Travels

Belize Travel Guide: Where to Stay, Dive, Eat, and Play

January 23, 2018

Visit Belize! This travel guide will help you plan your trip to dive, eat, and play.

Yowza! Planning this Belize trip was a doozy because there are so many options. In the end, we picked an all-inclusive resort in Hopkins for our week-long trip, but I’ve gathered all my research so you can get a good idea of where you prefer to stay and what you prefer to do in Belize.

Why Belize?

The answer to why you should visit Belize is easy. English is the official language, the exchange rate is $2BZD to $1 USD (easy to calculate), and there’s so much to do! It also helps that it’s usually a quick flight from the U.S. Bordering Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is located in Central America and has 185 miles of coastline to the Caribbean. Its tropical climate draws in vacationers, especially divers and birders who want to discover the underwater and above water wildlife.

Things to Know When Traveling to Belize

  • When to visit: Rainy season is June through November with the bulk in September and October. Driest months are April to May. The water is 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit year-round!
  • Currency: US dollars under $20 are accepted but not coins. The exchange rate is about $1 USD to $2 BZD.
  • Language: Official language is English. But you may also hear Garifuna, Creole, Mopan Mayan, Ketchi Mayan, Spanish, German, Chinese, and Yucatec Mayan!
  • Water: It is safe to drink from the tap. If you have a sensitive stomach, I would recommend sticking to bottled water, just in case. That means no brushing your teeth with tap water either! Our resort provided filtered water in our room to refill our water bottles, and I’ve heard several hotels provide that.
  • Airport/Flight Cost: You’ll fly into Belize City (BZE) at Philip S.W. Goldson Airport. In researching our November roundtrip flight from Austin, Texas to Belize City, I found prices from $380-600.
  • Vaccines: No additional vaccines needed; make sure everything is up to date.
  • Visa: No advance planning needed. You will get a visa stamp when you arrive at the airport.
  • Departure Tax: $35.50 USD. This is paid when leaving the country. We flew Southwest Airlines and our tax was included in the ticket price.
  • Bug Spray: Very much needed. I tried to have bug repellant on me at all times and I still got a couple handful of itchy bites!

Is it Safe to Travel Belize?

Yes. The place you might see trouble is Belize City, where the crime rate is higher because of gang violence with each other and not with tourists. Tourist areas are safer than others, as tourism is an important part of Belize’s economy. Tourism police, a special task force, is available to assist. Of course, be aware of how to keep safe while you travel. Here are my tips!

How to Fly Into and Around Belize

You’ll fly into the only international airport in Belize City – Philip S.W. Goldson Airport, code BZE. From there, you can fly Tropic Air or Maya Island Air to other cities in Belize for about $65 to $100 USD roundtrip. They are unpressurized flights on small planes. Our resort booked our flight on Maya Island Air from Belize City to Dangriga, and the flight was quick and easy! If your flight is packed and you are short, they might ask you to sit co-pilot. Pictured below, the open door to my seat!

Here are some areas you might connect to from Belize City and the length of the flight:

  • Caye Caulker: 15 minutes
  • Dangriga/Hopkins: 15 minutes
  • Ambergris Caye: 15 minutes
  • Placencia: 35 minutes
  • San Ignacio: 30 minutes

How to Get Around Belize – Car Rental and Ferries

Belize has four main highways that span the country, making driving fairly easy. The main highways are Philip Goldson Highway, George Price Highway, Hummingbird Highway, and Southern Highway.

If you want to visit multiple cities, renting a car and taking a road trip is a good option so you can do things on your own time. All you need is a driver’s license from your country. The driver is on the left side, similar to U.S. roads. Outside of the highways, you may turn off onto unpaved roads, many times with potholes. Also, watch out for speed bumps galore on the highways. Roads are usually one or two lanes. Gas stations seemed sparse outside of big cities. Avoid driving at night because of the lack of street lights.

There are also buses traveling around the country. You can find more information here.

If you don’t want to fly from Belize City to Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker and have time to spare, a cab from the airport to the ferry port is about $25 USD and the ferry is about $15 USD. The ferry from Belize City to Ambergris Caye is 30 minutes and from Belize City to Caye Caulker is 45 minutes. There are also water taxis and they cost a little more than the ferries while also taking longer.

Where to Stay in Belize / Which Cities in Belize

I had a hard time deciding which city to visit in Belize because they all seemed to have positive features. If you don’t mind driving a few hours or taking short flights in small, unpressurized planes, you can easily do some city-hopping.

Here’s a little about each of the main cities and a few hotel options I encountered and liked during my research. If you’re looking to do a lot of diving, I’ve listed diving-focused accommodations in this post.

Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker is a small island off Northern Belize. About five miles north to south and one mile west to east, this destination has zero cars and is popular with budget travelers and backpackers. I liked this location because it seemed to be the most laid-back.

Ambergris Caye

Belize’s largest island, Ambergris Caye is the most popular destination in Belize. San Pedro is the biggest city and the center of all the action. With its popularity, Ambergris Caye has a wide variety of options for hotels and tour companies, so staying here would probably be the easiest destination and trip to plan. I liked this location because of the abundance of options.

Placencia

Placencia, a town filled with North American expats, is located in Southern Belize, at the tip of a peninsula. I liked this location because it is known for its beaches and its proximity to diving.

