I think stories help keep facts memorable, so this is our story of our immigration troubles on the journey from Cancun to Caye Caulker and back again. Hopefully this will help you so you don’t get caught out the way we did. However, if you’re in a hurry then skip to the end for the important summary / learnings
Packing super light made it so easy during the long immigration queues because we had only one check-in backpack and one carry-on backpack.
Arriving in Cancun to a massive downpour with road flooding and no taxis available. Venturing out into the storm to find a taxi, colectivo or bus – anything that would get us back home. Trying a colectivo for the first time.
Being moved to the front of any immigration queue in Belize because we have a two year old – yay!
Finding a bakery that actually had soft bread (as opposed to stale) and moist cakes (as opposed to dry).
Not sure if this should be a lowlight but it’s too funny. While checking-in at the Chetumal ferry building Kenzo needed to go to the toilet so Ajay took him but he’d already wet himself, making a mess on the floor. Lui was eating an ice-cream while I was carrying him and trying to sort out the passports. He kept dropping it on the floor and himself as Carmelo and I kept trying to clean it up. Fortunately the cleaner came and cleaned it. Meanwhile there was a big queue behind us that was watching.
Later when we were at the front of the long immigration queue to leave Mexico, Ajay had to go to the ATM to get cash for the departure tax and I was carrying Lui in one hand and the passports in the other, stalling the officer so we wouldn’t have to wait in line again. Meanwhile Lui kept pulling the forms out of each passport and throwing it on the ground.
Running out of food for Kenzo and Lui on the four hour non-stop bus from Tulum to Chetumal.
Packing super light which meant Ajay and I had no jumpers on the bus so we got chilly thanks to the air conditioning.
Paying 200 pesos for a taxi from the Chetumal ADO bus station to the ferry building only to realise later that if we’d just walked a block down the road we would only have paid about 50 pesos!
Being caught without enough cash to pay the Mexican “entry” fees and Belizen exit fees. There are no Mexican entry or exit fees only a Tourism Tax.
Queuing in the pouring rain for a check-in process at San Pedro and then realising the desk was freshly painted so I had pain on my favourite dress – apparently there was a sign somewhere 🙁 the kids were laughing but I was fuming 😤 on the inside
Thinking we were super smart when we walked away from taxi offers to take us from the ferry building to the Chetumal ADO station for 100 pesos in two taxis because we were a family of six. We know the six of us legally can travel in one taxi in Mexico. We felt pretty cool when one of them followed us around the corner and offered us a ride for 60 pesos. We hopped in the car and told him to take us to the bank first so we could get cash out. He argued that we owed him 80 pesos because he didn’t know we needed a different ADO station in Chetumal. We argued that it was not fair. (He doesn’t speak English so we were speaking broken Spanish). I told him “anyway, we don’t have any money so we need to go to a bank.” He dropped Ajay to the bank. I still refused to pay 80 pesos so he opened my door and opened the boot so we could get out and get our luggage. I said, I’m only giving you 10 pesos. He said 20 pesos.
Ajay came outside upset that we were on the street. The taxi driver told us he would call the police and Ajay said Good! You told us 60 pesos and now you say 80 pesos. Ajay ordered us all to walk away from him which I did but I was worried the driver was going to create trouble if we didn’t give him some money for taking us to the bank. Ajay said No, he dropped my family in the middle of nowhere. We won’t pay him anything. Sure enough the driver didn’t call the police and we found a taxi super easily and he only charged us 30 pesos to get to the ADO.
First off we had to work out how we were going to get to Cancun from Caye Caulker and then get from Caye Caulker to Cancun. We found a number of options but I wanted to be sure it would work for our family.
– Fly from Cancun to Caye Caulker. This was going to be way too expensive at around NZD1200 per person so we didn’t opt for this.There would’ve been a transfer in Belize City.
– Fly from Cancun to Belize City then catch the water taxi to the island. This also was going to be an expensive option at NZD1000 per person just for flights so we didn’t research this further.
– 9 hour ADO Bus from Cancun to Belize City (NZD40-90) and then catch the 30 minute water taxi at NZD40.
– 6 hour ADO Bus from Cancun to Chetumal (NZD20-40) then catch the 2 hour water taxi to Caye Caulker for NZD90 per person
These ADO buses, even the most basic ones, are very comfortable. As one kiwi mum described them “I wish airplane seats were as comfortable as these.” They are soft and spacious and have a great recline for a comfortable sleep. Plus they are super affordable and you can buy tickets online.
