Moving from the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico to Belize is an incredibly easy thing to do. The highway is direct, the buses are plentiful, and you can quite easily transport your way on a bus or minivan without trouble. However, depending on how you make your way through this region, you can either pay quite a lot of money or in true backpacker style save it for some drinks and accommodation at your next destination.
With that in mind, we did some research and then performed this trip like proper backpackers and are happy to share our methods with you all. No matter if you leave from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum (or anywhere inbetween), this guide will help you save and have you sipping a beer or two in Belize!
Getting to Chetumal
All roads lead to Chetumal when heading south from Mexico to Belize, as from here you can either make your way across the border via bus, boat (out to the caye’s), or even plane (not mentioned here but can be done by Tropic Air).
If you are heading to Belize City, we would not recommend booking the “new” direct bus that ADO has, as it is more than double the cost of taking more local transportation once you reach Chetumal. Here are the best routes for budget travelers:
From Cancun / Playa del Carmen / Tulum -> Chetumal:
By Bus: There is no cheaper or easier way from these locations (and in-between) than to catch an ADO bus to Chetumal. Of course this only becomes cheaper if you book in advance, and fair warning if you try to book a ticket on the day you will pay more than the cost of taking other methods of transportation.
Our route involved taking an ADO bus from Cancun to Tulum, staying a few nights (pre-arranged), and then another ADO bus from Tulum to Chetumal. In all we saved approximately 30-40MXN peso (not much) using direct, pre-paid ADO buses over colectivos.
If you want to save even more money, don’t bother with ADO and instead use one of the many 2nd class buses which depart regularly from Tulum going to Chetumal. Head to the ADO bus station in Tulum as they leave from here and ask about a schedule and to purchase a ticket.
By Colectivo: Next cheapest, and actual cheapest if you don’t book ADO tickets in advance, there are many that run the coast between Cancun and Tulum. You will have to change in Playa del Carmen to another colectivo, and then again in Tulum.
It is actually quite difficult to find colectivo’s heading to Chetumal from Tulum, so combining this with a 2nd class bus (or an ADO) is your best bet.
Chetumal is the last big town before the Mexico / Belize border so your options here are many.
From Chetumal -> Caye Caulker / Ambergris Caye
You have the option of going from Chetumal directly to the Caye’s and there are a few companies that leave in the afternoon (check the schedules though as they may not go everyday) at around 3pm.
We would not recommend going from Chetumal as the one-way tickets are priced at around US$50-55 (depending if you go Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye), whereas the same boat from Belize City will only set you back US$15-20 one way to the same destinations. It is well worth taking the extra step and getting to Belize City, especially if you have left early enough from Mexico as boats continue to leave Belize City until 5:30pm.
From Chetumal -> Belize City
By bus: Bus is pretty much your only option (unless you’re heading to the Caye’s via boat) to get into Belize, and it is located in a different spot than the ADO terminal. Of course you can change your mind at this point and book an ADO to Belize City, but the local buses only cost $6US as opposed to ADO costing more than double that, and they go the same way and end up at the same bus station in Belize City.
If you’re happy for a little adventure, hop into a taxi (don’t pay more than 40-50MXN peso) and ask to go to the Nuevo Mercado Bus Estacion (“New Market Bus Station”).
December 2017 Update: The buses now depart from Antigua Terminal (no longer from the Nuevo Mercado Bus Estacion)
This is where the Belize-based buses depart Mexico, and as mentioned should cost around $6US.
From the Nuevo Mercado Bus Station you will take a converted “Blue-bird” American school bus to Belize City – the adventure and story of taking one of these amazing buses should be enough to make you want to take one! In addition, you are saving money and as an added bonus the overhead luggage racks were big enough to fit our large backpacker bags so we could keep an eye on them.
From Belize City
We didn’t want to hang around Belize City for long as we had heard it was more of a transit town. If you are staying the night, congratulations, you have made it to your final destination! If you are continuing on, here are your options:
From Belize City -> Caye Caulker / Ambergris Caye
Hop into a taxi or one of the buses that are heading towards the water (ask if you are taking a bus to see if they’ll drop you off as it isn’t far and would be cheaper) and make your way to the dock of the water taxi you are taking.
From what we can see, Belize Water Taxi has the best online presence and you can pre-book tickets if you like on their website. As stated, departures continue until 5:30pm but with any kind of travel, the earlier the better in our eyes.
From Belize City -> San Ignacio (or towards Hopkins and the east coast of Belize)
By bus: our route saw us continuing on to San Ignacio to enjoy what the town had to offer, though from the bus terminal in Belize City you could easily go to other destinations including Hopkins and other towns to the south and on the east coast of Belize. There are many direct and/or express buses to San Ignacio, where you will once again take a converted American school bus.
If you can help it, don’t take an ‘express’ bus as they cost more and they consider ‘direct’ buses to be different (who knows why). Expect to pay approximately $5US for this route from Belize City.
From San Ignacio or any other location in Belize, you can continue on or return to Belize City if required just as easily as you went – by bus, or boat.
We have to thank the amazing blog called Belize Bus and Travel Guide who not only offer up-to-date information on Belize bus travel, but are also quick to answer any questions or comments that get posted on their site. Without them we would have spent a lot more money getting to our final destination, so show them so love if you’re ever trying to make your way around Belize!
Comment below on your travels through this region and even let us know if you know of a better way of doing things – we are always interested!