We made the journey from Tulum to Caye Caulker easily in one day using public transport in January 2015.
The first thing to note is that there are 2 main ways to reach Caye Caulker. There is the traditional route of taking a public bus all the way down to Belize City, then taking a ferry across to the caye.
The other option is to take a bus to Chetumal in Mexico, from where a speedboat can be taken directly to Caye Caulker, save for a stop for Belize immigration. This is more expensive, but saves a lot of time.
08.30am – Bus to Chetumal
We booked ahead of time, but in all honesty you probably don’t need to. The bus company is one familiar if you have spent any time in Mexico – ADO. The Tulum bus station is located on the main street in the town.
The speedboat doesn’t leave until 3pm, and the bus takes only 3-4 hours to reach Chetumal, so this sounds a stupidly early time to leave, but trust us it isn’t.
Cost – 268 pesos per person (£11.70 as of Jan 2015)
11.30am – Arrive in Chetumal
I didn’t note down exactly when we arrived, but it was around 11.30am when we got to Chetumal bus station. From here we had to take a taxi down to the port.
Cost – 40 pesos (£1.75)
11.40am – Arrive at Chetumal docks
Now is the time to buy your boat ticket. We however bought ours from the ADO station in Tulum so already had them – there was a $5 saving per person I think doing it this way but it wasn’t a huge amount. We did have to purchase another ticket from San Pedro (the main caye and immigration stop) to Caye Caulker.
Even if you have your tickets already, check in as soon as you get to the docks. You need to do this to get your place on the boat. Don’t hang around, if more people turn up, the small office quickly gets filled up and a queue forms. You will be told to come back at 1.30pm for immigration (told you we didn’t arrive too early!)
Cost – 617.50 pesos per person (£26.97) for the boat purchased from ADO. $2.50US or $5BZD for the additional ticket from San Pedro to Caye Caulker.
12pm – Have Lunch
There is very little around Chetumal docks, but luckily just up the road there is a couple of restaurants. We ate at a strange American style Mexican which was a bizarre last Mexican meal but tasty enough and not too expensive.
There is also an Oxxo nearby if you want to stock up on groceries or drinks – remember it’s more expensive in Belize! Say goodbye to lovely chain convenience stores as there are none in Belize nor most of the rest of Central America.
Cost – 200 pesos for 2 (£8.74) though we ate a lot!
1.30pm – Go Through Immigration
This doesn’t actually take too long if you get there on time as we did, but if you come a bit later you will be queuing. Immigration consists of a small portacabin where 2 Mexican officials will check your passports and most importantly check whether you have paid the tourism/visa/exit tax (no one seems to know exactly what it is).
Assuming you flew into Mexico you will almost certainly have paid this with your flight ticket but what you need is PROOF otherwise they will have no qualms about making you pay it again.
Luckily for us United airlines provided a nice fee breakdown on our ticket. But other people did have to pay. Download the necessary document onto your phone or print it out in advance – there is no computer or WiFi there for you to do it.
If you entered via a land border you will not have paid it so there is no way around it.
Cost – Free if you were prepared, or 300+ pesos per person (£13.50) if you weren’t or came in by land.
3pm – Depart
After waiting for an hour or so behind the gates at the docks (there is a small stall selling snacks and beer, and blasting Madonna’s greatest hits when we were there) it was finally time to board.
The speedboat is quite big, with a fully covered seating area and seats around 30 people. We would have left on time, had it not been for several people inexplicably not going through immigration (great border control guys!) and several other idiots who hadn’t checked in. So they all had to go all the way back down the dock and come back.
We eventually left at about 3.30pm. I forget how long the ride took exactly, but it was around 90 minutes.
4.30pm – Arrive at San Pedro
Here, everyone and their luggage had to disembark the boat for immigration. It was a fairly straightforward affair, and as mentioned in my Caye Caulker post, after completing formalities we were encouraged to buy our first Belikan beer, which was much needed after a long day’s travelling.
Passengers staying in San Pedro could then walk out of the door, while the rest of us waited for the boat to Caye Caulker.
Cost – $5BZD (£1.69) for the beer
5.30pm – Arrive in Caye Caulker
Finally! It was a long, but not particularly stressful trip, and we were happy we had chosen to take the boat, even with the extra expense. Tulum to Caye Caulker is definitely one of the better border crossings we’ve done on our trip.
Total transport cost – £41.23 per person