In spite of these buses being comfortable I know that a nine hour journey on a bus could test the limits of a two and four year old, let alone a six hour bus ride. Also, there isn’t much of a wait time at each bus station for you to be able to go fetch food for the family, so you have to rely on having packed your own food before hand or buying snacks on the way. For this reason I opted for the Cancun to Chetumal six hour bus ride and the two hour ferry ride to Caye Caulker.
ADO tickets have a slow online booking system. Be patient with it because you get better prices using the website if you book ahead of time by even three days. Buses are not usually full (except in peak seasons) so you are usually safe to purchase them the day before.
Some sites say you can’t use American credit cards to purchase ADO tickets but that’s not true because they have an option to use PayPal which allows you to pick your currency and accepts many different credit cards and debit cards.
The most cost effective and comfortable option is to catch the ADO bus from Cancun to Belize City then the water taxi from Belize City to Cancun. You can then return the same way. This would’ve worked comfortable for children over five years old.
For under five year olds I recommend taking the ADO bus from Cancun to Chetumal and then the water taxi from Chetumal to Cancun. I also recommend returning the same way – read on to find out why I think so 🙂
Whether you buy your bus tickets in person at the ADO ticketing office or online, you will get to choose your seat.
Lui, my little two year old, loved sitting in the very front row so he could see the road ahead. It gave me options to distract him by counting the cars or guessing what kind of truck was coming. We even got to see a military convoy which looks pretty intimidating (for me) and fascinating (for Kenzo & Lui). I recommend the one behind the driver because this has a glass shield that stopped Lui from throwing toys on the driver and prevented us dropping food down as the kids leaned on the front rail.
The front seat behind the driver is fun because it allows the kids to see out the front and it has a glass wall to stop toys being dropped onto the driver. If you can’t get that seat then the next best seat is one with the TV screen directly in front of them so they can see the screen. The seats are so high that the little ones don’t have a chance of seeing the TV if they are in any other seat. It’s hit and miss with the movies, sometimes it’s a documentary which they enjoy or a cartoon which gets about 50% engagement.
The seats in the middle of the bus work for these kids. Not so near the back that you can smell the toilet and not so near the front that you get disturbed by new passengers getting on and off the bus. Oh! Remember to book an ADO that has a toilet, when you are booking your bus online it’s easy to see which to book. Only one of the lines does not have toilets.
Our journey from Cancun to Chetumal should’ve been straightforward. We made sure we were at the Central Cancun ADO station. There are a few ADO stations but the Chetumal bus only leaves from central. We opted for the 6am bus which meant we had to be there by 5:30am. The 6am bus, assuming it ran on time, would arrive by 12pm which would give us two hours to check in for our ferry to Caye Caulker.
I hadn’t slept all night because I had wanted to write some posts from our Chiapas trip. When there’s an early morning start I don’t sleep well anyway and Lui woke up at 3am to play so we were both tired by the time we were standing outside the gated complex waiting for a taxi to pass by. Carmelo and I were on one side of the road, Ajay and Giselle on the other so we could improve our odds. It was so quiet I didn’t think we’d have much luck hailing one down. I probably should’ve slept at least a few hours because my mind wasn’t very focused at this time: Carmelo had to turn me around because I was facing the wrong way. Then he laughed at me when a taxi went past and I didn’t notice it. Ajay and Giselle managed to hail a taxi a few minutes later and it was 30 pesos to central station.
We arrived at the station fifteen minutes later. The early start meant no-one was hungry for breakfast so Ajay & I had a coffee and Carmelo & Giselle had a drink. We had packed some snacks but ran out by 10am. There was only one stop on this particular route from Cancun to Chetumal and that was in Tulum, two hours after the journey begins. The remainder of the journey was non-stop for four hours. That meant two hours of entertaining Kenzo & Lui actively because they were hungry.
This was one of those trips that Ajay was adamant we would pack super light so he said we could only take one check-in backpack and one carry-on backpack. Carmelo, as always, impresses us with how light he travels packing only one spare t-shirt and a set of togs (and underwear obviously). Ajay and I packed two spare t-shirts. For Kenzo & Lui I packed a spare set of clothes for the carry-on backpack and two sets for the check-in. All the kids had a jumper for the bus ride because the A/C continuously blasts on the journey. Ajay and I ended up chilly without one. In hindsight, a light jumper would’ve been useful even for the island.
