Belize, formerly British Honduras, is the only country in Central America with English as its official language. World class attractions include exploring the lush jungles with exotic plants and animals, deep sea fishing, swimming, snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean Sea with its attractive reefs, and visiting the Mayan ruins. Income levels are still very low and the infrastructure is very basic. The Belizeans are very proud and friendly to visitors and the tourist industry grew greatly in the last decade.
- - Inland capital
- - Belize's largest city, on the Caribbean Sea
- - Large Garifuna town in the south, formerly known as Stann Creek Town
- - Garifuna village
- - Beautiful, quiet port town in the South; home to a complex and diverse Amerindian market on the weekends
- - Known as Cayo to locals, Maya and Hispanic influence near the Guatemala border
- - large barrier island in the north
- - smaller barrier island in the north
- - long peninsula (almost an island) off Stann Creek
Belize is the only country in Central America without a coastline on the Pacific Ocean (only the Caribbean Sea to its east). With its British colonial history and a long Caribbean coast, it's culturally similar to many of Britain's former West Indian island colonies, with a majority creole or Afro-Caribbean population. But it also includes a large native Mayan population, especially in the north and northwest of the country. As a result, although English is the official language, Spanish is also often spoken. In the south east along the Caribbean coast live the Garifuna (Black Caribs), an Afro-Amerindian culture.
After long journeys starting in what is now the Netherlands in 1790, via Germany, Southern Russia, Canada, the United States, and Mexico, several thousand German-speaking Mennonite Christians arrived in Belize in 1958 after long and detailed discussions with the government regarding specific exemptions and privileges. They are easily recognizable by their speech (somewhat distinctive from modern standard German) and "quaint" dress.
The colony of British Honduras grew in the 19th century. At first Africans were brought in as slaves, but slavery was abolished here in 1838. Following the abolition of slavery, the British would bring indentured India labourers to the colony to supplement the labour pool, and their descendants remain a significant minority to this day. Many refugees from the 19th-century Caste War of Yucatán Peninsula escaped the conflict to settle in Belize, especially the northern section.
The government of Guatemala has long claimed to have inherited the 15th-century Spanish claim to Belize. Although the British were willing to grant independence to British Honduras as early as the mid-1960s, this ongoing dispute played a major role in delaying full Belizean independence until 1981, long after London granted independence to other former colonies in the region. Guatemala refused to recognize an independent Belize at all until 1991, and to this day lays claim to virtually all Belizean territory south of Belize City. The topic remains a sensitive one, particularly in the southern half of Belize.
Belize escaped the bloody civil conflicts of the 1980s that engulfed much of Central America, and refugees from the conflict in Guatemala arrived, mostly settling in the west. While Belize has not been immune to the rampant drug crime and grinding poverty of its neighbours it is a comparatively safe destination in a conflict-prone part of the world. Belize shares particularly close diplomatic and economic ties with both the United Kingdom and the United States.
Tourism has become the mainstay of the economy as the old agricultural products — sugar, banana, and oranges — have lost ground. The country remains plagued by high unemployment, growing involvement in the South American drug trade, and increased urban crime. In 2006 commercial quantities of oil were discovered in the Spanish Lookout area.
ClimateTropical, very hot and humid. The dry season typically lasts from February to May and then the rainy season typically lasts through to November. Hurricanes that bring coastal flooding, especially in the south, are prevalent from June to November.
TerrainThe flat coastal plain is swampy with low mountains in the south. The highest point is Victoria Peak at 1,160 m.
Spanish, Garifuna (Carib) and the Maya languages/dialects of Kekchi, Mopan and Yucatec are spoken in various parts of the country. Spanish is widely used as the first language in northern and western parts of the country. So-called "kitchen Spanish," an amalgam of Spanish and English, is common on Ambergris Caye. Belizean Creole, which has a certain degree of mutual intelligibility with standard English, is widely spoken as well. Most Belizeans are proficient in English and at least one of these other languages.
Many Belizeans speak a mix of Creole and English among friends, and standard English to foreigners. The strong Caribbean accent may take some getting used to.
Entry requirementsAll visitors are required to have sufficient funds, US$75 per day, and documents required for their next destination.
If entering by land from Mexico, you will be charged a fee of M$533 (Mexican pesos) (as of May 2018) by Mexican immigration unless you can show proof that you paid the immigration fee when you entered Mexico. Your FMM tourist card is not enough. If you crossed at a land border, you'll need the actual receipt from when you paid the fee. If you reached Mexico via a commercial flight, you've may have already paid the fee with your airfare, but the border guards here do not care. You might be able to convince them if you have a print-out of an itemized receipt from the airline showing that this specific fee was included.
