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Visa Run Guatemala – Mexico
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-07-12 19:56:52 | Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico
Keywords: border, crossing, Itinerary, planning, transportation
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.

Better way

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.

Related posts:
My entrance into Belize
Panama to Colombia, day 4
Panama to Colombia, day 1
I'm back
One year already

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