Tag Archives: guatemala border crossing

Day 3: Tikal, Guatemala to Belize City

My alarm went off at 3:40am to prepare for the sunrise tour of Tikal that left our hotel, the Tikal Inn, at 4:00am. However, when I rolled over to shut off my alarm, I realized that it was pouring buckets out. I got up and put my contacts in while Lindsay’s alarm went off about 10 minutes later. We decided to skip the tour because of the rain. It broke my heart a bit because I was hoping to see an amazing sunrise over the tops of the temples and capture them on my camera. But, alas, I will have to do it another time. The downfalls of traveling in the almost official rainy season.

The view of the Grand Plaza from Temple II
The view of the Grand Plaza from Temple II

The park officially opens to normal tourists at 6:00am so we went back to sleep for a couple more hours. The sounds of the rain and the jungle coupled with travel exhaustion from the previous two days led to a great night’s sleep. We soon set out on the short walk from the hotel to the trail entrance where we paid another Q150 to enter the park. If we  had waited and not used our ticket from yesterday then we could have saved Q150. Personally, it was worth the expense in my opinion. Instead of wandering around the trails and taking the long way to the Grand Plaza like the day before, we took the direct trail right to the Grand Plaza. As we started walking up the trail we suddenly heard this racket. It sounded like a mix of dying cows and mating gorillas. Not that I know what that sounds like… We both looked at each other and all I could think of was we were on the Lost island with the polar bear!

One of the best shows ever!
One of the best shows ever!

Actually, it was a group of howler monkeys! Unfortunately, we could not see them from the trail. They carried on for at least an hour as we wandering around the Grand Plaza. Around 8:00am Lindsay and I headed back towards our Hotel for breakfast and packing. Our taxi was arriving to pick us up at 10:00am. Breakfast at the hotel was delicious. I had the pancakes with fresh fruit and papaya juice. Our taxi driver arrived sharply at 10:00am and we were off for our 2 hour nerve-wrecking drive from Tikal National Park to the border of Guatemala (Melchor de Mencos) and Belize.

Scenes from the road
Scenes from the road

Getting over the border was fun. There was some confusion between our Spanish-speaking driver and our limited Spanish-speaking abilities. He pulled over and locked our packs in his car while he went to look for his amigo on the Belize side to drive us to San Ignacio. Lindsay and I went through the Guatemala border crossing/customs, which is just a line at a desk. We paid our $3 USD departure tax and got our passports stamped. We were done in less than 5 minutes and spent about 25 minutes looking for our driver. Finally he came back and told us it would cost about $25 USD each for his amigo to drive us from the border to San Ignacio. We told him no and that we would find our way. I gave him a $2 USD tip and we grabbed our bags and went through Belize’s border crossing. Again, super easy.

We got a taxi for $5 USD from the border to Benque Viejo del Carmen, the closest Belize town to the border (about 2 miles away). He dropped us off at the “bus station,” which is really just a stop in front of a shop. We hopped on the old yellow school bus for the 1 hour or so ride to Belmopan. The bus ride cost us $2.50 USD each. WAY cheaper than the $25 each taxi ride! The bus stopped every once in a while to pick people up and drop them off, but it moved quicker than I thought it would. The bus dropped us off at the main bus station.

Happy to ride the $2.50 USD bus from Benque to Belmopan!
Happy to ride the $2.50 USD bus from Benque to Belmopan!

Once we were off the bus we headed straight to Scotiabank to get more cash. I was a complete idiot when budgeting my cash. I had budgeted $325 in cash based on my last trip to Central America (Costa Rica and Nicaragua), but I forgot that everything except dinner was pre-paid. I only brought my credit card so I had to take a cash advance, which cost me a few extra at the end. So make sure you either bring your debt card or enough cash! Lesson learned.

We had time before the guide from the cave tubing company was going to pick us up at the bus station. We grabbed a quick dinner at Caladium Restaurant across from the bus station. We both had the special – jerk chicken, coconut milk rice and beans, and fried plantains. The rice and beans were to die for. I wanted just a plate of that!

Walter, our guide from Cave Tubing Belize, met us at the bus station right on time and we drove in the van to their headquarters at Cave Branch located at Mile 37 on the Western Highway. After paying $75 USD each for our 2-person tour (which includes the tour, all the gear, dinner, rum punch, and transportation from Belmopan to Belize City), we hopped in the van for the 10 minute drive down the road to the river. I will have a separate post next week on just our cave tubing experience. But, I will say, if you are ever in Belize you NEED to go cave tubing! And go with Cave Tubing Belize. They are the best!

Cave tubing with Cave Tubing Belize!
Cave tubing with Cave Tubing Belize!

Our cave tubing adventure took a few hours and it was absolutely amazing. Worth every penny in my mind and I would do it again in a heartbeat! After the cave tubing we changed and hopped in a brand new truck with Vitalino Junior. Honestly, I think the ride was one of the highlights of the trip. Junior told us a lot of the country and culture of Belize and also about his life. They gave us our dinners to-go with rum punch in sippy cups. Over the hour and 15 minutes of the drive back to Belize City, I succeed to get quite tipsy! That stuff was good!

Junior dropped us off at the Sea Breeze Guesthouse. I had made the reservations prior to leaving the states. The hostel came recommended by Lonely Planet and it was one of the cheaper hostels/hotels in Belize City. The place is also surrounded by barbed wire so you knew you were safe – for anything! We checked in around 9ish and were shown to our room. It was simple and clean. We even had a tv with satellite! Since I had just drank an entire sippy cup of rum punch, I had to pee like no tomorrow. I opened the bathroom door, turned on the light, and watched a giant cockroach crawl through the sink. I immediately shut the door, walked back to tell Lindsay, and then went back and peed. I never saw the cockroach again.

I passed out early and slept like a baby all night. Stay tuned for a more detailed post on cave tubing next week!

Daily Expenses:

  • Tikal National Park entrance fee – Q150 (~$20 USD)
  • Taxi driver tip – $2 USD
  • Bus tickets (including Lindsay) – $5 USD
  • Lunch – $15 USD
  • Sea Breeze Guesthouse – $15 USD
  • Cave Tubing – $75 USD
  • Total – $127 USD

In Case You Missed It:

 

Day 1: From Belize City to Flores, Guatemala

Why is it that travel days always seem to last the longest? Day 1 of the trip began before the sun even woke up – 3:00am. My flight left Boston-Logan Airport (BOS) at 6am. Luckily I had a very generous college friend who hosted me the night before and drove me to the airport for 4am. Thanks Greg! It saved me close to $300 for an airport hotel or spending the night in the airport (which I have done before and it’s not fun!).

Getting ready for take-off
Getting ready for take-off

I made it without much wait time through security sans any snafus. I was a bit worried that someone might yell at me about my backpack size, but rest-assured it easily fit in the carry-on luggage test device (ok, perhaps with a little manipulation). The only place in the airport opened at 4:30am was Dunkin Donuts, so I waited until Starbucks opened at 5am. Sorry America, America doesn’t run on Dunkin! 

The first leg of my flight was from BOS to Atlanta (ATL). The flight was uneventful. We hit a few rough patches of air, which caused a little bit of anxiety. The older I get the more nervous of a flyer I become. I used to love flying, but now every little bump in air causes my heart to jump and instant thoughts of we’re going to die. I seriously think I need some medication. It’s actually rather pathetic.

My layover in ATL was less than an hour and thus it was a run to the next gate. Thankfully the gate was nearby and I just went plane to plane. The downfall was not being able to grab a snack in the airport. We soon left ATL for Belize City. The flight was a little less than 3 hours long, meaning no lunch was going to be served. Originally my plane ticket said lunch, but it magically disappeared when I checked it. Well played Delta, well-played. I ended up shelling out $9 for a Delta snack. It was good, but obviously not worth $9. The leg from ATL to Belize was rough. At this point I relaxed a bit and was able to read a good portion of my book.

We arrived in Belize a little early. My friend landed shortly before us. Well, actually three planes landed within minutes of each other creating a bit of a long wait to get through immigration and customs (especially when you really had to pee!). I got stamped and met Lindsay on the other side. We grabbed a taxi to the bus/water taxi station to take the express bus from Belize City to Flores, Guatemala.

