FROM CHETUMAL TO FLORES IN ONE DAY
“From Chetumal to Flores in one day”. This is excatly what I wrote in Google a few days ago. The result? It is possible, Google said. Even if it would turn out to be false information, we could still spend the night in Belize City and then continue our way to Flores, Guatemala. But when we arrived at the hostel in Bacalar and asked the owner whether we could go from Chetumal (border region of Mexico) to Flores in one day, we learned good news – transport exists even from Bacalar!
We were told the trip should take around 6-7 hours in a van (for 15 passengers) and cost around 25 € / person. All right, let’s go! 😊
The real duration of the trip: 13 hours
Hours on the bus: 9-10
How much did it cost: 150 € (75 € transportation & 75€ departure taxes) + 12 € loss due to the exchange of money at the borders
Number of gray hair obtained: quite a few
SO HOW DID JOURNEY FROM MEXICO TO GUATEMALA IN ONE DAY LOOKED LIKE?
BACALAR – CHETUMAL
The van was supposed to pick us up at 7.15 am in front of our hostel in Bacalar. When we woke up, we luckily saw an e-mail (sent at midnight) that van could not pick us up at the hostel, but instead we should wait at the park in the center at 7.50 ama (really, does somebody actually believe such precise time when in Mexico? 😀 ). Okay, we grabbed a taxi and went to the center, where some passengers were already waiting for the van.
Around 8am a girl from Canada asked me, “At which hour did they tell you to be here? They wrote to us 7.15 am and now we are worried a little bit.” When I explained to her that they have told us to wait at 7.50am and that it will probably take a little longer, her face relaxed. 😊 And indeed, about half an hour later the van appeared and we headed towards Chetumal. There we stopped at the company that organized the transport and learned that the van would only travel to this point. We had to transfer our luggage to the vehicle no. 2 – second class bus (it was not the worst, but it was worse than the van). They offered us a breakfast and we had to fill in the immigration lists for Belize. Only around 10.30 we continued our journey towards first border (at this point bets were already being made when we will actually arrive :D)
AND THEN CAME THE SURPRISE…
Driver no. 2 asked us if we all have enough money to pay a departure tax of US$30. Wait, what? We were all hurrying to explain that we had already paid for as part of our airline tickets for Mexico. The bus driver explained that this tax applies only if you also fly from Mexico, but if you leave the country by travelling overland, you have to pay additional tax. Excuse me, what?? All the way to the border, I was looking for a solution on the internet – unsuccessfully. Most people wrote that at the end they were forced to pay the tax.
MEXICO – BELIZE BORDER
When we reached the border, the bus stopped at a small house with “immigration documents” written on it. We had to go to the house individually and almost (!) all of us had to pay a departure tax, in spite of arguing a lot. The guard in the house told Bojan and me that if we do not want to pay we don’t need to but then we cannot leave the country. Awesome, right? When Bojan demanded the bill, the guard yelled at him that we are not at the bank.
But … two people successfully avoided payment of (in our opinion) an imaginary tax. You can imagine our bad mood – there were about 20 of us on the bus and together we payed around 600 €! On the top of all, the exit fee is valid only for one exit – which means that you have to pay it once again when returning to Mexico (if you are, for example, only on a trip to Belize).
After paying the fee, the bus took us a hundred meter further and then we had to take our backpacks and walk through the border. Queues were not too long and luggage check exists more in theory, so you’re fast on the other side. We went on the bus and set off again.
Next stop? Belize City, where we were again transferred to a new bus (identical to the previous one) and we got a driver no. 3. At this point it was already 3 pm, which means that in theory we should have already been in Flores by then.. 😀
SO… HOW TO AVOID PAYING DEPARTURE TAX WHEN CROSSING BORDER MEXICO – BELIZE?
When you buy a plane ticket, ask the airline to send you breakdown of your invoice. It will not be enough if under costs only “tourist tax” is written (although this is in fact the same as departure tax). The invoice must clearly state “departure tax”. In the first case you’ll end up as many other (angry) travellers, who had to pay departure tax anyway. Note, that if you fly back home you don’t pay anything, this is relevant only for overland border crossing.
