Border With Guatemala – Melchor De Mencos, Peten

Aerial view of Flores Peten Guatemala, with the island of Flores on the foreground
Aerial view of Flores, with the island of Flores on the foreground

Belize’s strategic location in Central America makes it an ideal jump off point for those wishing to travel to Guatemala and neighboring countries. Guatemala is undergoing rapid development even in the once neglected areas such as El Peten and Izabal which border the country in the west and south respectively. With easy access into and out of Guatemala, many travelers prefer to visit Belize and from here cross over into Guatemala. Flores is the capital of the Petén Department, Guatemala’s landlocked, northernmost department that is on Belize’s western border. Flores, a town built on a small island on Lake Petén Itzá, is full of brightly painted colonial buildings and stylish bars and restaurants with stunning lake views. Most people pass through quickly en route to the pyramids of Tikal, but Flores’ laid-back nature makes it the perfect place to relax for a few days. The town itself is tiny and most of the action happens near the edge of the lake

There are two points of entry between the two countries, with another under construction. In the extreme southern district of Toledo, there is daily traffic by sea ferry and small speedboats that travel between Punta Gorda (Belize) and Puerto Barrios (Guatemala). Ferries to Guatemala and Honduras are also available from Independence, near Dangriga. For those that prefer the highway, Puerto Barrios is about 6 hours away by bus from the Belize-Guatemala border at Melchor de Mencos.

For those wishing for a faster trip, water taxis cross a portion of the Gulf of Honduras in about two hours. Our correspondent describes Puerto Barrios in Guatemala as a better Belize City. Much safer and far more bang for the buck. It has a deep water port, excellent tourist destinations, several malls and excellent and safe nightlife. For travelers on a budget who wish to avoid high airfares, Belize is an economical route into Guatemala and Central America. Pullman type air conditioned buses depart daily from the Melchor de Mencos municipality for the capital Guatemala city and the borders with Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico.

A land crossing between Belize and Guatemala in the extreme south near the Sarstoon River at the Jalacte is now completed as but is not yet an official crossing due to lack of immigration and customs offices.

Western Belize – Melchor De Mencos At Guatemala Border

Spice market in El Peten, Guatemala
Spice market in El Peten, Guatemala

Most traffic between Guatemala and Belize is in the west, five miles from the last major population center Benque Viejo del Carmen. The Belize customs and immigration offices are about 200 yards from a bridge that crosses the Mopan River into the Guatemalan municipality called Melchor de Mencos, Peten.

Between the border outpost and the actual bridge is a “no man’s land” area of about 5 acres. This is Guatemala territory and several bars, restaurants, taxi stands and shops line this area. The no man’s land is popular with locals who cross over to tank up on Guatemalan, Mexican and American beer which is much cheaper than the local brew. For tax purposes Belizean authorities prohibit the entry into Belize of Mexican or Guatemalan brews which are excellent and low priced compared to the local products.

Guatemala Girl shopping at the maket at Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala on the Belize border.
Belize girl shopping at the market at Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala.

The town of Melchor de Mencos, Peten is a rapidly growing municipality. The town is expanding at a rapid pace and in 2018 had a population of 35,000 according to the extrapolation from the 2010 census. There are numerous bars and a sprawling market in the downtown area.

Prices of goods are generally about 25 % cheaper compared to Belize and many Belizeans and tourists go across daily to get bargains, eat or just pass the time. Some Belizeans and expats resident in Belize own property in Melchor de Mencos, primarily as a weekend or vacation retreat, and to take advantage of reasonable prices on anything from food, fuel to telephone and internet access.

Three banks can be found in Melchor, the largest being the Banco De Desarollo Rural BANRURAL. The largest super market is government subsidized and offers most every consumer need, from canned and packaged goods, to beer, processed meats, clothing and basic medications. The supermarket is located right next to the central park and opposite the sprawling market. Both the supermarket and market are open on weekends to service locals and the throngs of Belizeans that travel to Melchor in search of bargains.

Medical care in Melchor de Mencos is affordable and, some Belizeans say, better compared to that offered in Belize. The government maintains a Hospital Nacional in the town staffed by 8 medical doctors, a dentist, X-ray technician and 33 support staff including nurses. There are 11 private clinics staffed by medical doctors and specialists. Going west to Santa Elena, on the the way to the Maya Site Tikal, the medical facilities are even better with more specialists available.

There are many small shops and souvenir stalls that cater to the tourists, mostly concentrated on the Calle del Comercio. The main bus lines Linia Dorada and Fuente Del Norte have their terminal right at the Melchor Border and mini buses and several taxis are conveniently located in the same area just before and after the main bridge linking Belize and Guatemala. Other mini and tourist buses are located at the Central Park where travelers can get a quick meal from several comedores (small restaurants) in the area  and food stall vendors. Of note is that the attractive tourist destination of Rio Dulce, Livingston Guatemala, so loved by cruisers and international boaters is also accessible from Belize’s western border by road.

Puente Mopan across Mopan River on Belize-Guatemala western border.
The new (left) and old Puente Mopan across the Mopan River on the Belize-Guatemala western border.

A new bridge to cross the Mopan River has been built and is in use as of January 2012. Vehicles pay a small toll to cross – about U.S. $5.00 but this depends on the size of the vehicle. Most Belizeans and expats leave their vehicles on their side of the border and either walk into Melchor de Mencos or catch a taxi – about U.S. $3.

You can find taxis and mini vans at the market area next to the park to return to Belize or take you further inland to Tikal or Flores.

Article updated November 2022