Belize is one of Central America’s biggest tourist destinations and one of my favorite countries in the region.
Backpacking around Belize was an amazing experience. The country is popular with backpackers, vacationers, dive enthusiasts, and honeymooners. It’s a small, easy to navigate country so you don’t need a lot of time to visit.
English is the primary language here, as the country was annexed by the British in 1840 (it was called British Honduras then). The diving here is world class, and the resorts on the islands attract the high-end crowd. Belize really does have something for everyone.
Explore Mayan ruins and relax on picturesque beaches. Trek through the jungles of the interior and bask in a vibrant, diverse culture.
And be sure to explore beneath the surface too. Belize’s barrier reef draws in scuba and snorkeling enthusiasts from around the world.
For the wildlife enthusiast, many of the country’s national parks are a birdwatcher’s paradise. And those with an interest in archaeology will find the Mayan sites of Altun Ha, Lamanai, and Caracol also fascinating — I certainly did!
I loved visiting Belize. It 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 my best tips into this travel guide to Belize to help you travel cheaper, better, and smarter during your next visit.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Belize
1. Visit Altun Ha
2. Explore the Cayes
3. See the Belize Zoo
4. Visit Xunantunich
5. Wander the Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Other Things to See and Do in Belize
1. See the wildlife
Much of Central America is a wildlife observer’s paradise, and this country is no exception. Birdwatchers will enjoy Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary with its world-class spotting opportunities, while those interested in big cats can flock to the country’s most famous protected area, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Here you can find jaguars, and you’ll definitely want to hike around here. The landscape is lush and beautiful!
2. Visit Bacab Adventure & Eco Park
With over 500 acres of jungle, here you’ll 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. It’s part theme park, part nature reserve and makes for a getaway from Belize City.
3. See Caracol
Caracol is the largest Mayan site and was once one of the most powerful cities in Mayan times. Unlike Altun Ha, the ruins in Caracol are less restored and are located in a jungle setting, which adds to the ancient feeling of the site (which made them my favorite because I felt like Indiana Jones). The site is full of reservoirs, walls, and tombs, with the best attraction being the Sky Place, a 141-foot-tall building. Admission is 15 BZD. Open daily from 8am-5pm.
4. Explore Actun Tunichil Muknal
One of the most exhilarating, if not spooky, things to do in the country is the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave tour. 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 popular with tourists ever since. It was one of my favorite activities in the country. Because it is so popular tours have become a lot more restrictive on where you can walk and when you can go! Expect to pay around 250 BZD for an organized tour
5. Dive the Barrier Reef
This is the second longest barrier reef in the world, stretching over 300km as part of a reef system that extends all the way up to the Yucatan Peninsula. The vibrant coral and magnificent marine life make 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 further out. In 1996, the reef was designated as a World Heritage Site.
6. Go on a 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 best to animals like jaguars, monkeys, ocelots, and tapirs (as well as plenty of weird and wonderful insects).
7. See 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. The original church became a cathedral in 1891, and the neighboring cemetery was actually built during the colonial era using slave labor.
8. Visit Orange Walk
The Orange Walk area of Belize has a diverse range of locals from Creoles to Mennonites. The town of Orange Walk is an ideal location for exploring the Altun Ha and Lamanai and a variety of nature parks and is often used as a stop on the way to Mexico. However, honestly, there’s not much in town, and I wouldn’t suggest spending more than a few days here before moving on.
8. Explore Placencia
Placencia is the ideal location for divers, snorkelers, and those who wish to explore the Mayan ruins in the south of the country. The town still has a laid back Caribbean attitude and life here centers around the narrow main street where you will find most bars and restaurants. I loved my stay here and ended up staying an extra week.
Be sure to visit our city travel guides for more detailed information about what to see and do in each place:
Belize Travel Costs
Accommodation – A bed in a hostel dorm room averages about 25 BZD per night. Private rooms in hostels range between 70-100 BZD. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have self-catering facilities.
Prices for budget hotels start at around 250 BZD per night, but your best value will be renting a room or an apartment from a local over websites like Airbnb. A shared room on Airbnb averages 40 BZD per night and an entire home averages 150 BZD.
Food – Belizean cuisine leans heavily on beans, rice, cheese, and tortillas. Rice and beans is a common lunch choice, and you can always find tamales, panades (fried meat pies), onion soup, chicken stew, and garnaches (beans, cheese, and onion in a fried tortilla) pretty much everywhere you go.
Expect to pay around 10 BZD for a quick meal at a restaurant serving traditional cuisine. A meal at a restaurant with table service and drinks costs between 50-100 BZD. For fast food (think McDonald’s), expect to pay around 13 BZD for a combo meal.
Expect to pay around 4-5 BZD for a beer, 8 BZD for a latte/cappuccino, and 1.50 BZD for a bottle of water. If you’re on a budget, snack on fruit here—it’s cheap, abundant, fresh, and delicious!
Groceries for a week will cost about 80 BZD for basic staples like pasta, rice, beans, vegetables, and some chicken. Most accommodation won’t include a kitchen so be sure to find accommodation that does if you plan on cooking. Expect about 30% higher prices on the popular tourist Cayes.
Activities – Entrance to most Mayan ruins and national parks cost around 10-30 BZD. Full-day diving trips cost around 150 BZD for a full day. A half-day manatee-spotting tour ranges from 75-100 BZD. A visit to a wildlife sanctuary costs around 10 BZD. A day of sea kayaking in Placencia starts around 70 BZD. Entrance to the Belize Botanic Gardens in San Ignacio costs 15 BZD.
