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Belize travel guide - Travel S helper

Belize

travel guide

Belize, previously British Honduras, is a nation on Central America’s eastern coast. Belize is bounded by Mexico on the north, Guatemala on the south and west, and the Caribbean Sea on the east. Its mainland is about 290 kilometers (180 miles) long and 110 kilometers (68 miles) broad.

Belize has the lowest population density in Central America, with a land area of 22,800 square kilometers (8,800 square miles) and a population of 368,310 in 2015. The country’s annual population growth rate of 1.87 percent (2015) is the second highest in the area and among the fastest in the Western Hemisphere.

Belize’s variety of terrestrial and marine species, as well as its habitats, establishes it as a critical link in the internationally important Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.

Belize’s civilization is varied, including a variety of cultures and languages that reflect the country’s long past. Belize’s official language is English, although more than half of the population is bilingual.

Belize is a Central American and Caribbean country with significant connections to both Latin America and the Caribbean. It is a full member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the Central American Integration System (SICA), making it the only nation to be a full member of all three regional organizations. Belize is a Commonwealth country ruled by Queen Elizabeth II.

Belize is well-known for its September Festivals, vast coral reefs, and punta music.

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Belize - Info Card

Population

419,199

Currency

Belize dollar (BZD)

Time zone

UTC-6 (CST (GMT-6)

Area

22,966 km2 (8,867 sq mi)

Calling code

+501

Official language

English

Belize | Introduction

Tourism in Belize

A combination of natural factors – the climate, the Belize Barrier Reef, more than 450 cays (islands) off the coast, excellent fishing, safe waters for boating, diving and snorkeling, numerous rivers for rafting and kayaking, various jungles and wildlife reserves for hiking, bird watching and helicopter tours, and numerous Mayan ruins – supports the thriving tourism and ecotourism industry. It also has the largest cave system in Central America.

Development costs are high, but the government of Belize has made tourism its second development priority after agriculture. In 2012, tourist arrivals total 917,869 (of which approximately 584,683 were from the United States) and tourism revenues exceeded $1.3 billion.

Weather & Climate in Belize

Belize has a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons, although there is considerable variation in weather patterns depending on the region. Temperatures vary with altitude, proximity to the coast and the moderating effects of the northeastern Caribbean trade winds. Average temperatures in coastal areas range from 24°C (75.2°F) in January to 27°C (80.6°F) in July. Temperatures are slightly higher inland, except in the southern highlands, such as Mountain Pine Ridge, where it is much cooler throughout the year. Overall, the seasons are characterised more by differences in humidity and precipitation than by differences in temperature.

Average rainfall varies considerably, ranging from 1,350 mm in the north and west to more than 4,500 mm in the far south. Seasonal variation in rainfall is greatest in the northern and central regions of the country, where less than 100 mm of rain per month falls between January and April or May. The dry season is shorter in the south, usually lasting only from February to April. A shorter, less rainy period, known locally as the “little drought”, usually occurs in late July or August, after the rainy season has begun.

Hurricanes have played an important – and devastating – role in Belize’s history. In 1931, an unnamed hurricane destroyed more than two-thirds of the buildings in Belize City and killed more than 1,000 people. In 1955, Hurricane Janet devastated the northern city of Corozal. Just six years later, Hurricane Hattie hit the central coastal region of the country with winds of over 300 km/h and storm surges of 4 metres. The devastation of Belize City for the second time in thirty years led to the capital being moved some 50 miles inland to the planned city of Belmopan.

In 1978, Hurricane Greta caused over 25 million dollars worth of damage to the south coast. On 9 October 2001, Hurricane Iris made landfall in Monkey River Town as a Category 4 storm with 145 mph (233 km/h) winds. The storm destroyed most of the village’s houses and wiped out the banana crop. In 2007, Hurricane Dean, a Category 5, made landfall just 40 km north of the Belize-Mexico border. Dean caused extensive damage in northern Belize.

Hurricane Richard, a Category 2 hurricane, was the last hurricane to make direct landfall in Belize. It made landfall about 32 km south-southeast of Belize City at about 00:45 UTC on 25 October 2010. The storm moved inland towards Belmopan and caused an estimated Z$33.8 million (US$17.4 million in 2010) in damage, mainly to crops and homes.

Geography of Belize

Belize is located on the Caribbean coast of northern Central America. It borders the Mexican state of Quintana Roo to the north, the Guatemalan department of Petén to the west along an undefined line known as the buffer zone, and the Guatemalan department of Izabal to the south. Belize and Guatemala have no defined borders due to the conflict described earlier, which includes over 100 islands in the Caribbean Sea. To the east, in the Caribbean Sea, the world’s second longest barrier reef borders much of the 386-kilometre-long, mostly marshy coastline. The country’s land area is 22,960 square kilometres (8,865 square miles), slightly larger than El Salvador, Israel, New Jersey or Wales. The many lagoons along the coast and in the northern interior reduce the country’s actual area to 21,400 square kilometers (8,263 square miles).

