The Baja Bush Pilots, who say they literally wrote the book on flying in Mexico and Central America, recently completed CENAM 2017, a trip to Central America by private aircraft.
The organization, which began in 1965 when Arnold Senterfitt mapped his first airport in Mexico, has been owned by Jack and Karen McCormick since 1996.
The couple market the Senterfitt “airport” book, “Airports of Mexico and Central America.” Now in its 28th edition, the book has information on more than 1,800 airports.
Baja Bush Pilots also leads groups of pilots on trips south of the border, including the recent journey to Central America.
Pushing the throttles forward, eight aircraft departed Laredo, Texas, with a heading of 160° en route for Veracruz, Mexico.
This is one of the eight organized group trips each year the Baja Bush Pilots put together.
On this trip, all types of aircraft, as well as both first time and experienced south of the border flyers, are assigned call signs for the trip — Baja 1 through Baja 8.
The first stop is Veracruz, México, an airport of entry with 100LL fuel. Once paperwork is completed, the group is off in taxis to the hotel, the Gran Hotel Diligencias.
Some explore the markets and local attractions in this busy traditional Mexican town.
Extremely high winds blowing at 40-50 knots created an opportunity for an extra day of exploring as we all agree to stay on the ground and not fly. The next morning the winds died down and we were set to move south.
Full fuel tanks and paperwork complete, we push the throttles forward again for Flores, Guatemala.
Descending over Lago Peten Itza en route for Mundo Maya International Airport after a 2.5 hour flight, the small island town of Flores is a spectacular sight.
Mundo Maya International does not have 100LL fuel, but it does have friendly customs and flight services. This airport is the primary airport for those wanting to see the Tikal Ruins.
A $1 (US) ride to town in a three-wheel taxi takes us from the airport to the city. The city now has a causeway, but is still considered an island city by most.
The people here are warm and friendly. I tried to give the taxi driver a $5 tip for the ride from the airport to the hotel and he said no. After talking to him, he said that was just way too much and was extremely happy with the $2 we settled on.
If you’re thinking of traveling here, you should know that your U.S. money will work fine, but only if the paper has no rips, tears or folds and looks pristine. A tiny fold or tear will make your money useless.
If you want to be a hero, simply tell the manager of the hotel you are willing to trade his bad bills for your pristine bills and return to the states. Normally you will find they have three to four bills sitting in a drawer that will not work in Guatemala, but will work fine in the U.S.
Another good thing to know: $20 bills are the biggest concern of the locals and some banks will not exchange them due to high levels of counterfeit $20 bills.
The group boards a private bus to explore the amazing Tikal Ruins, “a city of ancient Maya Civilization.”
Tikal is a large archaeological site in Guatemala, the largest excavated site in the Americas. Guatemala’s most famous cultural and natural preserve, it is located in the department — their word for state — of El Petén.
The Baja Bush Pilots explore and spend the day taking in the sites.
Departing Mundo Maya International Airport for a private jungle strip in Rio Dulce, Guatemala, we decide to stay under the cloud layer and follow the only highway in the area.
The pilots on the trip indicate “this is real flying” as we make our way along the jungle-covered terrain.
En route — and with permission — we do a low pass at the controlled airstrip of Potun, which is halfway between Rio Dulce and Maya Mundo.
Landing at the Rio Dulce private strip we are met by security guards and a tractor to help haul luggage. A boat takes us to the Catamaran Hotel owned by a Baja Bush Pilots member who always goes out of his way to take care of the group.
After exploring the hotel island, we board a launch to explore the local attractions, including Castillo De San Felipe de Lara, a Spanish colonial fort at the entrance to Lake Izabal that is connected with the Caribbean Sea.
Departing Rio Dulce we head for Aeropuerto Internacional La Aurora in Guatemala City, where we take on fuel and park the aircraft in secure parking.
We have lunch at the private flying club looking over the runway and meet new flying friends. The group then boards a bus to the remote mountain pueblo of Chichicastenango.
“Chi chi” (as referred to by locals) is known for its open air market, which is only open Wednesdays and Thursdays, and indigenous Maya culture. The group also explores 16th century churches used for worship and Maya rituals.
We always stay at the Mayan Inn. Push a button and a person will be at your door to light a fire or get you anything you desire. Many of the Baja Bush Pilots show up for the happy hour and dinner wearing traditional clothing and even a few machetes.
A earthquake late one night sent me running into the hallway half dressed to presumed safety only to find the locals snickering at my actions as I realized I was in no danger. The earthquakes are from the live volcano near Guatemala City.
Departing down the hill we see the live volcano blowing smoke and we are passed by a “chicken bus” full of locals and livestock.
En route to Guatemala City we discuss flying options for flying north and all are dreaming of a cheeseburger in paradise.
Ending the trip, most fly out the next day, but some stay for a week exploring new locations.
All who attended will have memories that last a lifetime. Phone numbers and hugs are exchanged and promises of more south of the border flying are made in the group as we say “adios amigos” til next time.
Upcoming Baja Bush Pilot trips
- Kiss a Whale 2017, Loreto, Baja, Mexico, February 2017, 50 aircraft. Sold Out.
- Cuba by private aircraft. March-April 2017
- Explore The Best of Baja Golf. Tentative 2017
- Explore Under the Sea. Diving the Sea of Cortez. Tentative 2017
- CENAM 2018, January 2018.
- Kiss a Whale 2018, February 2018.