Tourists travelling in Central America are granted a 90 day visa that is valid for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua combined. If you end up spending almost all of those 90 days in Guatemala, like we did, and need to get a new visa before travelling onwards, one way to do it is to cross over the border to Mexico. You can also cross the border into Belize, if you’re that side of the country, or if you are coming in the other direction you can cross into Costa Rica. As we were in Quetzaltenango which is relatively close to the Mexican border, we decided to do our visa run from there and stay overnight in Tapachula, Mexico before returning to Guatemala. Our kind host Jennie from Casa Seibel gave us these instructions, which were super helpful and made for a very smooth visa run experience!
CHICKEN BUS ROUTE FROM QUETZALTENANGO TO TAPACHULA
1) Take a bus from Minerva Terminal in Quetzaltenango to San Marcos (make sure it’s going to San Marcos the town, not San Marcos on Lake Atitlan!)
Q10 per person, around 1 hr 30 mins
San Marcos bus terminal is the last stop. Connecting buses leave from San Marcos regularly – just ask around and someone will point you in the direction of the right bus.
2) Take a bus from San Marcos Terminal to Malacatan
Q15 per person, around 1 hr 45 mins
We asked the bus conductor to let us know where we needed to get off in Malacatan in order to catch a colectivo van to the border. The conductors on chicken buses will always help out with directions if you need it, so if in doubt do ask! When we arrived in Malacatan the conductor told us to get off and wait by the side of the road, and a colectivo came along within a few minutes – just flag it down and ask where it is going. Tell the driver that you want to go to “la frontera Talisman” – colectivos go to both borders, so it’s important to be specific.
3) Take a colectivo from Malacatan to the border
Q5 per person, about 30 mins.
4) Get out of the colectivo and walk across the border. Make sure you actually get stamped out of the Guatemalan side – immigration is basically just a hole in the wall and is quite easy to miss!
5) Once you’ve crossed the border, turn left as soon as you’ve cleared immigration/customs on the Mexican side and walk through the car park and down the main street, where you will find colectivos to take you to Tapachula. Again, just ask around if you can’t find them and someone will help you.
6) Take a colectivo into Tapachula. We were charged MXP$13 one way and MXP$20 on the way back (we were told it would cost around MXP$18), and the journey took about 30 mins.
We booked a room for one night at Hotel Cervantino in Tapachula, which cost £15. Our colectivo dropped us off at the colectivo station, which is the final stop. Hotel Cervantino is about a 15 minute walk from there.
Go back to the colectivo station in Tapachula to catch a van back to the border. Once you’ve crossed over (again, make sure you’ve been stamped out of the country – we managed to walk back into Guatemala before we realised we hadn’t been stamped out of Mexico!) walk back towards the place where the colectivo from Malacatan dropped you off on the outward journey, and ask around for a van to Malacatan. When you get in the colectivo let them know that you want to catch a bus to San Marcos from Malacatan, and they will then tell you where you need to get off.
- Try to take as little luggage with you as possible. As we planned to cross the border and come right back to Quetzaltenango the next day, Casa Seibel very kindly let us store our big backpacks there, so we just took our small daypacks with a change of clothes. This was enormously helpful, as although the journey is fairly simple it is a bit of a faff with all the bus changes, and having our big backpacks with us would have made it a lot more difficult!
- Legally you are required to leave Guatemala for 72 hours in order to renew your 90 day visa. However, it is very rare that this rule is enforced – we crossed back over the following morning with no problems, even though we had the same border official both ways! We have heard that occasionally border officials will ask you to pay a small fee to cross back over the border in under 72 hours, and we heard of one case where a girl was turned away at the border for trying to cross back over the same day. We suggest staying at least one night in Tapachula, and do be prepared to either pay a fee to return to Guatemala the next day, or in an extreme worst case scenario to be turned away and have to spend another day in Mexico.