Planet   Backpacker
  "From flying monkey gods and amorous donkeys to tales of a bus caravan speeding through a terrorist-infested desert, Downes puts you right there with him."-- Ben Gohs, Charlevoix Courier
  "From flying monkey gods and amorous donkeys to tales of a bus caravan speeding through a terrorist-infested desert, Downes puts you right there with him."-- Ben Gohs, Charlevoix Courier

Belize on a Budget via bus from Cancun

Ambergris Caye, San Pedro, Belize, Planet Backpacker
The beach trail on Ambergris Caye outside San Pedro.

By Robert Downes

   Interested in visiting the islands and jungles of Belize, but put off by the sticker shock of flying there? Then consider taking the bus.

   Seriously.  Belize offers the paradox of being a relatively-cheap, English-speaking country while being a fairly expensive destination because it's not big on the package tour and charter flight circuit.  It can cost $800 or more to fly round-trip to Belize City from the northern United States during the winter vacation season.  But if you have a little extra time and an adventurous spirit, you can fly to Cancun in Mexico and take a first class bus 300 miles down the coast to Belize, saving hundreds of dollars.

   That's because Cancun's international airport caters to budget flights with round-trip deals for as little as $250.  For the average couple, the savings can be $1,000 or more traveling to Belize by way of Mexico's excellent bus system.


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Belize, Planet Backpacker
Dinner off the coast of Belize is courtesy of a passing boat of fishermen.

   That savings can buy you a lot of fun in Belize, a country about the same size as the state of Vermont, but packed with opportunities to go snorkeling, sailing, fishing, rain forest explorations, trips to Mayan ruins and good times on the beach.

   Many "snowbird" residents of Belize from Canada and the U.S. use this low-cost bus route to save on flights to their winter homes.  It's also a popular option with backpackers on a budget, and even inexperienced travelers should have no problem making the trip.


   Although it's a 4-1/2 hour bus ride to the border, the bus route to Belize offers you a chance to see some of the countryside and its people.

   You'll want to spend your first night in Playa del Carmen, the queen city of the Mayan Riviera.  After clearing customs at Cancun Airport, proceed to Terminal 2 and look for the stop with the red and gray ADO buses, which will give you a lift into town for around $8.

   The central bus station in Playa del Carmen is right downtown, opening onto Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), which is packed with shops, restaurants, and thousands of tourists promenading night and day along its pedestrians-only walkway.  There are numerous budget hotels on the side streets paralleling 5th Avenue (recommended: the charming Hotel Barrio Latino, $85-$100 per night), or you can stay in one of the huge tourist hotels on the beach.  Reservations are advised in either event.

   You'll need to catch your bus to the Belize border at the "new" bus station, which is located three blocks off 5th Avenue at 20th Avenue and Calle 12 (12th Street).  Buses leave every two hours for the Mexican border/port city of Chetumal.  Reserved tickets can be purchased the night before your departure and a first class ticket to the border costs about $20.


   Most visitors to Belize head first to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, a trip that requires catching a boat from either Chetumal in Mexico, Corozal, or Belize City in Belize.  To avoid getting stranded in one of these port cities after the last boat leaves, it's advised that you catch their earliest bus possible from Playa del Carmen, especially if you're aiming to ride all the way to Belize City.

   Despite what you've heard about careening buses and crazy drivers in Latin America, the bus drivers in Mexico are required to drive a maddeningly slow 55 mph, with a sensor ringing whenever the speed limit is exceeded.  Mexican highways also have frequent speed bumps to slow traffic.  Expect to be looking at your watch frequently, wondering when you're going to "get there."

   In any event, bring a good book and a warm jacket and/or blanket, since the air conditioner is likely to be cranked up high enough to chill meat.

   Unless you've purchased an express bus ticket all the way to Belize City, your bus will take you to the Mexican border town of Chetumal.  From there, you must take a taxi to the border (about $10) and catch another bus in Belize a few miles to the port of Corozal, or another hour south to Belize City.

   A better option is simply to catch the boat in Chetumal.  Boat tickets are sold at the Chetumal bus station, and you simply take a taxi to the dock (about $10) and clear customs while you wait.  It will cost you about $25 to take the 45-mile water taxi to San Pedro -- a two hour trip.

Ragga Queen, Belize, Caye Caulker
The Ragga Queen docks for a night on an island off the coast of Belize
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