Crossing the Mexican-Guatemalan Border Without Getting Fleeced

by Isabella Troconis

According to the press, crossing the Mexican-Guatemalan border sound insecure and scary for tourists to do alone. Tourist agencies in San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque offer shuttle services to Flores, Petén for a relatively high price. Those traveling in Central America on a shoestring budget, who wish to visit as many Mayan sites as possible without taking risks in terms of security, should know:

Girl near a river in Central America

Getting ready to cross the border - Photo by Isabella Troconis

Don't Miss This Short Side Trip

From Palenque, Chiapas it is possible to take a colectivo (informal public transportation) that goes to Frontera Corozal for 100 Mexican Pesos (MXN) per person. They run every hour from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. This ride takes between three and four hours. On the way to this border village, it is possible to pay extra to the driver to get a 30 minute stop at Bonampark which allows for a visit to the Temple of Murals which is the most astonishing piece of this Mayan site; this short tangent will manage to cover all Mayan murals.

Book a Boat

When entering Frontera Corozal, locals welcome outsiders by charging them a communal fee of 15 MXN. Once at the bus stop, look for Escudo Jaguar hotel to book a boat that takes tourists to Bethel, Guatemala. Usually both rides from Frontera Corozal, Mexico to Yaxchilan (also known as the Green Rocks Mayan site) and from Yaxchilan to Bethel, Guatemala cost about 1300 MXN. If tourists wish to go directly to Bethel, Escudo Jaguar charges 400 MXN. 

Negotiations. Tourists can negotiate the price down to 800 MXN for a private boat. This means that the bigger the group is, the cheaper the fee per person. There are two hotels next to the Usumacinta River: Nueva Allianza and Escudo Jaguar. Escudo Jaguar offers higher rates; however, during low seasons it is possible to bargain half price for a room. Before crossing the border, tourists must stamp their passport at the Immigration office in Frontera Corozal and pay an exit tax of 395 MXN. 

Early Bird Gets the Boat

It is recommended that travelers ask for the boat ride as early as 6:45 a.m. to be able to visit Yaxchilan, cross the border, and get to Petén, Flores before dawn. The ride from Frontera Corozal to Yaxchilan takes about 45 minutes and Yaxchilan opens its doors to the public at 8 a.m. This archeological site is located on the south bank of the Usumacinta River, at the apex of a horseshoe-shaped meander. The good news is visitors enter the ruins for FREE! There is no entrance fee unlike many other Mayan archeological sites in Chiapas. 

San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas

San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas

Green Rocks

It only takes a quick glance for visitors to realize that Green Rocks is by far the most impressive and mythical Mayan site in Mexico. Given its inaccessible location, Yaxchilan’s structures are well preserved and devoid of annoying tourist mobs, which allows visitors to reflect deeper about the whereabouts of the Mayan Civilization. Early arrivers will be able to hear Yucatan black howlers’ and jaguars’ scream. If brave enough, they might be able to see them rambling in the ruins from a very short distance. If there is no luck in exotic creature sitings, climbing the Bird Jaguar IV building at the top of the hill will ensure no regrets about coming all the way to Yaxchilan. Once visitors cover all buildings and estelas (tall sculpted stone shafts), they can simply hop on the boat and continue the journey towards Tikal. 

Surprise Arrival

After a 20 minutes boat ride, tourists will reach Bethel, Guatemala. Bethel consists of a rural and depopulated border village, so there is no much to do or see. Unless visitors stumble upon a woman exchanging Mexican Pesos, U.S. Dolars, Queztals (Q), newcomers would never guess they have reached Guatemala. The fact that immigration offices are for miles away from the Usumacinta shore makes the visitors feel calmer when putting their feet on Guatemalan soil. Once in Bethel, the only way to reach Flores, Petén is bargaining with some informal drivers that will be waiting right next to the shore. They will initially charge tourists 100Q per person, but depending on the group size you can get up to a 50 percent discount. 

Tips for the Guatemalan Immigration Office

When getting to the Guatemalan Immigration Office, perceived by many as the most difficult part of crossing the border, visitors are recommended to not show any sign of uneasiness. According to the official website of the German Mission in Guatemala, tourists do not have to pay to get in or out of the country. This applies to visitors going via land or fluvial borders. So, if an immigration officer were to ask any of the group members for an entry fee of 70Q, visitors should tell the officer that unfortunately they are only able to pay the entry fee in MXN. Be sure to bear in mind one’s disadvantageous stand, visitors should always remember to wait until the officer has stamped their passport.

The excuse of not having Q will deceive immigration officers from insisting the group pays the fee, but they will surely advise you to pay when you exit the country. If a tourist were to go back to Mexico via land border, it is 100 percent effective to suggest to the Immigration Officers that Immigration Officials previously said that tourists exiting the country do not pay a fee for stays shorter than 30 days.

Tikal

Tikal

Almost to Tikal

Once one’s passport is stamped, visitors should feel as if they have almost reached their goal of getting to Tikal. They are only four hours away from Flores and almost six hours from Tikal. Tourists should ask the driver to drop them off at the bus station where colectivos operate regularly to Tikal until 5 p.m. These colectivos take locals to villages between Flores and Tikal. But beware, the driver might use an intermediary who seeks to profit from visitors’ ignorance. Group members should not be surprised if they end up sitting with a woman holding a huge bag of fruit or a man with a big full of plastic bottles full of gasoline. For this reason, visitors must keep in mind that prices are one third of what the intermediary is asking. They usually charge tourists 80Q, while the normal price ranges between 20Q and 30Q. Once in the colectivo, it is common to hear a tourist acknowledging the price was a rip-off. After almost 10 hours of travel by boat and by car and sometimes without eating, the visitors will finally arrive to Tikal National Park. What a long day!

Sweet Arrival

By the end of this journey, visitors will have mixed feelings about being in Tikal, Guatemala. On the one hand, they will feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and want a spa-day session. On the other, they will feel exhilarated by the having overcome the journey’s challenges. One thing is sure: the powerful combination of adrenaline produced when surpassing all obstacles along with the discovery of two spectacular Mayan sites in addition to Tikal will make the visitor feel invincible and remember this adventure for years to come!

Are you enticed? Find an adventure program in Guatemala now!