Belize and Guatemala: two countries literally right next to each other. You’d think getting from one to the other would be easy, right?
In the words of Arnie: wrong.
Big Zucker Lied
Ladies and gentleman, I have a word of warning for you: at times the Internet, Google, and even Facebook lie. When researching how to get from Colombia to Belize, we discovered it was far cheaper to fly to Guatemala City, Guatemala. Guatemala borders Belize, and the Internet informed me that from here it would be a mere 8-10 hours by bus to Belize City, with multiple departures during the day.
We thus planned for one night in Guatemala City in a nice hotel, from where we would be able to visit the old town, book our tickets at the bus station, and have a few liquid refreshments. Easy.
There are actually two bus stations in the old town, both within walking distance of each other. One station offered a couple of options but was fresh out of tickets, so it was to the second station we went. This station had no direct options, but did offer tickets to the island of Flores (not in Belize, but close enough). A plan was formulated: the 10 a.m.-6 p.m. bus to Flores, spend a night on the beautiful island, and be on our merry way. Good plan.
As we were in the old town of Guatemala City, we decided to have a few beers and some street food. To say the place was weird would be an understatement, but it was also super cool, and very buzzing due to a major football game that was being televised. The bars were like something I would expect from 1900s backwater Mexico with raucous music, traditionally dressed women, and shady goings-on in the numerous 24-hour hotels. My kinda town. We also indulged in some extremely good street meat, which in these parts always comes with rice and beans.
We took things easy in preparation for our 10 a.m. bus, arriving at 09:50. Local custom dictated that we didn’t leave until 11, and valium dictated that I slept for the first 6 hours. Upon waking we were in the mother of all traffic jams, with our 8-hour journey taking a mammoth 16 hours. We eventually arrived at 3:30 a.m., which at least meant that we were on time for our 5 a.m. bus to Belize.
To get from the bus station to Belize you can buy a normal ticket, or head to the tourist mecca of Flores Island and get one of the tourist mini-buses. It also meant that we had about an hour to explore this tiny island, which looked great in the dark. The many restaurants and views of the lake made me wish I had more time to visit properly.
The tourist mini-bus cost $20, and by mini-bus, they really meant mini-bus. I’m short and it was still quite the struggle. This notwithstanding, we reached the border in just over two hours. Crossing was a rather civilized affair, despite the fact that Belize and Guatemala are pretty much at war.
Ironically this easy journey was probably because we were all foreigners, as we had to disembark to go through customs. On foot we got through a good 40 minutes earlier than the bus.
A Trip to Belize
For the next 3 hours, we drove through the countryside of Belize. Whilst Guatemala might claim Belize as its own, the two places could not be more different. Belize is full-on Caribbean. Belize’s self-identity was immediately evident as soon as we crossed the border: a sign in Spanish read “welcome to Belize” as opposed to “Belice”, Guatemala’s preferred spelling for the place.
Thankfully, this journey genuinely did take around 5 hours, and we were eating breakfast before 10 a.m. Breakfast was scrambled egg, a sausage, and something called a “Jimmy Cake”, which I would call a scone and a Yank would call a biscuit. Either way, it had no place on a breakfast table.
Our adventure continued with Island Shopping in Belize.