Crossing the border from Mexico to Guatemala: practical tips and information

Isabella Biava CHIAPAS, GUATEMALA Leave a Comment

In this post, I will tell you about the most common options you have for crossing borders from Mexico to Guatemala by bus and one little adventure I had during my crossing.

Among the many options, you have to cross borders to Guatemala from Mexico, I have chosen to take a two days trip from Palenque, in Chiapas, to Flores (Guatemala), which would have included a visit to the archeological sites of Yaxchilan and Bonampak.

However, what I thought it would be the most interesting and smart option, turned out to be a little scam, which I would have avoided.

I have actually been ripped off for the first time after living in Mexico for 7 years and having traveled around the country for 1.

Never happened before.

I found it a hilarious coincidence that it happened on my very last day in Mexico.

I was upset. Very upset. Just because I don’t understand how a travel agent would want to ruin its reputation by ripping off people like that, for no reasons and in such a competitive market. Their stupidity really bugs me. But hey it is what it is.

I have arrived safe and all in one piece to my destination, Flores and the rest of the trip was getting every day better.

So I don’t really want to be the complaining tourist, just warning you on what can happen if you book a 2 days tour from Palenque to Yaxcilan and Bonampak heading to Flores.

So here I am sharing my story with you. So buckle up and follow me on my adventure.

I will also give you practical tips on the best options you have to cross borders.

PLANNING MY TOUR/TRANSPORT TO FLORES (GUATEMALA) FROM PALENQUE

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 surrounding and then move to Palenque, and visit everything nearby before heading to Guatemala.

I heard that there was a tour from Palenque which would have taken you to visit the archaeological site of Yaxchilan and Bonampak 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 on my own, 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 having to sleep on the road.

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

Therefore, tour it is.

On the way to Yaxchilan

HOW I BOOKED MY TOUR TO FLORES FROM PALENQUE

I was staying in a cabaña in the surroundings of Palenque, fare from the town, that I didn’t really want to visit. Inside the area, there was a travel agent, Tulum.

I asked for information and 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 it 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.

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

HERE IN THE PICTURE THE TRAVEL AGENT YOU SHOULD STAY AWAY FROM

The company that you should avoid

THE 2 DAYS TOUR

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 and we all decided to hire a guide who would explain some of the local indigenous culture and history besides the history of the pre-hispanic culture. 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 Lacandona

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 also 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.

It wasn’t what I thought.

During the tour, the driver already anticipated that my transportation to Flores wouldn’t have been on tourist shuttles but on the local buses. I was furious. I have nothing against public transport, but I didn’t need to purchase a tour to go on a 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, still he had nothing to do with the bad organization of my trip.

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 have not 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 pick me up, on his way to Yaxchilan with another group of tourists. He took me to Mexican immigration where I presented my documents and everything went smoothly.

At the embarcadero to Yaxchilan and to Guatemala

CROSSING THE MEXICAN BORDER TO GUATEMALA

Then the same driver put me on a boat to cross the river Usumacinta and I would have been in Guatemala, in the town of Bethel. 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.

I was amazed seeing how different was the environment from one side to the other of a river. The Mexican side was very tidy, organized and people seem, respectable humble workers, the houses and bars are clean and decent, although very simple. On the Guatemalan side, the streets are dirty, lots of people hanging out on the street just doing nothing, many looked in very poor condition. Besides being a little scared I felt a kind of sadness inside.

But that was not it.

Crossing the river to Guatemala

Waiting for my bus

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 family or random groups, there were people hanging from the windows or sitting up on the roof. My first selfish thought was “I hope I won’t have to travel like that. I just cannot sit for 8 hours with somebody’s elbow in my stomach, in the best case scenario. When I asked the ticket girl, 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 that 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 use frontier. I was dumbfounded. I thought how fortunate and privileged I was for not having to go through all this. I have my own journey, and my struggles and worries but it’s nothing compared to the challenges those people will have to face just 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, just to make sure everything went smoothly. I was so humbled by his professionality 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. Ok, resigned for my unexpected plan I thought that it was nothing compared to what these people had to face in their journey towards freedom.

My boat guy helping me with my bulky bags

A thoughtful journey

Finally, 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 am traveling around Guatemala as an illegal. 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 telll me I need to sort it out ASAP. So 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.

Now I am still in Guatemala so I will tell you all about it once I can get out of the country.

My bus to Flores


looking out of the bus window

WHAT’S THE BEST OPTION TO CROSS THE BORDER FROM PALENQUE?

Traveling from Palenque to Flores on a tourism transportation

There is the possibility to cross the border from Palenque to Flores via this route and also by the Ceibo Frontier, So, should you wish to go this way just book a 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 from Frontera Corozal

You can still have the same adventure as I had, once you know how it is, also without taking the tour. You can just buy the transportation directly from Palenque. Your bus will leave at 6 am and will take you straight to Frontera Corozal, the rest is the same as I mentioned in my story above.

2 days tour with a good travel agency

I have found out that there is 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.

MONEY EXCHANGE

Once you are on the Guatemala side there are no official places where to exchange into Quetzales but some guys on the street do it.

I would suggest you should exchange a few pesos into 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 ARRIVAL IN FLORES

The arrival in Flores was even more hilarious. I found out that Flores is the little touristy town on an island which is 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 there 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 phantomatic 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.

A bad welcome

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. I was a little upset, not sure why. I didn’t like him but even less I liked my own attitude. I was probably still upset with the travel agent which was silly. Or maybe I was just tired.

Anyways, the driver would start interrogating me about my plans, it was clear that he wanted to sell me his own tours and when he realized I was not interested, he decided that I wasn’t going to take me to my hostel but dropped me somewhere close.

I even genuinely thought the vans were not allowed through the narrow roads in Flores but I was wrong. They were indeed. When I asked him if he could help me to put my backpack on my shoulder he told me he couldn’t because his knee was hurting. Ok fine.

I have to tell you, in my 1 year on the road this is the first rude person I have found. This thought made me feel very lucky but still, it disturbs me to see these kinds of people.

However, as one of my favorite authors once said, (paraphrased) everyone can only give their best, nothing more. There you cannot blame them.  It actually makes lots of sense.

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 ad 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.

It was hilarious.

The turnaround

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.

My lovely room at Ciao! Cacao

GETTING TO GUATEMALA FROM SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS

TOURIST BUSES

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 Guatemala city or La Antigua, to Lake Atitlan ( Panajachel) or Huehuetenango, the cost is around  600 pesos. (about 30 USD)

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.

The pick up is normally at 6 am from your hotel.

PUBLIC BUSES

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 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.

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.

Paperwork to leave 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.

Paperwork to 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 belong 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 money exchange. 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.

Another border crossing spot

I know you can also cross the border from Tapachula (Mexico) to Tecun Uman (Guatemala). All I know about this spot is from this source. It’s not the safest place to be, therefore the above options are the most recommendable.

Here is the end of the post. If you think you need more information about anything don’t be shy and write in the comments below. If you just want to say hello do so as well. I’ll be happy to hear from you for whatever reason.

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