Sunday, December 6, 2009


I’ve been going to the Zona Libre (Free Zone), on and off for the past 4 years or so. I always take a bus excursion and leave the driving to someone else! The buses are clean, comfortable, air conditioned, equipped with a bathroom for when you just can’t hold it any longer, and movies! It’s an approximate 6 hour trip, depending on weather and traffic. We always stop about half way there to get out, stretch your legs, use the facilities, and get something to eat. Personally, I always bring a sandwich and a snack as I’m not fond of eating along the roadside, although I have and survived it!

The bus leaves Saturdays at 7:00 AM from the Fiesta Americana Hotel here in Merida, and returns Sunday morning at approximately the same time. We arrive in Belize around 1:30 in the afternoon, and leave at 1:00 AM for the return home. That gives you approximately 12 hours of shopping and casino!

I have been there with other tour operators, but my personal preference is Royal Travel. I have become friends with the owner, Tony Peniche, and can attest that you get one great deal with him. The cost of the trip is 300 Mexican pesos, round trip. That is the approximate equivalent of $24.00 US dollars. Pretty reasonable, don’t you think? There is always a tour guide, Cruz, and he speaks fairly good English. Tony often goes with his wife Diane to replenish his bar!

Admittedly, I am not a “shopper”. I have only shopped in the free zone two or three times in all the trips I have taken, but they do have some great buys there. Liquor and clothing are at the top of almost everyone’s list. You can find things there that you can’t find elsewhere.

This past trip, I purchased a good supply of cheese for the upcoming holidays; some for personal use and some to give as gifts. I buy my cheese from a store called “Chavez”. I find they have great prices and you get great service. Everyone in the free zone is genuinely happy and makes you feel welcome. (Probably because they know you’re there to spend money, but also because that is their nature.) You can spend either, (1) US Dollars; (2) Mexican Pesos; or (3) Belizean Dollars. There is never a problem exchanging currency!

Navigating the Free Zone is also very easy. You can catch a “taxi” for 10 Mexican Pesos, about 75 cents or so, and they will take you anywhere in the Free Zone you wish to go! Just wave one down as they pass and they are happy to accommodate you!

Your choice of stores is endless and it would be extremely difficult to visit them all in just one trip. Here are some of the stores I happened into on my last trip there.

And if you need a blue Christmas Tree, the Free Zone is where you need to be!

This little store sells only Liquor that is made in Belize. You can stop by for free samples and get a buzz on while shopping.

If you are interested in going, you should carry your immigration documents with you. You do not have to pass through immigration going or coming other than an occasional cursory “hi, where you headed”. The officials know and recognize the tour operator and there is never a hassle. In four years (probably 30 trips for me), I have been asked only once for my passport and my Mexican immigration papers. And then, the Immigration Official just briefly glanced at them and told me to have a good trip back to Merida.

On your return trip from Belize, you do have to pass through Customs. This too, is somewhat cursory, but if you abuse the import laws, you could have your merchandise confiscated or given an option to pay some outrageous taxes. You are allowed three (3) liters of alcohol, and the equivalent of 3,500 Mexican Pesos worth of purchases, per person. That will buy you a bunch of stuff in the Zona Libre!

The Golden Princess Casino is actually two separate buildings. One has nothing but slot machines and is also the hotel. The main casino is slot machines and table games such as poker, blackjack, and roulette. There are no “craps” tables. They play Texas Hold ‘Em, and some crazy variations of three-card poker and Caribbean poker. They have live entertainment and the casino is kept very clean and orderly. As long as you are “wagering”, you may order anything at all you care to drink! Whiskey to make you frisky, beer to make you cheer, gin to make you grin, or just plain, old-fashioned bottled water or a variety of soft drinks, coffee, this sort of thing. In addition, you can order free food (nothing special or to write home about), and later in the evenings they come around with various snacks and plates of fruit and salads, dispersed free to the “wagerers”

All in all, for only 300 Mexican Pesos/$24.00 US Dollars, you can’t go wrong. Most of us can eat and drink that much! If interested and in Merida or the surrounding area, give Royal Travel a call and ask for Tony or Cruz, and book your very own diversion excursion!


  1. Interesting posting. Thanks for the info. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thanks, Mike. La Dulce is undoubtedly going to want to do this while she is here. (Actually it sounds kind of fun.)

    1. whos this mike your talking about???????

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