A few short days on Caye Caulker, a couple more exploring Cayo, and that was it. We opted to leave Belize and continue our Central American adventure. Make no mistake, Belize does have a lot more to offer, but still conscious of the great distances and (yes, very slowly, but still) dwindling time we were working with, we decided to carry on.
San Ignacio is 16 kilometres from the Guatemalan border. The cheapest way to get there is to take a bus to Benque Viejo del Carmen, and then take a taxi the remaining distance to the border. We ended up finding a taxi who was willing to do the trip for 10 USD from San Ignacio, which was marginally more expensive than doing it the other way. We opted for the ease and timeliness of the taxi option, and piled into an old-school van. About halfway along, the driver had problems getting the van into gear, and we ended up stopping at the side of the road while we waited for an alternate ride. A young man came long in an unmarked car, and we continued on our way to the border. We were dropped off amid a crowd of men exchanging currency. Here you will find official and unofficial currency agents; the unofficial ones are likely to give you a better rate (look for the absence of a tag hanging round their necks), just be sure to count carefully and check for ripped or damaged bills. We exchanged our last remaining Belizean dollars for Quetzal, Guatemala’s official currency. We had been told (rightfully so) that US dollars were not widely accepted in Guatemala. 1 USD = 7.74 GTQ (finally blowing a hole in my simple math of tenths and halves for pesos and Belizean dollars). The rate at the border is going to be worse than elsewhere, but it’s often the only way to get rid of any outstanding currency from the previous country.
We passed through the Belizean half of border security without a problem. Here, we were asked to pay 18.75 USD departure tax, including a conservation fee. We received exit stamps from Belize, and walked to the other side of the border. Once we emerged from Belizean immigration, we were immediately asked by numerous people if we would like taxis, buses, or shuttles to a number of different destinations. Heeding to the advice in our guidebook about being diligent at borders, as officials are often not, we wandered around a little bit until we found the Guatemalan entrance control area. You could easily walk right past it, but don’t. We received our official entrance stamps (along with having to pay an entrance fee – I’m unsure of whether this was an official one or not). We’d read, been told, and been reassured by a number of people that Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua are part of an agreement called the Central America 4, which means that one entrance fee and one stamp are required to travel freely within the four countries. Apparently sometimes, in practice, this is not always the case. Time will tell on this front!
Finally, we were ready to continue on. There is a helpful, English-speaking information officer posted in a booth close to the immigration desks. She was able to direct us to our next destination: Tikal.