Belize has the shape of a rectangle stretching about 280 kilometers from north to south and about 100 kilometers from east to west, with a total land border length of 516 kilometers. The undulating courses of two rivers, the Hondo and the Sarstoon, largely determine the course of the country’s northern and southern borders. The western border does not follow any natural features and runs in a north-south direction through lowland forests and highland plateaus.

The northern part of Belize consists mainly of flat, marshy coastal plains that are heavily forested in places. The flora is very diverse considering the small geographical area. In the south is the low mountain range of the Maya Mountains. The highest point in Belize is Doyle’s Delight at 1,124 m (3,688 ft).

Belize’s rugged geography has also made the country’s coastline and jungle attractive to drug traffickers, who use it as a gateway to Mexico. In 2011, the United States placed Belize on the list of nations considered major drug producers or transit countries for narcotics.

Conservation of the environment and biodiversity

Belize is a country with a rich diversity of flora and fauna, due to its unique location between North and South America, and a wide range of climates and habitats for plants and animals. Belize’s low human population and its 22,970 square kilometres (8,867 square miles) of undeveloped land provide an ideal habitat for more than 5,000 plant species and hundreds of animal species, including armadillos, snakes and monkeys.

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a wildlife sanctuary in south-central Belize established to protect the forests, wildlife and watersheds of an area of about 400 km2 on the eastern slopes of the Maya Mountains. The reserve was established in 1990 as the first wildlife sanctuary for the jaguar and is described by one author as the world’s first sanctuary for the jaguar.

Vegetation and flora

While over 60 % of Belize’s land area is covered by forest, about 20 % is covered by cultivated land (agriculture) and human settlements. Savannah, bush and wetlands make up the rest of Belize’s land cover. Important mangrove ecosystems are also present in the Belizean landscape. As part of the globally important Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, which stretches from southern Mexico to Panama, Belize’s biodiversity – both marine and terrestrial – is rich, with abundant flora and fauna.

Belize is also a leader in the protection of biodiversity and natural resources. According to the World Database of Protected Areas, 37% of Belize’s territory is under some form of formal protection, making it one of the most extensive terrestrial protected area systems in the Americas. In contrast, only 27% of Costa Rica’s territory is protected.

About 13.6% of Belize’s territorial waters, where the Belize Barrier Reef is located, are also protected. The Belize Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the second largest barrier reef in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

A remote sensing study conducted by the Aquatic Centre for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC) and NASA in collaboration with the Forestry Department and the Land Information Centre (LIC) of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) of the Government of Belize, published in August 2010, found that forest cover in Belize was about 62.7% at the beginning of 2010, down from 75.9% at the end of 1980. A similar study by Belize Tropical Forest Studies and Conservation International found similar trends in Belize’s forest cover. Both studies show that 0.6% of Belize’s forest cover is lost each year, resulting in the clearing of an average of 10,050 hectares (24,835 acres) per year. The USAID-supported ERVIR study, conducted by CATHALAC, NASA and MNRE, also showed that protected areas in Belize are highly effective in protecting the country’s forests. While only 6.4 percent of forests within legally designated protected areas were cleared between 1980 and 2010, more than a quarter of forests outside protected areas were lost.

As a country with relatively high forest cover and low deforestation rates, Belize has significant potential to participate in initiatives such as REDD. Significantly, the SERVIR study on deforestation in Belize was also recognized by the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), of which Belize is a member.

Geology, mineral potential and energy

Belize is known to have a number of economically important minerals, but none in sufficient quantity to warrant mining. These minerals include dolomite, barite (source of barium), bauxite (source of aluminum), cassiterite (source of tin) and gold. In 1990, limestone used for road construction was the only mineral resource mined for domestic use or export.

The development of the newly discovered oil in the town of Spanish Lookout in 2006 brought new opportunities and challenges to this developing country.

Belize Barrier Reef

The Belize Barrier Reef is a series of coral reefs located along the coast of Belize, about 300 meters offshore to the north and 40 kilometers to the south, within the country’s borders. The Belize Barrier Reef is a 300-kilometre long section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System that stretches from Cancún at the northeastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, across the Riviera Maya to Honduras, making it one of the largest coral reef systems in the world.

It is the main tourist destination in Belize, popular for diving and snorkeling, and attracts almost half of the 260,000 visitors. It is also vital to the fishing industry. Charles Darwin described it in 1842 as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”.

The Belize Barrier Reef was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996 due to its fragility and natural habitats that are important for the conservation of biodiversity in situ.

Species

The Belize Barrier Reef is home to a wide variety of plants and animals and is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world:

  • 70 species of stony corals
  • 36 species of soft corals
  • 500 species of fish
  • Hundreds of species of invertebrates

With 90% of the reef still unexplored, some estimate that only 10% of all species have been discovered.

Conservation

Belize was the first country in the world to completely ban bottom trawling in December 2010. In December 2015, Belize banned offshore oil drilling within one kilometer of the barrier reef and its seven World Heritage Sites.

Despite these protective measures, the reef remains threatened by marine pollution and uncontrolled tourism, shipping and fishing. Other threats include hurricanes, as well as global warming and the resulting rise in ocean temperature, which leads to coral bleaching. Scientists say that more than 40% of Belize’s coral reef has been damaged since 1998.

