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3 ways of crossing the border from Mexico to Guatemala: practical tips

In CENTRAL AMERICA, CHIAPAS, GUATEMALA, TRAVEL HACKS by IsabellaLeave a Comment

Planning to travel from Mexico to Guatemala by land?
In this post, I will tell you about the most common options you have for crossing borders from Mexico to Guatemala by bus, from Tapachula, San Cristobal de las Casas and Frontera Corozal. You can also read about a little adventure I had during my crossing.


I wrote this post the first time I crossed the Mexican border in 2017 when I had a real adventure entering Guatemala as an illegal (accidentally, of course). You can read about it if you wish, further on this post.

Fast forward two years, I am now back to Guatemala, but this time I have crossed from San Cristobal de las Casas, and everything went smoothly.

IMPORTANT: Please note that to access Guatemala now, besides the regular immigration requirements that vary by passport, it is also mandatory to show a negative covid test result, printed and taken within 72hrs before crossing. Check out the Guatemala government official website for updates.

Among the many options available to cross borders to Guatemala from Mexico, I have chosen to take a two-day trip from Palenque, Chiapas, to Flores (Guatemala), which would have included a visit to the archeological sites of Yaxchilan and Bonampak. However, what I thought would be the most exciting and smart option, turned out to be a little scam, which I would have avoided. I have been ripped off for the first time after living in Mexico for eight years. I found it a hilarious coincidence that it happened on my very last day in Mexico. I was upset. Very upset. I don’t understand how a travel agent would want to ruin its reputation by ripping off people like that for no reason, and in such a competitive market, their stupidity bugs me. But hey, it is what it is.

CROSSING TO GUATEMALA FROM MEXICO FROM PALENQUE TO FLORES ON A TOURIST SHUTTLE BUS

There is the possibility of crossing the border from Palenque to Flores via this route and by the Ceibo Frontier. So, should you wish to go this way, book transportation from Palenque straight to Flores. Just make sure you ask if you are going on a tourist bus or public. Since, by experience, it’s not that obvious.

CROSSING MEXICO TO GUATEMALA BORDER FROM FRONTERA COROZAL

You can still have the same adventure as I had (see below), once you know how it is, also without taking the tour. You can buy transportation directly from Palenque. Your bus will leave at 6 am and will take you straight to Frontera Corozal. Then once you cross the river Usumacinta, you will be waiting for the local transportation to Flores. If you go the local way, you need to remember you stop at the Mexican immigration office before crossing the river and to ask the driver in Guatemala to stop at the immigration office in Guatemala. It’s not that obvious and you will not see it. If not, you will have to go through what I have.

2 DAYS TOUR FROM PALENQUE TO FLORES WITH A GOOD TRAVEL AGENCY

I have found out that there is a 2 days tour, precisely like the one I did, organized properly with your nice bus and a due stop to immigration (IMPORTANT).

I suggest you should walk into different travel agents in Palenque and ask specifically for this kind of tour and see the options they suggest. Make sure you specify that you want to be on a tourist bus on the Guatemalan side. There is no point in paying for a tour if they put you on the chicken bus, which would cost 2 USD.

Read also : Cross boarder from San Cristobal de las Casas to Guatemala

MONEY EXCHANGE ON THE FRONTERA COROZAL

Once you are on the Guatemala side, there are no official places to exchange into Quetzales, but some guys on the street do it. I would suggest you should exchange a few pesos for Quetzales so that you have some spare change in case you have to buy some snacks on the road. Then once you arrive in Flores, you will find banks.

1 Quetzal = 2.5 pesos (MXN)

1 USD = 7.6 Quetzales (GTQ)

1 GBP = 10 GTQ

MY ADVENTURE: TWO DAYS TOUR FROM PALENQUE TO FLORES INCLUDING YAXCHILAN AND BONAMPAK ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES

I was in San Cristobal de las Casa, in Chiapas, and I was planning my itinerary. Yes, I know I should plan before arriving at the actual destination, but I am awkward like that. So I had decided to use San Cris as a base and visit the surroundings and then move to Palenque and visit everything nearby before heading to Guatemala. I heard that there was a tour from Palenque that would have taken you to visit Yaxchilan and Bonampak’s archaeological site and then take you to Flores, everything organized and on tourist comfortable vans used by tour companies.

