Sunday, April 13, 2014

Crossing the border between Belize and Guatemala

1: Parking area Belize Customs, 2: Belize Customs building, 3: Pesticide spraying installation (take the right-hand footpath past it, 4: Belize Customs, 5: Gate (don't pay the fee), 6: Customs agent for a photocopier
Automatic pesticide spraying
We were told this could be a difficult border to cross. It wasn't but it sure was the most frustrating one yet. Frustrating because of the way the Guatemalan border guards treat you. To put it politely, they treat you as inferior human beings. I'm not too worried about the process itself, yes it's archaic and yes it's ridiculous, but I kind of expected that. What I had not expected is to be kept 'on a leash' for 3 hours for no reason whatsoever while we had all our paperwork perfectly in order, and be treated like s^%t in the process. Still, could be worse. A friend of ours was punched in the face by one of them…(!) when he wanted to leave Guatemala for asking a question… 

The boy in the yellow shorts showed us where to
go using sign language, he didn't ask for anything
but we gave him a couple of Quetzals
Checking out of Belize is straight forward. It's a reversal of the entry process and just as easy. Ride up to the parking area '1' just before the gate, park your bike and walk to the Customs building '2'. The process is pretty simple and involves little more than paying your exit fee (37 B$,-), getting your passport stamped, cancel the vehicle permits and off you go. Belize is easy going all the way from entry to exit. No worries Man!

As you will need some Guatemalan money, you'll have to deal with rather louche money-changers at the border. You know the type, they all look like the mafia wearing slick shoes, big sunglasses and a wallet full of cash. The first one offered us 2.5 Quetzals to the Belizean dollar. Don't even talk to him, he'll only tell you lies about the others giving you the same. The going rate has been a minimum of 3.5 for years.

You ride up to the border guards, they check your paperwork and you're away. Bye bye Belize, welcome no-mans-land. Before entering Guatemala your motorcycle will have to be sprayed for pesticides again. Cars, trucks and buses have to ride through the gate '3' where automatic sprayers will put them in a haze of pesticides… closing the windows and any air vents is a good idea :-)

For motorcycles it's an even better idea to forget the gate and take the footpath next to the automatic sprayers, on the right, as you will be covered in pesticides if you don't. The first building after the automatic sprayer is where they'll do your bike by hand (Q12,- per bike). It's always a good idea to be at the border early to avoid busloads of people in front of you. You will need copies of the following: passport, registration document of the motorcycle and drivers license… if you have all that at hand, the process should be simple and quick, should be. It wasn't. The problem starts with the Guatemalan Customs, who are in building '4'. They stamp your passport (Q20,- each) and then require a photocopy of your passport showing their stamp in it… You can't make that in advance and they will not stamp any copy you made at forehand either. As they do not have a copying machine you'll have to walk over the bridge, take the old bridge on the right to avoid cars and trucks, get your copy made at the Customs agent '6' and walk back again to building '4', and of course rejoin the queue from the back… Like I said, the process took us all in all 3 hours and at the end both Mike and Jeanette were ready to murder them. Not so much because of the time it took, but their attitude. The Guatemalan authorities should be happy you want to come to Guatemala, you will be spending money there after all, maybe they could use some of it to give their employees a course in courtesy.

When you are, finally, allowed to enter Guatemala, you cross the bridge over the Mopan River. They will try to make you pay a fee at gate '5'… don't as there is no official need for it. Keep on going on the Western Highway, on the right you will see a petrol station which also has an ATM. Get your money from that, and if you are going to Tikal take out lots of it :-)