Nationals who hold passports or refugee documents from all European Union member states, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Eswatini, Fiji, the Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Namibia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Suriname, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe, in addition to passports issued to British Overseas Territories citizens, do not require a visa to visit Belize.
All foreign nationals with a valid US green card or visa for the US or Schengen Area are visa exempt for a maximum stay of 90 days.
Permanent residents and holders of multiple entry visas of the United States may obtain a visa on arrival for a fee of US$50.
All other travellers not falling into the above categories require a visa prior to travel, which can be obtained in a Belizean or British embassy.
Nationals of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Haiti, India, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, North Korea, Lebanon, Libya, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Thailand require clearance in addition to a visa.
Nationals of China (PRC) must pay a repatriation fee of BZ$3,000 on arrival.
Nationals of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka must pay a repatriation fee of BZ$1,200 on arrival.
Cruise ship visitors do not even need a passport.
The Belize Tourism Board up-to-date information maintains up-to-date information.
When leaving country by land, prepare to pay taxes (mandatory BZ$30 or US$15 border fee per person plus a BZ$7.50 or US$3.75 PACT fee per person if stay exceeded 24 hours (as of April 2016)) in cash, if paying in US dollars then you may or may not receive change in BZ dollars.
Philip S. W. Goldson International AirportYear round flights are available from the USA (American, Delta, Southwest and United); Central America (Avianca El Salvador, Transportes Aéreos Guatemaltecos (TAG) and Copa Airlines); from within Belize and from the adjacent Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico (Maya Island Air and Tropic Air). Additional seasonal flights (Oct-Mar) are offered from Canada with Air Canada Rouge and Westjet.
By carFrom Mexico via Chetumal, or on a much rougher road from Guatemala via Melchor de Mencos. The Western Highway connects Melchor Mencos to Belize City via Belmopan, San Ignacio while the Philip Goldson Highway (Northern Highway) connects Belize City to Chetumal in Mexico via Corozal Town and Orange Walk
By busThe following companies operate buses from Flores, Guatemala, and from Chetumal, Mexico to Belize City:
phone: +501 223-1200address: Mundo Maya @ Suite #26, Brown Sugar Market Place 90 Front St, Belize CityTickets are sold through Mundo Maya Travel at the San Pedro Express Terminal in Belize City. Buses stop at the marketplace along Front Street where the San Pedro Express Terminal is at.
phone: +501 227-7593address: 91 N Front St, Belize CityThey arrange shuttle transportation to Tikal, Flores and Cancun from Belize City.
address: Novelos Bus Terminal in Belize CityOnce nightly departure to/from Cancun and Merida.
BBOCFrequent (hourly?) from Chetumal to Belize City and vice versa, with stops at Corozal, Orange Walk, and other towns along the way. Buses leave Chetumal from the "old ADO station" (la terminal antigua de ADO) on Salvador Novo street near Av. Insurgentes and Av. Belice.
The inbound buses can only make drop-off stops between the border crossing and Belize City while the outbound buses can only pick-up passengers going traveling to Mexico or Guatemala. There are additional Belizean bus companies and drivers' unions going north from Belize City to Chetumal that can pick-up and drop off passengers along side the road with services to Orange Walk and Corozal Town. See "By bus" under get around in the below.
By boatSeveral cruise lines call on Belize City. Unfortunately they usually stay only one day, which doesn't allow the opportunity to really see Belize. You can visit one of the Maya ruins, ride an airboat in the salt marshes just outside the city, shop, go to the museum, go to the zoo or take either a short cave rafting trip or go snorkelling, but that's about it. That means about 70% of the things most tourists would like aren't available, not mention the eco-tourism points of interest.
To Puerto Cortés, Honduras, the Gulf Cruza, a small, rickety speed boat (20 people) leaves Placencia each Friday at around 9:30AM (4 hr US$50), going first to Big Creek. It returns to Placencia on Monday. Tickets are sold in the tourist office next to the gas station. Stop by immigration first.
Small speedboats operate on a daily basis between Puerto Barrios in Guatemala to Punta Gorda, cost is around US$20 one way. On Tuesday and Fridays, boats operate from Livingston in Guatemala to Punta Gorda. The ride takes no more than one hour. It's BZ$50.
There's also a BZ$30 departure tax plus BZ$7.50 marine park fee. Foreigners are required to pay departure taxes and a conservation upkeep fee when leaving Belize via land, air, or water. These fees are only applicable to locals when flying.
San Pedro Belize Express has over 25 daily departures, 14 first class boats.
