‘Better close the window before the pesticide spray’: Driving from Belize to Tikal, part 2: crossing the border and the Guatemalan road

See also visa craziness in Belize for Chinese juggling flights, part 1 of renting a car and driving to Tikal, turkey crossing in Tikal, discounts in Belize, the itinerary wrap-up, and the photo album.

Past Mayan hilltop site Xunantunich, with access by hand crank ferry, lies Belizian border town Benque Vlejo del Carmen. Exit formalities are fast and easy, everyone pays BZD 37.50/USD 18.75 to exit Belize, and officials do not care about taking a vehicle out.

Drivers then roll through a shed-like structure where a helpful, lurking money-changer yelled, “Better close the window before the pesticide spray.” The Rapid Traveler is indeed thankful, battening down before getting spritzed. The office immediately on the right collects USD 3 for that spa. More fees to come in the main building on the left.

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Pesticide spray shed at the Belize-Guatemala border

Guatemalan immigration is a breeze, no forms to fill out, just a USD 3 fee.

The vehicle is cumbersome. Drivers need to go to the customs (left) side of the counter and produce the notarized documentation from the rental company (see part 1). The customs agent fusses around for quite a while, then heads out to make a physical inspection of the vehicle.

Returning for more busywork, the agent eventually produces an invoice to be paid at the bank window. It is unclear how it is calculated but it was USD 22 for The Rapid Traveler’s pickup truck. Once paid, return to the customs officer who then finishes the paperwork and returns to the vehicle to place a customs decal on the windshield and give the final receipt.

One more inspection at the gate and then off and running, for about a hundred yards, when a toll lady jumps out from a booth at the end of a tiny temporary bridge alongside construction for a large bridge. She insisted The Rapid Traveler pay USD 7, but the number seemed random, though she did produce official-looking receipt. It was claimed all the local cars zipping by were paying monthly usage fees. Not worth fighting when not a Spanish speaker. Keep the receipts for the return trip.

The entire border crossing process took over an hour.

The Guatemalan border town of Melchor de Mencos is the last chance to fill the gas tank. The drive to Tikal is about  two hours at a good clip. Most of the route is paved but there are some bumpy sections. At times it can feel like the video game Crazy Taxi, with unmarked speed bumps, children, countless dogs, and horses popping out into the road.  If desperate for gas enroute, when the road forks north for Tikal, head south to El Remate where there is a gas station. Like Belize, US dollars are widely accepted but quoted rates range widely.

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Sunset at Tikal

On the return the border closes for vehicles at 21:00. It would be unwise to time it close. Guatemala does not care about the vehicle at this point and Belize does a cursory look at the documents but no fees are needed to re-enter Belize with a Belizean vehicle.

The two-day rental with all its fees and gas adds up to nearly USD 300. Those on a tight schedule can fly Tropic Air to Flores, Guatemala (FRS) for USD 223.50 roundtrip but need a shuttle or taxi for the hour drive to Tikal. Groups can make the car rental economics work over flying.

There are also limited tourist buses at the Belize City Water Taxi terminal, including one that departs at 9:30 am, collecting passengers from the first morning ferry in from San Pedro and Caye Caulker. These cost USD 30 one-way but do not allow the flexibility for stops en route.

Is Tikal worth it, sure. But the sights of the Yucatan are valiant rivals and are more easily accessible and cost-effective if not otherwise planning to visit Guatemala. See ’12 Hours of Yucatan Maya’ parts 1, 2, and 3.

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Freaky tree as the howler monkeys roar

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  • guera

    Great to meet you at the Chicago Seminars!

    We approached Tikal from the South because we flew into Guatemala City. We had originally planned to take buses everywhere in Guatelemala. My husband annoyingly does not like to do pre-trip planning, and as we discussed our itinerary on the plane trip down from Atlanta, we decided that we didn’t have enough time to do everything we wanted to do. So we decided to fly to Flores from Guat City on the same day we arrived. We stayed a night in Flores and took a bus the next day to the park. We stayed at the Jaguar Inn in the Park for one night. It was $60 which is expensive for Guatemala but not bad considering you are staying in ruin that was inaccessible until a few years ago.

    Love your blog. Keep up the good work.

  • Thanks for reading and sharing your experience. I had hoped to approach Tikal from Belize and depart from Guatemala City but could not get the award space on a flight from there. My German hitchhikers also stayed at Jaguar Inn and I envy the experience of an evening and morning among the cacophony of howler monkeys – they were just getting warmed up when I had to leave to beat the border closing.