If you’re traveling down the Yucatan peninsular there’s a good chance you are going to want to enter Belize. Here’s how you do it on foot.
There are several ways you can enter Belize from Mexico. You might take an ADO bus from Playa del Carmen or Cancun in Mexico all the way to Belize City. You could catch a ferry from Chetumal, the city closest to the border crossing, to Ambergris Caye, one of Belize’s most popular island destinations. You could catch a Belizean local bus from Chetumal’s Nueva Mercado bus ‘station’ to Corozal over the border, if you’re not stuck for time and are leaving a little later in the morning. You might want to fly from Chetumal to Belize City by Maya Island Air. Or you could pay a taxi to take you across. These are all perfectly fine but when I needed to cross the border early one morning, heading south, I soon found that all of these ways are impossible except for hiring a taxi. But that way is rather expensive apparently.
No, the way you do it if you want to get across before 10:30am, and are not planning to re-enter Mexico in the near future, is as follows:
1. Stay in Chetumal the night before you want to cross the border.
2. Catch a taxi to the border (Frontera Belice) from the centre of town. This really should cost you no more than 150 Mexican pesos.
3. The taxi driver will stop near the immigration desk where you need to present your passport. Begin walking to that desk. Now, if you’ve entered Mexico by plane you will have almost certainly been given a small green slip called an FMM. The cost of this slip will have been covered by your airfare. Remember this because you are probably about to encounter a scam.
4. There is NO tourist tax for leaving Mexico. Whatever the old guy in the immigration booth tells you simply refuse to go along with his little scam. He will flip the FMM over and point to where it says $294, saying “You need to pay this to me.” DO NOT DO THIS. Say to him very simply that you don’t want to re-enter the country and that your FMM was included in the airfare.
5. He will say “Can I see your airline ticket?” SAY YOU DON’T HAVE IT ANY MORE. I suspect he would just point at it and say that doesn’t show you’ve paid the fee. The border guard finally gave up when I said “I flew into Cancun by American Airways and the cost of this slip was included in the airfare. I don’t want to re-enter Mexico”. But not before he smoked his cigarette ruefully and pretended to fiddle around with some paperwork. He wasn’t happy but fuck him.
6. Cross the bridge beyond the cubicle of theft with a grin on your face because you’ve broken the noose and escaped!
7. Ahead of you will be the weird duty free enclave of Santa Elena, but you’re not heading here, follow the main road to the right around this fenced area.
8. About 10 minutes later you see the immigration hall for the Belize border. Simply go in and get your passport stamped by the friendly and super-laid-back guard. Don’t forget that Belize time is different to Mexican time when they don’t observe the shift to Summer Time.
9. It’s likely that in the car park there will be a collectivo-style taxi waiting for custom. Two of us got from the immigration post to Corozal bus station for $25 Mexican peso. That is insanely bargainous and to this day I’m convinced that the driver got his conversion rate sums all wrong. But he was happy to take peso, so who am I to complain?
10. At Corozal bus station there’s a food and drink kiosk inside, the helpful man staffing it will change Mexican pesos to Belize pounds at a very, very, generous exchange rate so take advantage of that while you can. And buy a bottle of water for the bus journey.
11. From Corozal you can get a bus about every 30 minutes going south. The buses are a great way to induct yourself to Belizean culture as you get to see a hell of a lot of sights and sounds. Make sure you get a seat near the front though because it is likely that it will fill up extremely quickly and you don’t want to have to struggle with bags through a sardine crowd when you get off!
That’s how we got to Tower Hill, just south of Orange Walk. We needed to connect with a river shuttle to Lamanai and we were able to do it from our hotel room to the boat landing in 3.5 hours. We would have been even faster than that had we not gone to Chetumal’s Nueva Mercado at the crack of dawn to find out if there was a bus to Belize that would have saved us the rigmarole of walking across. We were told that the buses didn’t leave until 10:30 Mexican time so we abandoned that plan quickly. Besides, the Nueva Mercado is actually a great big market place (funny that, eh!) and not a normal bus station like the ADO.
So good luck doing this. It’s not hard, and it is quite fun. Please come back and let me know how you get on with the highway robber as I’m itching to ruin him. I’m lucky that I found out about the scam before I got to the border, plenty of others don’t. He must make an absolute fortune off of unsuspecting tourists during the high season. Bastard.