Tikal is closer to the Guatemala-Belize Border than to the Guatemalan Capital. Because of this, many people choose to travel from Belize City to Tikal. Once you arrive in Belize City, there are several options to cross the border to reach Flores, the base city of Tikal. Here’s the Exploring Tikal – Highlights and Tips.
Flights from Belize City to Tikal Airport
There’s only one airline, Tropic Air, based in Belize, that flies from Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport Belize City to Tikal’s only Airport, in Flores. It leaves daily around 4:30 in the afternoon, and heads back to Belize City around 8 the next morning. The flight is about an hour and it costs approximately $150-200 US each way. You can purchase your ticket on their website.
Organized Shuttle/Tour Bus
In my opinion, this is the best deal from Belize City to Tikal. There is stiff competition among tour agencies and shuttle companies that organize land transport to Flores – as well as all over Belize and on to Mexico. Most offices are at the same center where you catch the express water taxi to San Pedro. That’s a popular backpacker center on Belize’s Ambergris Caye.
The shuttles offer a 5 hour journey for about $25-30 and some companies, such as Mondo Maya Travels, honor your travel plan. They’ll get you to you final destination if anything happens or the shuttle breaks down. Other companies will sell you tickets and direct you to where you need to get to your charter.
Tip: If your Belize City to Tikal itinerary is round trip and you want to save some money, just get a one-way ticket from Belize City to Flores. Then, get your return ticket at Flores which sells for about $17 instead of $25.
Public Bus, a.k.a. the Chicken Bus
From the W Collet Canal St/King St Bus Terminal, you can catch a bus that will take you to Benque Viejo Town. This is the closest point to the Guatemalan border by public bus. The bus costs you $5 for regular service, or about $5.50 for express service. From the Benque Viejo Town terminal, a taxi to the border will charge between $2.50-5.00. After crossing the land border into Guatemala (read below), you can take the 2-hour publico (public taxi) to Santa Elena in Guatemala, which will cost about $13.00.
What about safety? You can read more about safety in Guatemala in Claire’s post, Is Guatemala Safe?
When riding the shuttle official bus from Belize City to Tikal/Flores, I noticed that while waiting for the the shuttle inspection, several new passengers were there who were not part of my original bus ride. Turns out they were local hitchhikers. If you are coming to Guatemala without any arrangements, you may want to check this out instead of arranging a publico. You can ask any of the bus drivers to give you a ride to Santa Elena or Flores and they’ll perhaps only charge a small fee.
Most of the stops for larger buses drop all passengers at Santa Elena Bus Terminal. From there you can take a tuk-tuk or publico for about $2 to Flores Island. Take care to check with your tour agency where you buy the ticket to clarify – I was told that my ride was all the way to Flores, but upon arrival in Santa Elena, a taxi driver only drove me to Flores for 25 Guatemalan Quetzals.
Car rental from Belize City to Tikal
It is possible to rent a car for $70/day in Belize City and drive the four hours across the border to Tikal. Make sure the rental company knows you’re driving the car across the border, as it may cost extra for insurance. You’ll see several police check points on the way, so have your international driver’s license and legal documents handy for inspections.
What else do you need to know? Here are a couple of things for you to consider if you decided to follow my path from Belize City to Tikal:
- Buses and shuttles from the Airport to Belize City. Assuming you’re flying into Belize City’s Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport (there’s a small Municipal Airport closer to the city center), most people don’t realize that options to get to the city center are extremely limited.
- By taxi. The airport is about a 20-minute drive from Belize City and all taxis and shuttles (basically any vehicular transport to/from the airport) is heavily regulated by the government – or so they claim. They’re supposedly required to charge a flat fee of $25 for the first 2 passengers, and $5 for any additional passengers – no exceptions. I was told the government earns $5 per rides and the driver keeps $20. That sounded fishy to me. I’m not sure how the government can keep track of passengers!
- You’re probably hungry. Belize City has a very small airport. Once you’re outside, look to the left beyond the parking lot for a row of blue tents. This is where you’ll find local pop-up food stalls. A big plate of rice and beans, curry chicken, and potato salad (a local favorite) was about $3.50! Highly recommended.
- By bus. The entrance to the airport is about a 3km/40min walk from the main road where you can catch the bus to Belize City Center. There is no bus that connects the airport to anywhere. You can catch a taxi to get to the bus stop for about $10. The bus will take you to the main terminal in Belize City and cost you a buck.
- Border crossing. The bus ride from Belize City to the Guatemalan Border takes about 2-3 hours, non-stop. After getting off the vehicle (you don’t need to take your bags to Customs), proceed to the green Belize Immigration building. On the right, you’ll see a sign that says Departure.
You will have to pay the Border Departure Fee and the Environmental Fee. Note: Many sources cite different fees and which ones that you have to pay. When I went through in January, 2017, I had to pay BZ$30 Departure and BZ$3.20 Border fees – about $16.25USD. They don’t take credit cards – only Belizean or US dollars.
Right behind the cashier, go through the immigration windows where they will stamp your passport.
When you get outside, you’re essentially in no-man’s land. So, there will be a lot of people trying to sell you stuff – money exchange at awful rates, “immigration” payment scams, too. Don’t fall for it. Neither Belizean nor Guatemalan Immigration requires any further payment by foreigners after the official immigration counter!
Proceed past the sanitary bay, where you’ll find Guatemalan Immigration in a big open shed structure on your left. Go to the Entrada line for document check. After you get the pretty Guatemalan stamp, you can rejoin your group or go back to your vehicle.
One Final note
When approaching at the border, be prepared. Locals, mostly Guatemalans, swarm you with recommendations. Everything from money exchange, bus rides, or made up rules (like you must pay them to enter the country). You don’t need any of this, so politely say no, or say that you already have everything arranged.
They will leave you alone.
More on Planning Tikal Tourism
If you are planning on a Tikal visit, make sure that you know the site before hand. To get some Tikal inspiration, check out our Exploring Tikal – Highlights and Tips. You should also consider staying within Tikal National Park ground, and we are presenting your options here at the Tikal Accommodations: A Practical Guide. I stayed in the Jungle Lodge Tikal, which can be booked through the booking.com site here.
Want more like this? Subscribe to our newsletter below to get our posts delivered to your mailbox! And like our Facebook page and Instagram feed. We're also on YouTube. Click here for our Travel Vlogs!
For More on Guatemala: When we travel, we use Lonely Planet in addition to all of the other research we do. We really do love these books and have a shelf full of them! By clicking the image and buying a book at the Amazon.com link below, we get a small referral fee at no additional cost to you.