Getting from Chetumal to Caye Caulker: a story from Latin America


I wanted to go to Caye Caulker, the small Belizean island everyone was talking about. The “go slow” island.

To get there I chose the water taxi route via Chetumal. Two companies cover the international transfer from Chetumal to Caye Caulker and its larger neighbour San Pedro and they run one service a day, on alternate days. I traveled with San Pedro Water Jets and booked my tickets online (US$120 return!) a couple of weeks before travelling. I must say that I wasn’t particularly impressed by the lack of data and payment security in all transactions involved – hey this is the 21st century, why do I have to enter all my card details on an Excel spreadsheet that I am then expected to email back?! I had no choice though, either that or you have to turn up at the ferry terminal on the day and hope that there are seats available.

At the ferry terminal in Chetumal everything ran smooth, though, all was well organised albeit slow. Reservation checked, tickets picked up, luggage taken care of, speedy immigration checks to exit Mexico (leaving my wallet MEX$390 lighter!).

Then an army van arrived. Three officers in camo uniform and carrying machine guns got off. What the heck is going on, I thought. Luggage inspection! A slow process of checking our large bags, all lined up by the boat, started. The sniffer dog did the job. Three times. When done with the large luggage we were asked to line up all our hand luggage on the ground and stand behind it, at a distance. The dog walked up and down sniffing all small bags a few times. We were all curious and slightly nervous at the same time. No matter how certain you are that you are not carrying anything of concern, three Mexican army officers with machine guns are not your preferred sight… When one of the rucksacks was identified by the sniffer dog as potentially suspicious and the owner had to walk forward and open everything for further inspection, we were all watching on tenterhooks. It was like a movie.

Eventually we departed. 1.5hrs later we reached the island of San Pedro where we got off the water taxi and waited to have our names called one by one to create a line (it felt like being back to primary school…). Inside the immigration building we had our passport stamped and the customs form taken, and paid US$1.5 for entry fee to Belize. It took forever but eventually those of us who were continuing to Caye Caulker got on a smaller speed boat and after another half hour we reached our final destination. The sun had already set.

So all in all everything ran smooth but the system seemed very old fashioned and extremely slow…and I thought that crossing the land border between Cambodia and Thailand had been snail-paced!

A few days later the return from Caye Caulker to Chetumal was done more or less in the same way, with an exit tax from Belize of US$20 and an entry tax to Mexico of MEX$390. Quite an expensive part of my whole trip… But it was all worth it. And you’ll see why in my next post!

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