Palenque to Flores (Via El Ceibo): Stress-Free Journey Guide

If you’re travelling from Palenque to Flores Guatemala, you’re in for a long journey. But, it’s one of the shorter routes for crossing land borders between Mexico and Guatemala.

You’ll leave behind the waterfalls and ruins of Palenque and travel through the jungle landscapes. Then, you’ll reach Tikal – another town famous for its Mayan ruins.

But the two places couldn’t be more different, in look and feel. And this makes Flores a great place to visit and a must for your Guatemala itinerary. Plus it’s a great starting point for heading south through Semuc Champey and onto Antigua and Lake Atitlan before venturing into the rest of Central America.

This guide has everything you need to know on how to get from Palenque to Guatemala. Including need-to-know information about the border crossing, costs, times and how to avoid common scams that might derail your journey…

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After you've travelled from Palenque to Flores you can visit Tikal and see temples like the one in the image which are incredibly well-preserved although covered in moss

FASTEST ROUTE: Shared Shuttle via El Ceibo Border

CHEAPEST ROUTE: Bus via Tenosique and El Ceibo

How to get from Palenque to Flores Guatemala

You have two options to get to Flores Guatemala from the Chiapas town of Palenque: a shared shuttle or by bus.

A shared shuttle is the most convenient option. You’ll get picked up from your hotel, driven to the border, you’ll cross over and then hop in the next shuttle waiting for you (the vehicles don’t cross the border).

Whereas the bus is a much cheaper option but comes with less certainty. The journey by bus has 5 legs and waiting for the next departure of each of these can really add time to your journey.

Below is a handy comparison of getting a shuttle or a bus to Flores…

ShuttleBus
Travel time7+ hours8 to 9+ hours
Connections1 shuttle on either side of the borderColectivo, taxi, colectivo, bus, tuk tuk
Waits for you at the border?YesNo
Toilets onboard?NoNo
BagsOn the roof, securely fastened, under a plastic sheet. Will need to carry across the borderGenerally, on the roof of colectivos and either in front of you or at the back of buses. Will need to carry across the border
Cost60 USD (1000 pesos)Around 25 USD (need pesos for Mexico buses and Quetzales for in Guatemala)
ConvenienceVery convenient, hotel pick-up in Palenque and transport waiting for you at the borderMultiple connections needed, waiting for the next bus to leave can add a lot of time to your travel day
Booking in advanceBook online or through an agency in PalenqueNot possible
Cascada Misol-Ha near Palenque in Mexico - a tall waterfall plunges into a large pool surrounded by trees
A visit to Misol-Ha is an essential part of any Palenque itinerary!

Taking a Palenque to Flores Shuttle

Shuttles are the most convenient option when travelling around Central America. And that’s especially true in Guatemala, where public transport is lacking.

As well as being safe, they’re also a great way to meet other travellers, pick up recommendations and hear travel stories. Yes, you pay more than public transport but it’s worth it for the stress it saves, in my opinion.

Shared Shuttle Guide

Your trip to Flores will start around 9 am when you’ll be picked up from your hotel or hostel in Palenque. Or if you’re travelling the other way from Flores to Palenque, you’ll need to meet the shuttle at the I Heart Peten sign at the departure time (well 15 mins before, at least).

The journey from Palenque to the El Ceibo border will take around 3.5 to 4 hours.

You’ll first head to the Mexican side of the border to go through the formalities of leaving the country. Then, you’ll walk a short distance to Guatemalan immigration where you’ll get stamped in.

Once you’ve completed both of those steps, your next shuttle will be waiting for you. Reload your bags and grab a seat.

The final leg of the journey to Flores Island will take about 4 to 5 hours.

Cost

The cost of the Palenque to Flores shuttle is around 1000 Mexican Pesos (60 USD).

How to book

The easiest and best way to book your shuttle to Flores is online.

Booking online allows you to compare prices, check availability in advance and plan accordingly. You also don’t need to speak Spanish or pay in cash.

> > > RECOMMENDATION: My go-to travel comparison site for Mexico and Central America is gottoGO.

They’re a Guatemalan-run company with a travel comparison website. Over the last few years, they’ve worked hard to put local transport companies online so they can benefit from digital bookings and more customers.

Booking online, in advance for travel to Guatemala has never been easier. Save time and then get back to the fun part of travelling (i.e. not planning travel)!


The ruins at Tikal, perhaps the most famous day trip from Flores

Getting the Bus from Palenque to Flores Guatemala

If you’re confident travelling on local transport, speak the basics of Spanish and don’t mind the uncertainty that is waiting for buses in Latin America. Then taking the bus will probably be the option you want to go for.

