a blind intersection or around a tight turn and to climb up to the top to retrieve or put in luggage & cargo people bring along. On the highways, the chicken bus drivers are aggressive, not hesitating to overtake in the face of oncoming traffic. Riding these buses on the steep highways of the Western Highlands is especially harrowing, but may be the most quintessential Guatemalan experience there is. It is recommended you don't use these buses though, as thieves usually operate in their routes and may assault them.
Bus conductors may sometimes charge out of country tourists more than the going rate. If you look to see what other travellers are paying you can usually avoid this problem, however, they often charge you the same as everyone else. Sending a message to the Guatemala tourism department, Inguat (http://www.visitguatemala...), will let them know of this problem.
You can board a chicken bus almost anywhere along its route. If you put out your arm, it will stop. You board and find a space to sit or stand. The conductor will come back to you after the bus is under way, and collect your fare. You need to recognize where your stop is, and move to the door in time. You ask the bus to stop, more or less wherever you want to get off.
Chicken buses are not common throughout the country. They are, rightly, in the locations where populations warrant their necessity. The south-central, and south-western region of Guatemala- Guatemala City, Antigua, Lago Atitlan, Chichicastenango, and Quetzaltenango contain plentiful amounts of busses. However, the middle region of Guatemala, Las Verapaces does not provide many buses.