Demographic of Belize

The population of Belize in 2010 was 324,528. The total fertility rate for Belize in 2009 was 3.6 children per woman. The birth rate was 27.33 births per 1,000 population and the death rate was 5.8 deaths per 1,000 population.

The Maya

The Maya are believed to have been present in Belize and the Yucatán region since the second millennium BC; however, much of the original Maya population of Belize was wiped out by conflicts between constantly warring tribes. Some died of disease after discovery by Europeans. Three Maya groups inhabit the country today: the Yucatec (who came from Yucatán, Mexico, to escape the cruel caste war of the 1840s), the Mopan (who are indigenous to Belize but were driven out to Guatemala by the British for looting settlements; they returned to Belize to escape slavery by the Guatemalans in the 19th century), and the Q. The Q’eqchi’ (who also fled slavery in Guatemala in the 19th century). The latter groups are mainly found in the Toledo district.

Creoles

Creoles, also called Crioles, make up about 21% of the Belizean population and about 75% of the diaspora. They are the descendants of Bajmen slaveholders and slaves brought to Belize for the logging industry. These slaves were ultimately descendants of West and Central Africans (many were also descended from Miskito from Nicaragua) and native Africans who had spent very short periods in Jamaica and Bermuda. Bay Islanders and native Jamaicans arrived in the late 19th century, adding to these already diverse peoples, creating this ethnic group.

For all intents and purposes, Creole is an ethnic and linguistic designation. Some indigenous people, including blond and blue-eyed, may call themselves Creoles. The designation is racial rather than cultural and is evident in physical appearance.

Belizean Creole English or Kriol developed during the time of slavery and was historically only spoken by former slaves. However, it has become an integral part of Belizean identity, so that today it is spoken by about 45% of Belizeans. Belizean Creole is mainly derived from English. Its substrate languages are the Amerindian language Miskito and the various West African and Bantu languages brought to the country by slaves. Creoles are found throughout Belize, but especially in urban areas such as Belize City, coastal towns and villages, and the Belize River Valley.

Garinagu

The Garinagu (singular Garifuna), who make up about 4.5 per cent of the population, are a mixture of West and Central African, Arawak and Caribbean island descent. Although they are captives who were taken from their homeland, they have never been recorded as slaves. The two prevailing theories are that in 1635 they were either survivors of two recorded shipwrecks or that they took control of the ship on which they arrived.

Throughout history, they were mistakenly called Black Caribs. When the British took control of St. Vincent and the Grenadines after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the French settlers and their Garinagu allies opposed them. The Garinagu finally surrendered to the British in 1796. The British separated the more African-looking Garifunas from the more indigenous-looking ones. 5,000 Garinagu were exiled from the Grenadian island of Baliceaux. However, only 2,500 of them survived the journey to Roatán, an island off the coast of Honduras. The Garifuna language belongs to the Arawakan language family, but has a large number of words borrowed from Caribbean languages and English.

As Roatán was too small and barren to accommodate their population, the Garinagu asked the Spanish authorities in Honduras for permission to settle on the mainland. The Spanish used them as soldiers and they spread along the Caribbean coast of Central America. As early as 1802, the Garinagu settled in Seine Bight, Punta Gorda and Punta Negra, Belize, via Honduras. However, in Belize, 19 November 1832 is the officially recognised date as “Garifuna Settlement Day” in Dangriga.

According to a genetic study, their ancestry is on average 76% Sub-Saharan African, 20% Arawak/Island Carib and 4% European.

Mestizos

Mestizos are people of mixed Spanish and Mayan descent. They came to Belize in 1847 to escape the caste war that took place when thousands of Maya rose up against the state in Yucatán and massacred more than a third of the population. The remaining survivors fled across the border into British territory. Mestizos are found throughout Belize, but most live in the northern districts of Corozal and Orange Walk. Mestizos are the largest ethnic group in Belize and make up about half of the population. Mestizo towns are centred around a main square, and social life revolves around the Catholic church built on one side of the square. Spanish is the main language spoken by most mestizos and people of Spanish descent, but many are also fluent in English and Belizean Kriol. Because of the influences of both Kriol and English, many mestizos speak what is known as “cooking Spanish”. The mix of Latin American and Mayan dishes such as tamales, escabeche, chirmole, relleno and empanadas come from their Mexican side and corn tortillas were passed down from their Mayan side. The music comes mainly from the marimba, but they also play and sing with the guitar. Dances performed at village festivals include the pig’s head, zapateados, mestizada, paso doble and many others.

German-speaking Mennonites

About 4% of the population are German-speaking Mennonite farmers and craftsmen. The vast majority are Russian Mennonites of German origin who settled in the Russian Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. Most Russian Mennonites live in Mennonite colonies such as Spanish Lookout, Shipyard, Little Belize and Blue Creek. These Mennonites speak Plautdietsch (a German dialect) in everyday life, but mainly use standard German for reading (the Bible) and writing. Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites came from Mexico mainly in the years after 1958. There are also some Old Order Mennonites who speak mainly Pennsylvania German and came from the United States and Canada in the late 1960s. They live mainly in Upper Barton Creek and its associated settlements. These Mennonites attracted people from a variety of Anabaptist backgrounds, forming a new community. They are very similar to, but different from, the Old Order Amish.

