In the town of San Pedro la Laguna, on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan, the main form of transportation for both locals and visitors alike is the tuk-tuk. A tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled vehicle where the driver sits in the one front seat, steering the tuk-tuk with motorcycle handlebars, and the passengers sit in the wide rear seat in back.
The tuk-tuk is open on both sides and has a cloth roof. It is actually a practical vehicle for the steep, narrow, winding streets of the towns built onto the mountainsides surrounding Lake Atitlan. The knowledgeable visitor soon learns that a ride for two people in a tuk-tuk to anywhere in town should cost ten Quetzales (which at the time of this post is about $1.40). A single person should only have to pay five Quetzales, but tuk-tuk drivers make more money if they carry more people.
Our first ride in a tuk-tuk, upon arriving in San Pedro was extremely uncomfortable and even more frightening. After arriving by boat with our two fifty pound suitcases and two backpacks, we were approached by a tuk-tuk driver. We knew that we needed a ride, but weren’t prepared to have both our large suitcases stacked up and stuffed into the rear seat while we barely managed to squeeze one butt cheek each on either side of what remained of the seat.
The tuk-tuk took off, climbing high up into the steep hills on streets that looked barely wide enough to pass through. We white-knuckled it, with our backpacks in one hand, holding on for dear life with the other and staring at each other over our suitcases, our eyes wide in disbelief.
Since that time, we have become much more blasé during our daily tuk-tuk rides. We barely flinch, as a chicken bus, coming in the opposite direction takes up what seems to be the entire lane. Our driver calmly squeezes into the impossibly narrow space, manages to avoid the dog sleeping in the lane, then jogs hard left, missing by millimeters, the old women walking two abreast with baskets on their heads.
Nevertheless, each ride usually has at least one moment when my breath catches in my throat as we brace for a crash or vehicular homicide. But the drivers all seem competent, even though many are only fifteen years old.
This video, photographed with a wide angle lens, doesn’t accurately convey how close the buses, cars, trucks, walls, people, and dogs are to the side view mirrors of our tuk-tuk as we bounce along the streets of San Pedro la Laguna, but it does show what an interesting and exciting ride it is.
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Music: Vanishing Horizon by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) Artist: http://audionautix.com/
We’ve had a lot of great experiences in Guatemala including some very hilly walks and hikes. Here are some of the items we feel are essential for a visit to Lake Atitlan:
- Sturdy hiking shoes (we love our Keens)
- Small travel backpack
- Sun screen
- Wide brimmed hat
- Water bottle
We found a hiking staff (like this one) to be a big help on the hills.
Have you had a ride in a tuk-tuk? I bet you have something to say about it! We’d love to hear your comments in the box below.