belize border

Mexico to Belize: Our First Border Crossing

It is hard to believe but Sarah and I have already been back in Mexico for 6 months. And because tourist visas here only last for 6 months, this means we had to leave the country and come back in to get another 6 months. The perfect excuse to take our new car for a proper road test. Farewell Mexico, hello Belize. *At the end I do a run down of crossing the borders with a car, click here to go straight there.

I had heard a lot of things about Belize, and not much of it good. Sure everyone talks about the islands and how great they are for diving, but Belize itself gets a pretty bad rap. I like to think that I have the ability to appreciate the small things when it comes to new cultures and countries, and often Sarah and I manage to wander around a new environment appreciative of the nuances which make it a new environment. And this is how it started in Belize.

crossing into belize

The first thing I noticed and which took me by surprise is just how different Belize is from Mexico. I mean the two of them are separated by an imaginary line, so surely they would be almost identical, especially near the border? This could not be further from the truth. Aside form the sudden use of English over Spanish as the primary language, Belize has a true Caribbean feel which is not as readily noticeable in Mexico.

By Caribbean I don’t mean there are more coconut trees and the beaches are better (the opposite seems true actually), but that the people seem more in line with what Hollywood movies suggest the Caribbean is about. Locals talk with the accent you expect in the Caribbean, things seem very raw and slow, houses are a spread-out wooden affair that seem to be a slight gust away from toppling over, and the food seems to consist of chicken, rice and beans  (aside from the really bad Chinese food).

belize beach srah in belize

I must mention that I did not see all of Belize and my experience is made up only of a border crossing and a couple days in the nearby towns of Corazol and Orange Walk. Corazol is a place I wanted to love but lost the passion for very quickly. However if reports are to be believed my experience here is pretty typical of the rest of Belize.

Where are all the Mexicans, and stuff?

Our first day in Corazol was not bad, it had been awhile since we experienced that feeling of travel again and so to see something new had with it an excitement we had both missed a little bit. We drove passed houses and people that looked drastically different from those of Mexico. One of the first things you notice is that suddenly the most common ethnicity changes. One step over the border and Mexicans become black people (I know some think this is a less than PC way of describing people of a darker complexion, but they are not African, I am African. And yes I know they are not black, but I am not white, who gives a shit? Grow a pair and lets continue), Chinese people, and some other bits and pieces not easily identifiable.

The second thing you notice is how different the “architecture” is. As I said before most houses seem to have been built a hundred years ago and on the verge of falling over. Whereas in Playa all the houses seem to have had construction started (and stopped, although people live in them, a lot of places seem only half finished) in the last ten.

Perspective is a funny thing. Coming from Australia you get this sense that things are a little bit behind in Mexico. Technology, media and just things in general seem less abundant. And then you go to Belize and Mexico seems like a country from the future.

So here we are in Corazol, Belize. We quickly find a spot to stay as it is getting dark and to be honest, the dusty almost deserted town is a bit intimidating with what are either hobos or unfortunately dressed people who are either drunk, or sorely lacking in co-ordination. For about $25 a night we bunk down in “The Sea Breeze Hotel” and go out looking for dinner.

sea breeze hotel belize

food in belize

The owner of The Sea Breeze tells us to try out ‘Jam Rock’ because it has a breeze and it is along the waters edge. Because the town is tiny we find it with ease and settle in for an early dinner. Stewed chicken, rice and beans. The meal is delicious and we start to feel good about our foray into another country. After dinner we take a short drive around and soak up the new environment that is Belize.

Back home we shower and put on the telly (thank god for Duck Dynasty). It is hot, and we chose not to pay an extra $10 US for aircon (a luxury I have come to rely on in Playa). The stickiness of our evening becomes apparent and we open all the windows and pray for a breeze. Although it does cool down later, the night is a sticky and uncomfortable one and we wake in the morning tired and craving our comfy apartment in Playa del Carmen.

We get breakfast made at the hotel for about $5 US each and then go out exploring, mainly because the car has aircon and I am tired of sweating. Alas, aside form a few overpriced tours there is not a hell of a lot to see around Corazol. Being cheap and not wanting to drop $100 US we decide not to go on a boat tour. That, and we can’t be bothered.

