Our dear friends, A King’s Life, have a wonderful post on how easy it is to travel from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize to Flores, Guatemala. I had read it a dozen times and felt more then prepared for the trip.
I wrote several times on Facebook the night before and the morning of how anxious I still felt. Does that mean I felt it coming or I caused it? I am not sure if it was premonition or prediction. Certainly something to think about. The journey did not go as planned.
The plan was simple. A 1.5 hour speedboat ride from San Pedro to Belize City at 10am. This would get us to Belize City about 11:30am with enough time to eat lunch and catch the 1pm bus to Flores, Guatemala. What could go wrong? We checked the speedboat times the day before. Confirmed the bus times on the other end and felt ready.
Leaving Ambergris Caye
Despite the higher living expenses and several issues we had on this little island, I was sad to be leaving. As usual, after 3 weeks we were in a rhythm and comfort zone and now we were uprooting it for somewhere new, and quite frankly, we didn’t know much about.
A taxi picked us up at 9am and dropped us in town on a side road that leads to the beach. A man in a Belize Express shirt loaded our bags onto a trolley and we were free to walk down to the beach, across the pier and purchase our tickets.
2 adult tickets were US$30. Kids were both free.
We had half hour to spare so we visited Licks for breakfast and said goodbye to Mario, the dear man who helped us during the previous week with fixing a flat tyre. Here's a little side story for you.
We were on our way to this great restaurant called Lazy Crocs north of the bridge when I noticed how slow the cart was driving – we had a flat! Mario, the owner of Licks, pulled over collected me & the kids while Josh drove slowly behind us and took us to a tyre repair shop just a few stores south of the bridge. I had never even noticed it there and without him we wouldn’t of had a clue what to do.
He spoke Spanish to the repairer and told us it would be fixed within minutes and went on his way. Ten minutes later we had a new used tyre, paid $15 and were back on our way over the bridge to Lazy Crocs. We are so thankful to Mario and were so pleased we had met him by chance, because his breakfast was a delight. He is featured on our Where to eat in San Pedro post.
Anyway, back to our journey. We were first on the boat and grabbed a great seat beside the door with lots of air. This was a lot different then our ride over, no luggage in the hallways and plenty of room.
The water was an amazing colour and we grabbed a few shots before we pulled out the laptop and started to really work at where else we wanted to go this year. We nutted out the rest of the year in a loose plan and felt very good about it. Nice to have direction. It took us awhile since we couldn't stop gazing at the water in between typing.
We stopped at Caye Caulker picked up some yummy cassava chips that a Belizan man came aboard to sell during the stop. We picked up some more passengers and it wasn’t long after that we were arriving in Belize City.
There is no 1pm bus!
I happily walked down a little street and was directed by a taxi driver to a little deli who is a reseller for the bus tickets when the lady says to me, “no bus today.”
The happy feelings drained away with my blood. My face, I am sure, is as white as a ghost. I stutter, “what do you mean there is no bus. We were told there is a 1pm bus.” My stress levels accelerated and my husband directed me to watch over the bags and kids outside while he dealt with the matter.
Turns out the 10am is usually a guarantee (although not guaranteed ever) and the 1pm is a hit-and-miss because unless they have people returning from Guatemala to Belize they don’t come back for the 1pm Belize to Guatemala. In short there was nothing they could do - the bus was not coming.
After a few temper tears from me we looked at the situation objectively. We did not want to stay the night in Belize City. We hadn’t heard great things about Belize City and we had already booked accommodation in Flores & Antigua. Not only that they could not guarantee the 10am bus the next day either. So Josh approaches the people and they come up with an alternative. They organised a shared taxi to the border and then a shuttle from the border to our hotel. The original bus price was to be US$75 for both of us. This option is US$150. With no other way out of the situation we grudgingly agree.
The taxi ride
A mum and her daughter took the front seat and the 4 of us were squished in the back for a 2.5 hour drive to the border. The scenery was beautiful, but I was so squashed and irritated I decided to lose myself in a Hollywood movie while the kids were asleep all over me.
Guatemala border dishonesty
Getting out of Belize was easy. We paid our exit tax of US$37.50 for 2 adults, kids were free.
At the border we changed over some money and then hit the customs. We had been warned not to give money to anyone that asks before reaching the officials and we weren’t bothered, so phew.
Well that was until we are blankly screwed over by the government official.
Yes, the man at the desk asks us for $5 while he is looking at our passports. My response? “Really? I was told there was no entry or exit fees into Guatemala.” All he said was, “Really.” What are you going to do? He has the passports and it’s a long way back to Belize so we pay the money which he, without any subtlety, placed into the back pocket of his pants.
The rest of the walk was easy, well as easy as it gets with 2 tired kids and 8 bags (1 big one, 3 small ones, 1 backpack and 3 shopping bags - what am I thinking?). We got stamped in and crossed over into Guatemala.
The collectivo to Flores
We could not see our shuttle anywhere and commenced a lengthy walk with crying babies and a tirade of taxi drivers begging us for business. They did not take “no” for an answer and now my very calm and collected husband reached boiling point and snapped at them.
The kids and I stayed in one spot with the bags while he searched for a ride and finally I see a man with a little sign waving at us. I waved for him to come to us and he does. Turns out this ain’t no private shuttle, merely a collectivo. A collectivo that would have cost less than US$15, which meant our taxi ride was over $135 shared, and I had been quoted (without bargaining) $125 non-shared. Slightly screwed over again, but at this point who cares – the whole day feels like one massive failure.
