If you’re like me looking to somehow get from my island paradise in Caye Caulker, Belize to Mexico, or vice versa, you’ve come to the right place. Having crossed many other borders in Central America, this specific border crossing deserves its own dedicated post.
Having spent a few days diving and loving the general lifestyle on Caye Caulker, it was time for me to continue my journey northward. For the countless travelers doing the Central American circuit, Mexico is usually the last stop (or the first stop if you’re venturing southward). There are many international flights out of Cancun and tons of amazing fun things to do in the Yucatan peninsula.
How to get from Caye Caulker to Chetumal, Mexico
There are essentially two ways to go from Caye Caulker into Mexico, bus or ferry.
The bus option is the much longer but cheaper route and still requires you to take the short ferry ride back to Belize City. From Belize City, there are numerous companies you can book with (even at the ferry station) that will organize bus rides to the Belize-Mexico land border. After crossing into Mexico, you will need to take a short taxi ride to the Chetumal ADO bus station to continue northward.
Total cost for this journey is 18 BZD for the one way ferry ride back to Belize, and roughly 30 BZD for the bus ride to the border. It is roughly 4-5 hours from Belize City to the border.
The Caye Caulker to Chetumal ferry
I went back and forth between the ferry and bus options until finally settling on the ferry. In the end, you’ll save likely 4-5 hours by taking the ferry to Chetumal.
There is a daily ferry that goes from Caye Caulker to Chetumal, operated by Belize Water Taxis and Ocean ferries. They alternate days of operation. The ferry also stops in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye in between to pick up more passengers, as well as go through Belize immigration to exit the country.
The ferry leaves at 7am sharp every morning, and only goes once a day. Do not miss this ferry otherwise you’ll need to wait another day, and potentially purchase another ticket! The ferry ride is roughly 3.5 hours with a 1hr stop in San Pedro. Note that Mexico is +1hr from Belize, which meant we arrived in Chetumal just before noon local time.
Costs associated with the ferry ride
The cost of this ferry ride is 110 BZD ($55 USD). It is not cheap by any means, but it is the only option to move quickly from Caye Caulker to Mexico. I wish that was the end of the cost however. In addition, you’ll need to pay 40 BZD ($20 USD) as an exit tax when exiting Belize. Furthermore, you’ll need to pay an departure tax when entering Mexico to the tune of 535 pesos. More details on that later.
To sum it up, this is how much you can expect to pay for the whole journey:
- 110 BZD ($55 USD) for the Caye Caulker to Chetumal Ferry
- 40 BZD ($20 USD) for the Belize exit tax
- 535 MXN (~$25 USD as of May 2018) for the Mexico departure tax upon entering Mexico in Chetumal
- Total cost: ~$100 USD
Yikes, I know. $100 for this trip seems expensive and it is. Most of the passengers on the boat were caught off guard by the 535 MXN charge and were scrambling to get pesos.
Free Ferry to San Pedro
It’s not actually free per se, but when I boarded the boat, they didn’t check my tickets in Caye Caulker. The boat went to San Pedro where we paid our exit tax and went through immigration. When we reboarded the boat, that’s when they checked out tickets. I could easily have just walked off the boat in San Pedro, not gone through immigration, and no one would have known anythingP
What is the Mexico Departure Tax?
You’re probably wondering why am I paying a departure tax when I’m entering Mexico? That is a good question that everyone else seems to be confused about too. Of course, when I purchased the ferry ticket the day before at the Caye Caulker ferry terminal, no one explained any of this to me.
Turns out, Mexico also charges an exit tax when you leave the country. In the case of entering via Chetumal, they make you pay this upon entering the country.
Now you ask I have been to Mexico many times before and never had to pay this? I would totally agree with you because I have been to Mexico a few times before as well and never had to pay this ridiculous charge either. It turns out that when buying round trip airfare tickets, the exit tax is already paid for in your airline tickets. You don’t know about it, but if you look at the detailed receipts, you will see that charge show up. When you’re crossing by land, I guess the Mexican Government assumes you will also leave by land, and therefore makes you pay this tax.
How to avoid paying this departure tax
Now you may say, well I am flying out of Mexico so I must have already paid this tax? The answer is you are probably 90% correct. If you’re flying out of Mexico, you definitely have paid this tax. The problem is, there is no information and no advice beforehand that tells you what to do about it.
In previous years, the Mexican immigration officials would let you pull up your tickets on your phone. No longer. In order to avoid paying the Mexico departure tax in Chetumal, you must print out your airline receipt and show that the departure tax is paid. Of course, no one on the boat knew about this and by the time we figured it out, there’s obviously no where to print anything at an Immigration office or on a boat. Alas, almost all of us got screwed and ended up paying this tax!
