Traveling from Tulum (Mexico) to the islands of Caye Caulker and San Pedro (Belize) is quite easy and pleasant if you do your research. San Pedro and Caye Caulker are islands, so there is no way to avoid taking a boat or water taxi at some point. One option is to take a bus from Tulum to the border city of Chetumal and then take another bus from Chetumal to Belize City, followed by a water-taxi over to the islands. However, I do not suggest this route since it is a massive waste of time. Instead, consider taking the shorter more efficient route discussed below. I traveled from Tulum to Caye Caulker but the same information applies to travel to San Pedro. Trip cost breakdown: ~ First Class ADO bus from Tulum to Chetumal – $182 pesos ($15 USD) (TV, A/C, Wi-Fi, Washrooms) ~ Taxi from bus station in Chetumal to marina in Chetumal – $60 pesos ($5 USD) ~ Boat from Chetumal to Caye Caulker – $450 pesos ($37 USD) ~Total Cost: $692 pesos ($58 USD) ~Total time: 9 hours
Bus from Tulum to Chetumal
Although it isn’t necessary, you can save time by purchasing both your bus and boat tickets from the ADO bus station in Tulum. I didn’t purchase my boat ticket in advance because I wanted to see if I could get it cheaper directly from the company in Chetumal. It turns out that the ADO sells the ticket for the same price as the boat company does, so there is no real advantage to waiting until you get to Chetumal. The ferry (San Pedro Water Jets Xpress) from Chetumal to San Pedro and Caye Caulker leaves at 3pm everyday, so unless you want to spend the night in Chetumal, you will need to catch a bus that leaves Tulum in the morning.
The first bus leaves Tulum at 8:20am and arrives in Chetumal (Quintana Roo state’s capital city) at 12:30pm. There is another bus that leaves later at 10:30am but it arrives in Chetumal at 2:30pm. The agent at the bus station suggested taking the 8:20 bus, since depending on traffic, the 10:30 bus sometimes arrives a bit late in Chetumal – not leaving much time to get to the ferry. No drinks or snacks are served on this bus, so walk with your own. The bus ride is pretty straight and uneventful with the exception of the many giant speed bumps that help to prevent passengers from falling too deeply into a state of slumber.
Taxi from the bus station in Chetumal to the marina
Once at the bus station in Chetumal (2 miles from the city centre), you will have to make your way to the marina to catch the boat [Note: if you purchase the bus and boat ticket form the ADO in Mexico, the taxi fare is not included]. . The marina is 15 minutes drive from the ADO bus station in Chetumal (taxis to the marina cost $60 pesos). In Mexico, taxis from inside a bus station are a bit more expensive than those taken from outside the station. I walked one block from the station and flagged down a taxi (paying $50 pesos). I know, the walk may not be worth saving $10 pesos but when on a long-term trip, every penny, or should I say every peso counts. The taxi will drop you off right at the front door of the boat company’s office. Porters will take your bags from the cab into the air-conditioned office where you will be required to show your passport and pay $16 pesos for a port tax (surprise fee). You will also be given two forms to fill out – one is to be presented to the Mexican immigration prior to boarding the boat and the second is for Belizean customs in San Pedro. Remember that since you are leaving Mexico, you will have to give in the immigration card that you received when you first entered Mexico. You will also give the Mexican immigration your receipt from the port tax, your passport and your boat ticket. About 20 minutes before departure a van of soldiers with guard dogs arrived at boat. We were asked to lay our luggage on the sidewalk as the dogs passed by to do an inspection.
Boat from Chetumal to San Pedro and Caye Caulker
The boat ride from Chetumal to San Pedro is about 2 hours long and can be quite bumpy at times when in open water. If you have a weak stomach, I suggest sitting at the back of the boat since the impact tends to be strongest at the front (also consider taking a motion sickness pill). The boat is equipped with a DVD player but focusing on a little screen while bumping over the waves can be quite challenging and downright sickening. The boat makes its first stop at the bigger island San Pedro, where most of the passengers get off. Even if you are continuing on to Caye Caulker, you are required to get off the boat and present your immigration form and passport to the Belizean customs. We arrived at 4:30pm and had an hour to walk around San Pedro before taking the second boat at 5:30pm to the smaller Caye Caulker – 25 minutes away.
Tip: Remember to set your watch back an hour once you arrive in Belize. When you arrive at the port in Caye Caulker, many golf-cart taxis will be waiting to take you to your hotel. If you are traveling light, everything is within a 5-10 minute walk, so a taxi isn’t necessary.