The first bus ride of our trip was an easy 4.5 hour ride from Belize City, Belize to Flores, Guatemala. We were excited to start with a short and easy ride to prepare us for the much longer rides that we’ll have once we hit South America.
Buying Our Tickets
Originally we were going to get our tickets at the water taxi terminal when we first arrived in Belize. That way we would have everything set and not have to worry the week that we were in Caye Caulker. Because we were fortunate enough to catch our water taxi with 1 minute to spare we did not have time to purchase bus tickets. With it being off season, we knew that there was a very strong likelihood that there would still be tickets available for any bus that we wanted to take.
There were several shops on Caye Caulker that sold bus tickets. We held off on buying them as I figured that the shops made a commission and they would be cheaper if we bought them directly at the water taxi terminal which was also the bus terminal.
There are 2 buses a day from Belize City to Flores – FDN at 10:30am and Linea Dorada at 1:15pm. We opted for the earlier bus, knowing if for some reason it were full that there was another bus afterwards that we could catch.
Once we arrived in Belize City via water taxi, we were overwhelmed with the sheer number of vendors selling bus tickets to Flores. Turns out, the pricing was the same $25 per person that we could have paid on the island. Never being great with currency converting, I agreed to pay 106 Belize or $53. I knew that the currency conversion which was close, but not exactly 2:1. Once I realized my error I was super annoyed, especially because if I waited for Andy before I purchased them he would have caught it. In the end it was a $3 lesson that I just need to be more careful with conversion rates moving forward.
The Bus Experience
When we were ready to board the bus, we put our luggage under the bus and carried on our backpack with our valuables.
We were the first people on the bus so we checked out how far back the seats reclined and were amused. You could recline back so far that you pretty much were in the lap of the person sitting behind you. We both crossed our fingers that whoever sat in front of us would not recline very far if at all. Fortunately for us, the girls in front of us only reclined their seats slightly.
We claimed some space in the rack above our seats for our carry on bags and waited for the bus to leave. As we were in our seats, more people boarded the bus – primarily backpackers in their early to mid 20’s. Once it was time to leave, the bus was only half full, allowing many passengers with 2 seats to themselves.
One of the things that is an absolute requirement to an enjoyable long term ride is headrest comfort. We were ecstatic that the headrests were absolutely perfect for sleeping. While I took a short nap, Andy worked on some stuff for the blog. When we looked back just about every backpacker was asleep – I guess when your days consist of partying and your nights are spent in dormitory style rooms, you take sleep wherever you can get it.
We utilized the curtains on the windows as the sun was pretty intense. We had a little bit of a hard time getting them to stay shut. Since then we purchased some clothes pins, a multi-functional item, which we can use to keep food packaging closed, hang clothes and also keep curtains shut.
One thing that I really appreciated was that there was a briefing that was done before we left the bus station in Belize City.
We were told:
- The bus runs direct from Belize City to the Guatemalan border with nobody getting on or off and no stops being made. Ironically, about an hour into our ride, we picked up a passenger and 20 minutes after that we made a stop at a meat market where a huge bag of meat was stored under the bus. We laughed as we were told that none of this would happen just over an hour earlier.
- There was an exit fee of 37.50 Belize or $18.75
- If you have excess Belize dollars, change them at the border as it is difficult to trade in this money later
- Guatemala does not have an entry fee although for a while they were charging foreigners 20Q or $2.50
- Do not leave customs if your passport is not stamped – if you try and leave Guatemala without an entry stamp, you will be charged $100 fee
We were also given entry paperwork for Guatemala and told to save time by getting this filled out on the bus so the border crossing could be as quick as possible.
When we were reading up about buses in Central and South America, there were a lot of articles talking about how air conditioned buses were freezing. Preparing for this we wore long pants and shoes with socks, a departure from the shorts and sandals we had been wearing the previous week. We also brought on long sleeve tops should the air conditioning become too cold for us.
Prepared for the worst, we were pleasantly surprised that while the bus was cool, it was very comfortable – not too hot and not too cold. Luckily we had chosen to sit on the left side of the bus as the right side had some condensation dripping from the ceiling which was hitting some of the passengers. Because the bus was not full, it was easy enough for those impacted to switch from a window seat to an aisle seat.
I think the strangest thing about the ride were all of the huge speed bumps in the middle of nowhere. We would be driving along and then in the middle of nowhere there would be a massive speed bump. Speed bumps so massive that the bus would have to come to almost a full stop to get over it. I am not quite sure what the rationale for all the speed bumps is, but it was a strange phenomenon for us.
Belize/Guatemala Border Crossing
The bus ride had a border crossing. While Andy and I have both crossed borders numerous times before, it was always in a plane or train – never physically walking across the border. We didn’t know quite what to expect with our first land border crossing.
We were pleasantly surprised that it was an easy process:
- We paid our 37.50 Belize or $18.75 exit tax
- Took our receipt to customs where we were stamped out of Belize
- Walked through “no man’s land” to Guatemala
- Answered a few questions for the Guatemalan tourism board
- Got our passport stamped into Guatemala
- Proceeded back to the bus
The entire process only took about 10 minutes and was much easier than we thought it would be. Now that we have our first land border crossing behind us, we know better what to expect for the remainder of our trip.
Arriving in Santa Elena
The bus stopped in Santa Elena and we were told that we could take a taxi at our own expense or take the shuttle bus into town. Always interested in saving, we took the free shuttle.
Once we got on the shuttle we both looked and each other, laughing a little bit. The guys running the shuttle company were affiliated with a travel agency. During the short trip, they were hustling to get people to sign up for tours and stay at hostels where they got a kickback I’m sure.
I thought to myself, who is going to sign up for tours without doing any research of what they cost or stay at a hostel that they have not read reviews on. We were shocked when the backpackers were signing up for their tours on the spot and staying at the hostels that they recommended. I guess it goes to show how different we are from the young backpacking culture.
Once we arrived in Flores, it made sense why the bus was not able to proceed past Santa Elena. Flores has very narrow cobblestone roads with relatively tight turns, something that a full size bus would not have been able to handle.
Our first bus ride was much easier than expected. We knew that this bus was considered very basic compared to the more luxurious buses that we’ll be taking in South America. It made us very excited to experience luxury if the bus that we took which was completely adequate, was considered basic.