There are taxis immediately outside the station that are organised for you. Very convenient but they cost 200 pesos to get to the ferry building.
If you walk a block away you can hail a taxi for 40-60 pesos.
Once you reach the ferry building, you’ll need to check in so be sure to have snacks for the kids for that queue. More about that next.
Walk one block away from the waterfront main road and you’ll find streets with eating places including a bakery for a quick fix.
Make sure you check in with the appropriate ferry company one hour before the departure time. For us it was before 2pm because our ferry was at 3pm.Immigration opens at 2pm and processing time is super slow so be prepared for long wait times.
Bring your entry visa with you, issued by Mexico on arrival, otherwise you will have to pay for a replacement one. This visa is free if you’re from New Zealand on first entry and is valid for 180 days.
We had to pay the “exit fees” to leave Mexico which was 2800 pesos for five people. But actually there is no exit fee, only a tourism tax of 533 pesos (as of Jan 2019) per person which we had already paid on our airline tickets to leave Mexico and they last 180 days. On a side note, if you haven’t already paid it because you entered by land or boat, you can pay this at an HSBC bank and show them the receipt because most exit ports may overcharge you. You can find out how much it is here. It’s called Impuesto de Tourismo or Tourism Tax. There is no exit or entry fee to Mexico, only this Tourism Tax that should be included on your flights to exit Mexico.
Once you have checked in you’re waiting around until everyone’s processed. Then the military dogs check all the hand luggage. This is the last step. After this you’ll be able to get on the boat.
There are two water taxis currently operating Chetumal-Caye Caulker and Caye Caulker-Chetumal. The do not operate on the same days so do check their hours of operation before purchasing your ticket. The lady at the desk said tickets need to be purchased at least 72 hours before departure for international ferries but I saw someone purchase a ticket as I was checking in.
The water taxi will take you to San Pedro to the immigration office first before taking you to Caye Caulker. Both are about the same price. Two year olds don’t have to pay for a ticket.
The Water Jets International water taxi is cramped and has a toilet, the San Pedro Belize Express water taxi is spacious but I didn’t see a toilet on board. We took the San Pedro Belize Express water taxi that left Chetumal at 3:30pm and arrived at San Pedro 5:30pm Mexican time which is 4:30pm Belize time.
On another not, you can see fish in the water as your waiting in line. We spotted this jellyfish.
We all had to exit the ferry and collect our luggage so that we could pass through immigration. We were bumped to the front of the line because we had a two year old. There was a couple that had an infant and they were moved ahead of us. Such a great system! I love places where immigration prioritises little children through the queues. Although we’ve had to stand in long queues with little ones it isn’t pleasant.
Even though we were at the front of the queue (besides the infant & parents) we waited a loooooong time. There is only:
You will have to pay an entry fee to Belize and an exit fee. Interestingly the Belizean Dollar is linked to the American dollar 2:1. Apparently it’s a contract they have with each other where it will always be fixed in this way. The entry fee is BZD2. Fortunately they have an EFTPOS machine so we were able to pay by credit card.
There is a snacks bar where you can buy some junk if the kids get hungry and you’ve run out. Fortunately we still had food we had put in our check in luggage that we could use. We waited for everyone to finish the customs process which was a one hour affair for a full boat of people.
By the time everyone was ready, it was nearing 6pm Belizean time. We all boarded the boat which was less than half full because many of the passengers were staying in San Pedro.
We arrived by 630 after sunset. We went to the bag collection hut but I had lost the luggage ticket. We had to prove it was our bag but I think he was just having a laugh. We told him where to find the nappies, he didn’t really check the pocket and then waved us off.
We headed across the road to our hotel. There were taxis waiting to take people to their accomodation but we were walking distance. The island is so small I imagine most of the passengers were walking distance.
We went for a 6am “breakfast” at Ice & Beans, watching the sunrise over the grey clouds. The kids had their bubble waffles, Ajay had his coffee and I had my peanut butter, banana, and oats smoothie. That was all the money we had because we didn’t want to get out any more Belizean dollars in case we couldn’t exchange it back into pesos.
