Would you like to visit Tikal without being on a tour but apprehensive about doing it solo? Here’s a step by step guide on how to self drive to Tikal from Belize and what you need to know when crossing the border.
Renting a Car
Rental cars – so this one is pretty important. Whichever car company you use, you want to make sure they allow you to drive across the border. I went with Crystal Auto Rental and they were able to have all the paperwork ready when I arrived. Whatever company you choose, make sure you can drive it across the border. You can check them out here https://www.crystal-belize.com/. Although the website may be a little odd, I can’t recommend them highly enough.
My understanding is that the main rental companies don’t allow you to drive across the border because insurance isn’t needed in Guatemala. Regardless, if you want to drive to other sites in Belize (like Caracol), you’ll need a 4×4. Crystal had the largest selection and the most readily available. They prepared all the paperwork that you need to give at the border, so you don’t have to worry about that. Also, they even provide the use of a cooler for free which can come in handy.
Driving into Guatemala
Once you get to the Belize side of the border, you’ll need to park and go inside. There, you’ll stop at 2 booths. The first is to pay the exit fee of $20 USD (cash only). Next, move to the 2nd booth and get your passport stamped.
Go back to the car and drive through the gate and cross the border into Guatemala . There, you’ll drive into what looks like a really cheap version of a gas station car wash. Drive in and wait until the disinfectant spray is finished (it’ll start and stop automatically).
After that’s over, drive through and park immediately on your right. (There aren’t spaces marked but it seemed like a free for all…or if there’s no space, look to your left and you’ll see parking spaces there). This side of the border is a pretty tight space so park wherever possible and get out.
As soon as you park, people will meet you to change money. You can change on the Belize side or the Guatemala side. I changed on the Guatemala side and got a 7:1 exchange rate. That said, you could just do it on the Belize side if you prefer to speak in English. Also, a child or someone who’ll immediately tell you where to go and speaks English will probably meet you. If you speak Spanish fluently, you can work through this but it’s up to you.
If you park on the right, get out and pay your fumigation fee there at the window. It was 17 Quetzal in May 2019. Then walk over to the building on the left (make sure you take your rental car forms with you which should have a copy of your passport) and go to the right side of the counter (where it says ENTER Guatemala). Get your passport stamped and then move to your left (Customs line). There you’ll give over the forms for your car and told to pay for the tourist visa, forms, and whatever else they want to charge.
Here’s the tricky part. This is not where you pay. In order to pay, you need to go out of the building (walk toward Guatemala, not Belize). You’ll see a doorway with different colored tiles on the ground and the path in the shape of a L. That path spits you out on the street. Walk over to the first building on the left (it’s not really a building but more like a large shack…). You’ll pay your amount (it was 200 Quetzals total for me but I also think there was a “fee” tacked on somewhere….
After you pay, walk back to the counter you were just at in the main building (in the customs line). Here you’ll receive a sticker for your car. Display this on the windshield and you’ll be on your way!
The whole process took about 30 mins I’d say but this was also at 6am when there was no one there. It’s pretty painless but it reminded me of the DMV. The agents on the Guatemala side were in no rush to get people on there way and didn’t seem to care either.
I gave the kid $3 USD for helping me through the border process. I honestly never would’ve figured it out but I also don’t speak Spanish fluently. That part is up to you.
Driving across the border into Tikal
I wasn’t charged the 20 Quetzals to drive across the tourist bridge on the way into Guatemala (it was early and no one was there) but I was charged to come back. To avoid it on the way there, take an IMMEDIATE RIGHT as soon as you drive through the border checkpoint. Then take an IMMEDIATE LEFT. It’s a tiny street but it runs parallel to the bridge and you won’t have to pay the toll. That said, I didn’t see a way of avoiding it on the way back.
The rest of the drive from the border to Tikal is pretty much fool proof. Outside of a few roundabouts, you’ll just follow the signs clearly marked Tikal. From the border, I’d say it was about a 90 min drive to the Tikal entrance.
Returning to Belize
To get back across, the system is much simpler. First, park your car and walk into the Guatemala office and go into the EXIT Guatemala line. They’ll stamp your passport and then go to the Customs line. Here, give back the paperwork they gave you for the car along with the windshield sticker they gave you when you entered.
Drive through the border and then go through a similar fumigation setup on the Belize side. You can drive up to the parking lot arm gate and it should open automatically (at least it did for me). Walk into the Belize office, pay the $5 USD for the fumigation, get your passport stamped, and you’re on your way. Getting back across took about 5 mins and was painless. A kid helped me here as well. I gave him a $1 USD and I thought that was more than enough .
Tip if you’re going to Tikal –
A key tip if you are to self drive from Belize to Tikal is to exchange your money for Tikal at the border! The rate here is MUCH better than the loan shark rate given at the Tikal entrance. Yes the 7:1 rate is bad but it’s worse at Tikal.