How to get from Palenque to Flores via El Ceibo border
Updated: Jun 9
How to get from Palenque to Flores, crossing the El Ceibo land border between Mexico and Guatemala.
After nearly 12 weeks in Mexico, our time had come to move on to our next adventure. We were initially looking at how to get from San Cristobal to Guatemala, however, with the safety issues getting to the border crossing there we soon realised it would be better to travel via Palenque to visit the Ruinas Palenque, before heading over to Flores in Guatemala via the El Ceibo border.
Having completed this crossing we found out the hard way that there is an exit form that isn't very well publicised & not mentioned on any of the other blogs on the subject. To exit Mexico by land you need to fill out an FMM (Multiple immigration form) on the inm.gob.mx website. We haven't actually filled one out, (read on to find out why!), however, reading around online they are a bit of a nightmare. We arrived in Cancun and didn't get given one of these forms. To fill it out online you need to enter your means of entry (which can't be an airport) and you can't pre-date the form. Basically, you need to lie to be able to fill it out. Reading on the forums people who have just lied have had no problems, but fingers crossed by the time you come to leave Mexico's government have sorted their website. Whether you are doing an organised shuttle to cross the border or DIY'ing it, the form still needs to be filled out and printed before you will be allowed to exit Mexico.
How to get from Palenque, Mexico to Flores, Guatemala.
The easiest way to get from Palenque to Flores is with the multiple tour operators running shuttles between the two. The prices as of April 2023 were $850MXN (£37/$45) per person, the times quoted on the leaflet stated leaving at 9am and arriving in Flores at 4pm. However, that time is based on a smooth run through the border which doesn't always happen, read on to find out more.
Being a budget backpacker taking the easy way wasn't really going to be an option, firstly it's more expensive, but probably more importantly, where's the fun in that?
The total cost to get from Palenque to Flores using buses, taxi & tuk tuks is £18.90/$23.15) per person based on 2 people sharing the taxis.
Here is a quick glance table giving you all the important info
Where to start journey
Palenque to Tenosique
Corner of 2a Ave Sur Pte. & Tercera Pte. Sur
Taxi to Tenosique bus station
7 mins or 28 min walk
Tenosique to El Ceibo
Corner of C. 37 & C. 16
El Ceibo to Santa Elena
First shop on right after the border
Santa Elena to Flores
Terminal Central de Buses
10 mins or c.30 min walk
Map showing all stops on journey between Palenque and Flores
Where to get the bus in Palenque heading for the El Ceibo Guatemala border
Unfortunately as it stands there is no bus or collectivo that runs all the way to the Mexico/Guatemala border. Stage one of the journey is to head to the corner of 2a Avenida Sur Pte. and Tercera Pte. Sur, this is where the collectivos leave (on Google maps it's Transportes Palenque SA de CV) heading to Tenosique. As stated above, the cost as of April 2023 is $90MXN per person.
How often do the buses run between Palenque and Tenosique
There are multiple bus companies running the collectivos between Palenque and Tenosique so you should have no problem getting one. We got ours with 'Transportes Palenque' as they had the next one leaving. Their bus schedule is leaving at twenty past the hour and quarter to the hour (e.g 6:45am, 7:20am, 7:45am) between 3:45am and 10:45pm. However around the corner 'Palenque A' leave on the hour every hour from 4am. So buses leave roughly every 20 minutes. All companies were charging the same price of $90MXN. We got the 7:20am bus (a little later than we had planned but we never move quickly in the morning), the bus left on time, and took 2.5 hours.
Where to get the bus in Tenosique heading for the El Ceibo Guatemala border
It's always a good idea to tell the driver where you are heading, however the good news with this journey is that you are getting off at the final stop. Upon arriving in Tenosique, it's time to either use your legs or jump in a taxi. We opted for a taxi which cost $20 MXN to avoid walking 2km (1.4 miles) with our bags when it was hot. However, if you are feeling more adventurous it's easy enough to walk.
The collectivo station to get the bus from Tenosique to El Ceibo is at the corner of Calle 16 & Calle 37.
How often do the buses run between Tenosique and El Ceibo
As far as we could see there was only one company that ran the route. The bus runs roughly every hour between 6am and 2pm. If you are getting the 7:20am bus like us in all likelihood you'll be getting the 10:30am to El Ceibo, try to get there early for a decent seat, these buses get pretty full!
The collectivos between Tenosique run at 6am, 7am, 8am, 8:40am, 9:30am, 10:30am, 11:30am, 12pm, 1pm & 2pm. The cost, as of April 23, of the collectivo between Tenosique and El Ceibo is $60MXN per person.
The journey between Tenosique and El Ceibo is one hour.
Crossing the border between Mexico and Guatemala - El Ceibo
Upon arriving in El Ceibo, the next bit is fairly easy. Just continue walking in the same direction as the collectivo was driving toward the boarder, it’s a short walk 5/10 minutes.
Upon arriving at the border you need to walk past the first building, this is where they scan bags for people arriving in Mexico. There is a toilet in these buildings though. If you are unsure just ask any of the security “Donde esta frontera” or just “frontera" & they will point you the right way.
Our ordeal at Mexican passport control
Click here if you just want to skip past our ordeal for what to do next, read on for a bit of a laugh!