We ended waiting about an hour or so until the bus showed up. The express bus left around 1:30pm and we got to the station way before either of us had originally thought. We chatted with a Belizean local from the Southern part of the country about Southern Belize and the Belizean culture. Finally the bus arrived.

Now, based on the pictures on the sign and what the ticket agent told us, we thought the bus was going to be an air-conditioned custom coach bus with a bathroom. Nope, it was an old mini-bus from the 90s. No A/C. No bathroom. At least it wasn’t crowded and the windows opened. It wasn’t bad, but I expected something more. The bus ride took us from Belize City over the Western Highway to the border of Belize/Guatemala. The ride was uneventful for a “normal” Central American bus/taxi/car ride. If you’ve never taken road transportation in Central America than you’re certainly in for a surprise. There is a lot of honking and passing (sometimes with oncoming traffic, blindly, and on sharp turns and hills). Generally it’s just best to close your eyes and hope for the best.

A collection of photos taken from the bus ride to Guatemala
A collection of photos taken from the bus ride to Guatemala

The border crossing was rather simple once we figured what our Spanish-speaking driver told us to do. Get off. Walk through Belize Immigration. Pay $15 USD exit tax (we paid slightly less because we just arrived in Belize that day). Walk to customs and get passport stamp. Walk across river-bridge to Guatemala. Walk up to Guatemala immigrations and customs to pay the $3 entrance fee and get passport stamped. Find bus driver and bus.

We found our bus and driver plus 2 new additional passengers. One was a really nice Guatemalan woman who spoke English. The second was a really stinky shirtless man who was going all the way to Guatemala City. Lindsay and I both checked our packs in the back of the bus because our lovely bus driver walked away from the bus and left our stuff unattended. Everything was just dandy though.

After all the passengers returned to the bus, we were on our way again. The highway in Guatemala from the border to Flores was paved in the recent years making the ride smooth and fast. The landscape was beginning to turn into more farmlands and jungles. Surprisingly, the ride was quite hilly. There was one big hill that I thought we were all going to have to push the bus up because it was so steep.

Bienvenidos!
Bienvenidos!

The bus ride from Belize City to Flores took about 5 hours. One-way tickets cost about $25 USD. We could have taken the normal buses from Belize City to Benque Viejo del Carmen (the last town in Belize) for about $5 USD, a $5 USD taxi from Benque to the border, and then take another bus from Melchor de Mencos (Guatemalan border town) to Flores for a few US dollars as well. However, we were looking at about 7-8 hours travel time. The $25 for the express bus was worth it in my opinion.

The bus driver dropped us off at our destination of Flores, Guatemala. Lindsay and I pre-booked our beds at Los Amigos Hostel prior to leaving the US. On the short walk to the hostel we picked up a fellow bus passenger from England after he asked us where we were staying. Turns out he had spent the month of March in Hollis, Maine! That’s about 2 towns over from where I live and I regularly ride my bike through the town. This was the first incidence of a small world.

The entrance to Los Amigos Hostel in Flores, Guatemala
The entrance to Los Amigos Hostel in Flores, Guatemala

Los Amigos is by far the best hostel I’ve stayed in during this trip and all the others I have stayed in on previous trips. I plan on doing a separate post about the hostel, but in a nutshell, if you’re going to Flores then you must stay here. It’s about $9 a night for a bed and the atmosphere is very friendly and fun. Lindsay and I had dinner with our new friend Ben (English-boy) and talked Maine and travel. We ordered dinner and drinks from the restaurant. The bartender/waitress did not like me for some reason and I got yelled at and I had to ask twice for my drink order. One of the reasons I need to learn Spanish. Good thing I’m signed up for Spanish lessons at The Language Exchange in Portland starting in July!

The Guatemala national beer... Gallo
The Guatemala national beer… Gallo

I tried the local brew, Gallo Cerveza, and it was quite good. I thought it was similar to a Newcastle in taste. For dinner I had the fish, which was excellent. If it was socially acceptable I probably would have licked my plate. After a very long day of travel and a 2 hour time change for me, we called it a night and hit our bunk beds.

Next up: Day 2 – Flores to Tikal National Park