Other groups

The remaining 5% of the population was a mixture of Indians, Chinese, whites from the United States and Canada, and many other foreign groups brought in to develop the country. During the 1860s, a large influx of East Indians who had spent a short time in Jamaica and American Civil War veterans from Louisiana and other southern states established Confederate colonies in British Honduras and introduced commercial sugar cane production to the colony, creating 11 settlements in the interior. In the 20th century, more Asian settlers arrived from mainland China, South Korea, India, Syria and Lebanon. Said Musa, the son of an immigrant from Palestine, was Prime Minister of Belize from 1998 to 2008. Immigrants from Central America and American and African expatriates have also begun to settle in the country.

Emigration, immigration and demographic change

Creoles and other ethnic groups migrate mainly to the United States, but also to the UK and other developed countries for better opportunities. According to the last US census, the number of Belizeans in the US is about 160,000 (of which 70,000 are legal residents and naturalised citizens), consisting mainly of Creoles and Garinagu.

Due to conflicts in neighbouring Central American countries, mestizos from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras fled to Belize in large numbers in the 1980s, significantly increasing this group. Both events have changed the demography of the nation over the last 30 years.

Religion In Belize

Freedom of religion is guaranteed in Belize. According to the 2010 census, 40.1% of Belizeans are Roman Catholic, 31.8% are Protestant (8.4% Pentecostal; 5.4% Adventist; 4.7% Anglican; 3.7% Mennonite; 3.6% Baptist; 2.9% Methodist; 2.8% Nazarene), 1.7% are Jehovah’s Witnesses, 10.3% profess other religions (Mayan religion, Garifuna, Obeah and Myalism as well as minorities of Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Bahá’ís, Rastafari and others) and 15.5% profess to be irreligious.

Once a predominantly Catholic country (Catholics made up 57% of the population in 1991, 49% in 2000), the proportion of Roman Catholics has declined in recent decades due to the growth of Protestant churches, other religions and non-religious people. The Greek Orthodox Church is present in Santa Elena.

The Association of Religion Data Archives estimates that in 2005 there were 7,776 Bahá’ís in Belize, representing 2.5% of the national population. According to their estimates, this is the highest proportion of Baha’is in any country. Their data also shows that the Baha’i Faith is the second most common religion in Belize, followed by Hinduism (2.0%) and Judaism (1.1%). Hinduism is followed by most Indian immigrants.

Muslims claim that there have been Muslims in Belize since the 16th century after they were brought from Africa as slaves, but there are no sources to support this claim. The current Muslim population was born in the 1980s. According to official statistics, the number of Muslims was 243 in 2000 and 577 in 2010, representing 0.16% of the population. One mosque is located at the Islamic Mission of Belize (IMB), also known as the Muslim Community of Belize. Another mosque, Masjid Al-Falah, was inaugurated in Belize City in 2008.

Language In Belize

As a former British colony, the official language of Belize is Standard English with British spelling rules, which distinguishes Belize from its Spanish-speaking neighbours.

Spanish, Garifuna (Carib) and the Mayan languages/dialects Kekchi, Mopan and Yucatec are spoken in different parts of the country. In the north and west of the country, Spanish is widely spoken as the first language. “Cooking Spanish”, a mixture of Spanish and English, is widely spoken on Ambergris Caye. Also widely spoken is Belizean Creole, which has some mutual intelligibility with Standard English. Most Belizeans are fluent in English and at least one of these other languages.

Many Belizeans speak a mixture of Creole and English among friends and standard English with foreigners. The strong Caribbean accent can take some getting used to.

Internet & Communications in Belize

Phone boxes are the most common public telephones and accept pre-purchased phone cards.

Internet cafés exist in larger tourist areas, but are not common in rural areas.

Previously, the government did not allow Skype and forced tourists to use their own public phone company to call out of the country. In a recent change, the main phone company, Belize Telemedia Limited, has lifted the blocks on all Voice over Internet Protocol services. Applications such as Skype and Vonage can now operate in the country and may be a cheaper way to make calls to the home country.

Economy Of Belize

Belize has a small, largely private economy based mainly on the export of petroleum and crude oil, with agriculture, agro-industry and trade, with tourism and construction recently gaining importance. In 2007, oil production was 3,000 bbl/d (480 m3/d) and in 2006 oil exports were 1,960 bbl/d (312 m3/d). The country is also a producer of industrial minerals. In agriculture, as in colonial times, sugar is still the most important crop and accounts for almost half of exports, while the banana industry is the main employer.

Belize’s new government faces major challenges to economic stability. Immediate measures to improve tax collection have been promised, but a lack of progress on expenditure control could put pressure on the exchange rate. The tourism and construction sectors strengthened in early 1999, leading to a preliminary estimate of 4% growth. Infrastructure remains a major challenge to economic development; Belize has the most expensive electricity in the region. Trade is important and the main trading partners are the United States, Mexico, the European Union and Central America.

Belize has five commercial banks, the largest and oldest of which is Belize Bank. The other four banks are Heritage Bank, Atlantic Bank, FirstCaribbean International Bank and Scotiabank(Belize). A strong credit union complex began in the 1940s under the leadership of Marion M. Ganey, S.J., and is an ongoing resource for the betterment of people across economic and cultural boundaries.