So we spend the day looking around Corazol, and it quickly becomes apparent that the town is not our cup of tea. It seems in fact that the town is not even the people living there’s cup of tea. There is a strange feeling of despondency and “who gives a fuckness” about the place. The shops are hobbled together in dying buildings and house products of the lowest possible quality, and very few of those. Through the day the waters edge plays host to people getting slowly inebriated and everyone else seems to be doing very little, and not particularly enjoying it.

orange walk belize

It’s not all yuck

Not many people smile at you, and those that do ask for money. There is a feeling here which perhaps is of our fabricating or limited insight, but it is a feeling of giving up. Like people have just come here to wait out the rest of their lives. I am sure it is not like that for all and my statements may be an unfair blanket of judgement. But it is how I felt, and the reason why after just two days (despite originally planning four or five) we decide enough is enough and make plans to leave as soon as possible.

The Chinese Connection

Our meal on the second day is at a Chinese place across the road from Jam Rock and is shockingly bad for the princely sum of $20 US. We later go back to Jam Rock for dinner and are disappointed to find that they seem to be trying less because the meal is very underwhelming, despite being the same thing we ordered the day before. At this point we are tired of paying almost double for bad food and not even being able to get a decent sweet from one of the crappy Chinese corner shops sprinkled around the area, because all they have to offer are generic no name branded stuff which tastes like chemicals (yeah I know, first world problems). “Oh Lord what hell hath thy unleashed upon Belize?!”

Which brings me to the Chinese connection. Corazol (and the neighboring town of Orange Walk which we drove to) seem to be run by the Chinese! All the shops and most of the restaurants are run by Chinese people and are named accordingly. Imagine my surprise at coming to a Caribbean country and seeing stores with names like “Lings Shop” or “Dragon Tools”. Apparently a lot of Chinese came to Belize around World War 2 to escape the Japanese invasion of China. And then apparently hung around to run Corazol. Personally, I would rather live in China. Below is just a sampling of the unlikely number of Chinese owned shops spread around the place.

chinese in belize

Then there are the Mennonites, who dress in Dungarees and straw hats and remind me of the Amish. Which is a strange site to see in a Central American country. It is a strange place, and although I would usually delight in such peculiarities. There is an aggressive almost depressing feeling in this place. By the end of day two we had had enough and decided to leave the following morning and take our chances with not being out of Mexico long enough. We were craving good food, happy people and what even seemed to be the better climate of Mexico. We wanted to go home.

On the third morning I woke up after a terrible nights sleep to our bags already packed and Sarah going to pay our bill. She was as keen to leave as I was. We jumped in our car with the AC blasting and took a not so slow drive back to the border about 20 minutes away. Belize was a disappointment no doubt, but it was also an experience, and as I said at the beginning, we only experienced this one town. Anyways travel is about personal experience and others might see things differently. Just stock up on decent foods before you come, and don’t plan to stay too long and you might be alright.

Going Home

On our way home we drove through Bacalar (the lake of seven colors is its claim to fame, although really at most it should be called the lake of three colors and four shades of blue), and after realizing that most of the lake front is privately owned and therefore inaccessible, we decided just to go home and chill.

That is when the wheel got a puncture. Luckily across the road from the incident was a guy who fixed tires! The young fella had the tire off, patched, and back on in ten minutes and only wanted about $5 US for the pleasure. We gave him about $8 (100 pesos) and left him with a giant grin on his face. A few hours later we were home and seriously questioning whether we would ever be able to leave our amazing home in Playa del Carmen again.

bacalar mexico

tire change mexico

Just to be clear, it was still an adventure and we had a lot of laughs between us while in Belize. It is just that we are exceptionally comfortable and happy in Playa, and it makes leaving and hitting the road almost seem like work. We have six months before our overland adventure begins, hopefully we get bored or something because at the moment comfort seems to be beating adventure 3 to 1.

*Getting across the borders.

Despite what people have said about the border crossing, both directions were fairly easy. I think the border has been rebuilt to some degree and a bit of the previously abundant corruption has been fazed out with new measures put in place. When leaving Mexico we had to pay $300 pesos each (about US$25) which is the visa and entry fee and not an illegal fee as is so often stated (paradoxically charged when you leave as opposed to when you enter). We went to the on-site bank, paid the fee, got a receipt, had our passports stamped and that was it. I think because I had a Mexican plated car I didn’t need to show any documentation for it and they let me drive straight through to the Belize border.

