You can spend a lot of time worrying about how you’ll get from one point to another on your itinerary but as long as you’re on a route that many foreigners follow there will invariably be a local infrastructure to take you wherever you need to go.
In Guatemala, for instance, you can avoid the “chicken” buses and travel around by shuttle van with people from around the world and chat with them about what to do and where to stay at the next destination. I also took shuttle vans throughout Costa Rica and it was all very easy. The van picked me up at my hotel in destination A and dropped me off at my hotel in destination B.
The bus system in Mexico is extensive with different classes available on many routes. In Peru, the first class trains and buses I took were simply top notch and affordable. In Ecuador, you can reserve a seat on local buses and it’s a great way to observe the culture up close. In Panama, as in Viet Nam, I travelled around mainly by small plane. The train trip from Fez to Marrakesh is great fun. In India I often hired a car and driver. In Cuba I rented a car and drove myself.
While private transportation is comfortable and convenient it can set you apart from the country you’re visiting. However, you may feel the need to ease yourself into travelling as locals do. When staying in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I wanted to take a local bus to Todas Santos, a short ride away. My travel partner was afraid to do this but reluctantly came along and, of course, we survived. When we got back to the resort town we hopped on a local ‘centro’ bus instead of taking a taxi to our hotel and so ended chauffeured travel in that destination.
When I was planning my first trip to Guatemala, I didn’t know how to get to Tikal, the famous Mayan ruin situated deep in the jungle. Everything I read from home made it seem too complicated and dangerous to do on my own. When I got to Antigua I came upon several local tour operators offering very affordable trips to Tikal so off I went. That was before the internet explosion and today many local operators have websites and arrangements can be made from home.
I do hesitate to book all my transportation from home unless my schedule is very tight or the destination so popular that I am concerned about the feasibility of last-minute bookings. I pre-booked internal flights in Panama but would have preferred travelling more by local bus. I am writing this from Costa Rica and travelled overland from San Jose to Tamarindo and don’t need to go back that way so will fly instead. If I had arranged all my transportation in India in advance I probably would have purchased a train pass. The train trips I took in India were not to my liking so I looked for other options and ended up with a mix of air travel, private car with driver and local buses. Those transportation choices served my needs splendidly and were remarkably affordable and easy to arrange.
From time-to-time I take an infamous third class bus, which provides the truest picture of a place and its people. Afterwards, I just about always tell myself that I must travel that way more often.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2010