Belize’s strategic location in Central America makes it an ideal jump off point for those wishing to travel to Guatemala and other countries in Central America. Guatemala is undergoing rapid development even in the once neglected areas such as El Peten and Izabal which border the country in the west and south respectively. With easy access into and out of Guatemala, many travelers prefer to visit Belize and from here cross over into Guatemala.
There are two points of entry between the two countries, with another under construction. In the extreme southern district of Toledo, there is daily traffic by sea ferry and small speedboats that travel between Punta Gorda (Belize) and Puerto Barrios (Guatemala). Ferries to Guatemala and Honduras are also available from Independence, near Dangriga.
This trip across a portion of the Gulf of Honduras is about two hours. Our Belize.com correspondent describes Puerto Barrios in Guatemala as a better Belize City. Much safer and far more bang for the buck. It has a deep water port, excellent tourist destinations, several malls and excellent and safe nightlife. For travelers on a budget who wish to avoid high airfares, it is an economical route into Guatemala and Central America. Pullman type air conditioned buses depart daily from this municipality for the capital Guatemala city and the border with Honduras.
A land crossing between Belize and Guatemala in the extreme south near the Sarstoon River at the Jalacte is under development and when completed in late 2014 will make for easier and safer transport by road. This final portion of Belize’s southern highway will provide a much needed crossing into Guatemala and Central America with improvements in trade and tourism between the two countries.
Western Belize – Melchor De Mencos At Guatemala Border
Most traffic between Guatemala and Belize is in the west, five miles from the last major population center Benque Viejo del Carmen. The Belize customs and immigration offices are about 200 yards from a bridge that crosses the Mopan River into the Guatemalan municipality called Melchor de Mencos, Peten.
Between the border outpost and the actual bridge is a “no man’s land” area of about 5 acres. This is Guatemala territory and several bars, restaurants, taxi stands and shops line this area. The no man’s land is popular with locals who cross over to tank up on Guatemalan, Mexican and American beer which is much cheaper than the local beer. For tax purposes Belizean authorities prohibit the entry into Belize of Mexican or Guatemalan beer which are excellent and low priced compared to the local Belikin beer.
The town of Melchor de Mencos, Peten is a rapidly growing municipality. The town is expanding at a rapid pace and in 2013 had a population of 30,000 according to the 2010 census. There are numerous bars and a sprawling market in the downtown area.
Prices of goods are generally about 25 % cheaper compared to Belize and many Belizeans and tourists go across daily to get bargains, eat or just pass the time. Some Belizeans and expats resident in Belize own property in Melchor de Mencos, primarily as a weekend or vacation retreat, and to take advantage of reasonable prices on anything from food to telephone and internet access.
Three banks can be found in Melchor, the largest being the Banco De Desarollo Rural BANRURAL. The largest super market is government subsidized and offers most every consumer need, from canned and packaged goods, to beer, processed meats, clothing and basic medications. The supermarket is located right next to the central park and opposite the sprawling market. Both the supermarket and market are open on weekends to service locals and the throngs of Belizeans who travel to Melchor in search of bargains.
Medical care in Melchor de Mencos is affordable and, some Belizeans say, better compared to that offered in Belize. The government maintains a Hospital Nacional in the town staffed by 8 medical doctors, a dentist, X-ray technician and 33 support staff including nurses. There are 11 private clinics staffed by medical doctors and specialists.
There are many small shops and souvenir stalls that cater to the tourists, mostly concentrated on the Calle del Comercio. The main bus lines Linia Dorada and Fuente Del Norte have their terminal right at the Melchor Border and mini buses and several taxis are conveniently located in the same area just before and after the main bridge linking Belize and Guatemala. Other mini and tourist buses are located at the Central Park where travelers can get a quick meal from several comedores in the area (small restaurants) and food stall vendors. Of note is that the attractive tourist destination of Rio Dulce, Livingston Guatemala, so loved by cruisers and international boaters is also accessible from Belize’s western border by road.
A new bridge to cross the Mopan River has been built and is in use as of January 2012. Vehicles pay a small toll to cross – about U.S. $5.00 but this depends on the size of the vehicle. Most Belizeans and expats leave their vehicles on their side of the border and either walk into Melchor de Mencos or catch a taxi – about U.S. $3.
You can find taxis and mini vans at the market area next to the park to return to Belize or take you further inland to Tikal or Flores.
Related Page: Tikal in Guatemala.