How To Travel To Belize

Get In - By air

Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport (IATA: BZE) is located in Ladyville, northwest of Belize City (about a 30-minute drive). It receives direct international flights from Atlanta, Charlotte, Newark, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Flores, San Salvador, Roatan and San Pedro Sula.

Get In - By car

From Mexico via Chetumal, or on a much more difficult route from Guatemala via Melchor de Mencos.

Get In - By bus

Buses run from Belize City and Belmopan to Flores in Guatemala and Chetumal in Mexico.

Get In - With the boat

Several cruise lines stop in Belize City. Unfortunately, they usually only stay for a day, so you don’t really get to see much of Belize. You can visit one of the Mayan ruins, take a hovercraft tour of the salt marshes outside the city, go shopping, visit a museum, go to the zoo or do a short cave rafting tour or go snorkelling, but that’s about it. This means that about 70% of the things most tourists would like to do are not available, not to mention the ecotourism highlights.

To Puerto Cortés, Honduras, the Gulf Cruza, a small, fast, rickety boat (20 people), leaves Placencia every Friday around 09:30 (4 hours USD50) and goes first to Big Creek. On Monday it returns to Placencia. Tickets are sold at the tourist office next to the petrol station. Go through immigration first.

Small speedboats run daily between Puerto Barrios in Guatemala and Punta Gorda. The cost for a one-way trip is about $20. Boats run between Livingston, Guatemala and Punta Gorda on Tuesdays and Fridays. The trip takes no more than an hour. The price is 50 BZD. There is also an exit tax of BZD 30 and a tax of BZD 7.50 for the marine park. Foreigners must pay the exit tax and a conservation fee when leaving Belize by land, air or sea. This fee only applies to locals when flying.

San Pedro Belize Express offers over 25 daily departures, 14 first class boats.

How To Travel Around Belize

Belize is a relatively small country and transport between most destinations is rarely long or arduous.

Get Around - By air

Tropic Air and Maya Island Air both offer several daily flights to various cities in the country, as well as to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. They serve both airports in Belize City, but flights from Belize City Airport (IATA: TZA) are often much cheaper than those from Phillip Goldson International Airport (IATA: BZE). Domestic flights are usually quite cheap and therefore popular if your time is limited and your budget is not. Flights are operated with aircraft ranging from 8 to 68 seats. Due to limited capacity, it is advisable to book in advance. For bookings from outside Belize, there is only one airviva internet agent who can make the reservations, take payment (credit/debit cards/PayPal) and then send the electronic tickets. Some hotels also offer to make the flight reservation on your behalf.

Get Around - By bus

Several competing bus routes run north-south on the main road from Punta Gorda to Belmopan and Belize City. There are bus stations in the main towns, or you can simply stand on the side of the road and wave to an approaching bus. Most buses have both a driver and a conductor who stands at the door and comes to your seat at some point during the journey to collect the fare. Fares vary between BZD 2 and BZD 25, depending on the distance.

Express buses can save you up to an hour and a half (depending on the distance of your journey); they do not stop for passengers waiting at the side of the road and only depart on schedule in cities.

Most of the buses in Belize are decommissioned American school buses (Bluebirds) that have been slightly modified, with the addition of a luggage rack and sometimes a new paint job. They are usually not too crowded, but you may have to stand from time to time.

Kids selling snacks and soft drinks often board the buses at the stops, and it’s an inexpensive way to get a snack if you’ve run out of things to bring or just want to try some homemade travel food.

Get Around - By taxi

Taxis are common in Belize and relatively cheap. Most taxis do not use meters, so negotiate the price in advance.

Get Around - By water taxi

For those who want a truly Belizean experience, take the water taxis from town to town. The San Pedro Belize Express has the most daily trips and departs from the Brown Sugar Terminal in Belize City at 9:00 am, 11:00 am, 12:00 pm, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm and 5:30 pm to San Pedro and Caye Caulker.

Departure from the pier in San Pedro Town on Black Coral Street next to Wahoo’s Bar and Grill and departures at 07:00, 08:30, 10:00, 11:30, 12:30, 14:30, 16:30 to Caye Caulker and Belize City and a final boat to Caye Caulker only at 18:00.

Boats depart from Caye Caulker to Belize City and San Pedro Town. They depart from the pier in front of the basketball court. From Caye Caulker to Belize City: 07:30, 09:00, 10:30, 12:00, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00 and from Caye Caulker to San Pedro: 07:00 (connection with Chetumal), 09:45, 11:45, 12:45, 13:45, 15:45, 16:45 and last boat 18:15.

Trips to Chetumal are available from Caye Caulker at 07:00 and from San Pedro at 07:30.

From Chetumal to Belize, the boat departs at 3:30 pm from the city pier to San Pedro (90 min) and Caye Caulker (120 min).

Fares: Belize City to San Pedro or return: BZD30 Belize or $15 USD (one way), BZD55 or $27.50 USD (round trip). Caye Caulker to San Pedro, Belize City to Caye Caulker: BZD20 or $10 USD one way, BZD35 or $17.50 round trip.

