Driving from Belize to Tikal, part 1: renting a car

See also visa craziness in Belize for Chinese, juggling flights, part 2 of renting a car and driving to Tikal, turkey crossing in Tikal, discounts in Belize, the itinerary wrap-up, and the photo album.

Car rentals in Belize are exorbitant, starting at around USD 50/day plus taxes and plus mandatory liability insurance of around USD 10-20/day. There are both international and local agencies, but Crystal is the only one to make a specialty of rentals for Tikal. Others can be contacted but all that The Rapid Traveler tried expressly prohibited travel to Guatemala. Since you cannot bring the vehicle across the border without notarized documentation from the rental agency, renters are prevented from a foolish unauthorized jaunt across the border.

Crystal only allows renters to go to Tikal, not deeper into Guatemala. They cannot practically enforce that rule until something happens and renters call for help, which will not likely be be proffered. The agent even said they do not send help for people that break down on Belize’s Coastal (Manatee) Highway because they put little Xs and “do not drive” on their grainy map of Belize.

Two business days’ advance notice is needed for the notarized documentation to be prepared. They may forget to include mention of the $15 fee for this in quote, instead springing it on renters during the pick up.

They insist on a high clearance pan vehicle, which adds to the cost. If traveling with several people, make certain to tell them the headcount because the standard is a pickup truck with two seats and a cramped folding seat in the back. Because of the paperwork needed it is not possible to swap vehicles on site unless they coincidentally have paperwork for another.

And there is a two-day rental minimum for Tikal, but few would want to do the trip in one day, as the total trip is minimum 5-6 hours one-way with border crossing time.

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Rental truck on the hand-crank ferry to Xunantunich

Their web reservation form is not secure, so those concerned about security can reserve by phone or fax.

So far none of this is positive, but Crystal offers some nice benefits:

  • Free delivery within Belize City. Crystal met The Rapid Traveler at the Water Taxi terminal, saving a taxi ride. It wasn’t really delivery because the driver took him to the main Crystal office for the rental formalities. When picking up at the airport this is not an issue because they have an office there.
  • No charge for additional drivers.
  • No charge for dropping of at either the main office or airport.
  • Free cooler included.

Then the least pleasant part: gas ranges about USD 5 to 6/gallon. Gas for the round trip plus a few side trips was about USD 85.

Even those not visiting Tikal should consider renting a car in mainland Belize. Public transport is very limited and seldom strays from the main roads. Taxis are scarce outside the major towns. Locals end up hitchhiking. Car rental is not cheap but can be a big savings over tour costs for the various ecotourism and adventure activities throughout the country.

With regard to hitchhiking, either picking up hitchhikers or being one, each person needs to make their own risk determination. The Rapid Traveler gave a lift to two German backpackers on the way to Tikal. In addition to helping them out, it seemed safety in numbers for Guatemala. And he picked up some locals on the way back. He was not going to pick up group of rowdy teenage boys, but, for instance, took one student to the next town for his bus, and took a uniformed airport security officer to the airport from her lunch break (the fried chicken smelled excellent).

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German friends along for the ride at Xunantunich

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