By planeTropic Air and Maya Island Air both have multiple flights daily to various towns around the country and to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. They fly out of both of Belize City's airports, but flights from Belize City Airport (TZA) are often significantly cheaper than those out of Phillip Goldson International (BZE). Domestic flights are generally pretty reasonable priced, and thus popular if your time is limited and budget is not. Flights are operated with planes ranging from 8 to 68 seats. Because of the limited capacity, booking in advance is advisable. For bookings from outside Belize, there is only one airviva internet agent, who can make bookings, take payment (credit/debit cards/PayPal) and then send e-tickets. Some hotels do also offer to make the flight reservation on your behalf.
By busSeveral competing bus lines operate on the main road in the north-south direction from Punta Gorda to Belmopan and Belize City. There are bus stations in the main towns, or simply stand on the side of the highway and wave at an approaching bus. Most buses have a conductor in addition to the driver, who stands by the door and will come to your seat to collect the fare at some point during the trip. Fares run anywhere from BZ$2–25 depending on distance travelled.
Express buses can save up to an hour and a half (depending on the distance of your trip); they do not stop for passengers waiting on the roadside, making only scheduled pick-ups and drop-offs in towns.
Most buses in Belize are retired US school buses (Bluebirds), that have been given a slight makeover, a luggage rack installed, and sometimes a new paint job. They generally aren't too crowded, but you may have to stand occasionally. Some are the older MCI (Motorcoach Industries) buses that once served as a Greyhound bus (or for some other commuter or intercity bus company) in the U.S. The MCI buses are typically used for some Express services or for international trips to Chetumal or chartered buses to Flores.
Children selling snacks and soft drinks often board the buses at stops, and this is an inexpensive way to have a snack if you've exhausted what you've brought along or just want to try some home-made travel foods.
See Belize Bus blog for updates, schedules and/or links to other sites regarding bus travel in Belize. The Belize Bus blog site is constantly updated. Since the break up of the Novelo's monopoly in 2006 the government of Belize has divided the country up with which company to go where from Belize City:
- The Northern Zone (Belize City - Orange Walk - Corozal - Chetumal) Not all buses continue to Chetumal from Orange Walk. Others may deviate east or west from the Philip Goldson Highway (Northern Highway) to other surrounding towns. They are: Albion’s, Belize Bus Owners Cooperative (BBOC), Cabrera’s, Chell’s, Frazer, Joshua’s, Morales, Tillett’s, T-Line and Valencia. Northbound buses depart from Belize City about every half hour from 05:30 to 19:30. Jex and Sons Bus provides bus service between Belize City and Crooked Tree.
- The Western Zone (Belize City - Belmopan - San Ignacio - Benque Viejo Del Carmen) They are: BBOC, D and E, Guerra’s Bus Service, Middleton’s, Shaw Bus Service and Westline. Westbound buses depart from Belize City between 05:00 and 21:00. Some may continue west from San Ignacio to the Guatemalan border at Melchor del Mencos but they do not cross into Guatemala. Others may continue north or south from Belmopan, San Ignacio, etc to reach other towns not on the Western Highway.
- Southern Zone (Belize City - Belmopan - Dangriga - Placencia - Punta Gorda) Buses to the Cayo and Stann Creek Districts to the south are: James Bus Line, G-Line Service, Ritchie’s Bus Service and Usher Bus Line. Buses authorized to operate in the rural areas of the Southern Zone are Chen Bus Line, Yascal Bus Line, Smith Bus Line, Richie Bus Line, Martinez Bus Line, Williams Bus Line, Radiance Ritchie Bus Line, and Polanco Bus Line.
By taxiTaxis are common and relatively cheap in Belize. Most taxis do not use meters, so be sure to negotiate the price beforehand.
By water taxi
Departure from San Pedro Town pier on Black Coral Street next to Wahoo's Bar and Grill and leaves at 07:00, 08:30, 10:00, 11:30, 12:30, 14:30, 16:30 to Caye Caulker and Belize City as well as a last boat to Caye Caulker only at 18:00.
There are boats departing from Caye Caulker to Belize City and San Pedro Town and they leave from the pier in front of the Basket Ball Court. Caye Caulker to Belize City: 07:30, 09:00, 10:30, 12:00, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00 and Caye Caulker to San Pedro: 07:00 (connection to Chetumal), 09:45, 11:45, 12:45, 13:45, 15:45, 16:45 and last boat 18:15.
Chetumal Runs are available from Caye Caulker at 07:00 and from San Pedro at 07:30.