Although this journey comes with the added puzzle piece that is an international border crossing. It’s overall fairly straightforward and quite a bit cheaper than the shuttles.

Bus Route

To go from Palenque to Flores – and specifically, Peten, the island of Flores where the hotels are, takes 5 legs:

  • Colectivo from Palenque to Tenosique
  • Taxi to the bus station (the alternative is a 30-minute walk, but you’re in the jungle climate remember)
  • Colectivo the the El Ceibo border crossing
  • Bus to Santa Elena (this is the main bus station in Flores, located away from the tourist centre)
  • Tuk-tuk to Flores Island (again the alternative is a 30-minute walk)

Importantly, the border is only open from 9 am to 5 pm each day. And for half the year (late Oct to late March), Mexico is an hour ahead of Guatemala – as Guatemala doesn’t have daylight savings. Make sure you plan accordingly.

1. Palenque to Tenosique

The colectivo (a minivan) to Tenosique leaves from Transportes Palenque SA de CV (see the location on Google Maps), in the centre of Palenque. It takes 2.5 hours.

A ticket from Palenque to Tenosique costs 90 pesos.

The first colectivo is at 3.45 am. They then run at 20 minutes past and 45 minutes past the hour, every hour until 4.45 pm. There are two additional buses at 5.45 pm and 6.45 pm.

2. From the Tenosique Colectivo Station to the Bus Station for El Ceibo

You could walk the 1.5-mile distance from where the colectivo drops you off to the next bus station. But, it’ll take 30 minutes and Tenosique gets hot quickly, with the ever-looming threat of tropical downpours in the rainy season.

Instead, you can take a taxi in less than 10 minutes. Expect to pay around 20 pesos.

Ask the driver for ‘el terminal de El Ceibo frontera’ or show them this location on Google Maps.

3. Tenosique to El Ceibo

Hop in the next colectivo heading to El Ceibo. They leave once an hour throughout the day.

The journey will take around 1 hour and cost 60 pesos. You’ll be dropped off about a 5-minute walk from the border.

Head first to Mexican immigration to go through the exit formalities. Once you’re through, head to Guatemala immigration to get stamped in.

Note: if you’re travelling from Flores to Palenque, you’ll need to pay 687 pesos (40 USD) for Mexico’s tourist permit. This is a legitimate fee and not a scam.

4. El Ceibo to Santa Elena (Flores)

You’ll find the bus (or the waiting place for the bus) to Santa Elena in Flores just after the border.

This is the longest leg, taking 4.5 hours and costing 100 Quetzales (roughly 220 pesos). You can exchange money at the border if you need to.

5. Santa Elena to Flores Island

Again, you could walk 1 to 1.5 miles (depending on where you’re staying). But after a long day of travel, I always want to get to my hotel or hostel as quickly as possible.

You can take a tuk-tuk or taxi for about 30 or 40 Quetzales and get there in 10 minutes.

Cost

The total cost of travelling to Flores by bus is roughly 28 USD. You’ll need 170 pesos for the Mexico side of the journey as well as 140 Quetzales in cash for the Guatemalan buses.

Planning on travelling to Belize after Guatemala? Did you know you can get from Flores Guatemala to Belize City for as little as 10 USD – it’s not as expensive as you think!

The ruins at Palenque, one of the most famous Mayan ruins in the country

Shuttle vs Bus: Which is better when travelling from Palenque to Guatemala?

Ever since I ended up spending over 3 hours at the Guatemala-Honduras border, almost getting denied entry and finally walking away with a 3-day visa, I’ve been a big advocate for shuttles when crossing borders!

Getting the bus saves you money. But if things don’t go right, you have no one to turn to and no one that’s going to help.

And shuttles are more expensive, but the drivers can help you with common questions and let you know how things are (like whether you should have got a stamp or where to go).

When I was stuck at the Honduras border, my bus driver unloaded our bags and drove off. But shuttle drivers will wait until you’ve all crossed the border.

And there’s nothing like the impatient death stare of a waiting shuttle driver to suddenly hurry up an immigration officer who’s trying to find any issue they can to hold you up.

If you’re on an absolute shoestring budget, the bus will be your best option. But, if you prefer the reassurance of booking in advance, stress-free travel and direct transport – book a shuttle.

The colourful buildings in Flores, Guatemala with their heavy Caribbean influence

Common Border Issues and Scams

To be clear, not all of the things below are scams, some are genuine issues that people run into.