We found the ferry right next door to it. I thought it was at the same dock opposite the basketball court but that was the other company’s dock. The ticketing guy wasn’t happy with our boarding passes that had been issued in Chetumal when we bought the tickets because he was expecting a ticket. We weren’t fussed because we knew he would let us on the boat regardless of whether he could make contact with the Chetumal office or not.
Our ferry was supposed to leave at 7pm but it was more like 7:15pm. No-one was fussed, especially not the handful of school children who were catching the ferry to San Pedro as part of their school commute.
Water Jets International water taxi was compact and felt a little squashy but the huge advantage was that there was a toilet on board.
As we left the dock, it began to rain so all the windows and doors were closed. As we arrived in San Pedro the rain eased. I was breathing a sigh of relief because there is very little covered waiting areas at the immigration dock.
We arrived at San Pedro with overcast skies and waited for our 80L backpack. It began spitting as we all headed into the immigration building. I realised we had to leave the ferry building and check-in to the ferry properly with passports and all outside the front of the ferry building so I quickly darted off to the toilet which is on the international side of the building.
This time no-one moved us to the front of the queue but we were only third in line. It began raining but most of the queue was under shelter. Lui decided to take off down the road, Kenzo followed and Carmelo followed them. Then the skies opened up and Carmelo grabbed Lui, told Kenzo to head back and the all ran back to us. All of us could feel the rain because the wind hadn’t decided which direction was best to fling all that water at us. On a side note, the ramp can get slippery when wet.
We reached the front of the queue and I ruined my favourite dress that I had bought at one of the San Cristobal De Las Casas markets by leaning on a freshly varnished bench. Argghhh. Ajay said they could see smoke coming out of my ears – lol. We gave the lady our passports and boarding passes. It took so long to process that I filled in all our departure immigration forms while waiting for her to complete her check in process.
Again, there was only one cashier to pay the BZD40 per person, one immigration officer to check the passports and one departure form officer. The exit fee is made up of 30Bz for departure tax, 7.50Bz for PACT fee and 2.50Bz for Port fee. The cashier told us that we could only pay the exit fee in cash and that the entry fee into Mexico could only be paid in cash so we would need to get cash out and exchange our Belizean dollars into Mexican pesos. There was no ATM in the immigration office and it was pouring with rain, so Ajay went by himself to the other side of the island (four blocks away) to get cash out for five people’s departure tax and four people’s Mexican tourism tax of 533 pesos.
Then we went to the next desk to hand in the departure forms – apparently you need to put each slip in each person’s passport.
It was still raining by the time we had finished so one of the immigration ladies got us to wait in a room which stores the imports.
Fortunately they bump families with young children to the front of the queue so we boarded the boat first just as the it began spitting again.
It looked like we would end up leaving San Pedro at 9am.
We had to check our passports for the exit stamp. If we don’t have it we can’t get into Mexico. The immigration officer only counted the 33 but there were 34 on the boat. We all had the stamp. So we finally were able to depart.
Because of the rough weather it was going to take an hour and 40mins to travel to Chetumal. I was so glad I’d booked 1:30pm bus tickets so we would still have time to eat lunch and buy snacks. By 11:40am we had arrived in Chetumal due to the change of time zone.
We all hopped off the boat and were instructed to line all our bags up so that the Mexican military dogs could check them. It had stopped raining so I didn’t mind having to do this outside. Then we headed to immigration to collect the forms we needed to fill in. By the time we had filled in six (we only had one pen) we were the last in the queue and it was 12:40pm. Our bus was set to leave at 1:30pm and we needed to be there at 1:15pm.
This was where we had shot ourselves in the foot. When exiting Mexico we had handed over our proof of already having paid the tourism tax of 533pesos per person which is valid for 180 days. We had to pay this again for five people plus some random exit fee. We were short by 533 pesos and were scrounging pockets looking for extra change. We found enough to keep the guy happy which made me realise it wasn’t a real fee and hence the investigation into what we had paid and why. The learning is to ensure we know the exit and entry fees at each border so we don’t over pay again.
When we were finally out of the building. I felt sorry for a French couple who didn’t have cash on them and the ATM wasn’t working so they were having to make a credit card transaction from different places to scrounge the money for the entry fee. We tried getting cash out for them but our card wasn’t working either.
We had taxi drivers outside the ferry terminal tell us the fare to the ADO was 100pesos and we needed to cars because we are a family of six. We told them No, we arrived here in one taxi.