Get Around - Rent a car

Compared to most Central American countries, driving in Belize is relatively safe, there is little crime (except in the San Pedro area), there is not much traffic and the four main highways are all in good condition. Unfortunately, almost all roads outside the four main highways are unpaved, so a four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended. It is best not to drive late at night as there is almost no lighting, road signage is poor and the last stretch is almost certainly on a dirt road (you could break an axle on an invisible, but huge pothole!

Insurance is often included in the rental prices so you don’t have to buy it separately. If you plan to use a rental car to visit Tikal in Guatemala, you must plan ahead and 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. Check with your credit card or car insurance company to see if you are covered for travel to Guatemala.

Belize Highways

  • The Northern Highway (also called the Phillip Goldson Highway) runs from Corozal, on the border between Belize and Mexico, to Belize City via Orange Walk. This is the highway you will use to get to the international airport, Altun Ha and Lamanai.
  • The Western Highway (also called the George Price Highway) runs from Belize City through Belmopan and the Cayo District to the border with the Guatemalan state of Peten in Benque. Along this route are the Belize Zoo (Mile 29), the Hummingbird Route (Mile 47), Belmopan and San Ignacio (Mile 68). The main tourist attractions along this route are the adventure routes in the Cayo District, the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich and access to the Caracol Strait and, from the Guatemalan border, the ruins of TIkal. To reach the Western Highway from the airport, head north on the Northern Highway, turn left at Burrell Boom and follow the road for 19 km to the Western Highway at Hattieville.
  • The Hummingbird Highway runs from Belmopan to Dangriga and connects the Western Highway with the Southern Highway. You will use this highway to travel from Cayo, Belize City or the north to the southern part of Belize. A slightly shorter route, the Coastal Highway, runs from Belize City to the Southern Highway, but is a real mess and better avoided!
  • The Southern Highway runs from Dangriga (the Hummingbird Highway) to Punta Gorda, with a recently built section leading to the southern border of Guatemala. Along the highway are the coastal towns of Hopkins and Placencia.

Destinations in Belize

Regions in Belize

  • Northern Belize
    The Corozal (coastal) and Orange Walk (inland) districts.
  • The Belize District
    This is where the largest city, airport and a number of popular offshore islands are located
  • Cayo
    This central district is bursting with adventure and filled with jungle, caves, rivers, Mayan ruins and much more.
  • Stann Creek
    Coastal area south of Belize district, access to quiet reef islands and boats to and from Honduras.
  • Toledo
    Southern coastal/interior region with more Mayan ruins and boats to Guatemala.

Cities in Belize

  • Belmopan – Inland Capital
  • Belize City – Belize’s largest city on the Caribbean Sea.
  • City of Corozal
  • Crooked tree
  • Dangriga – Large Garifuna town in the south, formerly known as Stann Creek Town.
  • Hopkins – Garifuna Village
  • City Orange Walk
  • Punta Gorda – Beautiful and quiet southern port town; home to an intricate and diverse indigenous weekend market.
  • San Ignacio – Called Cayo by the locals, Mayan and Hispanic influence near the border with Guatemala.

Other destinations in Belize

  • Ambergris Caye – large barrier island to the north.
  • Caye Caulker – small barrier island in the north.
  • Placencia Peninsula – long peninsula (almost an island) off Stann Creek.
  • Tobacco Caye
  • Lighthouse Reef Atoll

Food & Drinks in Belize

Food in Belize

  • The main meal, which can be found almost everywhere, consists of red beans, clean rice and chicken.
  • Most chicken in the country is prepared and served with the bone.
  • Rice and beans is a mixed dish with some spices and usually coconut milk added to make it a sweet and spicy staple of the Belizean diet. Rice and beans is boiled white rice with steamed pinto beans.
  • Citrus orchards are plentiful, so fresh oranges and grapefruits are in abundance. Pineapples, papayas, bananas and plantains are also grown and sold in the roadside markets.
  • A famous hot sauce in Belize is Marie Sharp, made from the very potent local habanero pepper. It comes in different flavours (mild, hot, extremely hot).
  • The strange-looking salsa on your table is actually ceviche. Ceviche – also called cebiche or seviche – is a seafood dish marinated in citrus fruits. Belizeans use raw mussels and fresh vegetables.
  • Papusas are maize pancakes with different fillings sold at stalls in the streets of San Pedro city. This is the cheapest option if you want to eat on a budget.

Food in San Pedro can be expensive if you eat in the tourist restaurants; however, if you find the local places, meals can be very cheap and very tasty.

Drinks in Belize

Belikin is the national beer and comes in four varieties: Premium, Beer, Stout and Lighthouse Lager. Guinness Stout is also available in Belize, but is also brewed by Belikin Brewing Co. All of these beers are sold in returnable bottles, so be aware of the deposit if you take your drinks to go.

One Barrel Rum is the locally distilled molasses-flavoured rum. Traveller’s Liquors distillery is located on the Northern Highway, about 6 miles from Belize City, and has a gift shop and hospitality bar. You can buy rum in a variety of colours and sizes, up to a 70-gallon barrel.

