Crossing into Guatemala

When we were finally able to drag ourselves away from the amazing animals at The Belize Zoo, we agreed that we were finished exploring San Ignacio and that it was time to cross the border into Guatemala.

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We hailed a taxi in San Ignacio and got dropped off at the border which was only about 15 minutes away. This border crossing was relatively straight forward but we had to pay about $37BZ in fees to leave the country. Unlike a lot of ‘border fees’ in Central America, this one is actually legitimate, so don’t try and argue with the armed officials, it’s not worth your trouble. More about that later…..haha.

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Image courtesy of Earths Roamers

When we officially walked into Guatemala, we were immediately ambushed by a hoard of taxi drivers, collectivo drivers, money exchangers and people selling various food products. It was super overwhelming, more so because we truly didn’t have much of a plan at this point, but nevertheless we maintained straight faces and acted cool, calm and collected, politely declining all offers while we discussed our next move.

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Of all of the warnings that we had researched and received, the majority of them were about Guatemala. We don’t like to believe everything we read online so took each warning with a grain of salt, but there was absolute legitimacy to some of the crazy scary things that can and had happened to tourists in Guatemala, so we were definitely wary and alert.

Australian backpackers kidnapped and robbed by armed bandits in Guatemala

Hostel shuttle intercepted by organised crime group

Guatemala travel warning

That being said, because we were headed into a rural part of Guatemala – Tikal National Park – we decided to go with what looked like a proper private transfer driver, despite the significant price difference in comparison to other options. Even though this definitely didn’t guarantee our safety, we decided that he seemed more legitimate than the other options, which were;

  • A ‘taxi’ driver (these are usually just normal looking barefooted humans with old beat up cars shouting “TAXITAXITAXI” at the top of their lungs
  • A chicken bus (old American school buses literally crammed with people, renowned for groping/sexual assault and pickpocketing)
  • A collectivo (Smaller mini-vans seating 8-14 people, common with tourists but have a tendency to be operated by corrupt drivers who inform crime groups of their location and facilitate robberies.)

We found a guy to exchange some money with, which is always a sketchy but entertaining process, involving them waving a calculator and wads of cash around aggressively and suggesting ridiculously outlandish exchange rates, followed by us firmly declining and acting like we will walk away, and then being countered with a better option at which we can negotiate.
Regardless, we always ended up paying more than we should, within reason, but didn’t press the issue too much partly because of the ‘military’ dudes standing around with automatic weapons, and partly because we appreciated the convenience of not having to find a bank or ATM. You should get 3.5 Quetzales for each Belizean dollar.

Cashed up, we spotted a transfer driver and approached him. He greeted us, asked where we were going, and helped us with our bags. I’m still not sure why, but I took a photo of the number on the back of the van thinking that it could help identify him if he mistreated us.

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It turns out he was a really nice guy, and actually did us a big favour. Upon arrival at Tikal, he informed us that if we entered the park after 3pm our entry ticket would still be valid the following day. Seeing as though we were doing a sunrise hike, exploring during the day and planning on leaving before dark the following day this was a perfect option. It was 2pm when we got there but he offered to wait with us, as the place we were staying was a pretty far drive into the park itself. When the time came, he took us all the way through the park and right to our accomodation – ‘The Tikal Inn‘ and needless to say, we tipped him extra well – so grateful!

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