Crossing Belize Border & Trouble with Belize Police
Well the day has finally come.
My time in Playa del Carmen has come to an end. Most people, myself included usually get a real melancholy feeling when something comes to an end, especially something that encompassed 3 years of your life. Me? I feel nothing of the sort.
You can probably attribute that to the fact that I have been visualizing this trip, and have been ready to leave Playa del Carmen and see something new for some time now.
We rammed the car, which we named “Angelica” as a tribute to our cleaning lady, full of our things, and of course, our chief navigator, Winston and bid farewell to Casa Canada.
Even though we prepped the car for the journey, it was not far on the way to the Belize border, until we encountered our first issue. The road from Playa del Carmen to Chetumal, and the border of Belize, is very straight-forward and direct, but there are numerous unmarked speed bumps and holes and less than 30 minutes down the road, as we cruised over some rolling bumps in the road, we kept hearing a grinding noise. With “Angelica” packed to the brim with tools, bags, food, 2 big guys, and a pitbull, coupled with the old, soft suspension, the wheel well of the car was grinding against the side wall of the tire, to the point where you could see a line wearing away part of the rubber!
Travellers Tip: When driving through Central America, have tools and a car that you do not care about its appearance!
We pulled over right across from Puerto Aventuras, and proceeded to, with sheer force, turn the lip of the wheel well away from the tire on all 4 wheel wells. The next few minutes of driving, were in absolute silence to listen for any sort of friction, thankfully, there was none!
The drive from Playa del Carmen to Chetumal is simple, don’t turn. Essentially, its a dead straight road the whole way, but as we arrived towards Chetumal, we were starting to get very hungry and looking at entering the town itself, before attacking the border. Unfortunately, as you can imagine in Mexico, the signage wasn’t very good and the road we were on started to veer right and become the road to the border! Without anywhere to turn around, and without wanting to arouse suspicion, we figured we would put our hunger out of mind, and get the first border over and done with … easier said than done.
If you are crossing the border in a bus, you are told what to do, where to stand, where to go, and when to pull out money. When you are driving yourself, with a live animal, and a car with registration from Las Vegas, things are a little more complicated.
Travellers Tip: If you are crossing the border with a car, I would advise taking the assistance of the gentleman who approach you in line. For a 5 dollar tip, your process with be quicker and smoother and is worth the money.
Crossing with a vehicle you will need to:
Fumigate - You can do this right at the border. There is a little hut, and you pay about 5 dollar, and they will fumigate your car, inside and out, in a couple minutes. You must receive a piece of paper proving it has been fumigated as you will be asked for this later.
Import your vehicle - After you go through customs, you will need to go to the desk at the back of the office, and provide proof of ownership of the car. They will stamp your passport as proof you have completed this process.
Insurance - This is important. Driving in Belize without insurance is illegal and a serious crime. You can buy insurance at the border and can be as little as a couple dollars per day. You are also able to buy it at certain gas stations, and independent insurance brokers in town.
Travellers Tip: Be %100 sure you have the insurance. We went through the final checkpoint with a border official to check we had everything and we were waived through the border.
We assumed, through a number of things, fees and processes we had to do, we had obtained the insurance. Also, with the official saying we were good to go, we took his word for it. After lunch in Corozal, and leaving Orange Walk, a town south of the border, we crossed a road block. Still not sure if this was planned, and set up to catch us specifically, but trying to catch drunk drivers at 2 in the afternoon seems a bit strange. After handing over all of our documents, the Police officers said we had not obtained any insurance. They asked us to pull over, and get out of the car and proceeded to explain to us, how serious this offence was.
This is not our first rodeo, and we understood they were looking for a bribe, but being adamant that we had gone through the correct process, we tried to sort out another route. They allowed me, to drive into Orange Walk to get insurance, rightfully knowing that in this part of the world, in the afternoon on a Saturday, everything would be closed … and they were right.
The attempt to get insurance had failed, so by the time I had returned to the roadblock, the police had packed up, Steve and an officer had bonded over their time in the military, and had reduced the bribe to a couple hundred dollars. The other option? A couple nights in jail for Steve, and an appointment in front of the judge come Monday morning.
Our plan was still to get across Belize to San Ignacio for the night and so we still had a significant amount of driving remaining. “Will there be other roadblocks?” we asked the Police, and a roadblock being their way of making extra cash for the weekend, they replied “Not sure, but that’s your issue. Drive safe.”
Off we went with our eyes wide open looking for any sort of blue, red, white light in the distance the whole way across the country. As the sun was setting, with even worse road signs than Mexico, and a couple hundred kilometers still to cover, the cockpit got very tense.
With our gas station map, we noted with the towns we were passing, that we were finally close to arriving into San Ignacio. As we rolled over one of the last hills, we saw exactly what we were fearing. Police lights. Another road block. Again, too close to stop in the middle of the road and turn around, and with no other route to take, we rolled up to the stop.
“Good evening. Registration and insurance please.” Without saying a word, we handed over the big folder with every paper we had inside. “Where is your Belize insurance?” the office asked. “Its all in there, including my insurance from the States.” After flipping through all the papers, the officer replied “You need insurance from here in Belize.” First day of the trip, feeling half past dead, with zero patience, we basically told him that the border patrol had ushered us through without checking for insurance, we had just been through a roadblock and we were not paying him a cent. “What is your plan?” We explained that we were staying in San Ignacio, a mere 2 kilometers away, for the weekend, and then getting the hell out of Belize! Obviously feeling sorry for us, this saint of a man let us through as long as we promised not to drive, and to get insurance on Monday even if it was just for the final 10km to the Guatemala border. We thanked him, counted ourselves so lucky and headed off to get a well deserved nights sleep in San Ignacio.
Day 1 in the books. What have we gotten ourselves into?