They said they could do two taxis for 100 pesos. We asked for the bank so we could get money out.
As we crossed the road and were about to enter the bank, another taxi driver who only spoke Spanish asked us if we wanted a lift and told us 60 pesos. We thought that was reasonable so we hopped in asking for the ATM. He was hiding from his fellow taxi drivers across the street and didn’t want to be seen by them. They were all watching. We said we’d go into the ATM first and he said he’d take us to one on the way.
We hopped in and then he asked us where are we going. We told him Cancun. He said that there was an extra fee for taking us to the other ADO for Cancun He thought we meant the ADO for Bacalar. Then he tried to charge us 80 pesos.
We were telling him that he can’t change the price now that we are in the car. Then I said Anyway, we don’t have any money so you have to stop at the bank. Looking back now I can see he changed course and took us to the bank still arguing that we have to pay 80 pesos. We ended up catching another taxi and only paying 30 pesos to get to the Chetumal ADO station.
We arrived at the station after dark and in the pouring rain. The rain didn’t ease up. We were hungry and tired. It was about 7:30pm when we arrived. We decided to head home and then get some food from the supermarket across the road.
We had initially decided we would walk to the main drag and find a taxi but because of the rain we were hesitant to walk outside of shelter. We checked the queue for taxis. There no taxis and there was a huge queue of people all waiting for one to appear. Fortunately we didn’t have much luggage with us except for the nappy backpack and the check-in backpack so were able to move about far more easily than if we had just landed at an airport.
Although there are lots of food places about to grab a meal at all price ranges, we decided to buy some groceries from the dairy across the road so that we could head home. We were saturated when we stepped into the air conditioned shop so we immediately started to feel the chill.
After buying the goods we stepped outside the shop where it was warmer but still pouring. We put the babies’ jumpers on so they would stay a little warm.
We decided to go back to the original plan of finding a taxi on the main drag since there was a huge queue at the ADO station. While the fanau waited under some tiny cover, I ran to the road to see what I could find. I was drenched but still wanted the comfort of some shelter so I waited under an over pass squeezed in with lots of others. I could see the bus stops and the colectivos but no taxis.
For over five year olds the most cost effective and comfortable option is to catch the ADO bus from Cancun to Belize City then the water taxi from Belize City to Cancun and return the same way. This would’ve worked comfortably for children over five years old.
For under five year olds I recommend taking the ADO bus from Cancun to Chetumal and then the water taxi from Chetumal to Cancun and returning the same way.
If you can afford to fly then catch a flight from Cancun to Belize City and a water taxi directly to Caye Caulker.
The front seat behind the driver is fun because it allows the kids to see out the front and it has a glass wall to stop toys being dropped onto the driver. Or a seat with the TV screen directly in front of them so they can see the screen.
The seats in the middle of the bus work for these kids. Not so near the back that you can smell the toilet and not so near the front that you get disturbed by new passengers getting on and off the bus.
Make sure the bus you book has toilets. If you don’t mind paying a bit extra you can get the wifi bus but remember if there is no cellphone coverage in the rural areas then you won’t have internet connection.
When using the online system you can book using PayPal if your credit card is not a local card. Check the conversion rates because you may find Paypal’s conversion rates are expensive.
Remember taxis in Mexico sometimes use cab sharing which is where one person is in the taxi but the taxi driver may pick up other people on the way to earn extra cash on one trip. If you don’t mind sharing a taxi then let the driver know, it may save you a few pesos.
A taxi from Cancun residential area to the Cancun ADO Centro Station is 30-60 pesos.
A taxi from Chetumal ADO Station to the Ferry Building using a certified taxi is 200 pesos.
A taxi from Chetumal Ferry Building to the ADO station using a certified taxi is 100 pesos but can be negotiated down to 50 pesos. Or walk one block into town to get a taxi for around 40-50 pesos.
A taxi from Cancun ADO station to a residential area using the certified taxi is about 100 pesos. If your game, catch a colectivo which is usually 10 pesos per person.
No matter what country you arrive in, it seems your first line of taxis to greet you will always charge far more than they should because they assume you don’t know better. The colectivo in Cancun that was from ADO station to Plaza Las Americas was 10 pesos. Catching a taxi from the street where the colectivos stop right next to Plaza Las Americas will be cheaper than the one from the ADO station.