Because airfares to Belize are so high, a few travelers choose to fly into the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula, especially to Cancún, where discounted airfares are common. By bus from Mexico is a cinch; many daily buses travel from the main terminal in Chetumal all the way to Belize City and back. You’ll have to get out to wait in various customs and immigration lines, but just follow the crowd and you’ll be fine. There are also several Mexican lines that run daily between Chetumal, Belize City, Cayo (Benque), and Guatemala.
By Bus from Cancún
After passing through customs at the airport, you will find service desks for shuttle transport and the ADO bus ticket agent. You want to go Playa del Carmen, an hour south, where you will make a connection to Chetumal. It costs about US$23 for a shared shuttle to Playa del Carmen; private shuttle service is US$70–80 depending on group size.
Visit the airport’s website (www.cancun-airport.com) to search for rates and reserve shuttle transport. The airport personnel are very helpful in directing you where you need to go and ensuring you have transportation from the airport; shuttle vans are immediately outside and buses are located to the right.
A bus to Playa del Carmen (about US$10) is the most economical route. Riviera buses are comfortable and air-conditioned; if you’re the type of person who packs a sweater for your tropical vacation it may be useful. After arriving at the station, a few blocks from an amazing beach, you have two options: continue immediately to Chetumal near the Belize border, or overnight in Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen has two bus stations: Terminal Alterna on Calle 20 and Terminal Touristica (a.k.a. Terminal Riviera, 5th Ave. and Ave. Juarez); you can buy tickets for any destination at either station, so always double-check where your bus departs from when you buy a ticket.
If you continue directly to Chetumal, check the bus schedule; you may need to take a taxi (US$2.50) to Terminal Touristica. Buses to Chetumal (US$13.50–20) depart every hour until 5:15 p.m.; the trip takes 5–6 hours and has a few stops in between if you need to grab a snack or use the restroom. Chances are you’ll arrive in Chetumal later in the evening, and public transportation options to Belize may not be available.
If you’d rather linger in Playa Del Carmen, you won’t be sorry; find a hotel, head to the beach, or stroll along 5th Avenue. You can book a morning bus to Chetumal and most likely, it will be departing from Terminal Touristica.
The main ADO bus terminal in Chetumal is not too far from the Neuvo Mercado, where local buses to Belize depart. Outside the station you can find a taxi or continue walking across the plaza to Avenue Insurgentes. Continue left toward the Pemex gas station on the corner and turn right onto Avenue Heroes. Continue two blocks to Calle Segundo Circuito Periferico and turn left. You’ll see the repainted school buses waiting at Nuevo Mercado Lazara Cardenas, in a parking lot on the right side of the street.
Driving from Cancún
Yes, it is possible to rent a car in Cancún and continue south on a Belizean adventure, but it’ll cost you both money and patience. Still, with the money you save with the cheaper airfare into Cancún, the mobility may be worth it. Cancún is 369 kilometers from the border at Santa Elena, roughly 4.5 hours in a car on Route 307. Corporate international rental companies will not let you take their vehicles across the border, so you’ll have to find a more accommodating Mexican company, like J.L. Vegas, with one office near the airport and another in the Crystal Hotel. Next, you’ll need to “make the papers,” as the car guy will surely remind you. Another company that says they’ll let you drive into Belize is Caribbean Rent A Car (U.S. tel. 866/577-1342, Mexico tel. 800/633-7799, www.cancunrentacar.com).
Driving from the United States
The road from Brownsville, Texas, to the border of Belize is just under 1,400 miles. If you don’t stop to smell the cacti, you can make the drive in three days, especially now that there is a toll-road bypass around Veracruz and the Tuxtla mountains. The all-weather roads are paved, and the shortest route through Mexico is by way of Tampico, Veracruz, Villahermosa, Escarcega, and Chetumal.
There often is construction on Mexican Highways 180 and 186. Lodging is available throughout the drive, although it is most highly concentrated in the cities and on the Costa Esmeralda, a beautiful strip of mostly deserted beach near Nautla (prices start at around US$20 for a very simple double).
If attempting this trip, be sure you have a valid credit card, Mexican liability insurance, a passport, and a driver’s license—all original documents and one set of photocopies.
Driving Across the Border
The most crucial part of driving into Belize from Mexico is having a letter of permission from the car’s owner; customs will scrutinize this document. Next, to avoid being turned back at the border, be sure to get the vehicle sprayed with insecticide from one of the roadside sprayers near the border—it’s tough to pick them out, but look for a little white shack past the bridge after leaving Mexico and keep your receipt for when you reach customs/immigration (fumigation costs US$5). After passing through Mexican immigration (have your passport stamped and hand in your tourist card), you will cross a bridge welcoming you to Belize.
On the righthand side, you will see two unsigned buildings where you must purchase insurance. The tire fumigation is near the fork in the road before the free zone. You will likely be greeted when you first pull over by men offering to help you through the stations, but their services are unnecessary. Still, it can be wise to befriend these touts, as many of them are related to the officers at the border. Give a small tip and ask them to clean your windows while you are getting insurance at the Atlantic house (you must have insurance before you enter immigration).
Although in Mexico proof of registration suffices as proof of ownership, in Belize you may be asked to show a title. You will not need a Temporary Vehicle Importation permit if entering for one month or less; for more time, you may need to post a bond on your vehicle (in greenbacks, to be refunded in Belizean dollars later). One very important detail when entering Mexico from the United States is to request a “doble entrada” on your passport to avoid steep fees. This should only cost 100 pesos, if it’s available. Returning to Mexico from Belize, you’ll pay a US$19 Belizean exit tax, per person.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition