Crossing the border from Mexico to Guatemala in El Ceibo
Mexico,  Traveling

How to cross the border from Mexico to Guatemala (2021)

It’s possible to cross multiple borders between Mexico and Guatemala. We chose the crossing in El Ceibo. We made it from Palenque to Flores by a combination of colectivos in Mexico, a bit of walking, buses, and Tuk-tuks in Guatemala in a couple of hours and about €12 / $15. You can find out how to do it in this article.

Big news: First YouTube video!

Let me start with a small announcement. We’ve just started our YouTube channel! And the first video we’re sharing is a report from our crossing from Mexico to Guatemala. Therefore, if you prefer to watch the video better than reading the text, this one is for you!

Why should you go to Guatemala by bus

When we first came to Mexico half a year ago, we didn’t really have an idea what to expect. We believed the typical stereotype, that Mexico is dangerous. And we thought we won’t be able to see anything except the Carribian side, at the most Mexico city.

Thank God, we asked the locals and other travelers, tested our boundaries and stopped being afraid all the time. In the end, we spent half a year in Mexico and visited five states. And went to Guatemala through sixth.

Instead of the original plan to fly to Guatemala from Mexico City, we decided on a more adventurous way of traveling. We went to San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas for the last few weeks, after that explored the area around Palenque and finally went to Flores in Guatemala by public transport.

We’re trying to skip flights for a couple of years now to spare the planet of some emissions. In Europe, it’s extremely easy. We enjoy the views from the train or bus and often have a chance to visit more places on our way. And when we plan well enough, we even save some money! To be honest, we didn’t believe it might be almost as easy in Latin America.

Crossing the border from Mexico to Guatemala on foot
On our way to cross the border in Ceibo

How to get from Mexico to Guatemala

You have a couple of options to travel from Mexico to Guatemala (and vice versa). A bit less in the Covid times. Due to lower demand, many companies do not offer all the usual trips.

  • By shuttle with a tourist agency: Door to door service
  • On your own using public transport

Tourist shuttle from Mexico to Guatemala

Under normal circumstances, it’s possible to go by a tourist shuttle from Palenque to Flores or from San Cristobal to Antigua / Quetzaltenango / Guatemala City or Lake Atitlan. Nowadays, most of the companies only offer the route from San Cristobal. When you first want to visit Flores and Tikal as we did, you’re screwed.

The shuttle costs about €45 to €55 / $50 to $65, depends on your final destination. Of course, it is a bit more comfortable. The driver picks you up at the hotel, stops at the border, organizes everything (sort of) and you only need to switch from a Mexican to a Guatemalan van.

Bus from Mexico to Guatemala

When you decide to go from Mexico to Guatemala by public transport, you have many more options for the beginning and end of the trip. On top of the possibility to go from Palenque to Flores, you can also have an adventurous trip through other ruin sites and crossing the border at the river Usumacinta.

The whole trip is about €12 / $15. You’ll make it in one day without a problem, you will be traveling with the locals and enjoy a great adventure. It’s only a small sacrifice to skip the AC shuttle. And to go through a couple of transfers. We went through the whole procedure and prepared detailed directions on how to do it.

Colectivo from Tenosique to El Ceibo
Colectivo from Tenosique to El Ceibo

Travel itinerary: Mexico to Guatemala

The whole journey with a budget per person:

  • 7:20 am Palenque → Tenosique 9:40 am; colectivo 80 pesos ≈ €3,50 / $4
  • 9:40 am from the edge of Tenosique to the cener 30 minutes walking or 5 minues by taxi; 0–50 pesos ≈ 0–€2 / $2,50
  • 10:25 am Tenosique → El Ceibo 11:20 am; colectivo 50 pesos ≈ €2 / $2,50
  • 11:20 am – 12:05 pm Immigration offies in Mexico and Guatemala; two covid test coppies 10 pesos ≈ €0,40 / $0,50
  • Time change from Mexican to Guatemalan 12:05 pm → 11:05 am
  • 12:00 pm El Ceibo → Santa Elena 4:30 pm ; bus 60 Quetzales ≈ €6,50 / $8
  • 4:30 pm Santa Elena → Flores 4:40 pm; Tuk-tuk 10 Quetzales ≈ €1 / $1,30

You’ll find a detailed description of the journey with all the directions and important information in the following paragraphs.

DIY: Journey from Palenque to Flores

*10 Mexican pesos ≈ €0,40 / $0,50; 10 Guatemalan Quetzal ≈ €1 / $1,30; there is one hour more in Mexico than in Guatemala during the summer

We headed on the road early in the morning. We went on foot from the hostel to the station where colectivo goes from Palenque to Tenosique. The colectivo runs every 25 minutes and we decided to go at 7:20. We went a bit earlier to the station to get to colectivo as the first ones and have the best seats – right behind the driver. There is the biggest room for legs. Well, the plan didn’t work out and some 150 cm tall Mexicans got the spots instead. We’re 180 / 190, btw.

Palenque to Tenosique Schedule
Palenque to Tenosique schedule

You can find the station on the corner of 2a. Avenida Sur Pte. and Tercera Pte Sur.

Palenque to Tenosique

The journey was 80 pesos / €3,50 / $4 in a reasonably old van. You get to the edge of Tenosique, from where you need to get to the center of the town to get another colectivo to the border. You’ll find it near the Benito Juárez market. There is a couple of cabs waiting to take you there. The price is about 50 pesos / €2 / $2,50. Or you can be stupid (as we were) and walk. It’s about 2,5 kilometers and it’s pretty hot at 10 am in Mexico.

You get off the colectivo from Palenque at the main road to Tenosique.

You’ll find colectivo to El Ceibo in the center, on the crossing of Calle 16 and 37.

