Traveling Between Flores, Guatemala and Palenque, Mexico
(or vice versa could be done in one day by tourist minibuses and the
mandatory boat ride, but you would miss a lot of things)
Going the EL Naranjo route instead
I have gotten some bad feedback about the reliability of one of the companies
running this route. Currently, it looks like the shady San Juan Travel, which does most, if not all,
of the intervening tour transport from Bethel to Flores has been back to charging extra
to at least some people who arrive as part of a package.
However, consider the likelihood that doing it on your own will cost less and be more interesting.
It would also allow you to easily visit interesting sites a long the way, such as Yaxchilán.
From Flores to Palenque
Frontera Corozal and what to see along the way in Mexico
From Palenque to Flores
It is easy to arrange a jungle route trip between Flores, Guatemala and Palenque, Mexico at either end via a local travel agency when you get there, but I vividly recall the tourists who arrived by boat in Frontera Corozal in February 2003, who did not find anyone to meet them. Presumably they got away onward, possibly even with help from the people that were supposed to meet them, but I headed off to Yaxchilán. They were gone when I got back to the hotel, so I will never know how it went for them.
Some have complained about prepaid services not being provided or being done shabbily. Here is one example, which involved a journey from Flores to Palenque. Here is another, which went the other way from Palenque to Flores. Both are good examples of shoddy service. I could put more here, but these make the point well enough.
However, people can make the transit without paying potentially unreliable intermediaries. From Flores, you can hop a Pinita bus from Santa Elena and take it to Bethel. although the 5 AM one continues to La Técnica. According to the Lonely Planet, there are four a day ( 5 am, 8 am, 12 noon and 1 pm) and the ride takes around 4 hours. Apparently, there is also a Fuentes del Norte one at 6 am, which you obviously won't want if heading to La Técnica. There is also a 7:30 minivan from the Santa Elena bus station or 8 am from the mercado that goes onward to La Técnica. From Bethel, it is a 30 or so minute boat ride to Frontera Corozal. You might want to talk with others on the bus to see who would be willing to share a boat with you. Along the is a 15 minute stop for breakfast. Bethel is a small village, so don't expect a lot of services there, except for a small hotel and food.
The cheaper option along this route is to take the bus a bit further than Bethel and to get off at La Técnica. The advantage to this is that you only have to pay a boatman to cross the river. There are plenty of them and it should cost 10 or so Pesos each.
I understand that if you are on a bus that continues, it will wait for people to go through Guatemalan customs before heading onward. The 5 am bus does exactly that, but you need to ask the driver to wait until you go through Customs. If the guard tries to charge an exit fee, demand a receipt before handing over any money. There should be no fee.
Crossing the river is (as of December 2003) 10 Q each in a group (or 30 alone). Odds are that it is possible to do this heading into Guatemala as well, but I am unsure when the early (from Santa Elena) bus returns from La Técnica via Bethel, but it would likely be in the afternoon.
There are buses from Frontera Corozal to Palenque at 6 am, noon and 3 pm. There are also hourly combis on the hour from the bus station from early until 16:00. If you are at the hotels, it may be worth a few pesos to get a taxi to take you there.
However, on the Mexican side there are a number of things to do along the way between the border while en route to or from Palenque:
In Frontera Corozal, there is a museum that was not particularly worthwhile when I stopped in, but appears to have improved since. It also has a cafeteria, which serves food and drinks, including cold beer.
Not far from the museum or the hotels is Tienda Cortez, which has the usual items and is the only place to buy cold beer for taking away that I could find in 2003. By the corner of the street leading to the Hotel Escudo Jaguar is a comedor and small posada, which is cheaper than the larger one. However, don't try to contact the Escudo by any e-mail you run across online. Nothing works.
There is also a much cheaper hotel with a good restaurant, called Nueva Esperanza. Unlike the one at the Escudo Jaguar, their restaurant is one that serves beer. It is basic, but friendly. To get there from the more expensive hotel and docks, walk away from them and turn right before the comedor. There is a sign to look for as well. I didn't check on take away beer there in 2004, but it is possible.
The office where people can arrange a boat to and from the ruins of Yaxchilán is at the Escudo Jaguar. In February of 2003, a boat cost us 500 pesos and it was a reasonably simple matter to gather together a small group from among arriving tourists to share one in the morning. The Escudo Jaguar is a good place to have breakfast or lunch while awaiting others to share a boat.
Yaxchilán is a wonderful site to visit, so if you can factor in four hours to spend getting there, seeing it and getting back, go for it. To get between Frontera Corozal and Palenque, you can take a combi, but you will pay for the entire distance between the two. This is fine if you are doing that, but you would be missing other experiences along the way. There are also buses at 6 am 12 pm and 3 pm 2 1/2 - 3 hrs.