Travelling from Chetumal to Belize, the boat leaves the Municipal Pier at 15:30 en route to San Pedro (90 min) and Caye Caulker (120 min).
Rates: Belize City to San Pedro or return: BZ$30 or US$15 (one way), BZ$55 or US$27.50 (round trip).
Caye Caulker to San Pedro, Belize City to Caye Caulker: BZ$20 or US$10 (one way), BZ$35 or US$17.50 (round trip).
By carCompared to most Central American countries, driving in Belize is relatively safe. There is not much traffic, and the four major highways are all in good condition. Unfortunately, almost every road off the four major highways is unpaved so a 4-wheel drive vehicle is advisable. It is best not to drive late at night because there is almost no lighting, road signs are poor, and the last stretch is almost certain to be on an unpaved road (you risk breaking an axle on an unseen, but immense, pothole!) You won't need a map because there are few roads and it is hard to get lost.
Rental rates often include insurance so you usually don't need to buy insurance separately. If you plan on using a rental car to visit Tikal in Guatemala, you should plan ahead and you must rent from Crystal Auto Rental because no other company will let you take your car out of Belize. Belize insurance is not valid in Guatemala so check with your credit card or car insurance company to see if they'll cover you for a trip into Guatemala.
- The Northern Highway (aka Phillip Goldson Highway) goes from Corozal on the Belize-Mexico border to Belize City via Orange Walk. This is the highway you'll use for the international airport, Altun Ha, and the Lamanai.
- Western Highway (aka George Price Highway) stretches from Belize City, via Belmopan and the Cayo District, to the border with the Guatemalan state of Peten at Benque. Along the way are the Belize Zoo (mile 29), the Hummingbird Highway (mile 47), Belmopan, and San Ignacio (mile 68). Major sights along this route include the adventure itineraries in the Cayo District, Mayan ruins at Xunantunich and access to the road to Caracol, and, from the Guatemalan border, the ruins at TIkal. To get to the Western Highway from the airport, go north on the Northern Highway, make a left at Burrell Boom, and follow the road for 19 km to the Western Highway at Hattieville.
- Hummingbird Highway goes from Belmopan to Dangriga connecting the Western Highway to the Southern Highway. You'll use this highway to get from Cayo, Belize City or the North to the Southern part of Belize. An alternative, slightly shorter, Coastal Highway takes you from Belize City to the Southern Highway but is a mess that is best avoided!
- Southern Highway runs from Dangriga (the Hummingbird Highway) to Punta Gorda, with a recently built section heading to the southern border with Guatemala. Along the way are the coastal towns of Hopkins and Placencia.
- The world heritage listed Belize Barrier Reef stretching along the whole coast of Belize.
Zip-liningSoar over Belize's rain forest by taking a zip-line tour. These tours usually begin with a short hike up to the first base where a tutorial is given on how to safely use your equipment.
- Prices range US$65-100 and tours are run by two companies, Jaguar Paw, and Back-A-Bush tours.
Sport fishingSport fishing in Belize is second to none. The bonefish is the premier fly fishing game fish in the world and it can be found in the grass shallows through Belize. It's pound for pound perhaps the strongest animal in salt water.
Scuba diving and snorkelling
For those with a smaller budget, snorkelling and driving excursions can be found along the beaches of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The most common excursions will take you to Hol Chan marine reserve and to Shark Ray Alley. These trips usually cost about US$35 and include snorkel gear. Be mindful of an additional BZ$10 charged to foreigners as a park tax. This money goes toward the upkeep, and protection of the reef. Diving excursions are also offered to the Blue Hole, but expect to pay a lot more for the privilege.
Cave explorationThe Cayo district is characterised by limestone hills underlain by a network of underground rivers, caves and sink holes. The caves are magnificent, with huge caverns and tight passages, underground waterfalls and dazzling arrays of mineral-encrusted stalactites and stalagmites. This underground world was sacred to the ancient Maya and many artefacts from decorated pots to human remains are still intact in the caves. It is dangerous (and illegal) to enter the caves without a licensed guide. Most guides are trained in the geology and mythology of the caves and in modern first aid and cave rescue techniques.
address: Caves BranchAnderson organized the initial guiding training programs in the country, out of which grew the Belize Disaster And Rescue Response Team locally called BDARRT (now an independent NGO).
The Sleeping Giant and Caves Branch are operated by the same owner. There are up to 16 different tours they operate everyday. The Actun Tunichil Muknal or ATM caves have the highest number of tourists visiting a tourist destination in Central America. Also knows as the Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre this river cave has pristine remnants of some Mayan human sacrifices. It is a surreal experience complete with beautiful cave formations an underground river and Mayan collectibles. No wonder the Mayans called it the Xibalba or the dark underworld.
