Essential Tips and Information: Border Crossing from Mexico to Guatemala

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Travelling from Mexico to Guatemala? There are two popular routes that most travellers take from Mexico to Guatemala:

1. From San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas State: cross at the Mexican town of Ciudad Cuauhtémoc (La Mesilla in Guatemala), reached via Route 190.

2. From Oaxaca State: many people choose to take the coastal Route 200 through Chiapas and down into Guatemala. Cross the border at Ciudad Hidalgo (Tecun Uman in Guatemala).

Since most travellers choose to spend some time in the colonial city of San Cristobal (ourselves included), we went with that route.

travel from san cristobal to panajachel
We love San Cristobal, it’s one of our favourite cities

How to get from San Cristobal (Mexico) to the Guatemalan Border

Note – all prices are in US Dollars

You can take public transport from San Cristobal (OCC Bus approx 100 MXN/$6.50, 3.5 hours) to the border town of Ciudad Cuauhtemoc. Once there, you will need to stamp out of Mexico and hop on a collectivo taxi (10 MXN/$0.65) to take you through “no man’s land” to the Guatemalan border.

Once you’re through immigration on the Guatemalan side at La Mesilla, you can find a chicken bus to take you to your final destination – such as Quetzaltenango (40 Quetzals/$5.25) or Huehuetenango (20Q/$2.65, 2 hours). Pullman buses go to Guatemala City (approx. 170Q/$22.30, at 9:00pm, 8 hour journey).

Since our final destination was Lake Atitlan (which is 220 kms from the Mexican border), rather than try to figure out all of that transportation ourselves, we thought it seemed logical, easier, and basically the same price, to opt for a shuttle bus to take us from San Cristobal in Mexico all the way to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

travel from san cristobal to panajachel
The shuttle bus that took us from San Cristobal to Panajachel

The Journey from San Cristobal to Panajachel by Shuttle Bus

There are tour companies all over San Cristobal that you can approach independently to book a ticket. We opted to reserve our shuttle bus ticket with the hostel we were staying at (Rossco Backpackers). The company they worked with was Chincultik, and the cost of a ticket from San Cristobal to Panajachel (“Pana”) was 305 MXN ($19.75) each, with the full journey taking 8 or 9 hours.

The minibus picked us up at our hostel at 7:30 am and together with 17 other passengers, we left the city. At 9:30 am, we stopped at a typical tourist-trap restaurant for breakfast, which consisted of a cold buffet for 95 MXN ($6.15).

Around noon we arrived at the border town of Ciudad Cuauhtemoc. Here’s where things got a bit weird…

“Official” Exit Fees

We were told that there is an “official” exit fee for leaving Mexico – a fee that is included in your airline ticket if you arrived in Mexico by plane. The cost of this exit fee (we were told by our hostel) is 250 MXN ($16.22). So, since we knew this would happen, we contacted our airline and had them send us a breakdown of fees included in our airline ticket. We had this with us when we arrived at immigration.

travel mexico to guatemala
It was a full minibus of people heading to the Guatemalan border

We were prepared to go into the immigration office ourselves and stamp out of Mexico (which is standard procedure), however, the driver collected all of our passports and everyone’s “exit fees” of 332 MXN ($21.70). When we left Mexico and entered Belize last year, the cost of this exit fee was 306 MXN ($20), which just proves that this fee isn’t official at all! And another thing: how did the passengers know that was the correct exit fee? They just trusted the driver? Nick and I were both baffled by this, but kept our mouths shut, as we had our “get out of Mexico free” papers.

(Note: LunaGuava chose to pay this exit fee at a bank in San Cristobal rather than dealing with corrupt border guards. Their fee? 295 MXN ($19.15).

**As you can see, this is all very sketchy. If you arrived by air, make sure to have your airline send you a breakdown of fees paid. If you don’t have this, maybe it’s best to pay the fee at a bank in San Cristobal.**

The Guatemalan Border

After receiving our stamped passports back, we continued to the Guatemalan border, in the same bus that we arrived in. It was a typical border town with many money changers, food vendors, transportation drivers and even a couple of crazy people wandering around. Once there, we collected our backpacks from the roof of the bus and started walking.

We needed to walk about 100 m to the immigration booth to get our official Guatemalan stamp in our passports. We waited in line and were told we had to pay 20 MXN ($1.30) to enter the country. Now, this fee definitely isn’t official and is something new that the border guards are trying out. Unfortunately, it’s either pay the $1.30, or don’t enter the country.

While we headed straight for Lake Atitlan from the border, you could technically head to Antigua and then on to other major sites like Semuc Champey or Tikal but you’ll likely have to stop in Antigua for a night first.

travel to guatemala from mexico
Welcome to Guatemala!

Exchanging Money at the Border

When we were in San Cristobal, we attempted to change some of our Pesos for Quetzals (the currency of Guatemala), but no money changers or banks had any of their neighbour’s currency. So, we had no choice but to take a bit of a hit and change our money at the border.

We received a rate of 0.45 Q for 1 peso. The rate is supposed to be 0.50 Q for 1 peso. But at least the transaction was friendly and smooth, unlike other times when we’ve changed money at borders.

Our driver was waiting for us as we exited the small immigration booth, but he wasn’t there to continue being our driver. He directed us to his colleague in a different minibus who would take us the final leg of the journey to Pana, while he took other foreigners from the border back to San Cristobal.

The remainder of the journey was also smooth and easy, with a couple of bathroom breaks along the way. The bus stopped at a gas station which had an ATM machine, so we took out some more local currency while we had the chance.

