Update October 2015 – Everything in this post is still accurate. The only thing we want to add is that many airlines charge you the departure tax on your ticket. If you go to the airline ticket site and push the DETAILS button, it will show you an itemized list of all the fees you pay. If the Mexican departure tax is there, print out the itemized form. Present it to the departing officer when you leave the country and he will accept the form in lieu of another $25.
The vast majority of our guests fly directly to Belize City from their US or Canadian point of departure (for the latest on airfares to Belize City check this webpage.) But we often get asked about alternative ways of getting to Belize and one of the more popular alternatives involves flying to Cancun, Mexico then taking a bus to Belize City.
Cancun gets more US/Canada visitation than Belize City so it usually has cheaper airfares. We’ve blogged about this route several times but we’ve yet to spell out clear, step-by-step instructions on how to do it. This post is our attempt to correct that situation. So, if you’ve decided you’d like to add even more spice to your Slickrock Adventures adventure by traveling by bus from Cancun, here’s how you do it.
Basically, you are going to book a flight from your departure city to Cancun, Mexico. On the day you travel, after you walk off the plane in Cancun you will clear customs and immigration and then buy a ticket to Belize City at the ADO bus ticket window in the airport terminal. The bus departs the airport at 10:30 pm, travels all night and arrives the next morning in Belize City.
Step 1: Booking your flight
Booking your flight to Cancun is fairly straight forward. The key thing is allowing yourself enough time for the overnight bus trip. Since the bus leaves at 10:30 p.m. you also don’t want to arrive too early. Select your flight based on its arrival time using a site like Kayak.com which allows you to sort your search results by Departure Landing (late to early) — first you search, then after the results page finishes, you re-sort using the “Sort By” option in the upper right corner.
In choosing your dates make sure to take into account the extra day for the bus ride down and back. For example, if you are going on our Adventure Island trip (whether half week or full week) your trip will begin either early Friday evening or Tuesday evening at 5 p.m. at the Biltmore Hotel. That would mean you would need to book a flight to Cancun a full day earlier, either Thursday or Monday. I did some test searches and most major US departure cities seemed to have a mid-afternoon flight and an evening flight to Cancun. My test (times are arrival times at Cancun): JFK – 3:10 pm, 9:45 pm; ATL – 2:45 pm, 7:34 pm; MIA – 5:05 pm, 8;05 pm; LAX – 2:45 pm, 5:01 pm.)
Step 2: Taking the flight and getting on the bus
On the day of your flight, you will arrive at the Cancun airport and proceed to customs. Mexican customs are slightly different than the restrictions fliers face in America. A simple red light / green light process occurs to determine if a tourist’s bags are to be searched or not. I’m not sure what the rate of searches is, but I can assure you that when they do search your bag it is rather extensive. Make sure to indicate on your form that you are in transit to Belize when they ask you where your destination is.
Exiting the Airport:
Once clearing customs, about 50 different taxi drivers are going to ask you if you need a ride. Politely refuse, and continue walking through the terminal. It is not necessary to change your US money into pesos unless you are planning on staying in Mexico for awhile (US dollars are accepted in Belize.) The ADO bus ticket counter will take your US dollars and give you change in Pesos. The counter is located to the right of the international terminal about 75 yards. If you get confused, just ask one of the many people trying to sell you a taxi ride — everyone speaks english at the airport.
At the counter, purchase your ticket to Belize City and ask for directions to the bus. Then board it or repair to a cafe if you have a long wait.
Step 3: Taking the bus to Belize City
The bus has luxurious accomodations (for a bus) and the seats recline almost flat so it is easily possible to get a good night’s sleep. Here’s a handy checklist of things to consider bringing along for the bus trip:
- Travel neck pillow (preferably inflatable)
- Throw blanket (night buses are cold!)
- Comfy outfit for sleeping
- Eye mask
- Over-the-counter sleeping pills to make sure you actually sleep
- Water (enough to avoid dehydration, but not so much as to prompt the use of the bathroom on board)
- Hand sanitizer (avoid the bus bathroom at all costs, but if you must use it then make sure to disinfect everything you can afterwards)
- Snack (bus station food is a gamble sometimes and you can’t be guaranteed there will be stops)
- A book for reading
The ADO BUS leaves from Terminal #3 which is the international terminal. It leaves at 10:30 pm and goes to Playa Del Carmen and Tulum for brief stops before arriving at the Mexican border. There you have to have your passport document (a small paper that you got when you arrived through Mexican Immigration at the airport) to give to the Mexican border immigration. If you have been in the country just in transit (i.e. you arrived and took the bus directly) you will pay $25 US to get past the Mexican border. The bus will let you off and wait for everyone to finish this process and re-board.
The bus will then proceed to the Belize border where it will stop before passing the border and let everyone off again. You must take all of your luggage through Belize immigration for your passport to be stamped. You will then walk on through to customs where you will possibly have your bags checked. If you have items to claim they will charge you the duty right there. You walk on through the out doors and re-board the ADO bus. When everyone has completed this process, the bus will travel the rest of the trip to the Belize City Bus station. Now you can sleep for the remainder of the trip.*
Step 4: Getting to the Biltmore Hotel
The bus will arrive in the early morning. Once you disembark the bus in Belize City, any taxi can take you to the Biltmore Hotel. They will know where it is. Simply say, “Take me to the Biltmore.”
Belize City Bus Terminal to the Biltmore Hotel
Once at the hotel, you will have plenty of time to kill before you meet your guide at 5:30 p.m. that evening. The hotel will most likely not allow you to check into your room until noon or perhaps as late as 3 p.m. but tell them you are with Slickrock Adventures and they will most likely store your bags for you and you will be able to hang out by the pool and in the restaurant.
We also have this in-depth guide on what to do in Belize, and more specifically, Belize City Attractions:
* Thanks to TripAdvisor forum poster Linny1007 of San Ignacio, Belize for a nice update on the situation at the airport and border.