I wasn’t very excited about the organized trip, as I prefer to travel independently, but since I didn’t have much time, this was the quickest and safest way. The area is not very much connected, and local buses have a very flexible schedule, meaning that they might never show up, and I had so many bags that I didn’t want to risk to having to walk for miles or sleep on the road.

Besides I’ve heard that transportation in Guatemala is really bad and it’s much better to rely on travel agents’ vans.

Therefore, tour it is.

I was staying in a cabaña in Palenque’s surroundings, far from the town, that I didn’t really want to visit. Inside the area, there was a travel agent called Tulum. When I asked for information, they had the tour I was looking for at 1400 pesos, which looks expensive but considering you also have one night and 4 meals included, transportation and entries to the archeological sites seemed reasonable and justified.

I normally compare prices among different travel agents, and I also like to get the feeling of it and trust my intuition, which, as I could see, sometimes fails.

In this case, I’d rather stay in the hotel working on my blog than heading to town with no charm and lots of heat. Besides, the travel agent seemed nice and professional. So I decided to purchase the tour there. WRONG.

LESSON LEARNED: Always remember to compare prices and agency before taking your final decision.

VISIT YAXCHILAN AND BONAMPAK

It was 7 of us on the bus, left at 6 am from Palenque. The first day was about visiting Yaxchilan and Bonampak. It was a lovely boat ride to Yaxchilan. We all decided to hire a guide who would explain some of the local indigenous culture and history besides the prehispanic culture’s history. Overall it was a lovely day. So far, so good, but I will tell you about it in a different post.

THE NIGHT IN THE SELVA LANCANDONA

I realized I was the only one going to Flores. After the visit I was taken to a sort of lodge, very humble, but clean. My cabaña with a shared bathroom was like a wooden hut, but it was decent and clean and I felt very safe.

They even had WIFI at 10 pesos per hour, a lot if you would think that it should be free. But I didn’t want to complain because it was such a remote place and humble people that I was also surprised that they even know what WIFI was. I paid and managed to get some work done. The level of mosquitoes, my nr 1 enemy, was also quite bearable. So I was quite happy.

During the tour, the driver already anticipated that my transportation to Flores wouldn’t have been on tourist shuttles but the local buses. I was furious. I have nothing against public transport, but I didn’t need to purchase a tour to go on public transportation. I could do it on my own. That was my point. Besides knowing how unsafe the local transport in Guatemala is, I was also a little worried, to be honest.

I really felt ripped off, but I didn’t want to reverse all my anger on the driver, who had no fault. Although he was not the kindest and friendliest person I have met, he still had nothing to do with my trip’s bad organization.

There was nothing I could have done at this point. I could have called the agency, but I was sure that it would have just made things worse as they would not have changed my itinerary, and I would have been even more upset.

So I decided to chill and make the most of my time.

The following morning the same driver came and picked me up on his way to Yaxchilan with another tourist group. He took me to Mexican immigration, where I presented my documents, and everything went smoothly.

CROSSING THE MEXICO GUATEMALA BOARDER

The same driver then put me on a boat to cross the river Usumacinta, and I would have been in Guatemala in Bethel’s town. The boat guy, a very kind and professional young man, also helped me with my bags and took me to the bus station where I had the confirmation that it was indeed a public bus.

WAITING FOR MY BUS IN GUATEMALA

While I was sitting and waiting for my bus to come, I saw a couple of other busses getting there as a final destination packed with people of any age, from little kids to adults, entire families, or random groups. People were hanging from the windows or sitting on the roof. My first selfish thought was, “I hope I won’t have to travel like that. I cannot sit for 8 hours with somebody’s elbow in my stomach, in the best-case scenario”. When I asked the ticket agent, she told me that the bus going to Flores was almost empty that I didn’t have to worry about it.

After being so relieved, I asked where all those people were going. She told me with a smile on her face, as if it was the most normal thing in the world, that they were crossing the Mexican border heading north. Basically, they were trying to reach the USA frontier. I was dumbfounded. I thought about how fortunate and privileged I was for not having to go through all this. I have my own journey and struggles and worries, but it’s nothing compared to the challenges those people will have to face to satisfy their basic needs while hoping for a life of dignity.

I was sitting at the bus stop to cool off in the shade of the office hut while pondering on those thoughts,  while my nice boat guy was buying the ticket for me and making sure I was getting on the bus safely.

