3 buses, 2 borders and a scam later…
Date of travel: 26th January 2020
After an incredible time in Mexico, it was time to move down to Guatemala. Belize didn’t stand out as somewhere I particularly wanted to visit, so the plan was to travel straight from Tulum to Flores.
However, finding any useful information on how to do this proved to be difficult. After spending hours researching the best (and cheapest) way to travel from Tulum to Flores, I was left frustrated, with conflicting information and outdated advice. so…after surviving the journey, I want to pass on my experience to any future travellers wanting to get between Mexico and Guatemala. By bus. In one day.
Total Cost: £87.50 (approx 2,180 peso/$115.50 usd)
Overall Journey Time: 19 hours and 7 minutes
Cost of flights we found: £250-426
Tulum to Chetumal
Journey time: 3 hours 28 minutes
Cost: $324 Mexican peso
After five glorious days in Tulum, we started the first leg of our journey – Tulum to Chetumal. Chetumal is a small town located just north of the Mexico-Belize border, and is easily accessible by the infamous Ado bus. If you’ve been travelling around Mexico, you’ll probably be familiar with these buses. But if not, Ado is one of the largest bus companies in Mexico. I found them to be extremely reliable and helpful, along with having good facilities.
We originally planned to catch the San Juan bus, a direct bus from that drives the Chetumal – Flores route. With only one service a day, and no concrete information on departure times or locations, our plan was to get there very early. Blog posts and old TripAdvisor/Lonely Planet forums gave departure times between 6am-9am, all reiterating that not getting a limited place on this bus would force you to stay in Chetumal for another day. We didn’t want to stay in Chetumal!
Ado bus options were limited to 00:05am or 01:15am. We chose the former.
The bus arrived at Tulum station early. We were among four people to join the existing passengers from Cancun. We left Tulum at 23:55pm – 10 minutes ahead of schedule. The bus temperature was set to ARTIC, so be sure to pack lots of warm clothes.
Waiting time in Ado station: 4 hours 27 minutes
Cost: 50 pesos
We arrived at 3:23am. An extremely helpful lady at Ado recommended we get the 9:30am Marlin Espadas bus, not San Juan. San Juan was the only direct bus, so we originally weren’t keen to use Marlin Espadas. However given that it was 3:30am, and our broken Spanish wasn’t getting us any information about San Juan, we chose to use ME.
We stayed in the Ado bus station until 7:50am, trying to keep warm. From here we took a 50 pesos taxi to the Marlin Espadas. This should be 30 pesos but we were too tired to argue.
Related posts: Isla Holbox: Best Things to do in Mexico’s Hidden Gem
Chetumal to Mexican Border
Waiting time: 2 hours 11 minutes
Bus time: 24 minutes
Cost: 722 pesos
Marlin Espadas charged $722mx for the bus. After paying, we were sent to their waiting room to fill out Belize immigration forms. This area was equipped with complimentary strong WiFi, toast, teas and coffee. By 9am, the waiting area was filled with people trying to catch this bus, so we were relieved to have gotten there so early!!
The guys at Marlin explained the border crossings and how much each cost. As many people hadn’t done their research, they had to be driven to an ATM to get US/MX dollars for each stop. Because of this, the minivan didn’t leave Chetumal until 10:01am. The ride was fairly comfortable, with the AC set to a normal temperature and nice seats. All bags were strapped to the roof, so be sure to keep your valuables with you in your day bag. The bus capacity was 20 with 6 additional fold-up seats in the aisles.
Mexican Border Control
Time at Border: 25 minutes
Cost: $30 usd
We reached the Mexican Border control at 10:25am. Everyone got out the bus and queued in single file for passport checks and FMM collection. Your FMM is apart of the immigration form filled out upon arrival in Mexico. They also collect $30usd ‘overland departure tax’. This is long-standing scam as, if you arrive to Mexico by air, this is included in your airfare. Despite our protests, there was no way of getting out of this – even with itemised American Airline receipts proving we had paid.
