In my quest to find good information I came across lots of warnings of safety and hassles at the border if you’re not with a tour group. I experienced nothing of the sort. It was very simple and hassle-free. Still, remain cautious on the road and don’t stop for strangers, especially after dark.
My goal was to drive to Tikal for a day trip and make it back to San Ignacio, Belize by nightfall. This is very doable if you leave before 9am. We left later and got caught in the dark driving back. If you get caught driving in the dark in Guatemala you’ll just have to slow down and be more cautious. There were no road markers and street lights to warn of sudden curves in the road, speed bumps, animals, people on bikes, etc. Most of the road is nicely paved. Some areas were under construction.
When you approach the border on the Belize side you’ll have to park your car and walk through the immigration building for the exit process from Belize. This is where you’ll get approached by the Belizean money changers. Be sure to research what the going rate is the day you go. These guys will get you if you lack that knowledge. The rate this day was 7.9 Quetzals (GTC) for $1USD. He started with 7.0 and after some haggling I talked him up to 7.5. I may have been able to talk him up some more but time was a wasting for my day trip. He made about $4 bucks off me and I was okay with that. Beware – he may try to talk you into getting much more than you need, as he did with me. This way when you come back he could get you again to change the money back. I fell for it and he got me for another $4 bucks coming back. Here’s a summary of the basics you’ll need to get by on a day trip (August 6, 2010). Of course adjust accordingly if you want souvenirs, more food, or are staying the night. Surprisingly, souvenirs were rather pricey. If you don’t like the rate the Belizean money changers are giving you can take your chance on the other side with the Guatemalan money changers.
Fee to spray the car 18.50 GTC
Entry fee for the car/insurance 40.00 GTC
Entry into Tikal 150.00 GTC (per person)
My lunch (nachos, 2 beers) 50.00 GTC
Tikal map 25.00 GTC
Proceed to walk through Belize immigration to exit. You’ll have to pay the $37.50BZ exit fee. For some reason I only had to pay $30BZ even though the sign clearly said $37.50BZ. I could only surmise that I didn’t have to pay the $7.50 tax since I was only going for the day (???). I really don’t know. Walk all the way through and when you’re out the door on the other side one person will have to walk back and get the car while any other people wait there.
When you drive past the Belize guard you’ll immediately see two bays side-by-side that look like a self-serve car wash. Drive through the bay on the right side to have your car sprayed. This is some sort of pesticide agent required to allow your car entry. When you exit the bay pull off to the right by the one story building. Park there and approach the facing window to pay the 18.50 GTC for the spray. Note – after you get sprayed is when you can deal with Guatemalan money changers if needed. You will need GTC to pay for the spray and car entry so this would be your last chance.
After paying for the spray, walk across the street to the immigration building for entry into Guatemala. After you get the passport stamped, at the same counter to the left, there are two stations where you go to submit the paperwork for the car. You’ll need the car’s title registration and a copy of the driver’s passport. If you rent a car from Crystal’s in Belize tell the rental agent you’re going to Tikal and they’ll assemble all the paperwork for your entry. They’ll even make a copy of your passport for you. I think Crystal’s is the only rental car agency in Belize that allows you to take a car to Guatemala so consider this when planning for a rental car. In fact, the officer behind the Guatemala counter asked me if I rented from Crystal’s. I said, “Yes”, handed him the paperwork Crystal’s assembled for me and off he went. He’ll hand you a paper for you to take to the bank, right there in the same area (look for the guard with the big gun), to pay the 40.00 GTC. The bank will stamp the paper after you pay and you bring it back to him. Finally, he’ll give you copies of the paperwork and a sticker you have to stick on your window. That’s it. You’re off.
The first thing you’ll see is a bridge crossing a river. I read of locals collecting a toll to cross the bridge. The fee could be anywhere from 10.00 GTC to $10 USD. That day there was no one collecting. After you cross the bridge continue going straight. Any turns to Tikal will be clearly marked.
When you come back you’ll have to exit through immigration and turn in the paperwork and the sticker they gave you for the car. You’ll drive through the car wash bay again to get the car sprayed for Belize entry and pay $10BZ for that spray. Walk through Belize immigration. You’re back.