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.


Side note: After a short conversation with of the readers, I found out there are two towns called Emilio Zapata. Unfortunately, the colectivo from Palenque to Tenosique is NOT GOING through the one you could catch an ADO bus to Bacalar. You need to go to Palenque and than by bus or colectivo (with transfers) from there.

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.


One of the readers was so kind to let us know the price for taxi was 25 pesos / €1 in November 2021.

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 height. 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 :).

25 Comments

  • Ruth

    Thank god for this blog page! Honestly, I can’t thank you enough for all the information. I can confirm that I crossed the border successfully yesterday (8th may 2022) from Palenque.

    The combi bus from Palenque to tenosique cost 90 mex pesos, and mine went via the town of zapata to get to tenosique.

    I then paid 50 mex pesos for the colectivo from tenosique to el ceibo border. As I had a back injury, I paid a tuk tuk 10 pesos to take me and my heavy back pack up the road to the immigration offices. smooth immigration process as you described.

    Once I got to the Guatemalan side, there was a little shop on the left that sold Guatemalan mobile phone sims. I bought one (he let me pay in Mexican pesos) and the guy set it all up for me with some credit.

    I changed my pesos for quetzals and got a colectivo to flores for 100 quetzals.

    To get from flores bus station to my hostal on flores island, I got a tuk tuk for 10 quetzals.

    Safe travels everyone 🙂

    • Lea

      Hey Ruth,
      thank you for keeping this post up to date with your experience!
      I’m glad it helped and it is still as smooth as last year.
      Safe travels! Lea 🖤

    • CLAY

      Lea and Aron,

      Thank you for the original post and update, repectively.

      We are planning Palenque to Tikal in December after we have been in both places over 25 years ago. Palenque to Tikal was not advisable in the early 1990s as the internal conflict was going on and Guatemala did not recognize Belize as a soveriegn nation. A lot has changed since then. i hope the raw rustic vibe is still felt. BUT, with hotels at Tikal, I am not getting my hopes too high.

      Thanks,
      Clay

      • Lea

        Obviously, it’s kind of touristy in Tikal, but muuuuch better than Palenque. For us, Palenque was too small and crowded. Tikal, when we visited early in the morning, was magical. We were alone in the jungle most of the time (except for the main plaza), spent over four hours hiking around and enjoyed it so much! I hope you and your family will have the same experience. Love, Lea

        Also, you should make sure not to miss Semuc Champey while in Guatemala!

    • Jeff Johnson

      My friend and I will be crossing the Mexico-Guatemala border – traveling from Palenque to Flores – at El Ciebo in late July. This post was interesting and will be very helpful! If we encounter any difficulties, I’ll be sure to add a new comment later. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Aron

    Update 3 may 2022

    Many thanks guys for this amazing diy border cross tutorial. Thanks to you guys we did cross here otherwise we would have taken a detour at la mesia or so.

    The update:
    Prices went up:
    * Palenque → Tenosique 9:40 am; colectivo 90 pesos a person. Leave every half hour, so 6,6:30,7,7:30 etc. Good to know: you buy a ticket at the counter so no hassle from the drivers.
    *please do yourself a favor and get the taxi in tenosique. It’s “just” 20/25 pesos and it’s saves a lot of sweat hahaha
    * at the border you don’t need anything anymore if you gave proof of viccination. We crossed the border within 15 min.
    Like said before, YOU DONT HAVE TO PAY ANYTHING!
    * El Ceibo → Santa Elena; bus is now 100 quetzales!! It’s 60 Quetzales for local people only. We tried to negotiate and even tried to talk to a police officer. Apparently these are the prices now :-(.

    Al the other things are still the same as stated above.
    Again thank you for this article

    Aron and Jitske
    Insta: Justanothertravelingcouple

    • Lea

      Hey Aron, thank you for the update! The price increase for tourists sounds so Guatemalan though… It’s literally one of the things I hated the most about Guatemala – everything is more expensive for tourists. And usually not “reasonably more”. Anyhow, enjoy Guate, it’s a beautiful country! Safe travels, Lea

  • Sandro Bianco

    Hi guys! thanks for the informations. I wanted to know if there are ATMs once we arrive at the border between Mexico and Guatemala. in case you need to withdraw. thank you

    • Lea

      Hi, I’m sorry, I’m not quite sure. For sure, there are some guys you can exchange Mexican pesos for Guatemalan Quetzales with (and the exchange rate was not bad at all). Let us know if you find it there though!

    • Juan C

      Thanks a lot for the detailed information.
      We are planning to do the crossing to Flores in two weeks time.
      Very valuable information.

      • Lea

        Hi Juan, thank you for the comment! I’m glad it’s helpful! Enjoy your time in Flores and the rest of Guatemala. 🙂

  • Naïma

    THANK YOU for this article. Doing this road exactly on Tuesday. It’s so useful. Thanks for sharing, have a wonderful journey, lots of love ✨❤️

    • Lea

      hey Naïma! Wohoo, I hope it will go as smoothly as it went for us! Great to read this work is helping you guys! Enjoy your travels!

    • Carolina

      This worked out perfectly today (10 march 2022)! A safe, cheap and recommendable adventure!

    • Lea

      Hey Mikolaj,
      Thank you for the feedback for us and other travelers! I’m happy it was helpful! Thank you for the information about the taxi price. Well worth 25 pesos spent :D.

    • Wobke Gerritse

      Hi guys, nice to read this formation. I like to do the same route by bicycle. Where did you take the covid test?

      • Lea

        Hey there! I’m happy it’s helpful. 🙂 Wow, that sounds amazing! It was on the main street, a laboratory called Pakal. You’ll find it here: https://goo.gl/maps/KkAT3AsfnK3iKw7F9 Enjoy your trip! Lea

        PS: It is also possible to do the AG test in some of the pharmacies. Namely Ahorro, if I’m not wrong. There was none in Palenque though.

      • Jerremiah

        Hey mate! Did you cross? What documents you had to show and did they scan anything at the Guatemala border El Ceibo? I have some papers, but are getting worn out from the travel and it might be problem for the barcode reader to get through and may need new ones?
        Thanks a lot 🙂

    • Jean-François

      Thanks for that awesome guide guys, I ll have to check the rest of your site when I have time.
      I am also planning to cross the border from Chiapas to Flores Guatemala at El Ceibo in 2 weeks, and back 3 weeks later so that helps a lot. If anyone plans to do the same please contact me, I woud feel safer not doing it alone though, all the stories I read are not so smooth, especially for loney travelers like me…

      • Lea

        Hey Mikolaj, we’re happy it’s helpful! You can also try to write in some of the Facebook groups if you’d feel better not going alone. But for us, it really was absolutely smooth. We even got back to Mexico through a different border from Guatemala a couple of weeks later (still working on the article and video, I’m very behind, lol). In that direction, it’s a bit more tricky, because of all the immigrants yet still – no problem whatsoever. Make sure to travel early in the morning, so if you get stuck somewhere, you still get to your goal destination during the day. Smile, greet and locals will be helpful if needed. Safe travels! Lea 🖤

        • Jean-François

          Thanks Lea. I don’t have a facebook account, I left a couple of messages on traveler message boards, but I am confident it will work out well, especially with your guide. I might also go through a different border on the way back, looking forward to the next video and article. Are you still in Mexico?

          • Lea

            For sure it will! 🙂 No, we visited Mexico last time in fall 2021 on our unexpected way back to Europe. But we are still in Latin America, actually just crossed the border from Colombia to Ecuador this weekend! 🙂 Check out my Instagram account https://www.instagram.com/lea.burdova/ for more recent updates (I have way too little time for the blog lately).

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