|When you're travelling a lot and staying many weeks/months in a country, you're more than likely to reach the limit of your legal stay in that country. Depending on the involved countries (the one of your passport and the one you're visiting) that could be a few weeks to a few months. The limitation is either through a formal visa or just a time allowance in the country. In most cases, you have to leave the country for a short while before returning under a new visa/allowance. The time you have to be out of the country varies in each case (depending of both the countries visited and your passport's one). I had to make such trip out of Guatemala to renew my time allowance. Even without a formal visa, the trip is still dubbed a “visa run”. Here's how I did it... and how it could have been done better.|
First thing you have to know about the
time allowance in Guatemala is that the time doesn't only include the
time spent in Guatemala but also in El Salvador, Honduras and
Nicaragua, since they all share a common immigration zone, known as
C4. So, to renew your stay within the C4 from Guatemala, you need to
go to either Belize or Mexico. With my Canadian passport, I'm
allowed a total of 90 days for all C4 countries, without a formal
visa. Since I had been in Guatemala for almost 3 months, I was due
to exit in order to pursue my journey in the other countries. You
can also renew the 'visa' once (and only once) in Guatemala City
without leaving the country, but it's tad complicated and you have to
wait for specific dates. Leaving the country for 3 days (the
official legal requirement) is far more easier.
I was in Quetzaltenango (locally known
as 'Xela'), which is in the Western part of Guatemala, thus the
closest way to go was Mexico. If you're into heavily tourists
cities, the most popular destination for those three days is San
Cristobal de las Casas, and there are shuttle services getting there
from almost all tourists hot spots in Guatemala. I've already been
there and I'm not a big fan of big tourists hubs. So, I just wanted
to get to Mexico along the border and then re-enter. My original
plan was just to spend 3 days in the border city of Ciudad Hidalgo
then re-enter. But then I wanted to cross the whole country to reach
El Salvador. With the schedules of the buses leaving Guatemala City
for San Salvador, it would have been very tricky to do it from Ciudad
Hidalgo. There are buses leaving Tapachula (a bit North of Ciudad
Hidalgo) however. To complicate things a bit, getting to Tapachula
from Guatemala is virtually impossible so you have to cross at Ciudad
Hidalgo on your way out.
Officially, there are no buses leaving
Xela that will take you to Tecún Umán (the Guatemalan side of
Ciudad Hidalgo). Most people will tell you it's best to go through
Retalhuleu (known as 'Reu') then hop onto another bus to Tecún Umán.
But these second buses can be scarse sometimes (and no schedule is
published). I hopped on a bus that assured me they were going to
Tecún Umán from Xela, but they they dropped me in Coatepeque and
transferred (free of charge) to a collectivo mini-van. I don't know
if it was only because we were only 2 passengers left or if it never
actually goes to the border however.
So, I think you'd be best to take a bus
from Xela to go to Coatepeque. It will save you lots of time (not
going South to reach Reu first)... and from Coatepeque, you can
easily get a collectivo to the Tecún Umán.
At the border city, you'll be dropped
at the bus terminal which is on the outskirts of the city and the
best way to reach the border is to take a bici-taxi. They will get
you to the border in about 20 minutes. It's very possible the driver
will propose you to stop at a money changer if you need to convert
your Quetzales into pesos. You can then change your currency without
leaving your seat or you can wait at the border where there are tons
of money changers.
Crossing the border bridge by foot.
The bici-taxi will either drop you off
at the Guatemalan customs or will wait for you to drive you to the
Mexican customs office. It's about a kilometre away, crossing a
bridge. I walked it, as I always prefer to actually cross the
borders by foot now. Once all the paper work done on Mexican side,
you exit to the town of Ciudad Hidalgo and right off the gate you'll
see collectivos to Tapachula.
Overall, my transit to Tapachula (bus
from Xela, collectivo from Coatepeque, bici-taxi to the border,
crossing the border by foot and collectivo from Ciudad Hidalgo) took
me a bit more than 7 hours. If I had taken the bus directly to
Coatepeque from Xela, I would have saved at least 90 minutes.
I enjoyed my 3 days in Tapachula as it
allowed me to prepare myself a bit for El Salvador and allowed me
to have time to buy my bus ticket. As a bonus, as I was at the
station waiting for my bus, I experienced a major earthquake (6.9 on Richter scale)
View from a bici-taxi to the border.