First along the way is Bonampák. To get there, get off at the San Javier crossroad and look around to see if there is a cab. If not, it is a few miles to the turnoff, where there is a comedor and you could spend the night there in an indoor tent if need be.
Turning there would get you to the ruins. Going straight will get you to Chansayab Lacanhá, which is the Lacandón village. There is not much there, except some spread out houses and a tienda. However, past it are three campgrounds and in February it looked like there would soon be more and fancier places for tourists to stay.
After you go through Chansayab, there is a road that continues onward to a fork in the road. To the left is one owned by Vicente Kin Bor Paniagua and to the right is one owned by another Paniagua Lacandón, whose given name I don't recall. In February of 2003 a single basic room cost 50 pesos or then a little over $5. It appears that the camp next door costs a bit more, because it is on the river. Meals are available and not terribly expensive.
Going to Flores from Palenque can involve a combi or bus from town. This is particularly good if you are not stopping for the day trip to Piedras Negras of to see Bonampák or Chansayab, because you will be paying all the way to Frontera Corozal. Transportes Rio Chancalá on 5 de Mayo has a few combis each day. Also see Transportes Montebello on Calle Velázquez Suarez.
From Frontera Corozal, you need to clear Immigration and then you can get a boat either across the river to La Técnica if you can make it to the 11 am bus. Otherwise, get a boat to Bethel, Guatemala by arranging it with the cooperative office at the the Escudo Jaguar. This cost just under $30 US in 2004. It would be best to show up with others or talk to others on your bus. In Bethel, there are buses for Flores. You should be able to change pesos to quetzales there. I came on a boat alone when I heard I could catch a bus onward to Flores, but a fellow appeared and changed my pesos. Note that I missed a few pesos, but when I was crossing into Belize, another money changer was happy to change those as well. Buses from Bethel to Flores go at 6 am, 12 noon and 3 pm, and there are some minivans as well.
The important thing to remember is that you don't have to pay extra to go this route. If you choose to do so, be aware of the potential problems.
Updated information is both welcome and requested. Please mail your info or feedback to
duende (at) mostlymaya.com. Thank you.
An Account from The Thorn Tree (Lonely Planet) account
Credited to Jon, known as manserjon
I took a two day trip with an agency from Palenque to Flores. The first day we went to Bonampak and Yaxchilán. Then we stayed a night in a Lacandón village, where all the guys have distinct long curly hair and wear white robes. The next day we crossed the border (involving going upstream on the river by motorboat) into Guatemala.
We were met by a private bus and guide who I did not get on well with. First he charged everyone 5 dollars to pay at the border post when getting a passports stamped (an illegal entry fee). I had entered Guatemala previously by land before and I knew that this was illegal, thus I decided to argue my case for not having to pay it.
first the guide repeated (in English) that I needed to pay the amount, but when
he got annoyed with me he changed to Spanish (to avoid everyone on the bus from
understanding him). He obviously was not going to give in so I reluctantly gave
him the money and he went to the immigration office with everyone's passports to
get them stamped. When he returned, I got mine back last out of everyone on the
bus and by this time the bus had been going for a good few minutes. I checked my
passport (as I always do to see the new addition to my stamp collection) and
noticed that my passport had not been stamped, only the paper immigration form
with it had been. I decided that there was no chance of turning the bus around
to get my passport properly signed and I did not know if that was intentional or
not, but it most probably was.
Later, I had a delay at the Tapachula exit from Guatemala because of my lack of a stamp, but I had made sure I kept the immigration form that was stamped, which eventually got me through that border without having to pay anything else.
Then the guide spent the entire journey to Flores trying to sell passengers trips to Tikal the next day, flights to Guatemala City from Flores, etc. It was fair enough that he was trying to get some commission on sales, but he did not give anyone any respect who (like me) did not want to buy anything.
We also made three stops in the town of Santa Elena (next to Flores) at cash machines, and then at his travel agency, so people could get money to pay for their newly ordered tickets. The driver and the agent then refused to get the bags down from the roof (and told us to relax and be more patient) of the people who had got bored of waiting and wanted to walk to our hotels.
Finally the bus drove across to Flores where they still refused to allow us to leave until they had got people into their recommended hotel. A group of us got so fed up with them and their rudeness that we climbed up on the roof and got our bags down so that we could leave the bus and find our own hotels.
met some friends who did the same journey a few days earlier and the exact some
thing happened to them, so I guess its a regular occurrence. There is not much
that can be done about it because as far as I know the same company run all the
trips on this route. A bit of a rude greeting to those entering Guatemala for
the first time, but nothing like that happened anywhere else I have been to in