NOTE: if you don’t have your FMM form, you will have to pay the Overland Departure Tax twice – i.e. $60 usd.
Time at Border: 24 minutes
Drive: 7 minutes
Belize Immigration was located a short 7 minute drive away from the Mexican Border control (10:57am). Aside from a small queue, it was an easy process of handing in your Belize arrival card (filled in at the Marlin centre) before walking through ‘nothing to declare’. As Belize is apart of the commonwealth, everyone spoke perfect English, preventing any form of confusion. We did have to take all bags off the bus (carry on and main backpack) to walk through immigration.
Related Post: travel guides for Central America
Belize Immigration to Belize City
Journey time: 2 hours 21 minutes
We left the Belizean Immigration at 11:21am, before arriving at the following drop-off stops:
Corozal: 11:34am (didn’t stop)
Orange Walk: 12:23pm (dropped one person off)
Belize City: 13:42pm
Belize City – lunch break & bus change
Time in Belize City: 1 hour 3 minutes
At Belize city, we had our lunch break and a change of buses. The entire bus had to get off and collect all bags again. We were initially told we had 30 minutes to buy food. This turned in 50 minutes. The food options were limited to a few stalls. One accepted MasterCard and visa, along with USD and Mexican Pesos. It was hard to wander off too far with all our bags, so we bought some banana bread and waited for our new bus to arrive.
There was very limited communication over who was on which bus. This was the only really frustrating part of the journey, as no one seemed to know what was happening. Finally, with everyone on the right buses, we left Belize city at 14:45 bound to the Belize-Guatemala border. (13:45pm given the time difference)
NOTE: Belize is one hour behind Chetumal/Mexico’s east coast.
Belize City to the Border
Cost: $27.50 USD
Journey Time: 1 hour 12 minutes
Time are border: 48 minutes
The journey from Belize city to the border was uneventful. San Ignacio was our only stop (15:27pm), before reaching the border (15:57pm). There’s no toilet stop along this part of the journey so make sure you go at Belize city.
The Belize-Guatemala was a long process given the queues. We had to pay $20 usd to leave Belize (despite being there for less than 24 hours). Once we dealt with the Belizean side, we had to walk for a few minutes to reach the Guatemalan border office. It wasn’t obvious where this was, but everyone was helpful in pointing us in the right direction. This was another long queue. We filled out immigration forms given to us in this building before queuing to get passport stamps and pay the Guatemalan fee $7.50 usd.
NOTE: make sure they write ‘90 days’ alongside your Guatemalan stamp if you’re travelling down through El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Guatemala to Flores
Journey time: 2 hours 47 minutes
We left the Guatemalan border to start the last leg of our journey to Flores at 16:45pm. Everyone was really tired and completely over being stuck squashed in a van. As we got closer to Flores, we got to enjoy the stunning sunset, which made things more bearable.
Finally, we arrived in Flores at 19:02pm. The drop-off point is directly outside the Green Monkey Hostel, on Flores island itself.
Tulum to Flores Wrap-up
Overall it was a long, and slightly emotionally, draining journey. However, all border crossings were considerably easier than I had imagined. Especially after reading some horror stories on blog posts and TripAdvisor forums.
I’d advise anyone considering Marlin Espada to stay in Chetumal, or the nearby town Baclara, and catch the 9:30am bus in the morning. As we had planned to catch the earlier, and direct, San Juan bus we chose to do the early morning Tulum Ado bus. I never did get an understanding of where or when the San Juan bus departs and found too much conflicting information to post comprehensive advice on it here.
Good luck to anyone considering travelling from Tulum to Flores and have the best time in Mexico/Guatemala
Happy and safe travels x
P.s. A massive thank you to Blue Marble Vagabonds, whose post ‘From Chetumal to Flores’ provided much needed information and hope before we embarked on this journey from Tulum to Flores.
Related Posts: Antigua to Leon – An 18-hour Journey From Hell