The collectivo waits for some time at a stop for more people and then gets on its way. Okay, so it’s not too crowded so it should be okay. Wrong. As we got further into the 2.5 hour journey on this small tiny 15 seater mini-van picked up more and more people. Until the last hour we had 21 people in the van, the 4 of us sharing the back seat with no leg room and our luggage. Sigh. Could it possibly get any worse?
Thankfully we are not dumped at the bus station with all the other passengers, but taken to our hotel. We wave good riddance to the bus and then about a few hours later realised it could get worse. Our habit of leaving things behind resulted in a tablet and lunchbox being left on the bus. No one speaks English on the phone and my lazy result is an email to the man who originally set up the whole thing in the hopes we will get it back.
The journey was spared a complete write off the next day when I was laying by the pool and the hotel reception told me our taxi driver was here. It turns out to be the bus driver with our tablet and lunch box. I am beyond grateful and the bad taste I have in my mouth from the whole trip is momentarily lifted from disaster to just a bad experience.
Another bus ride?
But only 2 days after this journey we had an overnight bus ride to Antigua and I can’t help feel slightly anxious over whether Guatemala will treat us as differently this time around? Do you want to know? Read here!
Reader Comments..."I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" - Josh Bender
Oh Erin, I cannot believe all you went through!
Sometimes travel days are just bad days... huh? We've had similarly bad experiences on travel days, crammed into packed minibuses with Reuben on top of us and our luggage underneath us. It's horrible but sometimes there's no reasonable alternative. By the time we got to Hat Yai in the South of Malaysia I was so over minibuses that we took a 4-5 hour taxi ride to Penang instead of the minibuses. It was about eight times the price but we just couldn't have stood another minibus ordeal!!!!!!
The joys of corrupt people they don't do there country any favours
Oh, what that Customs guy did would've totally pissed me off. Next time that happens, ask or a receipt or "recibo" and don't move until you get one. Call a Supervisor if you don't get one and get their name. They get in a lot of trouble and can be easily fired if found to be screwing with tourists. I've been at that crossing a few times and nothing like that has happened to us.
Thanks for the heads up! I'll be looking out for the "Five Dollar Man" in Guatemala. Ha, it reminds me of a guy in Nepal opening up my bag on a table before I got on the plane. He saw a pen that he liked and put it in his pocket. Cost me $1 so I let it slide. Didn't really know how to react haha...
My best friend and I hitchhiked from Belize to San Benito. That was a crazy experience. This was in 1994 when the civil war was still on. We found our way to Flores on Easter Sunday. Everything was shut down. The town was abandoned but the cobblestone streets were lined with murals made of dyed grain. It was beautiful. We met a little man named Pedro who took us by boat to a zoo. Then he took us to another town where a massive party was being held. We were the only tourists. At first we were terrified but soon we were the life of the party. It was a great time. I'll never forget it. We then jumped on a bus that had more goats and chickens on it then people and went to Honduras. That was another crazy experience and a new story. :)
Thanks for your interesting story. A few observation. First, always double check when buses, trains, boats are leaving. It would have been better for you to go back to San Pedro and start over early the next day and avoided all the hassle you caused yourself. You say in your story that the 1 pm was a hit or miss, knowing that I would not have planned a departure on the 1 pm bus. I have crossed the border a Guatemala and will again soon. I have never been asked for any additional fee or money. If you are always demand a receipt, tell them you are going to call the tourist police and the embassy. There is no was you should have paid that. I hope your travels get easier with more planning in the future and welcome to Central America. Happy travels.
Thanks everyone for writing, I have wrote back to all of you and will remember to ask for a receipt next time :) I loved your story Zana.
But I feel I must address Bernard -
Thanks for writing, we are actually currently in Bulgaria. There is a few things that I would like to help you understand.
1. We had double checked all buses and boats, the bus was suppose to leave at 10am and 1pm everyday.
2. Returning was not an option since it was peak season and accommodation was slim on San Pedro, as seen in our earlier posts. And I don't think it was necessary to return all that way when we could move forward with our plans and bookings. We travel extensively so one missed day can mess a lot of things up.
3. I never caused MYSELF any hassle. There were several turn of events that were challenging, but it made for a great story.
4. The lady told us the bus was not coming when we ARRIVED, not before we left. So we didn't plan to take a bus which may not show up.
5. It's a bit hard to say no to a passport controller with a gun holding your passports, it was $5 we hope it helps him feed his family, but you can be assured next time I will be asking for a receipt.
6. After 2 years of nomadic travel I can't say travel gets easier, it is always challenging, but always worth the effort. And we don't think we will be doing much planning in the future, we love spontaneous travel... This was one of the few journey's we had planned down to the minute.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing! Thanks for writing.
Sorry you had such a hectic experience. I was in Morocco for a month and got ripped off like this more times than I can even count. But honestly, it's just part of traveling in countries like these where not everybody is reliable and honest. Also it's about what's best financially for them, not for you. But the more you go through the more you learn!
$75 dollars for your ride from Belize city to the guat border. It should not have cost you half of that.
I'll be making this journey in a few days. I sincerely hope that 1pm bus is running! Caye Caulker is lovely but just too expensive to stay longer than 3-4 nights! Thanks for your insight, very useful :)
We will be making the trek from Belize into Guatemala in June with our toddler. Thanks for the insight. I will be prepared to get screwed over. :O
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