Perhaps being from an island nation, the concept of a land border was quite foreign and rather daunting to us. Not to mention the fact that our first crossing would certainly be off the beaten track. Despite all this, by the end of the day we were feeling quietly proud of our first “real adventure”.
Step by step instructions for the Frontera Corozal Border Crossing – Palenque, México – Flores, Guatemala:
• It’s an early start (6AM) to reach Flores in 1 day. Alternatively, you might like to split this trip into a few days and spend time at the Yaxchilan Ruins at the border.
• From Palenque catch a colectivo (minivan) from the terminal 2 stores to the right (as you exit) of the ADO bus terminal on Carraterra a la Zona Arqueologica. Tip: type “ADO Palenque” into google maps and it will pop up.
• Colectivo cost: 90 pesos per person (2015). You will need to be there at 7am. Like any collectivo there is only a rough schedule so be patient. You may leave at 7am – 8am. The vans are tightly packed. Comfort should not be at the front of your mind.
• The ride to Frontera Corozal turn off takes 2.5 hours and is at the second major turn off en route. People on the vans are usually happy to point out your stop so long as you ask. Have a map on hand to point at if your spanish is poor.
• The van lets you off directly in front of a small taxi stand. Be sure to haggle your price before getting in the taxi and ensure your price is for the number of people travelling (eg. “Para dos”). Fare approx 40 pesos for 10 minutes.
• The taxi driver will drop you at the Mexican immigration centre which is 150 metres from the boats. Get your passport stamped and see our tip below for avoiding the 350 peso departure tax which is not compulsory.
• By the time you have left the immigration office 1 or more boatmen will have probably offered you their service to cross the river to the Guatemalan side. If not continue down the road for 100m (seriously this place is small!) and purchase your trip across the river.
• Prices per boat should be 400 pesos or less as the amount of people increases. The boat takes approx 30 minutes upstream and is a nice relaxing ride.
• Upon docking at Bethel walk up the bank 200m to the first shop on the left. Inside a lady sells chips and drinks but can offer a reasonable money exchange (do your math prior). It’s easier to buy tickets on board the bus, Q70, 4 hours.
• There is no timetable for the bus. Expect to wait (this is why an early start is recommended). Alternatively you could try haggle a lower price with the occasional tour shuttles that have dropped their passengers at the border and are returning empty.
• The bus ride to Flores is a long, straight, bumpy and dusty ride but also offers some beautiful views of rural Guatemala. The locals are friendly and will greet everyone on board with a “buenas tardes” when boarding the bus.
• After 3 hours you will see the welcoming site of a sealed road. A further hour will see you to the final stop of Terminal de Central Buses – Terminal Central de Buses, 6a Avenida, Flores, Peten, Guatemala.
• Depending on your level of energy either taxi or walk the 2.5km to Flores Island.
• To avoid the 362 peso departure tax you need to be polite. Remember these guys are the officials. The above departure tax is not compulsory. Let the official know you will just need to pop outside (pull out your cellphone while doing this) to call your embassy for them to explain the purpose of the tax and then you’ll be more than happy to pay. At this point the official will back down. If not, consider how much you want to push things. We did not have the balls to do this but gave this advice to the Canadian man behind us and he did not have to pay a thing. It does work, just be polite!
• Flores is a tourist hub with men greeting you as “amigos” and ready to offer you an “unbelievable deal”. Do not engage with these street tour operators. Go straight to your planned hostel and arrange a tour through a reputable company – we found Los Amigos to be great and accountable for their services. Or better yet, look at public transport options to get to Tikal etc.