One of the most frustrating parts of traveling in Guatemala is never really knowing the true price of a service – a bus ride – or anything for that matter – a hotel room, a banana, or a shirt. It’s a little something we like to call a “gringo tax” since there is usually one low price for locals and any various price 2 or 3 times that for gringos.
Usually, when bartering for things in the market, we don’t mind it so much because we will only buy it when we reach a price both us, the buyer, and the seller agree with. We both win. The times that it really bothers me is when you are on a bus, the same bus as all the locals, on the same route, but are charged so much more… and you never really know how much more it is.
From Rio Dulce, we took a day trip to Finca Paraiso, a place that is interesting because it gives you the ability to stand in a cold pool while a hot waterfall pours from above. The bus ride takes about an hour and we were told by our hostel that it cost 10Q each way. We had a 20Q ready to go because we were determined to get that rate and nothing more. However, on the bus, when Brian gave the guy a 20Q he kind of stood there for a second. We broke the silence by stating it was for both of us. He responded that it was 15Q for each of us. Before Brian could reach into his pocket for more, I stopped him and told the guy it is normally 10Q for this ride. Brian joined in a little more firmly, and we could tell by the look on his face that he couldn’t fight it. We basically looked straight ahead and he eventually left to collect the rest of his fares.
Yes, we did good, but how good did we “really” do? I noticed the guy next to us only paid 7Q for his ride, so I made sure to keep an eye on where he got off. Well, it appears he only got off about a few hundred feet before us. After the ride, we met up with another gringo that was in the back of the bus and asked him what he paid for the ride. He, amazingly, only paid 8Q for the exact same ride! We were a little more than shocked because we felt good with getting it down from 15 to 10, but 8Q?! His strategy is one you might want to keep in mind if you are traveling in Guatemala. He generally starts with offering a rate of 5Q per hour bus ride, so for this ride, he held out a 5Q bill and was only upped to 8Q from that point. Very interesting, eh?! So, instead of basing your rates off what your guidebook says, I would suggest attempting something more like this.
On the way back, we decided to bypass the whole gringo tax issue and caught a ride in the back of a pickup truck. The ride was long and very, very bumpy – but the guy in charge was from the states and didn’t want any money in return. Ah, you just gotta love that!
Avoiding the Gringo Tax from Brooke Schoenman on Vimeo.