Upon my budget traveller’s high horse in 2013, I had decided that we would not support the tourist bus monopoly between Flores (Guatemala) and Palenque (Mexico). In my infinite wisdom, I had decided that the US$30 fare was extortionate and that doing the journey by local transport couldn’t possibly be THAT difficult.
Getting from Flores to Frontera Corozal
The minibus to the Guatemalan border town of Bethel was due to depart at around 5am. Our less than helpful hostel in Flores wouldn’t book us a taxi for the ride to the Santa Elena bus station, assuring us that there would be plenty of taxis on the street in the morning. As predicted, there was not a taxi in sight. We began the 3km trudge to the bus station in the dark dodging around pigs and the odd drunk wandering the streets.
Once we arrived, we were told by a ‘helpful’ local that the minibus was full and that our only option was the tourist bus. He was even kind enough to offer to arrange our tickets at an inflated price and drop us off at the tour company. Thankfully, a bus attendant started yelling across the station that our bus was due to depart. Off we trotted to the minibus feeling quite proud of ourselves.
The good feelings were short lived though when we realised just how many people they had jammed into this minibus. We ended up pretty much sitting on the gear stick for four hours bouncing along ridiculously poor condition dirt roads. The speedometer, fuel gauge and temperature gauge did not work. We were also getting laughed and stared at, but we have grown used to this over the years!
After a couple of hours, the bus was pulled over by the local police. Everyone was offloaded and asked to show their passports. We were sure we were about to be shaken down for a bribe, but the officers looked at our passports with some amusement then put us back on the bus. I’m not sure the other passengers were so lucky.
We soon stopped at the Guatemalan border office where we were stamped out. We were also half-heartedly asked for a ‘departure tax’ but the official soon gave up when it was clear we knew we didn’t have to pay.
Getting from Frontera Corozal to Palenque
Once we arrived at the Usumacinta river, we were offloaded from the bus and sent to the riverside to catch a boat over the river into Mexico. We thankfully had our own rickety boat for a few of dollars, and it seemed relatively safe. Once on the Mexican side at Frontera Corozal, it was a short walk up the hill to Mexican immigration. We paid our entry fees and made sure our passport was stamped correctly, then found a taxi driver outside who drove us to meet the minibus headed for Palenque for another couple of dollars.
After another few hours, we finally made it to Palenque. It had turned into a 10 hour day with plenty of shitty transport and not a word of English. All in all, we maybe saved US$15 each. I’m sad to say the moral of this story is catch the tourist shuttle and save yourself the hassle!