mexico border belize

belize border

Coming into Belize we alighted the vehicle in the car park just before the border and went into customs. They asked the usual questions like how long do you intend to stay (to which I answered “A few days”, for which I was asked “What do you call a few days?” to which I replied “Three”.) and stamped our passports. At the next desk I showed that I was the owner of my vehicle with the Factura and registration card and they stamped it into the country, no charges. they then sent me back down the road to a little house on stilts which is the Fumigation Station. I went inside and paid $5 US for a man to spray the underside of my car for five seconds, and for that man’s mate to offer me insurance (do not buy from people before you leave the border), and then returned to the border. They checked inside the back of my car and let me through, no further charges.

fumigation belizeThe fumigation station (very well signed).

insurance in belize

The insurance office (well signed, and yet, we drove straight past it).

As you leave the compound there is a white insurance building. Go there, buy the mandatory insurance (we paid about $200 pesos for a week or $18), put the sticker on your window and welcome to Belize. By the way this is the last time anyone will accept anything other than Belize or US dollars, and there are no money changers in Corazol so you will have to draw money once there.

Leaving Belize border and entering Mexico again

As you drive up to the border, pull into the car park and walk into the only building there. First off you will have to pay a charge of about $30 Belize (about $15 US) each, and you will have to pay it in Belize dollars. Fortunately there are some men outside who act as money changers and they are not too much of a rip off. Once paid, if you don’t have a car walk through, get stamped and you have left Belize, breathe a sigh of relief… If you have a car walk through the double doors back to the Belize side, show the guy at the counter your ownership documents and passport, he will stamp you out and you go back to the Belize side, pick up your car and drive it though the border, breathe a sigh of relief – you have left Belize.

Drive along until you reach the Mexican side of the border, park and alight. Walk up to the tiny little office and fill out the form given you. Go inside and show the fella your passport and filled out forms. Even though we had not been out for 72 hours, they did not care (some people say they have tried to make them pay a $1000 pesos because of this, but these guys didn’t care one little bit). They stamped out documents, returned them and off we went. We drove up to an inspection area, guys with guns did a quick check and we were sent on our way. Welcome back to Mexico, thank you little baby Haysoos.

Mexican border

The whole thing was really easy and no bribes were requested. I only hope the other border crossings will be as easy, although I am pretty sure they won’t. Border crossing and road trip test number 2? Pass. Underwhelming, but pass nonetheless. Bring on the big one. I guess…

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22 Comments
  • Jimmy Dau
    Posted at 15:51h, 11 August Reply

    The Chinese run all the grocery stores in Caye Caulker and Panama as well. Had some good dim sims though in Panama. They were my staple breakfast items
    Jimmy Dau recently posted…My life in a backpack. How, why and what I packed.My Profile

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 16:06h, 11 August Reply

      My staple breakfast item is bran flakes with strawberry bits. Disappointingly conventional I know…

  • Kim
    Posted at 17:10h, 11 August Reply

    What a bizarre place… Chinese and mennonites. Makes for a good story at least! P.S. tell Sarah she looks AMAZING!

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 17:17h, 11 August Reply

      I still haven’t quite learned to expect the unexpected as much as I should have. I told her and she said “But I don’t look good in that photo.” while smiling and blushing.

  • Brenda Bradford
    Posted at 21:59h, 11 August Reply

    Judging Belize based on Corazol is like judging Mexico based on Tijuana.

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 22:37h, 11 August Reply

      I agree, which is why I said as much. Unfortunately first impressions tend to make quite the impression. Have you had a better experience in Belize?

      • Brenda Bradford
        Posted at 03:07h, 12 August Reply

        We loved Belize when we were there a few years ago. We split our time pretty equally between the mainland and being out on the water. The Mayan ruins rival those of the Yucatan. And we had a great time tubing through a cave. Of course, the snorkeling was truly amazing. We loved the cayes we visited, Ambergris and Caulker. We spent our last few days driving north towards the Mexican border. We loved Corazal and Orange Walk. I remember visiting a wonderful little farmers market in Corazal one afternoon and eating dinner from a street vendor the same evening. When we reminisce, we remember Belize as being one of our favorite countries.

