Sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala is Belize, one of Central America’s biggest tourist destinations and one of my favorite countries. Belize’s barrier reef draws in scuba and snorkeling enthusiasts from around the world, and many of the country’s national parks are a birdwatcher’s paradise. Those with an interest in archaeology will find the Mayan sites of Altun Ha, Lamani, and Caracol fascinating. The locals are very friendly, the weather pleasant, and the food tasty and delicious. Belize may not be the cheapest Central American destination but it’s one of the easiest and more relaxing places to travel in the region. I’ve put the best tips from my trip into this travel guide for you! I’d go back in a heartbeat!
Destination Guides for Belize
Accommodation – For a single bed in a hostel, prices are between 30-40 BZD. You may find one or two a bit cheaper depending on the location. Privates also range between 30-40 BZD. Budget hotels start at around 80 BZD per night, but your best value will be renting a room or an apartment from a local in the center of town.
Food – The cheapest way to eat is to eat local. By eating at off the beaten path restaurants, you can expect to pay around 8 BZD for a meal, especially if you’re grabbing something to go for just a few bucks. A sit down meal with drinks will cost between 30-40 BZD. Snack on fruit here—it’s cheap, abundant, fresh, and delicious. Groceries for a week will cost about 80 BZD.
Transportation – Public buses are by far the cheapest travel option in the country, with fares costing between 2-20 BZD, depending on the distance traveled. City taxis cost around 10 BZD for a trip. Ferries to the islands are between 30-40 BZD.
Activities – Entrance to most Mayan ruins and national parks costs around 20 BZD. However, excursions, especially diving trips, start to increase in cost with a typical day costing 200 BZD. Full day non-diving trips cost around 80 BZD depending on whether food and entrance fees are included.
Money Saving Tips
Travel off-peak – The most expensive time to visit is between October and April. By traveling in the off-season, you can significantly reduce prices for accommodation and flights.
Camp – Camping is a good way to save on accommodation costs when staying on the islands. Expect to pay 8 BZD per night to pitch your tent.
Take the bus – Try to use the public bus system when possible rather than going on a shuttle service. The public bus is designed to reflect local income, whereas the shuttles reflect tourist prices!
Hitchhike – It’s a common custom among the locals to simply hitchhike everywhere they need to go. You see old ladies, children, and families on the side of the road looking for a ride. It’s just what they do. My friends and I met great people thumbing it across the country without spending any money at all.
Top Things to See and Do in Belize
Belize Zoo – One of the most popular attractions in Belize City is its zoo. With the tagline “the best little zoo in the world”, the 29 acre site is home to over 120 species of animal, all native to the country. You’ll get to see jaguars, macaws, snakes, pumas, and crocodiles.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve – Hol Chan is probably the most well-known marine reserve in the country and is located close to Ambergris Caye. The diving and snorkeling within the park is fantastic and includes caves, coral, and plenty of tropical fish to keep you amused. Head to nearby Shark Ray Alley for the chance to get up close and personal with sharks and rays around feeding time.
Altun Ha – Head to the Mayan site of Altun Ha to experience its well preserved ruins just 30 miles north of Belize City. The main attraction of the site is the Temple of the Masonry Altars, dating from the 7th Century. The Temple is 54 feet tall and a climb to the top rewards you with a panoramic view of the pyramids and plaza below. A half day tour costs around $50 USD and includes transport, entrance fee, a guide, and drinks.
See the wildlife – Much of Central America is a wildlife observer’s paradise, and this country is no exception. The marine life on show at Hol Chan and the animals in Belize Zoo are just the tip of the iceberg. Birdwatchers will enjoy Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary with its world-class spotting opportunities, while those interested in big cats flock to the country’s most famous protected area Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary for its jaguars.
Bacab Adventure & Eco Park – This nature preserve and theme park’s slogan is “Something for Everyone”. On more than 500 acres of jungle, you will find hiking trails, waterways, Howler Monkeys, a giant swimming pool with a waterfall, a Butterfly house, and crocodiles, among many other things to keep the whole family busy. Visitors can camp overnight for 10 BZD per person, and tents can be provided.
Xunantunich – Xunantunich is one of Belize’s most impressive and easily accessible Maya sites. Take the free ferry across the Mopan River and hike a mile uphill for tickets. Although strenuous, it is well worth the sighting of birds and butterflies, and the 7th century temples and plazas awaiting at the top. Admission is 10 BZD.
The Cayes – There are hundreds of small islands off the coast, many of them picture perfect and uninhabited. Two of the most visited cayes are Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. Ambergris is the largest of the Belizean cayes and the most expensive tourist destination in the country, popular with families on resort style holidays. However, its proximity to the barrier reef also draws in keen divers too. Caye Caulker on the other hand is not as touristy as Ambergris and has a more relaxed atmosphere which makes it popular with backpackers.
Caracol – Caracol is the largest Mayan site and was once one of the most powerful cities in Mayan times; consequently the ruins here are vast and impressive. Unlike Altun Ha, the ruins in Caracol are less restored and are in a jungle setting, which adds to the ancient feeling of the site. The site is full of reservoirs, stellae, walls, and tombs, with the best attraction being Canaa, the Sky Place, which at 141 feet is the highest building in the country.
Actun Tunichil Muknal – One of the most exhilarating, if not spooky things to do is to tour the cave at Actun Tunichil Muknal. The cave is home to the remains of victims of Mayan sacrifices and after a brief hike and trek, you’ll come face to face with their skeletons. The site was discovered in 1989 and has been a popular tour ever since then. Expect to pay around $75 USD for an organised tour. It was one of my favorite activities.
Explore the caves – Aside from Actun Tunichil Maknal, other cave systems are also great for exploring. In ancient times, caves were considered the entrance to the Mayan underworld of Xibalbá, the dwelling place of the Gods. As a result, many of the caves contain relics from Mayan sacrifices and ceremonies.
The Barrier Reef – The barrier reef consists of a 186 mile long stretch of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System- the second largest barrier reef in the world. The coral and magnificent marine life makes up the country’s most popular tourist attraction. Divers and snorkelers can enjoy the reef within one of the many islands in the marine park or take a boat tour out to the area itself. In 1996, the reef was designated as a Wold Heritage Site.
Escape Belize City – Chances are you’ll have to arrive in Belize City at some point. The city is home to a quarter of the country’s population, and it’s a dump. Get in, connect to where you want to go, and get out. Nothing to see here.
Nature Walks – Whether you go early in the morning or in the middle of the night, going out with a naturalist through the jungle is an awesome adventure. The morning is the best time to check out birds, while the night is host to new insects and wildlife.
Go fishing – There is a wide variety of fish off the coast and fishing is a popular, though expensive activity.
St. John’s Cathedral – This cathedral is the oldest Anglican Church in South America. Built from red bricks that were brought aboard English sailing ships in the 1800s, this is an awesome piece of history to check out.