To be honest, it’s just a huge scam for Mexico to extract more money from tourists. Every single person on that boat was a tourist and I’m sure almost all of them had flights departing from Mexico in which they’ve already paid this departure tax. I highly doubt any of them planned to reenter Belize. The Mexican Government knows that and specifically makes it difficult and unknown what their requirements are to waive this fee and therefore hits you for more money!
What to do about pesos while in Belize?
I knew about the Mexico departure tax and still didn’t research enough to know I had to print out my receipt. I had taken out 100 BZD the day of my journey thinking it would be enough to cover everything. I totally forgot/did not know about the Belize Departure Tax. After grabbing breakfast and juice at Errolyn’s Fry Jack’s (mmm…so good), and paying the Belize Exit Tax, I realized I didn’t have enough money to cover the Mexican departure tax of 535 pesos.
There were many others in my predicament wondering what to do about getting enough pesos considering there was no ATM available at the San Pedro immigration office. For those that have enough money in other currencies (Belize Dollar, US Dollar, Euros, Pounds etc), there is someone on the boat that will exchange you pesos but at a less than desirable rate. For example, the USD-MXN was 19 but he was offering 17. I exchanged whatever Belize Dollars I had left but was still about 150 pesos short.
Note that for the Mexican departure tax, they do not accept any currency other than pesos!
I was a bit worried since I didn’t have any enough cash on me. I met some other travelers on the boat and in a stroke of luck, this lovely Danish girl had just enough pesos to cover me at the border crossing.
I kept asking the boat people is there an ATM at the immigration office we can take money? I mean, common sense dictates that there must be. Mexico is not in the business of denying you entry because you didn’t have your shit figured out. They are in the business of taking your money, so an ATM just seems like something logically have at the station.
The boat people kept saying they weren’t sure, and giving my vague answers about how it sometimes works and doesn’t work. For someone that makes the journey over and over again, how they can’t answer this question is beyond me, but it all made sense later.
The Chetumal Border Crossing
Once I landed in Chetumal, we went straight to the immigration office. Of course, there was just a single immigration official for 40 of us passengers. It took forever to get through.
There is an ATM at the Chetumal Immigration Office!
It turns out, the Belize Water Taxi people were completely full of crap. There is an ATM at the immigration office that is totally fine for use albeit, it is located after you get your passport stamped. Nevertheless, I asked the immigration official what would have happened if I didn’t have enough cash, and she just said we’d hold on to your passport and you can just walk the 20 meters to the ATM to get cash and come back!
So there’s nothing to be scared of here. If you don’t have enough money, know that there is an ATM you can withdraw money from when you arrive. The Belize Water Taxi people purposely told us there was no ATM so they could exchange money with us at terrible rates as a way to almost hold us hostage!
Getting to Bacalar, Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, and Cancun
From the Chetumal immigration office, most people will want to continue northward to other destinations in Mexico. I was on my way to Cozumel for more diving, so I needed to get to Playa Del Carmen.
The option I read about was to taxi to the ADO bus station (there were many taxis waiting at the immigration office) for about 40 pesos and take a frequently running bus northward. There are buses that leave for Cancun every hour, and they make stops in Tulum, Playa, and Cancun. The cost of a bus to Playa is about 250 pesos.
There was also a shuttle service at the immigration office that offered to take us to those same destinations. It cost more, but it left from the immigration office and was in a van as opposed to a bus. The cost from Chetumal to Playa Del Carmen was 500 pesos. To Bacalar was 200 pesos, Tulum was 400, and Cancun was 600.
I ended up going with this service as it just seemed more convenient, even though I have heard that the ADO buses are very nice!
Summary of the day
All in all, I departed Caye Caulker at 7am and arrived in Playa Del Carmen just before 6pm. This was the schedule for the day
- 7am: Depart Caye Caulker
- 8am: Arrive in San Pedro
- 9am: Depart San Pedro
- 12pm (Chetumal time which is +1 to Belize): Arrive in Chetumal Immigration
- 1pm: Cleared Immigration in Chetumal
- 1:30pm: On the shuttle towards Cancun
- 6pm: Arrive in Playa Del Carmen
Going from Mexico to Caye Caulker, Belize
If you are doing my route in reverse, aka going from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, Bacalar, Mahahual to Caye Caulker, Belize, the same things will apply. Follow these steps
- ADO bus from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, Bacalar to Chetumal
- Take a short taxi from the ADO bus station in Chetumal to the ferry station
- Pay the 535 MXN to exit the country. This actually makes sense since if you’re not flying home from Mexico, you have not paid this departure tax
- Pay the 110 BZD for the Belize Water Taxi ferry
- Enter Belize and clear immigration in San Pedro
- Continue on to Caye Caulker