How to get from Bacalar to Caye Caulker: 4 ways to cross from Mexico to Belize
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Any destination change that requires a border crossing, several land legs and a water crossing to an island is always going to be complicated. Luckily, I’ve done all the hard work for you and sussed out how to get from Bacalar to Caye Caulker in 4 different ways, depending on the level of your patience, your tolerance for discomfort and the size of your wallet. Prep hard for this one, chicos. Due to early last departures and a likelihood of landing in traffic, it’s best to go as early as you can with everything worked out in your head in case shit hits the ventilador. Here are your 4 best journey options; best of luck!
After this guide to how to get from Bacalar to Caye Caulker, you might also want to have a quick read of:
Probably the simplest way to get from Bacalar to Caye Caulker is to take the bus to Chetumal, get a taxi to the San Pedro Water Jets office on the main pier (El Muelle Fiscal) and hop on the once-daily 3:30pm ferry to San Pedro. You then connect to another ferry which takes you to Caye Caulker. You arrive at 6pm, and will have been set back $65 one way.
Bacalar to Caye Caulker by Land
– Option 1
Most hostels will offer some sort of shuttle to get from Bacalar to Belize City. These will have the luxury of a direct pick-up and drop-off to the ferry docks at the other end, but are pricier, at around 600 pesos. You’ll need to book your seat a day or two before departure to guarantee a space.
– Option 2
The cheaper way to do the journey of option 3 is to get the direct ADO bus from Bacalar to Belize City, which takes 4 hours. It costs 405 pesos which is a bargain for how far you’re going, but there is one slight issue… It leaves at 4:50am. That means unless you can arrange a taxi with your accommodation, you’ll be walking the 15 or so minutes to the terminal from the town centre with your luggage. Not ideal, but if you’re in a group it’s not particularly unsafe.
It’s a good idea to go to the ADO bus terminal the morning before to plan your route from Bacalar to Caye Caulker and buy your direct bus ticket to Belize City. By the time we got there in the late afternoon of the day before departure, the direct bus was already sold out, and that’s why we got to know the more complicated way to get from Bacalar to Caye Caulker 😉
If you manage to nab a seat on one of the shortcut options from Bacalar to Belize City, skip straight to step 6 of The Long Way. The rest of you unfortunate lot, come with me…
The Long Way
1. Catch the bus to Chetumal
Unlike the direct route from Bacalar to Belize City, the bus to Chetumal leaves frequently throughout the day. However, since the last boats to Caye Caulker leave at 5:30pm, try and get on the earliest bus at 10:15am. It will take 40 minutes to get to Chetumal by bus and costs 45 pesos.
Note, this route can also be picked up from other Mexican destinations such as Tulum, where bus departures will be a few times a day at least, but again, catch the earliest one possible. It’s an extra 278 pesos to get to Bacalar from Tulum.
2. Barter your hardest for a taxi to the border
Now, you need to get to the Santa Elena immigration office, which requires an 18 minute drive. As soon as you leave Chetumal bus terminal, you’ll be hounded by taxi drivers trying to get you into their car for a ridiculous price. We eventually got them to bring out a laminated card with their official (much lower) prices for each destination, but soon realised that the other side had the exact same destinations but translated into Spanish with much better prices.
We tried to argue for those rates, but they wouldn’t take it from a group of 4 foreigners and we eventually got the ride for 200 pesos between us. With all our backpacks, this was an uncomfortable squish!
3. Grab a stamp
It’s border crossing time! Your Chetumal taxi driver will take you to the Santa Elena border, stopping first to get an exit stamp on the Mexican side. He will then drop you off outside the Belizean immigration office. We were pretty scared we’d get hit with a huge 1,150 pesos Mexico exit fee which we’d read about online from all sorts of sources that completely contradicted each other. But in truth, this Mexico exit fee is only applicable to air travel. At land crossings, you pay nothing.
4. Grab another stamp
Welcome to Belize! Enter the immigration building, pick up an immigration form from the front desk, fill it in and wait in line to be checked by passport control… Or if you’re lucky like we were you’ll be the only ones there and get whizzed right through with a smile. For North Americans and most European passport-holders, there is no need to pay for a visa for the first 30 days.
5. Ride the chicken bus down to Belize City
The Belize City chicken bus – run by multiple companies at least once an hour – can pick you up from outside the Belize immigration office. It costs 100 pesos and takes just over 3 hours, with the last bus leaving at 6:30pm.
Unfortunately, we bought into a taxi driver’s story outside the office and got in his car to be taken to Corozal bus terminal, which is just another stop on the bus route we would have taken.
The guy probably felt a little guilty as he then exchanged our leftover Mexican pesos into Belize Dollars at a slight loss. He also offered to take the 4 of us directly down to Belize City for 150 USD, which would have taken 2 and a half hours, but we decided we wanted a more authentic experience, and so hopped onto the chicken bus at Corozal.
You made it to Belize City, hurray! Not long to go now; just a sweltering walk through the city with all your luggage to get through. Belize City is known as a dangerous place, so if you’d prefer a taxi there will be drivers waiting outside the bus terminal, but in a group of us in broad daylight we felt comfortable to walk the 15 minutes to the ferry docks on North Front Street, south of the Swing Bridge. We followed locals’ instructions to walk down Orange Street as it was much safer.
7. Get yourself onto a ferry
The last leg of your journey from Bacalar to Caye Caulker! Once you get to the Swing Bridge, you’ll start to see the more touristic style of the docks, and you may even get caught by a touter for one of the major ferry companies, trying to get you onboard. San Pedro Belize Express is one of the cheaper options, with an open return costing $32 USD, but its last departure for Caye Caulker is at 4:30pm. If you get there later, Ocean Ferry can offer you a boat at 5:30pm for $36 USD. If you miss this, you’ll have to stay overnight in Belize city; Bella Sombra Guesthouse is a good option not far from the ferry docks.
The ferry from Belize City takes just 45 minutes to sail you into paradise. Having left Bacalar at 10:15am, we arrived on the island at 3:45pm.
So congratulations, you managed to get from Bacalar to Caye Caulker in one piece! The key to surviving this journey is definitely lots of planning, patience and some excellent bartering skills. Luckily, Caye Caulker is a destination that is 100% worth the effort of getting there.
Comparing the overall costs of each Bacalar to Caye Caulker journey: