Crossing a land border can be a bit daunting, and when we were preparing for our journey from Bacalar to Caye Caulker we found the spread of information online confusing and often contradicting. So, in the hope that it might help someone else in the future, here is a step-by-step of our journeytaken in May 2017.
1. Getting bus tickets:
We were spending two nights in Bacalar, Mexico, just north of the Belizean border. There are two ADO buses that pass Bacalar on the route to Belize City; 03:35, 12:50. Both of which originate in Cancun and come via Playa del Carmen and Tulum. The journey is listed on the ADO website as 3 hours, but as we needed to connect onto the water taxi (the last one of which leaves at 5:30pm) to get to Caye Caulker, we opted for the 03:35am bus, in case of any delays in immigration.
To purchase our bus tickets we popped into the ADO bus station in Bacalar the day before we travelled and bought them with cash (though I think cards are accepted) for $255MXN (£10.50). You will receive a pink receipt-style ticket, which you of course need to show to the driver.
2. Boarding the bus
Annoyingly, the taxi that had been booked by our hotel didn’t arrive so we started our day blurry-eyed with a 15 minute hike in surprisingly humid weather. The ADO station was open (it was 3am) so we sat inside and waited for our bus, which arrived a few minutes early. There were no issues boarding, but make sure you take note of the seat number on your ticket. Once on board we tucked into our breakfast and prepared for the border.
3. The Mexican border
This was the bit that we were most concerned about after reading an array of posts online about varying experiences, but it was fine.
We got to the border about 30 minutes after we left Bacalar. At the Mexican border all you are required to take off of the bus with you is your passport- though we also took our day packs with valuables. You wait in line outside of a hut and are allowed in solo or in pairs. You will need to show the immigration officer your FMM. This is the card you would have been given on arrival to Mexico. After checking both the card and passport the officer asked for $500MXN (£22) from each of us. However, as per advice online, we were both armed with a breakdown of the fares included in the cost of our Virgin airline ticket, which the immigration officer accepted. Our passports were stamped and we made our way back onto the bus. We were concerned as our flights related to the journey from UK-Mexico and, as we had taken a detour to Cuba, the entrance date on our immigration card was different but this didn’t seem to be an issue.
There are lots of posts online that suggest, as a last resort if you do not have the fare breakdown, arguing with the immigration officer until they back down. However, the guy next to us tried doing exactly this, declaring that all fees were covered in the cost of his Westjet ticket, but the immigration officer would not budge without seeing the information- though it sounded as though she would have accepted it electronically (on the screen of a phone/tablet). Be warned that there is no wifi or ATM. We were confident that we would pass through fine but took enough cash just in case.
4. The Belizean border
After the Mexico border you will get back onto the bus for a few minutes and then you will arrive at the Belizean immigration centre. This time you must take all of your luggage from the bus in with you. Once we arrived our bus driver gave us an immigration form to complete and we joined the back of the long line (our bus was full).
The process here is nothing unfamiliar, take your passport to the desk and have it stamped and make sure you take the bottom half of the form away with you (the immigration officer should separate the two halves for you). After the booths there is a bag search area but, though most of our bus did, we did not get searched.
- If you flew into Mexico and paid the tourist tax in your ticket price (it will be recorded under code UK) have a print out of the fare breakdown with you or a PDF on your phone.
- Wear bug spray! We were outside temporarily at the Mexican border and then in an open-front room at the Belizean border and there were a ton of mosquitos. Plus the door of the bus was left open, which meant that even when you got back on you weren’t safe!
- Take a photo of the registration plate of the bus as you will need it to complete the Belizean immigration form.
- TAKE A PEN!