Crossing the border from San Cristobal to Guatemala may seem a little tricky to figure it out at first…
…but it’s not as difficult as it seems! We were nervous about this crossing ourselves but it all turned out just fine.
There are several ways to get across from San Cristobal to Guatemala:
- Option #1: DIY it by taking plenty of colectivos, buses and chicken buses
- Option #2: Roadtrip and drive across yourself
- Option #3: Hire a shared van shuttle
Option #3 is the easiest option! We know some people that took option #1 and it didn’t seem like a great time for them dealing with transfers and at least 3 different types of transport (colectivo, chicken bus, tuk-tuk, etc).
In this blog post, I’ll share the 5 step process to get from San Cristobal de las Casas to Guatemala – the easy way. I’ve also included a detailed recount of our personal experience doing the border crossing which has made for some interesting stories!
QUICK ANSWER: How to (Easily) Get From San Cristobal to Guatemala
The easiest and cheapest option to get from San Cristobal to Guatemala is via a shared van shuttle. You can book with a tour company in town and they take care of the rest. We went with Viajes y Hoteles Chiapas-Guatemala for our shuttle.
The journey takes around 14 hours (from 8:00am to 9:00pm) and you will get dropped off at your hotel in Panajachel, Lake Atitlan. The journey costs around $1,100 pesos ($56 USD) per person and you’re allowed to have 1 suitcase on board.
5 Steps To Cross The Border From San Cristobal to Guatemala
After having done this trip ourselves, it was weird that we got so anxious about it! When you book a van, you don’t have to worry about transfers, routes, etc. You just got to sit tight and endure the drive! Here’s the quick step by step process:
Step 1: Book tickets with a tour company.
We went with Viajes y Hoteles Chiapas-Guatemala and paid $1,100 pesos ($56 USD) each including 1 piece of luggage. Do this at least 2-3 days in advance to be safe! You can choose your destination whether that’s from San Cristobal to Lake Atitlan or from San Cristobal to Antigua Guatemala.
Step 2: Get into the van and go through immigration.
The drive from San Cristobal to the border is around 3.5 hours. Once you reach immigration, hand over your passport and FMM paper. If you came by plane – you’ve paid the exit fee. If you come any other way – you might have to pay around $1,100 pesos ($56 USD). Be prepared with cash! They process everything and you get back in the van.
Step 3: Arrive at the La Mesilla border and go through immigration.
This time the immigration office is stamping you through to Guatemala. This can take over an hour depending on the lines. Hand over your passport and the immigration officer writes the number of days you get (usually 90 days).
Step 4: Get into a different van and drive for hours.
Once you’re on the Guatemalan side, you switch vans and get onto the Guatemala one. They will become your drivers for the rest of the trip. You’ll have 2-3 pit stops along the way till you reach Panajachel. Bring lunch and snacks!
Step 5: Arrive in Panajachel and stay the night.
You’ll arrive anywhere from 8-10pm in Pana. We highly recommend staying the night – it’s too dangerous to cross the lake to get to other towns at this time. We stayed at Hospedaje El Viajero and it was decent for a one-night stay!
That’s it! The entire trip duration takes around 14 hours but it’s door-to-door service from San Cristobal to Guatemala. Just go where they tell you and you’ll be safe, get through easy and arrive at your destination!
Want the long story? This was our personal experience of crossing from San Cristobal to Guatemala – it’s an interesting one!
Our Personal Experience Crossing From San Cristobal to Guatemala
After living in San Cristobal de las Casas for 2 months, we were itching to get to our next destination. Somewhere a little warmer preferably with some body of water. My friends had been living in Lake Atitlan Guatemala for a while and said why don’t you come down! We saw the beautiful Lake Atitlan in photos and it was a no-brainer for us!
Now how to get from San Cristobal to Guatemala?
That was the next challenge. There were several options:
- Option #1: DIY it by take plenty of colectivos, buses and chicken buses
- Option #2: Roadtrip and drive across yourself
- Option #3: Hire a shared van shuttle
With our limited Spanish, we didn’t feel comfortable with option #1 and we don’t have a car so option #2 was out. We went with the easiest option for us – hiring a shared van shuttle to take us from San Cristobal to Guatemala.
Before Departing To Leave From San Cristobal to Guatemala
In San Cristobal, there are plenty of hotels/hostels that offer van shuttles around Chiapas and across the border to Guatemala. You can find plenty of options by walking around the main walking street, Real de Guadelupe.
We booked our shuttle with Viajes y Hoteles Chiapas-Guatemala. As we have already booked some tours with them like a day trip to Lake Montebello – it was easy to just go with them again!
You can visit their office to book a shared van but make sure you book at least 2-3 days in advance of your departure date. The vans don’t get necessarily sold out but it’s good to get your reservation in earlier.
The ticket price is $1,100 pesos ($56 USD) each for a one-way trip from San Cristobal to Guatemala (Panajachel drop-off). You are allowed 1 suitcase each (they give a weight restriction of 30kgs but didn’t check anyone’s bags). This was definitely the cheapest option you could take to cross. There were also no direct flights which would have been a logistical nightmare to figure out.
TTA TIP: If you are sensitive to motion sickness, buy Dramamine before you leave. The roads are very windy and the drivers can go pretty fast! You can buy them at any Farmacias del Ahorro in town.
It’s as easy as choosing a tour company, paying and they do the rest of the work! However, it is a LONG journey! It took some days to mentally prepare for this trip because it was going to be 14 hours from 8am to 9pm squished on a van with 12 other people.
Early Wake Up Call (8am turned into 6am)
Most vans leave from 8am which is what we were told was departure time until our friends called us at nearly midnight the night before. We almost went to bed!
Apparently, the tour company called and said that Zapatistas (the separatists’ group in San Cris) would block the roads out of San Cristobal. So they needed to leave earlier before they set up the blockades.
6:00am wake-up call it is! We were one of the first people to be picked up and the driver came promptly at 6:00am. By the time everyone was picked up, the van was completely full! We were definitely squished and if you know us, Matt’s actually 6’4″ and it got quite uncomfortable for him but it was still bearable.
Easy Immigration Exit at Ciudad Cuauhtémoc (the Mexico side)
We drove from San Cristobal to the border town, Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, on Mexico’s side and this took us about 3.5 hours with a quick pit stop in the town of Comitan. We needed to go through immigration to get our exit stamp and return our FMM papers.
This went pretty quick about 20 minutes or so for everyone in the van to get through. Our friend’s FMM paper was a tiny bit ripped and the immigration officer made him pay $1,100 pesos ($56 USD). There was no getting out of this as much as he tried (rightly so)!
TTA TIP: Keep your FMM paper safe and secure. Try not to get any rips or tears in it and you won’t have any problems when you leave.
Once finished, you get back in the van for only 20 minutes till you reach the border. In our case, our van was waiting for the other van so we waited even longer which was super annoying since we left earlier too.
Get Out, Pick Up Your Bags and Walk Across From Mexico to Guatemala
You made it to the border – now get out of the van!
It was really interesting to see how the tour company worked because it was in 2 different countries right…just wait and see!
Basically, you get out of the van at the La Mesilla border and say goodbye to the driver! You have to take all of our bags and walk 10 mins uphill (I remember because our bags were heavy).
Long Immigration Line at Frontera La Mesilla (the Guatemalan side)
We arrived in La Mesilla at around 12pm.
This immigration line took forever! Over an hour standing in line with the hot sun on our skins. There were some extra steps needed because of COVID but once you got through that – the immigration office was fairly quick.
Matt and I went to the same booth, handed our passports. The immigration officer did his thing and we got stamped for 90 days in Guatemala. We officially made it from San Cristobal to Guatemala! Woohoo!
This is the interesting part – you picked up your luggage again and walk for 5 minutes and you hop into another van. This time there were 3 different vans which meant it was less squishy and we now had Guatemala drivers!
The Guatemala border crossing wasn’t so bad and it was surprisingly efficient (minus the long wait times).
Shuttle Bus For Another 8 Hours
I know it says 5.5 hours of travel time on that map but it took much longer for us! Everyone got back in the van around 1:30pm and we didn’t make it to Panajachel till 9:30pm – you do the math!
Where did the time go? I HAVE NO IDEA! At this point, we were dying to get out of this van already lol.
We took around 3 pit stops along the way and those took around 30 minutes each or so. The roads are super windy and the Dramamine could be handy for this part of the trip!
TTA TIP: Bring lunch and snacks! You’ll get hungry and they don’t stop for lunch. Once you cross into Guatemala, you also won’t be able to buy anything unless you have quetzales on you. Most pit stops only took cash so you had to withdraw out of dodgy ATMs with high fees – yeah no thanks!
Made It At 9.30pm From San Cristobal to Panajachel, Lake Atitlan
FINALLY. We can step out of the van and never get back in!
We arrived at 9:30pm in our hotel and they drop you off right at the door which makes it easy. The total trip took 15.5 hours from San Cristobal to Guatemala. NOTE: It should have taken 3 hours less but we had a lot of stops, etc.
You could do a van from San Cristobal to Panajachel in Lake Atitlan or they do another van from San Cristobal to Antigua, Guatemala. I think they are separate and depart at different times! Obviously, the San Cristobal to Antigua shuttle takes much longer than ours which is why we made the stop at Panajachel instead. We were also planning on living in Lake Atitlan for a while which made things easier!
Some people wanted to get across from Panajachel to San Pedro at 9:30pm which is unheard of because it’s way too dangerous. The lanchas (boat taxis) stop running from 5pm and while you could try to convince a driver to go across – it’ll cost upwards of $50 USD. It’s just not worth it!
We saw them in town the next morning which meant they were unsuccessful in getting across to San Pedro La Laguna.
Overnight Stay Before San Pedro In The Morning
That’s why we recommend staying in Panajachel for at least one night when you arrive from San Cristobal.
Where To Stay In Panajachel
We booked our stay with Hospedaje El Viajero. It wasn’t anything fancy but Matthew remembers having a really great night’s sleep. But that’s probably because we were so tired from the 15.5 hour journey.
We went with our friends to have dinner at 9:30ish and there wasn’t much open anymore. We found this small Italian restaurant and cheers to the fact that we made it from San Cristobal to Guatemala!
Long Story Short – Take The Van From San Cristobal to Guatemala
This was the easiest way to get from San Cristobal to Guatemala. Once you’ve booked everything, the company takes care of everything else – that’s what makes it one of the most popular transport routes!
You’re picked up from your Airbnb/hotel and dropped off at your Airbnb/hotel in Guatemala. I mean – that’s door-to-door service with a couple of stops in between for immigration stuff.
We highly recommend crossing from San Cristobal to Guatemala via the van shuttle. While it might be a very LONG day of travel – it’s safe, efficient and easy!