Travelling to Belize by road from the USA through Mexicoby: Terry Warburton
My vehicle of choice was a 1982 Dodge van, for several reasons. The first
is that I had only paid $300 for it and it was in very good condition to
start with. Being reasonably mechanical, I took it upon myself to do what I
could to prepare it not just for the drive through Mexico, but to provide
reliable transportation in Belize. As it was a high mileage vehicle, I
completely rebuilt the transmission and replaced the torque converter. I
then replaced almost everything that could possibly go wrong with a
vehicle. Replaced parts were as follows; starter, alternator, all belts,
all hoses, plugs, wires, distributor cap, rotor, thermostat, valve cover
gaskets, water pump, timing chain and gears. The radiator was also pulled
out and sent to a shop where they flushed it and fixed a small leak.
As I kept all of the parts that were replaced and took them with me, I felt
confident that even if something went wrong on the road, I had the tools
and parts to replace or repair things. I also took a floor jack and two
hydraulic jacks. along with a large selection of tools.
I had decided to take a small 17' travel trailer with me on this trip for
two reasons. It would hold a lot of the woodworking tools and items for the
house I am building and it would provide a place to stay during
construction. The only things I did to it were to replace the bearings and
make sure the spare tire was in good shape.
My cousins son , Nick, was coming along as he wished to spend the winter in
Belize. I had arranged to fly a Belizean named Earl Green, to Houston where
we would meet. He had done the trip a few times before and just having him
along made me feel better about this adventure.
We left Orlando on Thursday at 2:30 in the afternoon. I started out driving
at 55mph but when everything seemed to be rolling along OK soon I was keeping it
at 65mph. We met Earl in Houston at a prearranged hotel, at 6:00pm Friday,
had a good meal and slept till 3:00am. With the early start we made it to
Brownsville at 10:30. The first stop was at Sanborn's Mexico Insurance
Services. They are right on the road into Brownsville at 1245 Expressway
77, Ste A, TX 78520. Their phone number is 956-546-6644. I had phoned ahead
and faxed them the info needed, so all the paperwork was ready. They were
very helpful and the cost was $47.00 for 5 days of insurance. The next stop
was at M.C.Agency, 225 E. 11th ST Ste.#4, Brownsville, TX 78520. Phone and
fax is 956-542-2456. The owner, Mario Casanova had been very informative as
to what was needed and items not to be imported to Mexico. Again, I had
faxed all the vehicle info and a list and value of all items that I would
be transporting through Mexico. He had translated it all into Spanish and had
all the paperwork ready. There is a three day period that is imposed to be
sure the vehicle you have is not stolen, so I was glad I had phoned ahead,
so that it had already been checked out.
The final stop was at the actual company that handled Trans-Migration through
Mexico. This was half way down the highway to Reynosa where we had to
cross. ( If you are only traveling into Mexico and back to the States you
can cross at Brownsville.)The fees for both places came to $250.00. I found
out later that if you want to spend the time, you could skip using Mario.
Personally, I felt his help was worth it. We were crossing on a Saturday
and were lucky to get through as this place closed at noon. It was another
16 miles to the actual border crossing. Things there were a little
confusing. You stood in line to get a visa ( $10.00 each) and then in
another line to get more papers. ( another $20.00 ) There are people
standing around that try to get you to go outside the building where they
tell you that the driver needs 5 copies of the visa for the next stop
point. He hustles you for $2.00 and gets the copies. I don't remember if we
needed them or not. After this, you go through and are in Mexico. This
took about an hour and a half. We headed back east along a road that had
seen better days. I guess it's to prepare you for the rest of the trip. We
stopped at the first little restaurant and enjoyed some goat with rice and
beans, washed down with a couple of Corona beers. The next stop would be
yet another customs check about 10 miles down the road. The officer stamps
your papers and asks for $1. I gave him two and they promptly disappeared
into his shirt pocket, with a smile.
We had crossed the major hurdle and only had to worry about 1,400 miles of
Mexican highway ahead of us, that and Belizean customs.
While at the border, we met another Belizean from Succotz. We chatted and
found out he was on his 14th trip so far this year. He was doing what Earl was
doing for me, which was to be a guide through Mexico for another dumb
Gringo. Next time we saw him he was at the Belize border. Along the way we
also met up with David Alpuche from Belmopan, who was also bringing a
vehicle back down.
We headed south down hwy 180. This follows the east coast of Mexico, and
seemed like the shortest route to Belize. The large farms seemed to have
very rich soil and were all under production. The highway was a little
rough, but not too bad. We had to drive around 45mph and the trip was
starting to look like it would take longer than I had planned. As I had a
flight booked back to the States for the day before Thanksgiving, it seemed
that driving through the night was going to be our fate. While people had
warned me against this, it did not seem a daunting activity. That was until
nature added rain and fog to our trip. Lucky for me it was Earls turn to
drive, so I closed my eyes and slept for 3 hours. We had 10 extra gallons
of gas on board so were not worried about finding a gas station. As it
turned out the stations were all open 24 hours. Gas prices were a little
higher than in the States, but not as silly as in Belize. We were concerned
about gas quality, but it was a non issue, as the van ran fine.
