The vast majority of our guests fly directly to Belize City from their US or Canadian point of departure (for the latest on airfares to Belize City check this webpage.) But we often get asked about alternative ways of getting to Belize and one of the more popular alternatives involves flying to Cancun, Mexico then taking a bus to Belize City.
Cancun gets more US/Canada visitation than Belize City so it usually has cheaper airfares. We’ve blogged about this route several times but we’ve yet to spell out clear, step-by-step instructions on how to do it. This post is our attempt to correct that situation. So, if you’ve decided you’d like to add even more spice to your Slickrock Adventures adventure by traveling by bus from Cancun, here’s how you do it.
Basically, you are going to book a flight from your departure city to Cancun, Mexico. On the day you travel, after you walk off the plane in Cancun you will clear customs and immigration and then board either a bus or taxi for the 20-minute ride to the main ADO bus terminal in the center of Cancun.
At the bus terminal, you will board the overnight express bus to Belize City.
Once in Belize City, you will take a taxi for the 15 minute ride from the bus station to the Biltmore Hotel where your Slickrock Adventures trip will begin.
Step 1: Booking your flight
Booking your flight to Cancun is fairly straight forward. The key thing is allowing yourself enough time to clear customs/immigration at the airport and to get to the bus terminal. The bus schedule has changed over the years but the latest word we have on it is from a comment on thisTripAdvisor discussion we started about the trip. The comment was made January 2012 so it’s a year old but probably is still accurate. (It was posted by “MisterB266,” a veritable fountain of information about traveling in Belize — check his TripAdvisor profile!). He stated that the bus from Cancun to Belize City goes once per day leaving at 10:30 p.m.
If you speak Spanish, you could call the Mexican bus service, ADO, at 800-950-0287 (from the US precede that number by dialing 011-52) and confirm the departure time and perhaps also make a reservation. I tried calling several times over several days and was unable to get through on any of the numbers listed on their website:
The site has a reservation widget but it does not list Belize City as a destination. Google’s site translation service was only able to translate other parts of the page — apparently it does not have access to the widget itself. There is another Mexican bus site Ticketbus which has an English link in the upper right corner but it carries the same widget and it, too, does not include Belize City.
Assuming that the bus still leaves at 10:30 p.m. (it has been an overnight express for years and has always left around that time) you should allow about two hours for clearing immigration and getting to the bus terminal. (A recent blog post mentioned a rumor that ADO was soon to begin bus service directly from the airport to Belize City which would eliminate some of this time, if it happens).
Select your flight based on its arrival time using a site like Kayak.com which allows you to sort your search results by Departure Landing (late to early) — first you search, then after the results page finishes, you re-sort using the “Sort By” option in the upper right corner.
In choosing your dates make sure to take into account the extra day for the bus ride down and back. For example, if you are going on our Adventure Island trip (whether half week or full week) your trip will begin either early Friday evening or Tuesday evening at 5 p.m. at the Biltmore Hotel. That would mean you would need to book a flight to Cancun a full day earlier, either Thursday or Monday. I did some test searches and most major US departure cities seemed to have a mid-afternoon flight and an evening flight to Cancun (in my test: JFK – 3:10 pm, 9:45 pm; ATL – 2:45 pm, 7:34 pm; MIA – 5:05 pm, 8;05 pm; LAX – 2:45 pm, 5:01 pm.) In some cases, the evening flight would arrive too late to give you enough leeway to make it to the bus station in time for the 10:30 pm departure (e.g. JFK and MIA in my example).
Step 2: Taking the flight and getting to the bus terminal
On the day of your flight, you will arrive at the Cancun airport and proceed to customs. Mexican customs are slightly different than the restrictions fliers face in America. A simple red light / green light process occurs to determine if a tourist’s bags are to be searched or not. I’m not sure what the rate of searches is, but I can assure you that when they do search your bag it is rather extensive. Make sure to indicate on your form that you are in transit to Belize when they ask you where your destination is.
Exiting the Airport:
Once clearing customs, about 50 different taxi drivers are going to ask you if you need a ride. Politely refuse, and continue walking through the terminal. It is not necessary to change your US money into pesos unless you are planning on staying in Mexico for awhile (US dollars are accepted in Belize.) The ADO bus ticket counter will take your US dollars and give you change in Pesos. The counter is located to the right of the international terminal about 75 yards. If you get confused, just ask one of the many people trying to sell you a taxi ride — everyone speaks english at the airport.
At the counter, inquire when the next bus to the central bus station leaves and purchase a ticket (you may also be able to buy your ticket all the way to Belize City at the airport counter.) Alternately, if the bus is not departing for a while, you can take a taxi to the station.
Step 3. At the Cancun Bus Terminal
Once you arrive at the bus terminal, locate the ticket counter to purchase your ticket if you were not able to do so out at the airport. While waiting for the bus to depart, you might have time to eat at one of the restaurants directly across the street from the terminal.
Step 4: Taking the bus to Belize City
The bus has luxurious accomodations (for a bus) and the seats recline almost flat so it is easily possible to get a good night’s sleep. Here’s a handy checklist of things to consider bringing along for the bus trip:
- Travel neck pillow (preferably inflatable)
- Throw blanket (night buses are cold!)
- Comfy outfit for sleeping
- Eye mask
- Over-the-counter sleeping pills to make sure you actually sleep
- Water (enough to avoid dehydration, but not so much as to prompt the use of the bathroom on board)
- Hand sanitizer (avoid the bus bathroom at all costs, but if you must use it then make sure to disinfect everything you can afterwards)
- Snack (bus station food is a gamble sometimes and you can’t be guaranteed there will be stops)
- A book for reading
The bus is required to stop at the Mexico/Belize border-crossing, which occurs in the middle of the night, and you are required to get off the bus to clear customs and immigration. It’s a bit of a pain, especially if you have a lot of luggage because you have to personally haul your luggage with you in line. But after clearing the border checks, you reboard the bus and can sleep for the remainder of the trip to Belize City.
When leaving Mexico by bus you will be asked to get out and see a man in a small booth on the right in order to get your passport stamped. He will ask you for 200 pesos as a departure fee. You do not have to pay this fee. It is a form of corruption openly going on between the border agents, bus companies, and taxis. Just tell him you are in transit and give him your customs form from the airport and that is good enough. The bus will then take you to the Belize border. There you have to take your bags to go through customs again. Most visas are 15 days, unless you ask for 30 days. I have seen busses leave paid customers behind at the border for taking too long, so make sure to hustle at all times to get through.
Step 5: Getting to the Biltmore Hotel
The bus will arrive in the early morning. Once you disembark the bus in Belize City, any taxi can take you to the Biltmore Hotel. They will know where it is. Simply say, “Take me to the Biltmore.”
Belize City Bus Terminal to the Biltmore Hotel
Once at the hotel, you will have plenty of time to kill before you meet your guide at 5:30 p.m. that evening. The hotel will most likely not allow you to check into your room until noon or perhaps as late as 3 p.m. but tell them you are with Slickrock Adventures and they will most likely store your bags for you and you will be able to hang out by the pool and in the restaurant.
We also have this in-depth guide on what to do in Belize, and more specifically, Belize City Attractions: