Melchor de Mencos
Melchor de Mencos is a small border town on the edge of the Río Mopán and is fairly pleasant as far as border towns go. The border crossing with Belize is fairly straightforward, though you’ll probably be asked to pay the local equivalent of about $1.50 to exit or arrive in Guatemala, which is technically illegal. Some travelers have asked for a receipt in an attempt to dissuade the collection of the token bribe, but border officials sometimes issue you a deposit stub stamped with an official-looking immigration seal. The account most likely belongs to the bribe’s collector.
Many people cross the border from Belize on day trips to Tikal or Yaxhá from one of the Belize jungle lodges. Daily shuttle vans make the trip to the border from Flores continuing to Belize City and there is also public transport to the border from the bus depot in Santa Elena.
On the Belize side, there are buses leaving from the border every half hour. You can also take a taxi ride threee kilometers to Benque Viejo del Carmen,the first sizable settlement, from where there are more frequent services. Another 13 kilometers east is San Ignacio, a pleasant town with much to see and do.
Accommodations and Food
There is little reason to linger here, but there are at least two serviceable hotels should you need to spend the night here. Right at the border overlooking the Río Mopán is the aptly named Río Mopán Lodge (tel. 7926-5196, www.tikaltravel.com, $20 d). Its Swiss owner organizes various nature tours to local attractions, including remote archaeological sites such as Holmul, and is a great source for local information. Other activities include canoeing or tubing on the river. The lodge has a restaurant specializing in Mediterranean food.
Another option is Hotel La Cabaña (Barrio El Centro, tel. 7926-5205, $40 d), with comfortable rooms including air-conditioning, private hot-water bath, and cable TV. There are also a swimming pool and a restaurant serving local and international dishes.
Aside from a few snack and drink stands on the road leading to the border crossing, these two hotels are your best (and really, your only) options for food.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com