Belize City bus

A Bloody Welcome to Belize

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“What the hell?”

The bus lurched to a stop, passengers scrambling over each other to press their faces against the grimy windows. Sweat dripped from my forehead as the fickle breeze disappeared, while loud voices competed with distorted hip-hop from a dozen mobile phones.

In my exhausted state I could understand little of the heavily-accented Creole, but eventually a single word started to make itself heard over and over again.

A few people snapped photos on their phone as the bus eventually started to move, police waving the traffic on past what looked like a bundle of clothes in the middle of the road. Drawing closer, I realised that what I’d thought was discarded clothing was nothing of the sort.

The body of a man lay face-up on the highway, the broken remains of a motorbike scattered up and down the road. Thick, dark blood lay pooled around his head and body, baking in the heat of a tropical morning. The white towel over his face explained why I couldn’t hear the wail of an approaching siren.

There would be no point calling this man an ambulance.

The murmurs from other passengers increased in volume as we passed, that single word being passed around like a football once again.


It had been a long night.

There’s one direct bus that plies the 9+ hour route between Cancun’s shiny resorts and the gritty sprawl of Belize City, and it doesn’t leave until 10:15pm. That wouldn’t be a problem if, like many other night buses in Mexico, the seats reclined into some kind of sleeping position.

They don’t.

Still, it’s not like it really matters all that much. Depending on traffic, you’ll hit the border crossing somewhere around 4am – and you’ll be there for a while. Even with only a dozen people on our bus, the process took well over an hour.

On the Mexican side, you’ll need to allow plenty of time for everyone to have an argument with the man in the little booth who is charging a 300 peso exit fee. It’s a complicated situation, but for most people who arrive in Mexico by plane, this tax is actually included in their fare.

Without a copy of the ticket that clearly itemises that fee, though, they’ll be asked to pay it again if they leave by land or sea. I’d happened to read up about this fun little feature and — having printed out my ticket from six months earlier — was stamped out without issue. Others weren’t quite so fortunate.

I’m not quite sure what the problem was with the immigration folks on the Belizean side, but I’m guessing it had a lot to do with having to sit in a sweaty tin shed at five in the morning. We got every question in the book about how long we planned to spend in Belize (two weeks), where we were going (several different places), whether we planned to work (of course not), how long we’d spent in Mexico (why did that even matter?) and god knows what else.

Eventually, bored of playing with us after about twenty minutes, the guard grumpily smeared a stamp across our passports and waved us through.

The heat hit like a blast furnace as we stepped off the bus, despite it being barely 8am. The main bus terminal in Belize City is little more than a parking lot with a ticket office, dust swirling everywhere as we collected our bags and sweated towards the door. Bound for San Ignacio, we were hoping to avoid hanging around too long – entertainment options seemed rather thin on the ground.

A  friendly local pointed us towards the battered local bus slouching in a corner of the lot. Already full of laughing families and snoozing teenagers, we good-naturedly shoved our way aboard, stowed the bags on long wooden shelves and squeezed into a seat.

After so long in Mexico, hearing English everywhere came as quite a shock. The sticky heat came as less of one, and the jeans I’d worn to stave off the air-conditioned chill of the overnight bus suddenly didn’t seem so appropriate.

I was hungry, exhausted and smelled like somebody who hadn’t seen a shower in a while. The bus to San Ignacio was going to spend much of the day dawdling its way there, taking in a very large woman shouting out the word of the lord to widespread applause, a small group of toddlers who found me the most fascinating thing in the world and, half an hour into the trip, the first dead body of my travels.

Welcome to Belize.

Where I Stayed

We stayed at the River Park Inn, a guesthouse and campsite just outside the main town and about a five minute walk from the bus station. The rooms were clean, the a/c worked well and the owner was lovely — he runs a tailoring shop downstairs and even sewed up a hole in my shorts without asking as part of the laundry service!