At the next building is where our fun began! Not knowing about having to fill out a departure form (as this doesn’t even show on the gov.uk website we arrived at the border, like many others doing the same trip, without the form.
At first we got told to sit, so we sat…..
Around 30 minutes later I got called through to speak to passport control only to be told I couldn’t leave Mexico without the exit form. The man with the stamp said to leave our backpacks & to go to an office on the Guatemala side. There they will help fill out the forms & print it off.
I grabbed Becca & a helpful taxi driver walked with us to the Guatemalan office as his English was better than most of the security. He said they would charge us $150MXN each to print off this form, a bit of a rip-off but what else could we do?
We passed over our passports, handed over $300MXN, then got told to wait outside.
So wait we did….
Around 15 minutes later we were handed back our passports & a sheet of A4 paper which basically had we were from the UK, our name & passport number. Wow, that really was an expensive piece of A4.
We thought, ah well, you live and learn. We will make sure to write about it in the blog to save others the cost and stress. Then we headed back to Mexican passport control.
It turns out you can’t skip to the front of the queue again once being charged for a piece of A4 so we joined the back of the queue.
We were told to wait, so we waited….
Around 30 minutes later, after everyone else that could get through passport control had done, and a few more for good measure. I was called to go back to the man with the stamp. He took one look at the piece of paper and said it was wrong. Then called the taxi driver to take us back to Guatemala for the right form.
So we left our bags again & went to Guatemala.
Back at the office the helpful taxi driver spoke to the officials and explained what was wrong. We were told to hand over our passports again and wait.
So we waited…
Around 20 minutes later they called me over to show that the Mexican Government website wasn’t working. So we were told to go back to the man with the stamp with the same piece of paper.
Back at Mexican passport control we were told to wait.
So we waited…..
About 30 minutes later friendly a female security officer came over to say we had the wrong form. We explained about the issues, she said to wait whilst she spoke to the man with the stamp.
So we waited…
Around 15 minutes later after a lot of back and forth the friendly taxi driver told me to go back to the Guatemalan office for my money back. So I walked back to Guatemala, they apologised with no explanation and gave me my $300MXN back and I walked back to Mexican passport control.
Back at Mexican passport control Becca was speaking to another English guy in a similar predicament. He had paid for a shuttle across the border which explained to everyone on board that they needed this form. 4 of the people on his trip were charged $100 MXN for the from to be filled out for them and printed, however his form didn’t work as it seemed the Mexican government’s website had gone down.
By this time his group were getting a little agitated but he couldn’t do much. Also, he was more stressed than us as his visa would run out the next day.
He eventually persuaded the man with the stamp that going back to Mexico wasn't an option for him as his visa would run out. They made him complete a paper form and we later found out was charged $696MXN before finally getting his exit stamp and being sent on his way. We were getting a little annoyed by this point as we had been there much longer. Becca asked if we could go through as he did and we were just told to wait.
So we waited… Anyone else in sight & a few people that later arrived got through before us.
By this time we had been at Mexican passport control for about 2 and a half hours! I was finally called back again to see the man with the stamp. He took my passport and my pointless piece of A4 (but at least it was free), he asked my name, wrote something on a piece of paper, stamped my passport & I was on my way?!
Becca went in next, had a similar situation, neither of us were charged but we got through!!
Guatemala Passport control
After the stress on the Mexican side we were worried for a continuation of our ordeal. The worry was unfounded, Guatemala passport control was a breeze, no Covid passport needed (although the UK government says we still do), the Guatemalan man with the stamp wasn’t overly talkative but we got through no problem at all, with a 90 day visa stamp.
The collectivo from El Ceibo to Santa Elena
When leaving the border, just walk up the hill to the first shop/restaurant on the right. The same place offered to change our Peso’s for us and offered 0.42 to the MXN. Given that Google stated 0.43 we changed all the Peso’s we had left.
In the shop they quote both Flores and Santa Elena as Santa Elena is the mainland which the bridge to Flores island connects. We were told the next collectivo would be leaving at 3pm, so we had enough time for some fried chicken & chips.
The collectivo from El Ciebo to Santa Elena was Q100 (£10.30/$13), our big bags were lifted onto the roof and we managed to snag the front seats, things were looking up!
The collectivo from El Ciebo to Santa Elena took 4.5 hours as it goes around the houses & makes a few stops that you can stretch your legs for a couple of minutes or buy a drink or snack. The journey was pleasant watching many houses with an array of farm animals in their front gardens, and just admiring the different landscape.
The collectivo drops you off at the main bus station in Santa Elena (Terminal Central de Buses) which is about 2km from Flores island. Of course you could walk to the island but after 12 hours in transit we grabbed a taxi. After a little haggling we agreed on Q30, 30 minutes later we were checked in and keen for a shower after a long day on the road!
Well, that's a wrap! Yes, we had a bit of an ordeal at immigration but hey, these experiences make the best stories!
Having completed the journey should I do it again, I would absolutely not take a shuttle as if we had the FMM form our journey would have been 3 hours shorter & much cheaper. Also, someone on an organised shuttle had the same problem, so it wasn't DIY'ing it that caused the problem it was the blasted inm.gob.mx website. If you do this journey please add a comment, we'd love to hear how you get on!