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After an amazing month in Mexico it was time for the first ‘real test’ for the Ungraceful duo, a border crossing… a Mexican border crossing. Now, at this stage we were still very new to the travelling thing, and a little nervous having done a lot of research and hearing a lot of horror stories about people being scammed at the border etc. So we went into this one prepared like two boy scouts. Katie had printed all the relevant documentation and I had been practising my best, firm yet polite Spanish for, “I’m no gringo idiot, go scam the next guy” (while trying not to cry or vomit), also we did book transport from Palenque to Flores all the way through i.e. connecting transport, and off we went.
We booked our tour with Tulum Travel in Palenque. It cost us 650MXN per person (€32) we did look around and this was the best price and most direct route we found (they had one for the same price in the hotel we stayed in Posada Nachan Ka’an).
What follows friends is a basic step by step of our first ungraceful border crossing (don’t worry we get a lot better at it *SPOILER*).
Here’s how we did it:
Know Before You Go:
When you first enter Mexico you will fill out an FMM form for immigration, they stamp it and you keep one section. HOLD ON TO IT. It’s basically your Mexico tourist card and if you try to leave without it, it will cost you about €25. You will definitely need it for land border crossing.
Mexico does have an official exit tax, it’s about 500MXN (€20), but if you flew in this is already built into the price you paid for the flight. If you can print out an itemised cost breakdown you have more of a chance of not being scammed at the border. For cost breakdown, check your booking confirmation email for a receipt. Worst case, contact the airline directly (we received a quick response via Twitter) to request one.
Step 1 – Palenque To Border:
Nice and easy, we were picked up by a mini van at 6am, it’s about 2.5 hours from Palenque to the border town of Frontera Corozal. We had been told there would be a stop for breakfast, but as our bus was overbooked, myself, Katie and a guy from Colombia were loaded into a private car with air con and all three of us slept the whole way, so he didn’t bother.
In Frontera Corozal you’ll be asked to pay 30MXN (€1.50) for the maintenance of the roads etc. It’s not an official charge, but it’s not voluntary either, and it’s not worth the hassle of not paying in it. Trust us. Besides, this won’t be the first time you’ll be expected to pay a “courtesy” fee to a border town. This happens a lot through Central America.
Step 2 – Exiting Mexico, Careful Now:
This was the step we had been dreading. Immigration was less intimidating than I had imagined. It was one dude behind a glass window in a tiny little office. We queued behind the Colombian guy. The immigration officer asked him to fork out his $500MXN exit tax and his passport, which he did. He got his stamp and stepped aside.
We approached the counter armed with a folder full of documents, flights, itineraries and our best smiles. The guy took a look at all our stuff, must have decided we’d be too much hassle, stamped us and off we went. SUCCESS!!
But wait, it dawns on our Colombian amigo that we didn’t pay any money to cross. So he approaches the window to enquiry as to why that is? He’s informed it’s because “they flew”’ to which he replies he also flew. The immigration official asks if he has proof, he says not on him. He (beginning to smell this was a scam) asked for a receipt so he can dispute the charge. The official hands him a scrap of paper with $500 written on it…. you see where this is going right? He argued and fought and kicked and screamed, but had already handed over the cash and was told he had two options. Take his passport (and his licks) and head for Guatemala, or take his money back and stay in Mexico. He chose (begrudgingly) to surrender and move on.
Do not hand over any money (if you have flown) until you have exhausted all other possibilities i.e.
- Print out your flight documents – they must be itemised and show the breakdown of the price including the taxes.
- If immigration are still insisting you have to pay, ask for official documentation showing the amount and an official receipt BEFORE handing over any cash.
- Or, tell them you have no cash and will need to pay by card, they don’t (as of March 2017) have a card terminal and so cannot take payment and will most likely just let you through.
Step 3 – Lancha To Guatemala:
After stamping out of Mexico we were escorted to the edge of a river where we would take a lancha (small motor boat) from Frontera Corozal to Guatemala. The driver paid the lancha with the money we had paid the tour, and gave the lancha driver the cash to book us a bus upon arrival to the other side (I was a bit weary of this part but in the end it was totally fine). When you arrive in Guatemala, there are some shops where you can pick up food and water, it’s a good idea to do so as the bus can take anywhere between 5 hours and when hell freezes over. These shops will accept pesos, and there are some guys exchanging pesos to quetzals (at a terrible rate) but if you’re stuck at least you know they’re there.
So, with water and food in hand, we gave our bags to the ayudante (bus helper) who placed them on top of the bus (totally normal) and boarded our first chicken bus.
Step 4 – Stamp Into Guatemala:
After about 30/45 mins the bus stops at the immigration office in Bethal. Again, we had heard of tourists being asked for an entry fee. There is no official entry fee for Guatemala. Follow the previous steps, request official documentation showing how much you have to pay and a receipt before handing over cash. There’s no credit card terminal here either so offer to pay by card WORST case scenario. Personally we were greeted with a smile and an “hola chicos!”, stamped and waved off on our way to Flores!! Woohoo!
Step 5 – The Long Chicken Bus To Flores:
After Bethal the chicken bus journey continues for another 5 hours, it sounds rough but it’s such a brilliant experience. You’ll meet locals, you’ll see some beautiful scenery, you’ll stop a few times along the way to stretch the legs and use the bathroom, venders will come on the bus to sell you anything you need; snacks, water and frescos (it’s a natural juice in a bag and it’s gooooood). It’s a fun journey and was our favourite part. The bus eventually drops you in Santa Elena, where a shuttle bus will take you the rest of the way to Flores (you’ve paid for this already). Do not hand over any money.
Step 6 – Nearly There:
This is the last stop. There’s just one more thing to bear in mind. CASH IS KING IN FLORES, the ATMs (there are only two) work intermittently, if at all. So save yourself the walk out of town and get yourself some bills. The shuttle stopped at an ATM along the way (we highly recommend you use this ATM and cash up. As much as you can. Work out your money situation and know how much to take out, remember NOWHERE takes card, accommodation, tours etc. so be realistic with your withdrawal to avoid loads of bank fees.
Another 30mins or so and the guide on shuttle bus will either help you find accommodation or bring you directly to your reserved accommodation. At this point they will offer you tours at a ‘special price’ for today only etc. don’t book any. You will find cheaper in Flores.
Have Fun And Stay Safe:
Do I really need to expand on this one? Have a ball fellow vagabonds!
As always please feel free to give us a shout if you need any more deets or even if you just fancy a chat! Be good and be safe.