        • Tyrhone
          Posted at 03:27h, 12 August Reply

          I’m glad you guys enjoyed it and I suppose it shows how much travel depends on the person traveling and not necessarily the travels themselves. We have had similar experiences of loving a place no one else did. Maybe we’ll go back through there in the future and give it another shot 🙂

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 00:46h, 12 August Reply

    I think it’s pretty hard to visit a place without having some kind of vision of what it will be like tucked away somewhere in your mind and when it doesn’t measure up to what you expected, it can be really hard to let go of that and accept a place for what it really is. That said, I can’t see how anyone would find the joy in the parts of Belize you saw, though I guess I’m always less inclined to judge a place based on its border towns. At least you’ll know that when you kick off your trip in 6 months that you can just breeze right through Corazol…

    Also, your post is a clear indication I have been in Asia for too long: all of the prices you listed seemed so high to me (except for the room)! Is Belize considered a spendy country relative to others in the area?
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Putting the “Gorge” in “Gorgeous” at Taroko GorgeMy Profile

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 02:35h, 12 August Reply

      Belize was definitely more expensive than mexico, and I have heard the same about a few places in central and south america. It seems quite sporadic. But for sure nowhere we have been this side of the world (including mexico) is anywhere near as cheap as Asia, but there is some super cool stuff here 🙂

      If you dont come in peak season and do a bit of research though it is not too bad. Asia is definitely a rarity on cost of living.

  • Sarah Somewhere
    Posted at 02:32h, 12 August Reply

    Yep, that was about how it went!! I fear we may never be able to travel again… seriously.
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted…Dear Life, Thank YouMy Profile

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 02:37h, 12 August Reply

      Baby steps, one short trip at a time and we’ll get the bug back, I think…

  • Freddy Mac
    Posted at 23:52h, 12 August Reply

    The name of the town is Corozal and you should take the time to look at the actual history of a place before passing judgment. Chinese, World War II really! Need to check your facts buddy, stay in Playa that’s were the poor gringo needs to go to feel rich. Idiot!

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 00:12h, 13 August Reply

      Wow, that’s a lot of anger. The history of the place is not why I judged it, the current state of the place is. And the immigration does go back to pre WW2 for the reasons I stated, I’m sure the reasons have varied over time, but it’s gotta start somewhere.

      Mate you need to chill out. My facts are fine, why would I want to “feel rich”? That has nothing to do with anything. And idiot? Really? I think perhaps you need to take a look in the mirror when you’re throwing out juvenile statements.

      Anyways, I always welcome debate, even heated debate, but lets keep it intelligent.

  • Nicole
    Posted at 19:56h, 15 August Reply

    You’re leaving Belize and going back into Mexico? I think there’s plenty more Belize to enjoy. Give it another chance?

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 16:12h, 16 August Reply

      Back in Mexico for another 6 months or so, and then we’ll see. I might give it another go one day, but truth be told there are a lot of other places higher up on the list. Maybe I’ll give it a perfunctory glance before I kick the bucket.

  • Carmel
    Posted at 16:07h, 24 August Reply

    The only things I’ve ever really heard about Belize is this and from my friends who were at some fancy shmancy resort. Somewhere in the middle (probably leaning more toward your end) must be the real Belize, right? Border towns are pretty notoriously sad, though, right?
    Carmel recently posted…TWIN PEAKS ROAD TRIPMy Profile

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 02:00h, 25 August Reply

      Well it’s hard to tell I suppose. But you’re right border towns are usually a bad example of a country. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for the place, it has happened before and it will probably happen again. Traveling is amazing, but it definitely is not always a bed of roses!

  • Kellie
    Posted at 18:31h, 07 April Reply

    I’m reading this as we relive your life…. Currently sat at the Sea Breeze with plans to go to Jam Rock for dinner on our first night.
    Kellie recently posted…We are leaving Mexico… Kind of…My Profile

  • james
    Posted at 20:39h, 04 January Reply

    Hi.
    You have great articles and have been super helpful in my travels. I have one concern…when I crossed from USA into mexico I didn’t get a tourist card or vehicle permit. Now I want to continue into Belize. Should I bother with the Mexican banjercito? It seems you didnt check in and you were fine. I think I will say I’ve lost my tourist card and pay the fine instead of trying to explain I drove across the whole country illegally. What do you think?

    • booth_1@hotmail.com
      Posted at 23:28h, 05 January Reply

      Hi mate and glad I could help. I would definitely just say you lost it and more than likely they are just going to make you pay again. Try and get a receipt or you will have to pay double if you enter and leave again. And on the off chance they do give you hassle, just offer to pay for it WITHOUT a reciept and they will be happy to have made some cash for the day 🙂

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