If you are lucky and find the departure tax on your invoice, print it and mentally prepare yourself for the negotiation (best to be super calm and insist with your explanation). Then hope for the best! 🙂 Even in case of written evidence you do not have the assurance that you will succeed. But bear in mind, there are many posts on the internet even about physical violence against passengers if they did not want to pay the, so do not persist for too long.
In our group, 2 people were were able to avoid the payment (those who only had a “tourist tax” written on the invoice were unsuccessful). The guard who was taking the money obviously got slightly scared (or perhaps he was tired of arguing :P), so he let them pass the border without payment, and at the same time ordered them not to tell anything to the rest of us!
TO SUM IT UP:
- You do not receive any invoice for the payment
- When you try to explain that the tax has already been paid in scope of flight ticket they will insist it is only valid if you fly from the country as well. But in case you carry with you invoice of the flight ticket with departure tax written on it, suddenly you do not have to pay.
- The price varies (according to Google at the beginning of the year it was about 13 €, we had to pay 23 €)
Which brings me to conclusion: we are being (legally) scammed! A shame, really. 🙁
BORDER BELIZE – GVATEMALA
At the border with Guatemala, a similar procedure followed as earlier same day, but it was not necessary to carry our backpacks across the border. An exit fee applies for leaving Belize as well (some people optimistically believed that if you are in the country for less than 24 hours, there is no need to pay: D) – this time 32 Belize dollars (around 14 €). Because you can only pay in US or Belize dollars, and we didn’t have any of them (long story: P), tense negotiations followed with guys who change money at the border. Actually, so tense that we didn’t see that everyone else had already crossed the border and only then we realized that the driver probably did not count us (mini shock :D) and the bus could leave without us!
NOT ALL WAS BAD…
In the end, it seemed like the guy with the money felt pity for us somehow and we got our Belize dollars to pay the fee and the remaining amount in Guatemalan currency, whereby we lost only 12 € (we changed for 130€ worth of Mexican pesos). Unlike in Mexico, here you get an official invoice for paying a fee.
By the way, if you ever find yourself at this border and to avoid getting lost (as we almost did) – after leaving the immigration office, go straight to the border, cross the road there and go to office no. 2 😊 They will put a stamp in your passport and you can walk to Guatemala. For EU citizens, a visa is not required, but make sure that they will write 90 days in your passport – the countries Guatemala, Honduras, San Salvador and Nicaragua are part of a single area within which you can move for 90 days (i.e. not 90 days in each country, but in all together).
Luckily, bus was still there when we finally crossed the border. Everyone was waiting only for us and the driver no. 4 was scanning the border fearfully, waiting for 2 gringos to appear. 😀
Great, we arrived in Guatemala. It was already past 6pm and it was dark and we had another two hours of drive ahead of us. At 9pm we had finally reached our destination – Flores. 🙂 Yeeey! 😊
FROM MEXICO TO GUATEMALA IN ONE DAY – IS IT WORTH IT?
I guess I’d had to say NO, it is not. We would rather advise one of the following options:
- If you are traveling overland, make a stop and spend the night (or more) in Belize City (or any other place along the route). Anyway, you have to pay a departure tax for Belize, so why not make a use of it at least. 😊 We actually planned staying in Belize a week or so, but because of the New Year and holidays prices skyrocketed (we are talking about €100 and more per night for staying in a less than appealing room), so we decided to give Belize a chance another time. 🙁
- Take a plane. You can fly from Cancun / Cozumel / Chetumal . There is an airport in Flores (Flores is a well known base for visiting Tikal which is located 1,5 hour away). If you are not so much into ruins you can fly directly to Guatemala City or Antigua. It can be a bit pricey (or a lot, if it is holiday season :D), but considering the time, it may be worth it. And you may avoid a grey hair or two. 😉 You can always quickly and safe book a plane ticket trough Jetradar.