The currency of Belize is the dollar (ISO code BZD), divided into 100 cents.
The Belizean dollar – sometimes written as "BZ$" or just as a dollar sign: "$" – has been officially pegged to the US dollar (USD) at a 2:1 ratio since 1978 (i.e. BZ$2 = US$1). Since this is by statute, there is no floating currency exchange rate as there is between the US dollar and the Mexican peso. However, those exchanging other currencies for Belizean dollars such as British pounds, Guatemalan quetzales, Mexican pesos or euros should be mindful of this.
Because of this simple and consistent exchange rate between these two dollar currencies, US dollars are widely accepted, but this means you should be careful to clarify which "dollars" you're talking about when negotiating prices. It's often better to assume Belize dollars because many merchants will jump on your uncertainty and attempt to double their price by saying, "No, in US dollars". Change can also be given in US dollars or a combination of US and Belizean dollar bills and coins. Belize dollars come in denominations of BZ$2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. B$1 and smaller amounts are coins. The 25-cent coin is often called a "shilling."
- Three banks' ATMs in Belize take Mastercard: the Belize Bank, Scotiabank, and Atlantic Bank.
- The primary meal found virtually everywhere is red beans, clean rice, and chicken.
- Most chicken in the country is prepared and served on the bone.
- Rice and beans is a mixed dish with some spices and usually coconut milk added to make a sweet and hot staple of the Belizean diet. Beans and rice is white cooked rice with a side of stewed pinto beans.
- Citrus plantations are numerous, so fresh oranges and grapefruits are abundant. Pineapples, papayas, bananas and plantains are also grown and sold in roadside markets.
- A famous hot sauce in Belize is Marie Sharp's made from the very potent local habanero pepper. It comes in a variety of flavours (mild, hot, extremely hot).
- That odd looking salsa on your table is really ceviche. Ceviche -also spelled as cebiche or seviche- is a citrus-marinated seafood dish. The Belizeans use fresh raw conch and vegetables.
- Papusas are maize pancakes with different toppings sold in stalls on the streets in San Pedro town. It is the cheapest option if you want to eat on a budget.
Eating in San Pedro can be expensive if you eat at the tourist restaurants; however if you find the local places, meals can be very inexpensive and very tasty.
One Barrel Rum is the locally-distilled molasses-tasting rum and Traveller's Liquors' distillery is on the Northern Highway about 6 miles from Belize City with a gift shop and hospitality bar. You can purchase rum in a variety of colours and sizes, up to a 70 gallon cask.
Both are widely available around the country. But if you also like wine there is cashew wine (which is very popular in Belize), ginger wine, sorrel wine and blackberry wine.
Other areas of Belize are generally safe, but like any other place in the world, one should always have some skepticism when dealing with strangers. Most are genuinely helpful, but it never hurts to be cautious.
Under Section 5(1) of the Immigration Act, the government is entitled to deny LGBT travellers entrance to Belize. There are also no legal protections in place for victims of anti-gay discrimination in Belize.
The US Centers for Disease Control list all of Belize except Belize City as a malaria risk area, and recommends the antimalarial drug chloroquine. Dengue fever is also a risk in Belize. Other drugs may also be recommended in certain circumstances - consult a qualified professional specialist.
Insect/mosquito bites should be prevented with appropriate clothing, repellents and insecticides, and bed nets if sleeping in non-air-con/unscreened rooms.
The sun, as anywhere else in the tropics, is very intense. Wear a long-sleeve shirt, a hat, and sunglasses, and apply high-SPF sunscreen regularly. If you are spending significant time on boats or in water, such as fishing or snorkeling, take extra precautions: covered shoes (not sandals), swim shirt/rash guard, neck gaiter, and sun gloves.
Many places in Belize are very hot and humid, and dehydration is a risk. An expat suggests to drink as much water as you want, and then drink that much again.
The adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is 2.5% or one in every forty adults, this is notably higher than in most of Europe or Anglo-America and also quite a bit higher than in other parts of Central America like Nicaragua or Costa Rica.
The Maya communities can be a little more reserved at times. As always, a little respect and politeness will carry you through.
Internet cafés can be found in larger tourist areas, but are infrequent in rural areas.
The government used to prohibit allow Skype and forced tourists to call out of the country using the government-owned phone company. The main telephone company, Belize Telemedia Limited, has removed blocks from all voice-over-internet-protocol services. Applications such as Skype and Vonage are now able to work within the country and may prove to be a cheaper medium of communication when calling back home.