Looking for more Mexico posts? See Also:

Things To Do in San Pancho – A List of The Top 15

Things To Do in Playa del Carmen – A List of The Top 21

Things To Do in Puerto Vallarta – A List of The Top 20

Things To Do in Guanajuato – A List of The Top 10

Places To Visit in Mexico – Top 12 Spots

Backpacking Mexico – Top Reasons To Travel Here Now

Manzanillo Colima – Ultimate Travel Guide

Arriving at Panajachel

We were dropped off at a tour agency in the center of Pana, and made our way down to the docks. If you’re not staying in Pana, you can get a boat to anywhere on the lake until 7:00 pm. Lucky for us, we arrived at 5:30 pm, and took a boat for 25Q ($3.30) to the village of San Juan.

In total, the journey was 10 hours long.

For an overview of what the town of Pana is like, check out our quick video here.

travel from mexico to lake atitlan
Our first lancha boat from Pana to San Juan

Top Goat Notes:

If you haven’t paid for your exit fee at the bank in San Cristobal, or if you don’t have your proof of payment, make sure to have enough pesos on you to pay for this fee. Same with the entrance fee to Guatemala…otherwise you’ll be stuck at the border. It’s also possible that they will accept US dollars, but not at a very good exchange rate.

Bring some water, food and snacks, or you’ll end up paying too much money for the food on offer.

If you’re prone to motion sickness, you may want to take a motion sickness pill. Apart from many speed bumps, the roads on the Mexican side aren’t so bad, but things get a little windy on the Guatemalan side.

We definitely recommend taking the shuttle bus option, as it’s only $19.75 to get you all the way to Lake Atitlan. If you were to try to do the journey independently, you might save a few bucks, but since this simple trip already took 10 hours (which was longer than expected), imagine how long local transport would take! Not to mention, the shuttle buses stop for food, bathroom breaks and are comfortable.

For more information, check out: Surviving Food Poisoning – Goodbye Mexico, Hello Guatemala!

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“Essential Tips and Information: Border Crossing from Mexico to GuatemalaThe Ultimate Travel Tips To Border Crossing from Mexico to Guatemala“Practical Tips To Crossing the border from Mexico to Guatemala


Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 12 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel.

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19 thoughts on “Essential Tips and Information: Border Crossing from Mexico to Guatemala”

  1. Hey guys! Glad you made it in one piece. Shame about the sketchiness, but unfortunately that’s to be expected when crossing border by land in Central America. Many thanks for linking to our humble page, that’s very sweet of you. Good luck!

  2. So useful, and so glad you posted this! We’re in Guate now and considering going from Atitlan into San Cristobal but are kind worried about the safety of it. Did you guys experience any weirdness? How did you decide to just go for it? Lol.

  3. Thanks so much for the post. We are considering taking this exact route and just looking at all the different options.

    It’s a shame that getting ripped off at the border is expected in so many countries. 🙁

  4. To bad that we found your blog post after we crossed the border! We ended up paying the immigration tax, the “administration” fee and had a bad experience with the company we chose to go with. We’re here at Lake Atitlan now and loving it though 🙂 ! We like your name btw (Goats on the road), we call ourselves “ankor på vift” meaning duck on the loose in Swedish! /Ulrika and Pontus

  5. Your posts are awesome! I’m a travel junkie myself (currently in Guatemala) need to hop a border to renew my visa, this is definitely helpful ! Thanks for the insight 🙂

  6. Hey,
    Great post!
    Did you have to show an onward ticket while boarding to/landing in Mexico? My boyfriend and I are flying to Cancun in three weeks, but we only have one way ticket as we aren’t sure long we’re gonna stay.


  7. Thanks for this useful and inspiring information. My boyfriend and myself are going to Mexico City in few weeks and then wish to travel further south. We only have one-way ticket with Aeromexico so do you know if there is a problem with it upon arrival?

  8. Hi Tania,

    There may not be a problem with it on arrival, but many airlines won’t let you board the flight to Mexico (and other destinations), unless you show them proof of onward travel. We usually book a flight online with (or another website that has free 24 hour cancellation), print out the booking, then cancel the flight.

  9. This is old information now. But I crossed the border into Belize from Mexico in 2017 …I refused to pay the fee as the officer demanded 25 US. I argued my case in Spanish about the fact that I land in Mexico by plane and that all fees were included. He pushed me aside and in the end he stamped my passport and I crossed the border…I came away with the feeling that’s all scam..people have to stand up and say no !!

  10. I and a British woman argued against the officer in this so suspiciously set up makeshift office.
    As the bus load begin to unload and file… I was second in line . The officer quickly push me aside and said don’t stand in front of the others. I came out of the booth ad sat on the curb and in the shade. After everybody paid and filing back into the bus I was summoned and followed another officer. We walked across the street, the British behind us. We entered a space where there was a supervisor no talk between the two regarding this matter and our officer proceeded to photo copy our passaports. It took him a good 10 minutes to set up the copier and then took us back across the street and the booth to finally stamp our passports…he again asked us to write down a date, our names and sign the statement and apologetically saying “we don’t want any trouble”and sent us off. I just wished him a good day, in Spanish. But I came away with the feeling it’s all a scam to unwary travellers. And the bus driver is in it too because when he pulled up he got off his seat and stood and said: okay everybody…passports and money..follow me.

  11. Thank you for this information. I suspected some fee would be demanded at the border and I would have to worry about whether it was a scam or not. I’m now going to print the confirmation paper from my airline which clearly shows a “CAD36.37 Tourism Tax – Mexico” item. Another post I read also says to present the FMM card you get when you land in Mexico.

    I have one question though: you said the driver collected all the passports and exit fees and you didn’t go into the immigration office yourselves … so did you just put the papers into your passports without the money, and hope for the best?

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