The girl at the ticket office was new and didn’t know what ticket she should give me. My guy would go back and forth, asking around, with sweat dripping down his forehead and on the chicks, to make sure everything went smoothly. I was so humbled by his professionalism that I gave him my last 70 pesos as a tip. I am sure he was happy. He deserved all of it and more.

He reminded me that the bus would make a stop at immigration for my paperwork, and then they would have gone off to Flores, no bus change. Resigned for my unexpected plan, I thought it was nothing compared to what these people had to face in their freedom journey.

A THOUGHTFUL JOURNEY THROUGH GUATEMALA BOARDER

When my bus arrived, I took my seat and hoped for the best. I focused on the amazing landscape of green fields of corn alternating with lush green hills, some very humble houses now and then.  Sometimes we would bump into locals walking by the road, which the driver would pick up for a free ride. How nice, I thought. I love this comradeship among locals, and most of all, I realized how this practice of giving each other a hand is more common among humble and simple people and less among wealthier.

It was quite a bumpy journey that one that took me to Flores, not only for the dirt road drive, which was for a good 4 hours but for all the thoughts populating my mind like crawling ants before a storm.

I didn’t care about the quality of my bus anymore. I would have been happy if I had arrived in Santa Elena and Flores safe. Besides, I just realized that the bus should have stopped at immigration a while ago, so I asked the driver…

The answer was: you should have told me!

Are you kidding me!?

The result was that I have been traveling around Guatemala illegally. I asked around, and everybody was initially telling me that it’s ok I won’t have any problem as a tourist, but then some others started to tell me I need to sort it out ASAP. So I went to immigration, and a lady candidly told me to go back just one day before my departure day to pay the fine so that I can leave without any problem. I hope this is it, but I am not quite confident.

Eventually, I went to immigration the week before leaving Guatemala, and they told me I should go back the day before my departure, pay a 20 USD fine. They would give me a received to leave the country without any issue. And so I did.

MY ARRIVAL IN FLORES

The arrival in Flores was even more hilarious. I found out that Flores is the little touristy town on an island connected with Santa Elena, a bigger town or city where the bus would have arrived. I knew where my hostel was, so I told the bus driver to stop where I was close to my place. From there, I would have hopped on a Tuk Tuk and asked to be taken where I had to go. However, the driver didn’t stop and insisted that somebody would have been waiting for me to take me to my hotel. Oh wow, this is new. The travel agent didn’t mention that, or I probably didn’t hear, and I got a little suspicious. I spoke on the phone with this driver, and he told me to wait for 10 minutes and he would have arrived. I have to put this in context now. I was exhausted, sweaty, and dirty, and my bags were full of sand or dust from the road. It was hot as hell, and I couldn’t wait to get in a cold shower. Ok, let’s wait. You never refuse a free ride.

The guy came, wave at me, and didn’t even pretend to help me with my bags. On the contrary, he rushed me to hope on the bus. I made sure the ride was free, and he confirmed it. He was trying to sell me his private tours, and when he realized I was not interested, he left me in the middle of Flores, saying that he couldn’t get to my hostel by car. I would eventually find out it wasn’t true. Fun!

So, picture me with my huge backpack behind, which I eventually managed to load on my shoulders, the photography bag, a small backpack in front, and the big suitcase, which luckily had wheels. It was about 3 pm and 30 degrees.

Besides my phone had no batteries so I couldn’t check where the hostel was.

I found a kind guy who gave me direction, but I didn’t understand properly, and I missed a turn. So I was running around like a chicken without the head carrying all this weight, and nobody else seemed to know where the heck my hostel was.

Finally, I found a guy who didn’t know either, but kindly asked around and he found out that it was right there at a few meters from where I was but I needed to pay a little extra price. As if all that was not enough I had to walk through a very steep lane.

I didn’t care at that point. I was happy to have arrived at my hostel Ciao Cacao!

I was welcomed by a lovely couple Philippa, a young and pretty American girl and, Luis a kind young guy from Guatemala.  They have just opened this little cozy place where I have booked a private room with shared bathroom.

I had an amazing special welcome at Ciao Cacao and the guys made the awkward beginning of my trip in Guatemala have a big turn around. I was extremely happy with what happened in the following days but that makes for another blog post.

GETTING FROM MEXICO TO GUATEMALA FROM SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS

TOURIST BUSES FROM MEXICO TO GUATEMALA

Although the choice of going to Guatemala from Palenque turned out perfect for me and the itinerary I had in mind, I would really suggest you should cross from San Cristobal de Las Casas. This is much more straightforward and comfortable.

