I’m always on the hunt for a cheap – but safe – way to get between cities or countries when I travel. Let me tell you about the time I travelled from Belize to Guatemala by public BUS. By myself. Without knowing any Spanish at all.
I was initially quite intimidated by the idea of crossing the Guatemalan border by land. Let’s be honest, you hear a lot of scary stories and the media likes to hype these things up.
But I did a lot of research ahead of time and found a few other backpackers who had done the same journey without issue, in either direction.
So I decided to do it as well.
And was perfectly fine.
If you’re smart about things, I definitely recommend this to any traveler on a budget. It is a great experience and not nearly as scary as I thought it would be.
Caye Caulker to Belize City
First off, I should mention that I was coming from the tiny island of Caye Caulker, Belize.
I do not buy any tickets ahead of time. Instead, I walk over to the main pier on the morning I want to leave Caye Caulker and buy a ticket that would take me right through to Flores, Guatemala.
I pay $8.50 US for the ferry that will take me from Caye Caulker to Belize City. I also pay $25.00 US for a bus ticket from Belize City to Flores.
My ferry ticket is for 9:00 AM, but the 8:00 AM ferry is not full so I manage to get a seat on that one.
The ferry is an uneventful 45 minute ride. The ferry is clean, fast and fairly comfortable.
Here is a view of the ferry terminal in Belize City from the water:
I am a bit nervous about arriving in Belize City. I’ve read reports of travellers being swarmed by vendors as soon as they got off the ferry. I didn’t experience anything like that.
The ferry terminal turns out to be a safe place to wait for the bus with numerous souvenir shops and seating areas. It is a quiet, beautiful morning and no one bothers me.
The company I take a bus with has free Wi-Fi and a picnic table in front of their office. The the bus isn’t due to leave for another hour, so I sit in the shade eating my fry-jack breakfast from Errolyn’s on Caye Caulker.
Belize City to the Guatemala Border
The bus to get from Belize City to Guatemala is less than half full, very old and very dirty…
…I may or may not have killed two giant cockroaches before I switch seats. Like it matters. Where there is one cockroach, there are many more, right?
Whatever. The staff is polite, speaks English well and I didn’t pay for a limousine, so I chalk it up to part of the experience.
There is a bathroom on board, but you couldn’t pay me to go in there. Others did, and they look slightly traumatized when they come out, so I don’t think I’d recommend it.
It’s about a two hour ride from Belize City to the Guatemalan border.
The Guatemala Border
When the bus arrives at the border, everyone is ordered off the bus and told to go inside to immigration.
*** Make sure you keep your valuables with you! You have to leave your main luggage on the bus as you cross the border on foot.
Immigration is a small building to your left once you get off the bus. It’s the only building you can go into at this point, so don’t worry about getting lost.
In that building, you officially leave Belize. Your passport is stamped and you pay $20 US (40BZ) to leave the country.
Once you come out the other side of that building, there is no guidance and it’s a bit confusing. I am intimidated because I have no idea where to go or what to do. There are people milling about and there isn’t any obvious flow or direction.
Was I now in Guatemala? Where do I find my bus?
Luckily, the border officials are used to backpackers wandering about like lost puppy dogs and point me in the right direction.
Further ahead and also on the left, there is a big open but covered area. This is Guatemalan immigration. It looks like this:
There is no obvious sign or direction telling you that you need to go in here. Make sure not to miss this part, because if you try to leave Guatemala later without an arrival stamp, you will be fined.
I had heard stories of other travellers who were asked to pay an entrance fee to the Guatemalan immigration offers. There is no fee to enter Guatemala from Belize, so I am nervous about being required to pay something.
Luckily, I am not asked. The officer is very polite and only asks me where I am staying and how long I’d be in the country.
Once everyone has their passport stamps, we stand around watching the border and waiting for the bus to come back around. The guards are heavily armed and it is great people watching!
Pretty sure I saw a guy with a chicken cross on his bicycle at one point! LOL
The bus arrives about 40 minutes later. Obviously it had been searched in that time, which is fine by me. Nothing went missing from my bag.
Guatemala Border to Flores, Guatemala
It’s about a two hour ride from the border to Santa Elena and the roads are paved and in good condition with a lot of hills.
The bus stops every so often to pick up or drop someone off and we are also stopped by a police check once, but they do nothing more than peak into the luggage compartment under the bus.
In Santa Elena, we stop in the parking lot of a small plaza and are transferred from a big bus to small shuttle vans.
Why, you ask?
Because Flores is a tiny little island with tiny little cobblestone roads that cannot accommodate full size buses.
I have heard reports of a common scam at this point between the shuttle drivers and a local man, and I am super nervous about him showing up.
Apparently when you transfer to the shuttle, a man with a very distinct scar on his face gets on the shuttle and pressures unsuspecting backpackers into purchasing bogus tour packages on the spot.
He will claim that he is the only one who can offer you this package at that price, and will spin tales about your hostel being full, even if you have a reservation, and will pressure you to go to a place that he recommends.
Surprisingly (or not), many have fallen for this in the past and ended up over paying and/or getting ripped off entirely.
I don’t know if his being outed online by travellers has deterred him or if I got lucky, but I do not see him so I can’t confirm if this is still going on or not.
I mention this so that you are aware of a potential scam going on in Flores.
The ride from Santa Elena onto the little island of Flores is very short, and I am dropped off about 100 m from my hostel (Los Amigos…definitely recommend!) by mid afternoon.
And that’s it! It’s a very easy and budget friendly way to get from Belize to Guatemala and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Have you taken this route, in either direction? What was your experience like?