from a friend....
I've twice been to Belize this year, the first in January / February and again last week. Since I hadn't been to Cancun for a few years, I decided to brave it and take the ADO bus to Cancun on my way back to Houston to test the service out.
My kids travel to Belize at least once a year to spend the summer with their dad, and sometimes they use this route. I'd never heard them complain. What's there not to like about Cancun?
The first eye opener was that a one-way ticket from Cancun to Houston costs half the price of a one way ticket from Belize to Houston. At about US$200 (or so) one way, I could actually splurge on a nice hotel, spend a night or two in Cancun, eat to my heart's content, and still arrive in Houston under the price of the one way from Belize to Houston (US$450+).
I booked a hotel in Cancun online (about US$48 a night) for two nights before I left Belize.
On the day of departure, I took, the last water taxi into Belize City (4:30 P.M.) which arrived in Belize City at around 5:30 p.m. A short BZ$7 taxi ride to the bus terminal later, I found out the ADO bus departs Belize at 7:30 (I believe). This gave me an hour or so of free time, so the taxi driver and I headed out to Li Chee for some fried chicken with steak sauce before departure.
The price of the one way ticket was US$40. It departed right on schedule. The buses are luxury buses, nicely air-conditioned (even TOO cold, maybe), there are drop-down movie screens, the chairs tilt backwards a bit ... All in all, the experience was as nice, or better, than flying in an airplane. The rows are four seats across, two, a space, and then two more. The buses are equipped with bathrooms.
The border crossing was smooth and easy. There were no problems on the Belize side, and the immigration and customs personnel were friendly and warm.
I can't remember much about arriving in Mexico, but other than filling out an immigration form and having the passport stamped, I don't think it was eventful.
The bus ride is about 8 hours long, and it is for the most part a direct service with little to no stops. The bus does not stop in Chetumal. Since it is overnight, most passengers doze of and try to nap. The bus was about 60% full. Thankfully the space next to my seat was vacant, and I was able to stretch a bit while I napped.
After a pretty much uneventful 8 hour ride, we arrived in Cancun at around 6:30 a.m. Mexican time. I went to the hotel where I had booked the room, and it turned out to be a very nice hotel, well worth the US$48 per night and probably double. In Houston, if a hotel is charging US$48 a night, you usually stay away from it, as there is a high likelihood prostitutes would be using it as a base. Not so in this hotel in Cancun, it was mostly filled with college kids from the US on Spring Break.
Cancun is as beautiful and wonderful as ever. I spent the two days in Cun soaking up the sun, the view, the sea breeze, the salt air ... all the things that make me nostalgic for the Caribbean. I love Mexican food, and their ceviche is second to none. Ceviche, frozen drink, beautiful beach, sunshine, sea breeze, what more could anyone ask for? It was sheer bliss. I did a few odd trips (to Isla Mujeres - US$17.50 round trip), etc. but with only two days to spare, there is not a lot that goes into the "to do" list.
On the day of departure, I was asked to pay a US$25 exit fee. I paid the fee at an airport bank, got a receipt, and had to present the receipt to the customer service agent for the airline I was flying on.
I am glad I made the choice to go the route that I did. The overnight bus, while it may sound like an awfully long commute, actually goes by very quickly when you are sleeping, lol.
It turns out that I had to make a second trip to Belize this week, and I again chose to travel via Cancun. My flight arrived in CUN at 2:30 P.M. I walked out of the terminal, inquired about the whereabouts of the ADO terminal, and to my surprise, there was a bus leaving in 15 minutes to Playa del Carmen.
Having also not been to Playa for several years, the idea of it was enjoyable. It was US$10 for the one hour or so bus ride which I boarded right at the airport. The overnight bus to Belize would stop in Playa at 11:40 p.m., giving me several hours to look around and explore Playa. The bus terminal in Playa has lockers, so you can padlock your luggage and head out to explore quite easily. No need to take a taxi or anything, the bus terminal is about a half a block from the amazing 5th avenue, and about a block or so from the awesome beach. Playa is beautiful. I would definitely go back again. The popular 5th avenue, the heart of Playa's tourism district, is bustling with activity. The shops are quaint and colorful. Artists abound on every street. It is an exciting sensory event.
At 11:40, right on schedule, the bus to Belize arrived. It got to the border around 4:30 p.m. The Mexican side once again billed me an exit tax of US$25, which the immigration officer promptly placed inside his pocket. Hmmm. Crossing the border in Belize was also smooth and easy. Even though it was very early in the morning when we got there, the immigration officer was extremely pleasant and cheerful. It was a very pleasant experience.
I got to Belize City around 6:30 a.m. When I departed the bus terminal, the friendly faces of the San Pedro Water Taxi land taxi drivers were already there, easing any discomfort I might have had about being in Belize City at the crack of dawn. Cab to the water taxi terminal - $6BZ. The water taxi left for CC at 7:45 a.m., and before you know it, I was safely back on my island home.
Aside from the long commute which I do not find anywhere close to unbearable, I find the experience of spending a few days or a few hours in Mexico quite refreshing. I would do the journey any day if I were not in a hurry and time was not an issue. Many Belizeans also probably think the same, as the bus back to Belize was full, with at least half of them being Belizeans.
It got me thinking how upside down we in Belize have gotten. Once upon a time, the Mexicans used to come to Belize to take our cheaper international flights to North America. Those were the days of TAN, TACA, SAHSA, and BAL. The Belize International Airport serviced not only Belizeans, but most of Quintana Roo. (The Port of Belize back then also serviced Quintana Roo as well, with a high percentage of cargo shipped through being in transit cargo bound for Mexico).
The Rivera Maya of Mexico is delightful and beautiful. The passenger who sat beside me talked about paying $100 US a night in Cancun at a beautiful all inclusive hotel (the OASIS) where for the rate I just quoted, she and her boyfriend could eat, drink, and chug anything they wanted. Alcoholic drinks were also included.
I can't help but think how much local business Belize is bleeding to Mexico. We are over priced as a destination. And our flights have become so expensive that we are now bleeding passengers to Mexico, which will in turn drive up airline prices to Belize even more.
Airfares to Belize are retarding the entire tourism industry. They are waaaay over every neighbor's fares. Joshua Berman's Maya 2012 guide even mentions entering Belize via a neighboring country if at all possible due to the consistently high airfares to Belize. The GOB is obviously addicted to the upfront tax money they are getting from the airlines. They'd get so much more in the long run if they'd drop the tax down but we should not hold our breath. It's a major bummer. I personally would be able to convince many more people to go to Belize with airfares at the same rates as Guatemala City or San Pedro Sula (Cancun is a special case and those fares are probably always going to be lower than everyone else).
That US$25 "exit tax" at the border has long been a real issue with foreign travelers. Used to be, you paid the fee as the Mexico entrance fee and it was included in your airline ticket price, but the border officials at Chetumal would still try to collect it as an exit fee (there was no such thing as an exit fee if you had paid coming in.) They must have made a fortune. Rules changed a few months ago, and I'm not sure the airlines still collect the fee, but it's kind of a cloudy issue.
Just returned from Merida and will be filing my report shortly. I share your sentiments only my return trip allowed me some very interesting comparisons.
On my return, I took the ADO to Chetumal and the Belize bus the rest of the way. I would not recommend it nor would I do it again.