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BEWARE rip-off boat fares at Pana

Oxford, United...
Level Contributor
2 posts
41 reviews
BEWARE rip-off boat fares at Pana

Just a bit of friendly advice to fellow travellers who hate getting ripped off...

When you first arrive in Panajachel, be careful not to get conned with highly inflated boat fares. There are guys who hang around where the shuttles and buses drop visitors off. They try to bustle you along and get you to pay way over the odds, offering 'private' boats and telling you how expensive the public boats can be. It's all a big con. Don't be fooled by their official-looking T-shirts and ID badges - these men are criminals.

My partner and I are experienced backpackers but we somehow allowed ourselves to get pushed into paying 125Q each for a boat from Pana to San Marcos. Our shuttle driver encouraged us to go with these people, so he was probably getting a backhander. The guy who was hustling us told us we'd pay 25Q per town on a public boat, so five stops would add up to the same amount. When we later asked at our hostel what we should have paid, we were told that the whole trip should have cost around 20Q per person (and locals pay about 10Q). It's especially galling as we didn't like the guy and kind of suspected we were being conned.

Rip-off artists like these give Guatemalan tourism and the whole country a bad name. I hope this post enables a few others to avoid falling into their trap.

20 replies to this topic
Buenos Aires
Level Contributor
987 posts
11 reviews
11. Re: BEWARE rip-off boat fares at Pana

The local authorities permit the behavior because they are getting kickbacks. After over ten years in such countries, I have become inured to all this nonsense and all these scams, but no one has ever blocked my way and the first person who does that will be quite sorry. I do exude that vibe, and that does help. Panajachel is the least corrupt of the lake towns, in my opinion, but is still pretty corrupt. Santiago is less corrupt, and the various 'Sans' are more corrupt than I like to deal with. I don't get as much nonsense as most people do, due to fluent Spanish and due to lots of time on the street, but I still don't like all the boat crap.

Level Contributor
55 posts
59 reviews
12. Re: BEWARE rip-off boat fares at Pana

Sometimes you get scammed and you do not even know you are getting scammed. That is the issue. Spanish speaking or not. My Colombian wife got scammed in Cuba, for instance.

Vancouver, Canada
Level Contributor
90 posts
40 reviews
13. Re: BEWARE rip-off boat fares at Pana

Thank you for the warning. Seems typical for any 3rd world country and after all probably not worth getting worked up about.

Of course no one likes to be taken advantage of but I'd rather be duped for such an amount and receive a better service than experience the cons I've fallen for in my life....

Edited: 17 January 2018, 11:06
Oxford, United...
Level Contributor
16 posts
31 reviews
14. Re: BEWARE rip-off boat fares at Pana

Sadly Shavaz, the service was far worse than on a public ferry. The boat operator was in such a hurry to get us there and return for another fare that he sped at top speed across choppy waters. There was no instruction to put on the life vests that were lying in puddles on the floor, no warning that he was setting off, and we were flung all over the boat as it flew through the air (literally completely out of the water at various points) and then banged down again. They must need to make repairs to those private boats each week. A slightly better service with a bit more care (and a dash more honesty) would probably get them a few more customers, and would certainly earn them a better reputation.

4 posts
15. Re: BEWARE rip-off boat fares at Pana

25Q is the official price for tourists. A private boat is about Q250 - Q300 and they leave right away. If you think of the public boat being full with 20 - 25 people at Q10 apiece or Q25 (for tourists), that would be about the price of a private boat. I once had to take a private boat when time was an issue and I didn't have the time to wait another half an hour. You need to wait until the public boat is full, so if it is almost empty when you board, it may be another 30 minutes or so before you leave. Nevertheless, you should be given the option to choose which one you want, private or public. I have taken the public boat at least 40 times or so on my travels, and I still got taken during my last trip when I was told the public boat had just left for their last trip of the day and I'd have to take a private one. When I found out, I was more chagrined than angry, b/c I fell for it. This happens all the time in the U.S., when we are offered a more expensive option and not told about a more basic option, unless we know to push for it. I have seen this happen at health clubs, funeral homes, internet services, etc...

Marcellus, New York
Level Contributor
15 posts
31 reviews
16. Re: BEWARE rip-off boat fares at Pana

You're in a different country, mate. I doubt they are ashamed or embarrassed.

Bethesda, MD
Level Contributor
3,203 posts
39 reviews
17. Re: BEWARE rip-off boat fares at Pana

I already corrected this once. 25Q is NOT the official price for tourists. It is the highest possible cost of a trip. But hey, you want to pay 25Q to go from San Pedro to San Marcos, I'm sure the captain will be thrilled to take an extra 15Q from you. See this discussion for more info: https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g29200…

Oxford, United...
Level Contributor
2 posts
41 reviews
18. Re: BEWARE rip-off boat fares at Pana

Thanks for all the replies, regardless of whether they were grateful, patronising, informative, or whatever!

As several people have said, information is the best defence, and that was precisely my motivation in starting this thread - so that other travellers might be better informed than we were. You can travel the whole length of Lake Atitlan for Q25. Shorter journeys cost less.

Just for the record, I'm not some prim starry-eyed noob with no street-smarts; I've been backpacking in some very untrodden corners of the world for over 20 years, so I do know when I'm not in Kansas any more. I have no problem with sometimes paying more than the locals do, or with people using their initiative to try and make a buck. What I have a problem with is being told blatant lies by someone whose sole intention is to defraud me out of my hard-earned money. Nobody likes that. And it wasn't a case of paying more for a better service. I didn't want a private boat. I didn't want fewer passengers or more comfort or a faster journey. I specifically wanted to take the public boat so that I could have a more authentic experience and see something of the other towns along the lake as we passed them by. When we said this to Mr Rip-Off, he assured us repeatedly and categorically that he was taking us to the public boat.

Crowsnest Pass...
Level Contributor
632 posts
12 reviews
19. Re: BEWARE rip-off boat fares at Pana

For anyone who is familiar with the Panajachel docks; I've always caught the lancha to San Pedro, etc at the end of Calle del Emarcadero. However, this year I've also seen signs at the new public dock (at the end of Rancho Grande) offering trips to San Pedro for 25 quetzals. Does anyone know how frequently these boats run and if in fact you will get your trip for the promised 25 quetzals? I've never actually seen anyone getting on the boats but there sure are a lot of people trying to convince me that I want to go to San Pedro!

As mentioned, be aware of the cost and don't agree to get on a lancha with anyone until you are at the dock. The guys farther up the street may(or may not) be selling you a trip for the stated price but it may or may not be the next boat leaving.

Berkeley, California
Level Contributor
4 posts
28 reviews
20. Re: BEWARE rip-off boat fares at Pana

I think maybe people are reacting to the word “criminals”, but they are obnoxious hustlers and it is extremely unfortunate that people who are new to the area are ripped off. Especially when you arrive on the van tired from a long trip. There is no place reliable one can go at the dock to figure out what the options are so everyone needs to read as much as possible ahead of time. The men in the white shirts with orange stripes on their shoulders are a captains group that is reliable.

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