2010-12-04

Travel from Flores (Santa Elena) to Carmelita

Local buses (camioneta) to Carmelita leave Santa Elena twice every day, at 5 am and 1 pm. From Carmelita, buses leave to Santa Elena at the same times, 5 am and 1 pm. This means that the 5 am bus from Santa Elena will arrive to Carmelita around 9 am, and the same bus will start back from Carmelita at 1 pm. Similarly, the 1 pm bus from Santa Elena will arrive to Carmelita at around 5 pm, stay there overnight and start back towards Santa Elena the next day at 5 am. The bus stop in Santa Elena is in the middle of the market, a bit difficult to find since tuk-tuks will drop you off outside the market, and at the market almost nobody knows about Carmelita buses, they will probably tell you to go to the main terminal.

To find it, walk from Flores towards Santa Elena over the bridge, then turn right at the second traffic light (there will actually be a big blue sign before the crossroads with "Carmelita" and "El Mirador" on them and a small INGUAT sticker making sure everyone knows who put up those signs), walk about 2 minutes and turn left on the second small street that leads into the market. That street will bend left and right and then open up into a busy square with microbuses and buses parked in the middle. The bus on the other side of the square goes to Carmelita. It probably won't have a sign saying so, but ask any of the other bus drivers (many buses leave from here to SayaxchĂ©, PoptĂșn, etc.) and they will tell you exactly. Don't get confused: many locals refer to Carmelita as "Carmela". Who knows which name was first...:)

Another way to catch the bus from Flores is to take a collectivo lancha (boat) from the north part of the island to San Andres (should be about 100Q per trip, if you look very gringo the locals might tell you there is no such thing as collectivo boats), walk up to the village and catch the Carmelita bus on the main square. With this you can miss the bustle of Santa Elena and get a scenic trip on the lake too. The bus makes it in about half an hour from Santa Elena to San Andres. The fare to Carmelita is 30Q per person, and you can keep your bags in the back of the bus, practical if it is raining, but watch out, passengers later are likely to pack boxes of fruit and animals on top of it.

The road goes around the lake from the left side, after San Andres it slowly becomes gravel, then dirt. Dos Aguadas, La Colorada, La Gloria are all stops on the way, Dos Aguadas is the place to get off if you are planning on hiking to El Zotz and Tikal. The bus will stop halfway for 10 minutes where drivers eat there little fried chicken legs at a street vendor. The road, especially after rains, is frequently too muddy for anything except serious 4x4 vehicles to pass. That means the bus might get stuck too... or it might just break down any time of the year. If the drivers can fix it then they carry on, if not they will wait for the next bus, next day or some solution to show up. Definitely not good if you are on a tight schedule, but then, taking a "shuttle" might not help either, agencies in Flores use private microbuses to take groups to Carmelita, and many times passengers have to get out and dig and push the van if they want to make it to Carmelita. All that for about 5x the price of the local bus.

Now, the other option is advertised as safe and fail proof, but in fact it is not. It involves paying a microbus driver 600Q for the roundtrip to Carmelita. Even if you are not going back with the same bus, you will have to pay that amount. And if you already paid the roundtrip, and the driver finds people wanting to leave Carmelita TO Santa Elena, he will also make them pay 600Q for the roundtrip. Or at the very least 300Q. I personally was there when the driver from Ecomaya wanted to charge 1500Q for some people who had to leave Carmelita in an emergency. Of course, everybody has the right to ask as much as they think fair, but still, be smart and do your math. If you book your trip with an agency in Flores for 200USD, the price includes private transport to and from Carmelita. From Carmelita you can also arrange emergency transport to Flores any time for 600Q.

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