But the best way to avoid any scams is to familiarise yourself with the entry and exit rules of the countries whose borders you’re crossing. That way, when you hear something out of the ordinary, you’re much more likely to realise it’s someone trying to make a quick buck. And you should avoid any unintentional issues too.

Nevertheless, here are some common issues and scams and how to be prepared for them.

Overstaying your Visa

If you’ve overstayed, you’ll need to pay a fine at the immigration office when you leave Mexico.

However, this is a risky game because if you’re caught overstaying in the country, you’ll be detained and possibly fined and deported. And, given the large number of undocumented migrants moving through Chiapas, immigration officials often board buses to check passports.

Generally, paying the overstay fine is a hassle-free experience. But you may run into problems if the office is unexpectedly closed. If so, you’ll have to wait around until it opens again before you’ll be processed out of Mexico.

Avoid overstaying your visa, check the number of days that are written on the stamp you got when you entered the country. The default is meant to be 180 days, but recently people have been getting as little as 7 days without realising.

Your visa cannot be extended, you’ll need to leave the country and re-enter to get a new tourist permit. Luckily, overstaying doesn’t affect whether you can re-enter.

The Mexico Exit Fee, Exit Tax or Tourist Permit Fee

Mexico doesn’t have an exit fee.

But it does charge for the tourist permit (called an FMM) if you enter the country and stay for more than 7 days. You’ll normally pay this on arrival at a land border or it will be included in the price of your international airfare.

Unfortunately, it’s common for border officials to try and make you pay this by taking advantage of the fact you might not have proof you paid it in the first place.

Even more unfortunately, bus and shuttle drivers often play into this scam to pocket a share of the money paid. It’s lucrative when you consider a bus of 40 people each paying 687 pesos (40 USD)!

One way to combat this is to print off an itemised receipt from your airline, clearly showing you paid the fee. Printing is best as sometimes border officials will try to insist they can’t accept it on your phone.

Another way is to make sure everyone you’re travelling with knows this and isn’t going to pay. Your leverage in not paying goes down with each person on your shuttle that pays. Persistence is key.

An Exit Form – and overpriced printing

Since Mexico got rid of the paper version of the FMM, you don’t need any paperwork to leave the country.

Some tourists have stories of being sent back and forth across the border to print off an exit form and paying a lot for printing in the process.

A Missing Exit Stamp

This one is basically a scam because Mexico doesn’t issue exit stamps to visitors. And it’s more of a problem for people who are entering or leaving Mexico for a second time rather than those on their first visit.

The border officials will try to claim that you left the country illegally before since you don’t have an exit stamp in your passport. Even if you have an entry stamp for the next country you visited.

Sadly, this one normally ends in people paying bribes to enter. Because the alternative is usually sleeping at the border and trying again the next day.

Proof of previous travel such as a bus receipt, airline ticket, etc may help. But you’ll be up against it if the officials try this one on you.

Agua Azul waterfalls in Chiapas, Mexico. Not so tall but wide and under a blue sky
Agua Azul Waterfalls are some of the most popular and most beautiful Palenque waterfalls – have you visited?

Summary: Mexico to Guatemala via El Ceibo

There’s only two options to get from Palenque to Guatemala, so you don’t have much to debate over. But, if you’re still undecided, perhaps these questions will help…

Don’t speak Spanish? I’d recommend the shuttle so you don’t need to ask for bus tickets or directions along the way. Also, the shuttle is generally full of international tourists who speak English, whereas the buses are full of locals.

Not sure the shuttle is worth the cost? 60 USD is quite a lot and it’s 30 USD more than the bus route. But, you’re paying for convenience and ease – remember, the bus route has 5 legs.


If you have any questions or want any more information, drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Information is correct to the best of my knowledge as of August 2023 but is subject to change.


Start Planning Your Guatemala Trip…

SEMUC CHAMPEY: Getting from Flores to Semuc Champey (All Routes Explained)

ANTIGUA: Acatenango Hike: Complete Volcano Trek Guide

LAKE ATITLAN: Indian Nose Hike Guide (Watch Sunrise Over Lake Atitlán)

EL PAREDON: El Paredon Guatemala: Ultimate Travel Guide

2 thoughts on “Palenque to Flores (Via El Ceibo): Stress-Free Journey Guide”

    1. Hi Martin. Yes the printed forms that you used to get on arrival are gone. Now you need to complete this form online before leaving Mexico: https://www.inm.gob.mx/spublic/portal/inmex.html. Shuttle companies may ask you to print it out so they can be sure you’ve completed this, but it otherwise a print out shouldn’t be needed as it’ll be associated with your passport number (and it’s called a digital form!).

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