The next stop on our 2 week tour of Central America is Belize. The smallest nation in Central America with a population of only 350,000, Belize is a popular vacation spot for Americans because it offers a little something for everyone. Conveniently located in between Mexico & Guatemala, Sam & I thought this would be a nice stopover on our way in between the two countries. Plus with activities abound, we were confident we could easily fill 3 days here!
The Belize border is a straight-forward three hour drive from Tulum. There are a few options for entering Belize, such as a flight (from Cancun), driving overland through Chetumal, or entering via water on a ferry. Overland is definitely the cheapest option, with bus tickets for only about $50.
We decided to do a combo method — overland & ferry. Since we aren’t spending any time on the coast in Guatemala, we decided to soak up a few more days on the ocean by staying on a small caye (i.e. island) off the Belizean coast called Caye Caulker. There is a direct 3 hour ferry service (for about $65 USD) from Chetumal in Mexico to Caye Caulker that runs daily.
With the holidays, I thought the ferries might sell out and didn’t want to take a chance, so I tried to buy them in advance. This proved to be futile since the website for ferry company is inconsistent & unclear. You can buy them the day of either at the ferry terminal, airport or bus station. You will probably be fine as most don’t fill up ahead of time, but if you’re really worried about it, try booking them over the phone.
As I’ve come to expect with Central & South American culture, the boarding & customs process isn’t super efficient. You will check in at the ferry ticket counter, then give your bags to a different employee. Then you will go through Mexican customs (keep in mind the departure tax of $25 and you’ll need the tiny sheet of paper you got when you arrived in Mexico) at a different counter. And then you will wait. And probably wait some more. Someone might even check your ticket again. Then the police will show up with drug dogs to go through all of the bags. Then you will line up and have your ticket checked again. And maybe then you will board.
The ferry itself was actually pretty comfortable with padded seats, open windows and personal fans. Sit near the back if you don’t like bouncing as there may be some waves. The views are largely of open ocean, but there are dolphins in this region of the ocean so keep your eyes peeled!
The ride is about 2 hours to San Pedro, Belize where we went through Belizean immigration. Again, not highly efficient. First we lined up in the exact order we checked in, then waited until our name was called. You’ll need to pay an arrival tax of $1.25 and then re-board the boat to proceed to Caye Caulker. This was the most scenic part of the ride because you could see other cayes and the clear blue Belizean waters. Plus, we were riding around sunset so the colors of the sky looked just beautiful.
We arrived in Caye Caulker about a half hour later. There are no cars on the caye, so there are electric golf cart cabs waiting at the dock to take you to your hotel. It’s a pretty small island, so depending on where your hotel is, you might not need a cab. We certainly didn’t. We asked for directions from a local who said “Oh yes, very far away. About 10 minute walk”. Ok, so not very far away. We walked with our bags, enjoying the ocean breeze and cute town views.