Both are available throughout the country. But if you also like wine, there is cashew wine (very popular in Belize), ginger wine, sorrel wine and blackberry wine.

Money & Shopping in Belize

The currency of Belize is the dollar (BZD), divided into 100 cents.

The Belizean dollar – sometimes written as “B$” or simply as the dollar sign “$” – has been officially pegged to the US dollar (USD) at a ratio of 2:1 since 1978 (e.g. 2 BZ$ = 1 USD). Since it is a law, there is no free exchange rate as there is between the US dollar and the Mexican peso. However, those who exchange other currencies into Belizean dollars, such as British pounds or euros, should take this into account.

Due to the easy and constant exchange rate between these two currencies, US dollars are widely accepted, but this means that you need to be careful which “dollars” you are talking about when negotiating prices. It is often best to assume that they are Belizean dollars, as many traders will jump on your uncertainty and try to double their price by saying, “No, in US dollars”. Belizean dollars come in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 BZD. BZD1 and smaller amounts are coins. The 25 cent coin is often referred to as a “shilling”.

Things To Do in Belize

Tyrolean crossing

Fly over the Belizean rainforest on a zip-line tour. These tours usually start with a short hike to the first base, where an instruction on the safe use of the equipment takes place.

  • Prices range from $65 to $100 and the tours are organised by two companies, Jaguar Paw and Back-A-Bush Tours.

Sportfishing

The sport fishing in Belize is second to none. Bonefish are the number one fly fish in the world and can be found in the grassy shallows of Belize. It is arguably the strongest animal in salt water.

Diving and snorkeling

Snorkelling and diving are world class and Belize has many excellent dive sites. One of the best ways to explore Belize’s waters is to charter a yacht to make the most of your diving time.

For those on a more modest budget, snorkelling and driving tours are offered along the beaches of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The most common tours take you to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. These tours usually cost around $35 USD and include snorkelling equipment. Be aware of the additional 10 BZD charged to foreigners as a parking fee. This money is used for the preservation and protection of the reef. Dive trips to the Blue Hole are also offered, but expect to pay much more for the privilege.

Cave exploration

The Cayo District is characterised by limestone hills covered by a network of underground rivers, caves and sinkholes. The caves are magnificent, with huge caverns and narrow passages, underground waterfalls and dazzling networks of mineral-encrusted stalactites and stalagmites. This underworld 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, as well as in modern first aid and cave rescue techniques.

  • Ian Anderson, Caves Branch Adventure Company and Jungle Lodge, Caves Branch (Hummingbird Highway south of Belmopan). Ian Anderson organised the first tour guide training programmes in the country, which led to the establishment of the Belize Disaster And Rescue Response Team, known as BDARRT (now an independent NGO).

The “Sleeping Giant” and “Caves” branches are run by the same owner. They offer up to 16 different tours per day. The Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves or ATM are the most popular with tourists in Central America. Also known as the Cave of the Crystal Tomb, this river cave contains intact remains of some Mayan human sacrifices. It is a surreal experience with beautiful rock formations, an underground river and Mayan artefacts. No wonder the Mayans called it Xibalba or the Dark Underworld.

Festivals & Holidays in Belize

Date Day Compliance
1 January New Year’s Day
9 March Baron Bliss Day (oder National Heroes and Benefactors Day)
Monday Baron Bliss Day
Friday Good Friday
Saturday Holy Saturday
Sunday Easter
Monday Easter Monday
1 May Labour Day
Monday Labour Day
24 May Commonwealth Day (or Sovereign’s Day)
Monday Commonwealth Day
10 September Saint George’s Caye Day (or National Day)
21 September Independence Day
Monday Independence Day
Monday Day of the Americas
12 October America Day (or Columbus Day)
November 19 Garifuna Settlement Day
25 December Christmas Day
26 December Boxing Day

Culture Of Belize

In Belizean folklore there are the legends of Lang Bobi Suzi, La Llorona, La Sucia, Luguchu Ellis, Tata Duende, Chatona, X’tabai, Anansi, and the Cadejo.

Most holidays in Belize are traditional Commonwealth and Christian holidays, although some are specific to Belizean culture, such as Garifuna Settlement Day and Baron Bliss Day. In addition, the month of September is considered a special time of national celebration. In addition to Independence Day and St. George’s Caye Day, Belizeans also celebrate Carnival in September, which usually includes several events that span several days. In some parts of Belize, however, Carnival is celebrated during the traditional pre-Lenten period (February).

Kitchen

Belizean cuisine is an amalgam of all the ethnic groups in the country and their respective varieties of food. It can be described as similar to Mexican/Central American and Jamaican/Anglo-Caribbean cuisine.

Breakfast usually consists of bread, flour tortillas or Fry Jacks, often homemade. Fry Jacks are eaten with different types of cheese, refried beans, various forms of eggs or muesli, and powdered milk, coffee or tea. Lunch dishes vary from rice and beans with or without coconut milk, tamales, “panades” (fried corn husks with beans or fish), meat pies, escabeche (onion soup), chimole (soup), caldo, braised chicken and garnaches (fried tortillas with beans, cheese and sauce) to various dinners consisting of some kind of rice and beans, meat and salad or coleslaw.