Image via Flickr/Sarah tz

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  1. Wow. What a welcome to Belize. I hope your adventure gets better. O_O
    I loved Belize when I went. Get the hell out of Belize City and get yourself inland (Cayo district) to enjoy all the jungle adventures or to the islands/beaches – which I’m sure you’re planning to do.

    1. Heh, yeah, it got a lot better after that! We spent essentially no time in Belize City — about half an hour on the way through to San Ignacio, and not much more when going to/from Caye Caulker a couple of weeks later. 🙂

  2. I love your writing. It allowed me to remember, as I sit on my 9-5 desk, just what overnight travel on buses and entering new countries was like. From the excitement to the exhaustion. Nice work on reading up on the little visa trick, wherever did you find that information?

    1. Awww, thanks so much! 😀

      Somewhat surprisingly, I think I found out about the visa thing on a random TripAdvisor thread while I was researching something else. I ended up hunting out what was probably the only internet cafe in Isla Mujeres and asking them to print out my old ticket for a few pesos. Well worth the effort, as it turned out!

  3. I’ve seen a couple of dead bodies in my travels, but none as graphic as the situation you witnessed. I’m sorry to hear that – I hope your holiday improves, and that the poor motorcyclist is now at peace :|. “Salam”.

  4. Hey Dave

    Are you still in Belize? Just wondering how it is/was there? Currently planning a trip to Central America – flying into cancun, hitting a beach for 4/5 days and then travelling down to Antigua in Guatemala and wondering if Belize is worth it. Also how was Isla mujeres?


    1. Hey Alex,

      I’ll be writing some more about Belize at some point soon — it’s fair to say that although I enjoyed my time there, I liked both Mexico and the little bit of Guatemala that I saw, more. Belize was relatively expensive, especially accommodation, and the food didn’t excite me all that much. Still, it’s a beautiful little country with some great beaches and ruins, so I’d say it’s worth spending a few days in en-route to Guatemala.

      Isla Mujeres is very tourist-focused (not surprising, given its location) but I liked it for 2-3 days. It’s worth renting a scooter and doing a loop of the island, as well as getting in some beach time. 🙂

      1. Great thanks for the tips. I think that’s what we’ll do. Have been researching Belize and it’s def a bit expensive to stay for too long. But we’ll be travelling overland from the Yucatan down to Guatemala so may as well stay for 2 or 3 nights. My girlfriend has a lifelong dream to see manatees in the wild too – so thinking it may be good to that from one of the northern cayes? Glad you enjoyed Guatemala – from researching it looks like a fascinating place. Anywhere in partic. you’d recommend? We’re thinking of stopping off at Lago Peten Itza before heading down to Antigua to settle for a while and learn some spanish 🙂

        Thanks re. Isla Mujeres – I have just stumbled across Isla Holbox – which I think is a bit quieter? Found through Lonely Planet a nice and affordable looking place near to the beach.

        1. We literally only spent a couple of nights in Guatemala — basically just to see Tikal (which was fantastic, btw). From San Ignacio, it’s pretty easy to take a bus or taxi to the border, then take a colectivo from the Guatemalan side. Since we were only there for two nights, we stayed in El Remate, which is a lovely little town closest to the national park, but you can stay longer term in Flores instead if you like, which has cheaper accommodation, more food options etc.

          Not sure about Isla Holbox, but it wouldn’t be difficult for it to be quieter than Isla Mujeres. 🙂

          1. Cool I look forward to reading more about Belize. Ah yes have read about El Remate, glad to hear you liked it there, think we will most likely spend a few nights there and will of course head out to Tikal.

  5. Raw and real! I’ll keep in mind the exit fee scam when I’m down in Mexico the next couple of months, and hopefully, I won’t see any corpses down there!

    1. As long as you’ve got a print out of the ticket that clearly itemizes the tourist tax, you’ll be fine. And yes, a lack of corpses would be ideal!