From San Cristobal, one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico in my modest opinion, you can find comfortable tourist shuttle buses that take you directly to Quetzaltenango (Xela), Antigua, to Lake Atitlan ( Panajachel).

It’s safe and comfortable and pretty much straightforward. There are different local travel agents that offer this service and they are all more or less the same.

Fast forward 2 years I went back to Guatemala and I did this route (post covid times).

Read my article on How to cross the border from San Cristobal to Guatemala.

PUBLIC BUSES FROM MEXICO TO GUATEMALA

You can also choose to cross the borders via public transportation but it’s not the easiest procedure and I don’t really recommend it. However, if you like a little adventure, here some information that I took from a trustful source. If you can read Spanish you can check it for more complete information. It’s from A very good friend of mine and I can guarantee you that she has very accurate information.

You will need to get to Comitan, which is also a good base if you want to go and visit the Lagos de Montebello and  El Chiflon waterfall.

From Comitan you will get to ciudad Cuauhtemoc where you will cross borders to La Mesilla.

You will need to get a Tuk-tuk to get you there it’s about 1 km and they charge you 10 Quetzales.

Here you will find buses to take you either to Quetzaltenango or Huehuetenango.

As you can see it’s not one of the easiest ways and that’s why I would opt for the more touristy option.

CROSSING BORDER FROM MEXICO TO GUATEMALA FROM TAPACHULA BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT

By Dean & Laynni @ routinelynomadic.com

We have done this somewhat uncomfortable journey a few different times at a few other border crossings. The most memorable, however, was traveling by public transport all the way from beautiful, relaxing Huatulco down to enjoy the terrific hiking on Lake Atitlán.

After a reasonable night bus from Huatulco got us into Tapachula around 7 am (a 10-hour trip with several loud movies and very little sleep), we took a short taxi ride (20 km) to the border town of Talisman, then downgraded yet again, this time to a tricycle taxi for the last few hundred meters to the actual crossing. $1 well spent, I say.

We fought our way through the crowd of eager money changers to the immigration booths, one on each side, and finally, we were through. Hello, Guatemala. Of course, we weren’t finished just yet. Here we flagged down another local taxi for the short ride to Malacatán, where we were just in time to catch a chicken bus to San Marcos (the city, not the little village on the lake which would be the day’s ultimate destination). A couple of hours later, in San Marcos, we were once again just barely in time to catch our next bus to Guatemala’s second city of Quetzaltenango (more commonly known as Xela). There we arrived without incident a couple of hours later. Without incident unless, of course, you consider resorting to sneakily peeing in a bottle at the back of the bus on rough, winding roads an “incident.” You could certainly make that argument.

Adding up just the parts from Tapachula to Xela, the entire morning cost roughly $10 each for 2 taxis, one tricycle and 2 chicken buses. Definitely affordable, if not the most comfortable journey we’ve ever had.

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PRACTICAL TIPS TO CROSS BORDERS FROM CHIAPAS TO GUATEMALA

I realized that the procedures to move from one country to another via land is not that obvious. so here some important information to remember.

MUST-DO BEFORE LEAVING MEXICO

Before leaving Mexico you will need to look for immigration officials. It’s not so obvious, so ask where they are if you are crossing on your own and not sure where to find them.

Here, you if you have been in Mexico for more than 7 days you will need to pay an exit tax which is around 400 MXN ( about 50 USD more or less). Normally if you leave Mexico by a scheduled flight the price is included in the ticket, if you travel on a charter flight you would pay it at the airport during the check-in.

Also, make sure the officer put an exit stamp on your passport in order not to have issues whenever you wish to go back to Mexico eventually.

MUST-DO WHEN YOU ENTER GUATEMALA 

In order to enter Guatemala, you need to have a 6 months valid passport, meaning that it’s not expiring within 6 months time. This is a requirement for most countries so you make sure you checked your passport expiry date before leaving your country.

People coming from some countries are required a visa, others are exempted. USA, EC and most of the South American countries don’t need a visa. You can check in which case your country belongs here.

Then after my experience in Frontera Corozal, I suggest you should remind your driver to stop by immigration in case he forgets. I am laughing while I am writing this but it is what it is.

MONEY EXCHANGE

You will find people asking if you need to exchange money. I would change a small amount just for emergency expenses and then go to a bank as soon as you find one. At the time I am writing this 1 USD is about 7 Quetzales worth.

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