Many people are familiar with Flores, Guatemala, as the jumping-off point to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal. Fortunately there are several options of getting from the Caribbean island paradise to the lovely, colonial island of Flores.
A street in Flores
Unless you’re planning on spending a lot of money to fly directly from Caye Caulker, the beginning of your journey will be via one of the water taxis. San Pedro Belize Express is the most cost effective, but there are two other companies to choose from. The ride from the island to Belize City is about 45 minutes long. Now you have some choices to make.
At the terminal you will find a store selling tickets for the express bus to Flores. They typically charge $27 USD for the express bus, which also conveniently leaves from the ferry terminal. They want to fill the bus, so sometimes you can make a deal to lower that. This bus has the advantage of going directly to Santa Elena (the town right outside Flores) without stopping for every person who flags them down and is relatively more comfortable than the local-preferred “chicken bus.” If this is your route, you’re done. Sit down, relax, and have a mojito. You should be arriving in Santa Elena in about 4-1/2 to 5 hours.
If you’re opting for the cheaper and more adventurous route, you can get to the bus terminal by taxi (which I recommend) or by walking for about 15 minutes or so in the Caribbean heat. At the terminal you will need to hop on the former US school bus, known as chicken buses, going to Benque. This bus will stop anywhere along the route and costs 4 USD to get to its final destination. There is no air conditioning or bathroom, and no food or water available, and the bus will be packed to standing room only for much of the journey. At Benque you take a quick taxi to the border. It will cost you $18.61 to leave the country. There are money changers on both sides of the border crossing so you can get quetzales, but make sure you have 37.50 BZD per person before you enter the building.
Flores’ Central Park
While you’re walking to the Guatemalan border, you will have several taxi offers for when you’re on the other side. Generally they charge Q.20 ($3 USD) to get you to the terminal, and for about $45 USD they’ll take you all the way to Flores. If the border agent requests an entrance fee, ask for an official receipt and possibly a supervisor because that’s illegal. There is an ATM at the gas station your driver can stop at if you need.
At the next bus station it will cost you Q.27 for a bus to Santa Elena, although the microbuses are slightly cheaper and are located at the park down the street. It is about a 2-hour ride to the next terminal, and then you will need a taxi to get to the town of Flores. If it is nighttime, do not attempt the walk to the island. Santa Elena is a nice town, but a backpacker walking at night is a prime target. By now you have been traveling for at least 9 hours.
Sit back and relax – travelling takes time…!
So how much will this extra adventure save you over the “luxury bus”? A total of $11.03 USD (but 4-1/2 hours longer). Final verdict: Unless you are severely strapped on cash or really like adventure, take the luxury bus.