One of the worse things we experienced were the " topes ", these sleeping
policemen or speed-bumps were located at virtually every small town on the
highway. Taken at a speed of more than 2 mph could lead to major front-end
damage. We saw one vehicle with parts of it's front-end on the ground. Not
all of these bumps are well marked and after hitting one at 40mph I knew I
better not do it again. The travel trailer suffered the most from these
nasty things and needed repairs when we got to Belize. The topes were,
without doubt the worst part of the trip. Don't take them lightly, just
We almost had trouble at one gas station when they said they would not
accept US money. We had used up our pesos and had no choice. It was 5 in
the morning and we were not going to wait for a bank to open. We finally
told them to siphon the gas back out or take the money. Logic won the day,
and they settled for an exchange rate of 5 pesos to the dollar. The proper
rate was 7, but I was in no mood to argue the point, as it was my fault for
being short on pesos.
We were stopped several times in routine stops by the Federales. It is a
little intimidating to have 15 soldiers with AK47 guns surround the vehicle
and look in all the windows. They checked our passports and sent us on our
way. For the most part they were always polite and business like. We asked
one what they were looking for. His response was " guns ". At no time was
our vehicle truly searched, so these stops were of minor concern. I think
we were stopped a total of 6 times on the whole trip.
In every large town, we managed to get lost with no idea of what happed to
the right road. There is a real lack of good signs to keep you following
what should be the main highway through town. In one town the policeman
just looked at the big Trans-Migration stickers you must have in the front
window and pointed us in the right direction. I guess he could just look at
us and see we were lost. In another town a cab driver shouted at us to
follow him as he led us out of town and back onto the road south. I gave
him $2.00 and he seemed happy. So was I !
At another time everyone we asked sent us in a direction that I thought was
not right. When we arrived at the toll booth we knew the next stop was out
west in the middle of Mexico. They allowed us to do a U-turn and then
another police officer led us to a different ramp. This was going north,
but he explained it was the only way to go south. Just do another U-turn
after going through the toll booth. Gee !. Why didn't I think of that ? I
thanked him and he just put out his hand and said " money ? ". I gave him
$5.00 and his eyes lit up. If we had gone through the wrong toll it would
have cost more than that in lost time and money.
We finally made it to just this side of Villerhormosa, by 8:00 p.m.. Once
again it was raining and Earl was driving. We opted for the first motel we
saw, as we had been on the road for 40 hours since leaving Houston. The
motel was mistakenly called " The Ritz ". When it was built it probably
was, but now was very run down, but clean and they had a restaurant and
bar. We left a wake-up call for 3:00am which we thought would get us to the
border at a reasonable time. Fortunately Earl woke up at 3:10 and got us
up. I went to the lobby to check out and found the security guard asleep on
the couch. He woke up and went in the office to wake up the clerk. So much
for our wake up call ! But hey, what did I expect for $30.00 ?
The weather finally straightened out a little and we had a nice drive for
the final run for Belize. This section of the highway was really good and
we could drive 60mph most of the way. We made it to the Mexican side of the
border at 11:00am. We were told to pull into a secured area till our
paperwork had been cleared. It was not busy with people crossing the
border, but it still took an hour for someone to come out and tell us we
needed to pay $50.00, in US funds, not pesos or Belize dollars. Hmmm.....,
I asked for a receipt and he just looked at me and asked how long I would
like to wait for one. A Belizean at the border whom Earl knew, told us they
were not suppose to charge for looking at your paperwork, but would
anyways. By this time I had seen enough of Mexico and reluctantly gave up
$50. This guy had been waiting for 5 days to clear a small pick-up truck
through Mexican customs. It seems that when he entered Mexico, the
secretary mis-typed a number in the vehicle ID. Now at this end, they would
not let him out, till they rechecked to see if it was stolen. They did let
him through, right behind us.
We drove the 200 feet across into Belize and a sense of relief swept over
us. We were home, and glad of it ! It was my bad fortune to be crossing on
a day when a lot of people were bringing vehicles across. This slowed down
the proceedings as each one had to be looked at and assessed. That would
delay us till 6:00pm. All the employees at the Belize border were polite
and helpful. A couple of them even apologized for the delay and explained
the backlog of vehicles. When it was our turn, I was glad I had taken the
time to accurately list all the items that I was bringing and their value.
Everything was accepted as written and the duties were $54.00. The van was
subject to duties and taxes of 88% of value. The valuation was $1,500 BZ.
which seemed reasonable to me. If it had only a 4 cylinder engine the
duties are 45%.
We cleared the last hurdles as there is a border broker right there to do
the paperwork required. He charged $20.00 US. There is a small insurance
agency right there also, and for $50.00 US, I took out 3 months of vehicle
insurance. We were free to go and did ! Next stop was Nestors restaurant in
Corazol, for dinner and Belikins. After that we drove through Belize city
and out to the Belmopan Convention Hotel, where the owner George Sosa had
our room waiting. That bed sure looked good !
Synopsis of trip in hindsight:
1- Planning ahead paid off.
Notes: While it cost around $500.00 to fly Earl to Houston and pay him for being a guide, I would recommend the use of a guide for anyone's first trip. Earl can be reached through George at the Belmopan Hotel. PH 001-501-8-22130
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