San Ignacio

Looking to stay inland? San Ignacio, the second largest city in Belize, is located in western Belize near many of the Mayan ruins. No beach access but is near lots of history.

Belmopan

Belize’s capital city does not have a lot to see but it’s a good home base to visit national parks nearby like Blue Hole National Park or Guanacaste National Park. No beach access but lots of nature. I hadn’t considered this location but we drove through it during our trip and it seemed nice.

Belize City

Belize City is the largest city, the former capital of Belize, and most likely your landing place in Belize since the international airport is here. While many will recommend quickly flying out of Belize City, it does have its sights of the Belize Zoo, the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha, and wildlife sanctuaries.

Hopkins

This small coastal town in Southern Belize is charming and quiet. You can stay here to visit national parks and sights nearby. Even though the town is small, there are plenty of accommodation options here. If you want a SLOW pace, come here. If not, go to Placencia. I liked (and eventually chose) this location because it’s got beaches, easier access to diving, and the culture of the local Gairfuna people.

Islands

Of course, you could also stay on your own island or something close to this. Here are some of those options:

Where to Stay in Belize if You Want to Dive

If you are hoping to dive a lot, I think it would be good to stay in Southern Belize (Placencia or Hopkins) so you can experience the southern barrier reef as well as take day trips to the atolls. You’ll also want to be in Southern Belize if you want to swim with whale sharks. Ambergris Caye also allows for a lot of diving opportunities nearby and makes day trips to the atolls. See more diving-focused accommodations here.

Where to Play in Belize – Diving and Snorkeling

Of course, diving and snorkeling are the big draws to visit Belize. The reef is vibrant and the wildlife is abundant!

The bucket list dives in Belize are Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye but you can easily spend all week diving in the second largest barrier reef in the world. The day trips to the atolls will cost you a pretty penny because of the distance from the mainland and cayes, but they are worth it.

Check out this post about all things diving in Belize, including dive spots and what you’ll see.

For snorkeling, you could snorkel the Blue Hole but you won’t see much. The place to snorkel would be Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley Marine Reserves, near Ambergris Caye. If you’re tagging along on a dive boat, go to the Lighthouse Reef Atoll.

Where to Play in Belize – Not Diving and Snorkeling

There is plenty to do in Belize even if you don’t dive or snorkel. The wildlife is abundant above water also. Lush jungles provide opportunities to hike, and wildlife reserves will get you up and close with animals you usually don’t see.

Visit Maya ruins.

We visited Xunantunich and Cahal Pech. Read about it here! Xunantunich is the most visited ruin. Other options: Altun Ha or Caracol (largest Maya ruin site).

Encounter the Wildlife

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve & Jaguar Preserve, nearest to Dangriga and Hopkins, has 128,000 acres filled with wildlife like pumas, deer, monkeys, and more.

Green Iguana Conservation Project is located at San Ignacio Resort Hotel in San Ignacio, in Western Belize.

If you love birds, you’ll love Belize because it has more than 600 species of birds!

  • Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary: This sanctuary is outside Belize City.
  • Half Moon Caye Natural Monument on Lighthouse Reef Atoll: This is where you’ll see red-footed boobies. It’s a long boat ride (about an hour and a half), but if you are diving Blue Hole, your guide will likely bring you here for a surface interval.
  • Mayflower Bocawina National Park
  • Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve

The Belize Zoo, located in between Belize City and Belmopan, is a popular place to visit.

Even if you don’t go specifically to a nature park, you could see wildlife at your resort. Look for iguanas, monkeys, and the national bird – the Keel Billed Toucan.

Learn about chocolate.

We had a fun time visiting a cacao farm and making chocolate by hand at Che’il Maya Chocolate. I highly recommend it! Here are some other chocolate places in Belize:

Go hiking.

We hiked up Antelope Falls at Mayflower Bocawina National Park, near Dangriga and Hopkins. This was a rigorous and steep hike that requires you to hold onto rope railing and step over tree roots. It follows a 100-foot waterfall and you can stop to see it at multiple points along the trail. At the very top is a waterfall pool you can swim in. (Photo below.) It was a very refreshing (cold) dip! At this national park, you can also do a waterfall rappelling tour and/or a zipline tour.

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve has a few hiking trails. Try the Waterfall Trail that leads to a 20-foot waterfall. If you want to do a multi-day hike, try 30-miles roundtrip to Victoria Peak.

Also consider Guanacaste National Park or St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, both near Belmopan. St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park features St. Herman’s Cave for a hike to see stalactites and stalagmites and take a dip in the cenote.

Relax on the beach.

Placencia in southern Belize is known for its beaches but you can find small beaches along the coast and on islands. You can’t beat relaxing in a hammock with a cold drink.

Take a Helicopter Tour.

If you don’t dive Blue Hole, many elect to do a helicopter tour to see it from above.

Mayflower Bocawina National Park

Where to Eat in Belize

I stayed at a resort, so I didn’t dine at any outside restaurants but I can tell you about the cuisine and some recommended restaurants in this post. In short, get ready for beans and rice, coconuts, plantains, and fresh fruit!

Conclusion

Belize was a fun country to visit and somewhere I wouldn’t mind going back to! We had a great time diving, eating, and exploring.

Here are the other posts I’ve written about Belize:

I hope this helps with planning your trip to Belize! Comment below or send me a message if you have any questions.

P.S. Looking for more tropical vacation ideas? Try Costa Rica or Honduras.

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