Tenosique to El Ceibo

We found the colectivo to El Ceibo after about half an hour walk. The lady over there told us it’s gonna leave in 15 minutes. I decided to use the time to find bathrooms. (¿Hay un baño cerca de aquí?) It’s only one street away for the usual price of 5 pesos. Meanwhile, the colectivo got full and we were ready to leave. It was 10:25 am.

This time, the van was very old and tiny. I was sitting next to a TV in a box and Filip next to a couple of Mexicans. Who were laughing most of the time about our hight. The price was 50 pesos / €2 / $2,50 and took less than an hour.

Old and tiny colectiov. When we fit in, everybody will.
Old and tiny colectivo. If we fit in, everybody will.

Crossing the border in El Ceibo

We took our backpacks down from the roof at 11:20 am and proceeded to the Mexican border. There were many (not only) Guatemalans at the immigration office, trying to find a better life up north. We asked the security guard where to go. He took us to an officer outside of the main building, where we got our stamp out of Mexico.

The whole thing went pretty smoothly. We went to the office one by one and were able to get through it with our poor Spanish. The officer laughed at my name (Leona = lioness), asked us how did we enjoy Mexico, and wished us good luck for our trip to Guatemala. We didn’t pay any tax/fee on the Mexican border.

No man's land between Mexico and Guatemala
No man’s land between Mexico and Guatemala

We continued on the street to the immigration office in Guatemala. The guard asked us for Covid tests. The antigen test was enough, but you need two copies. Obviously, we didn’t have them. But it wasn’t a problem, they just send us to a little store a few meters in Guatemala to get it for 5 pesos €0,20 / $0,25 per page.

We went back to the border guards with one copy and the immigration office with the other. We submitted our passports, the officer asked us how long do we plan to stay, for our address and emergency contact back home. He stamped our passports, wrote 90 days, and reminded us we need to get stamped out when we leave Guatemala.

Again, we paid nothing at the immigration office. We didn’t need a return ticket either. During the pandemic, you only need two copies of the Covid tests (they will not accept the original). Or the Covid pass. At least, it was like that at the end of July 2021.

Opening hours of border crossing in El Ceibo
Opening hours of border crossing in El Ceibo

El Ceibo to Santa Elena

We were done at the border at 12:05 pm, but the clock in a store showed 11:05 am. I found out that in Guatemala is one hour less than in Mexico during the summer. We exchanged some money at the border as well. Some guys are hanging around with whom you can exchange the money or you can walk in one of the stores.

We chose the same store where we got our Covid test copies. You can buy Guatemalan Quetzales for Mexican pesos or American Dolars. The exchange rate was better than what we get with Revolut. We got 41 Quetzales for 100 pesos. You can also use a surprisingly clean bathroom for 10 pesos.

There was a bus to Santa Elena waiting right in front of the store. If you’re looking forward to your first experience with an iconic Chicken bus, I need to disappoint you. You’ll go by a smaller bus, not much different from the ones used by tourist agencies in Guatemala. We hopped on the bus and were waiting for the departure. Which was at 12 pm (Guatemalan time).

While waiting, we were watching a bunch of guys from Honduras counting stacks of bills hidden in a bus. We weren’t super sure if the bus ride will be as safe as we thought. It was. We’re still working on being less stressed.

The bus costs 60 Quetzales ≈ €6,50 / $8 and we reached Santa Elena in four and a half hours, at 4:30 pm. It was a looong ride. The driver made a billion stops (including one at his home 😅). But we had relatively enough space, so we survived.

Bus from El Ceibo to Santa Elena
Bus from El Ceibo to Santa Elena

Santa Elena to Flores

When we reached Santa Elena, we only needed to get to Flores. It was about 2 kilometers to the hostel and we thought we’re gonna walk. Originally. After the whole day on the road with the walkthrough Tenosique, we decided a Tuk-tuk is very well deserved.

The Tuk-tuk driver found us immediately after we got off the bus. He asked 10 Quetzales €1 / $1,30 per person. Theoretically, I guess we could get down to half of the price. At the moment, those few cents weren’t worth the effort.

Well, in the end, we actually paid double the price, since I realised almost at the hostel I forgot my hat on the bus. Fortunately, the bus ends in Santa Elena and the driver was waiting over there with the hat. We gave the Tuk-tuk driver 40 instead of 20 Quetzales and everybody was happy. We were in front of our hostel at 4:50 pm. Those more clever would make it ten minutes earlier.

Tuk-tuk to Flores
Tuk-tuk to Flores

Advantages of crossing the border without an agency

  • It’s much more adventorous
  • The journey is only about €12 / $15
  • You travel with locals, not with tourists
  • You have this amazing guide in you hands
  • The satisfaction of being able to do it yourself
  • The drive by the shuttle is just a bit more comfortable

Seriously. To sum up, crossing the border from Mexico to Guatemala is not complicated at all and it’s not worth it to spend the money for the tour. Of course, you need to use common sense, watch your stuff, and not try it in the middle of the night. The locals wouldn’t either and that speaks for itself.

It’s handy to have some knowledge of Spanish. Saying that our Spanish is very poor and we were still able to do it without any significant issue. You can find some essential phrases up front, just to be sure. And when you need it, just ask around. Be kind and say “Hola!” and “Por favor”. After that, you’ll get by with any language and lots of gesticulation. Mexicans are notably nice people and always happy to help.

If you need any extra information, let me know in the comments section or directly on Instagram. I’ll try to help as much as possible!

Say hello to a new adventure!
Lea

PS: If this trip is not adventurous enough for you, there is also a possibility to go from Palenque to Flores with an overnight visit of Yaxchilan a Bonampak and crossing the border over a river. I only did the theoretical research, but I’m happy to share the information :).

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