In rural areas, meals are usually simpler than in the cities. The Maya use maize, beans or pumpkin for most meals, and the Garifuna love seafood, cassava (especially made into cassava bread or ereba) and vegetables. The country is full of restaurants and fast food shops that sell fairly cheap food. Local fruit is quite common, but raw food from the markets less so. Lunchtime is a communal time for families and schools, and some shops close at noon for lunch, only to reopen later in the afternoon. Steak is also common.

Music

Punta is a popular genre of Garifuna music and has become one of the most popular styles of music in Belize. It is distinctly Afro-Caribbean and is sometimes described as ripe for international popularisation like similar styles (reggae, calypso, merengue).

Brukdown is a modern style of Belizean music related to calypso. It developed from the music and dance of the lumberjacks, particularly a form called Buru. Reggae, dancehall and soca imported from Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean, as well as rap, hip-hop, heavy metal and rock from the United States are also popular among Belizean youth.

Sport

The main sports played in Belize are football, basketball, volleyball and cycling. Boat racing, athletics, softball and cricket are also practised. Fishing is also popular in the coastal areas of Belize.

The Cross Country Cycling Classic, also known as the “Cross Country” race or the Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic, is considered one of the most important sporting events in Belize. This one-day sporting event is for amateur cyclists, but has also gained worldwide popularity. The history of the Cross Country Cycling Classic in Belize dates back to when Monrad Metzgen came up with the idea in a small village on the Northern Highway (now Phillip Goldson Highway). The villagers used to cycle long distances to watch the weekly cricket match. He improvised this observation by setting up a sporting event on the difficult terrain of the then poorly constructed Western Highway.

Another major annual sporting event in Belize is the La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge, a 4-day canoe marathon held every March. The race runs from San Ignacio to Belize City, a distance of 180 miles (290 km).

On Easter Day, the citizens of Dangriga participate in an annual fishing tournament. First, second and third prizes are awarded according to the size, type and number of fish. The tournament is broadcast on local radio stations and the winners receive cash prizes.

The Belize National Basketball Team is the only national team to have won major international competitions. The team won the 1998 CARICOM Men’s Basketball Championship held at the Civic Center in Belize City and participated in the 1999 Centrobasquet Tournament in Havana. The national team finished seventh out of eight teams, having won only one game, although they played closely throughout the competition. In a return visit to the 2000 CARICOM Championship in Barbados, Belize finished fourth. Shortly after, Belize moved to the Central American region and won the 2001 Central American Games Championship.

The team was unable to repeat this success and finished the 2006 COCABA championship with a record of 2 and 4. The team finished second in the 2009 COCABA tournament in Cancun, Mexico, where they won 3-0 in the group stage. Belize won its opening match at the 2010 Centrobasquet Tournament with a victory over Trinidad and Tobago, but lost heavily to Mexico in a rematch of the COCABA final. A hard-fought win against Cuba put Belize in position to qualify, but they lost to Puerto Rico in their last match and missed out.

National symbols

The national flower is the black orchid (Prosthechea cochleata, also known as Encyclia cochleata). The national tree is the mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), which inspired the national motto Sub Umbra Floreo, meaning “In the shade I flourish”. The national animal is the Baird’s tapir and the national bird is the keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulphuratus).

Stay Safe & Healthy in Belize

Stay Safe in Belize

Belize City is the most dangerous area in Belize, although it is very easy to be safe. Stay in the tourist area that stretches north of the marina to the southern extension east of the main channel. There are many khaki tourist police officers patrolling the area and if you have a problem, don’t hesitate to ask them. Use common sense and do not walk alone after dark. Stay away from tourist or other commercial areas. The southern part of Belize City is both beautiful and dangerous. Otherwise, Belize City is a great place to eat, learn or shop.

Other parts of Belize are generally safe, but like anywhere else in the world, you should always be sceptical when dealing with foreigners. Most of them are really helpful, but you should always be careful.

Under Section 5(1) of the Immigration Act, the government has the right to refuse entry to Belize to LGBT travellers. There is also no legal protection for victims of anti-gay discrimination in Belize.

Stay Healthy in Belize

Belize is a relatively healthy country. Bottled water is a must in most areas. And, unless you only eat at ultra-touristy restaurants, dysentery is likely to strike at some point; be prepared with over-the-counter medicines and prescription antibiotics.

The CDC considers all of Belize, with the exception of Belize City, to be a malaria risk area and recommends the use of the antimalarial drug chloroquine. Dengue fever is also a risk in Belize. Other medications may be recommended in certain circumstances – consult a qualified professional.

Insect/mosquito bites should be avoided by wearing appropriate clothing, repellents and insecticides, and mosquito nets when sleeping in unprotected/unair-conditioned rooms.

The sun, like everywhere in the tropics, is very intense. A hat, high factor sunscreen and sunglasses should suffice.

Many places in Belize are very hot and humid, and dehydration is a risk. One expat suggests drinking as much water as you want and then drinking more.

The adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is currently 2.5%, or one in forty adults, which is significantly higher than in most European or North American countries and slightly higher than in other parts of Central America such as Nicaragua or Costa Rica.

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