Backpacking Belize Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Belize, my suggested budget is around 105-110 BZD per day. On this budget, you’ll be staying in a hostel dorm, eating some street food (and lots of fresh fruit!), cooking some meals, using local buses to get around, and paying for basic activities like entry fees to archaeological sites.
On a mid-range budget of about 250-280 BZD, you can stay in a budget hotel or a private room at a hostel, grab meals at restaurants, do more intercity travel, drink out more, take the occasional taxi, and enjoy some tours like sea kayaking or manatee watching.
For a luxury budget of about 630+ BZD, you’ll be able to stay in 4 star hotels or resorts, enjoy fancy restaurant meals and all the drinks and seafood you want, and participate in activities like diving. This is just the ground floor for luxury though — the sky is the limit!
No matter what budget you embrace, remember that your daily average is going to go up, up, up the more dive activities or expensive tours you do so if you’re traveling on a budget, keep the diving and historical tours to a minimum.
This chart can give you a rough idea of day to day costs (prices are in BZD):
Belize Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Belize can be a very expensive country and costs here can add up super quickly. Diving trips, sailing excursions, tours, and seafood dinners all into your budget rather quickly in this country. I had a hard time staying on budget while I was here, especially in towns that didn’t have hostels (since my first visit, there are a lot more hostels here now so not all is lost!). Here are ways to save money in Belize when you visit:
- 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.
- Combine trips – Many tour operators offer trips that combine popular excursions. These are a good way to save on transfers to each tourist destination as well as possibly get dropped off at your next destination.
- Happy hour – Most bars have a happy hour in the late afternoon and offer 2 for 1 drinks.
- Bring your own food – Because many trips cost extra for lunch, bring your own food and save money.
- Couchsurf – If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts all throughout the country. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
Where To Stay in Belize
Need a place to stay while you travel? Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Belize:
How to Get Around Belize
Public Transportation – A lot of the destinations within Belize are pretty walkable once you get there, including the parts of Belize City where visitors are most likely to be (and for other areas, you’re better off taking a taxi anyway). Bicycling is also a great way to get around as well, and you can rent a bike for about 20 BZD per day in many places.
Most taxi fares will be between 6-14 BZD, but most will not have fixed meters. You’ll want to agree on the price before you get into the taxi. Otherwise, in the cayes it’s popular to rent golf carts to get around. It’s not overly cheap, however, and can cost you more than 400 BZD a week.
Bus – Public buses are by far the cheapest travel option to travel across the country, with fares costing between 2-20 BZD (depending on the distance traveled). For example, a bus from Belize City to Orange Walk takes 1.5 hours and costs 10 BZD. A 5-hour bus to Placencia from Belize City costs about 20 BZD.
Most of the buses are old U.S. school buses that take locals and visitors between cities and all around the country. There’s no real nation-wide company like Greyhound, and schedules change quite frequently. Your best bet is to ask someone at your accommodation to help you arrange transportation (or a tourism professional). Or you can just show up at a bus terminal and figure it out from there. You can also refer to belizebus.wordpress.com – it’s not a professional website, but it’s updated frequently and it is dependable.
Flying – There are two domestic airlines in Belize: Maya Island Air, and Tropic Air. These small planes take you between Caye Caulker, Placencia, Corozal, and Ambergris Caye. Flights aren’t cheap. Belize City to Caye Caulker is 280 BZD round-trip, while Belize City to Placencia is about 550 BZD round-trip. You should only fly if you’re really pressed for time.
Car Rental – If you want a lot of flexibility to get around Belize, a car rental is a great idea. There are a lot of familiar companies around, like Avis and Enterprise, but also local companies like AQ Belize and Jabiru. Rentals are around 200 BZD per day, and if you’re planning on crossing any borders into Mexico or Guatemala you’ll want to read the contract first.
Ferry – You can take ferries and water taxis to the islands (cayes) from Belize City with either San Pedro Belize Express or Ocean Ferry Belize (about a 1.5 hour journey). Belize City to Caye Caulker starts from 36 BZD one-way, while Belize City to San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) starts from 56 BZD one-way. Between San Pedro and Caye Caulker, it’s from 36 BZD one-way.
A ferry also runs between Corozal, Sarteneja, and San Pedro. Another route runs between Placencia and Independence, while frequent water taxis run between Dangriga and the Central Cayes. You don’t need to book your ferry or water taxi in advance. Just show up at the ferry terminal, and you’ll be good to go.
Hitchhiking – Belize actually relies a lot on hitchhiking. The buses can be late or sporadic and sometimes extremely full. Most people here don’t have cars because they are so expensive. My friends and I hitchhiked throughout the country and saw lots of locals doing it too. HitchWiki has a lot of information on hitchhiking in Belize.
When to Go to Belize
The best time to visit is from the end of November to mid April. This is the country’s dry season, and although it’s peak season, Belize never really gets too crowded. It’s warm and tropical with clear skies, and you’ll have no trouble visiting the country’s best attractions. The water is also clearest during this time for diving, and temperatures average around 80°F (27°C) each day.
At the end of April to May, humidity intensifies and temperatures increase to an average of 87°F (31°C) per day. The rainy season is the low season and it lasts from September to October, but many businesses may be shut down during this time. Overall, you can’t beat the dry season!
How to Stay Safe in Belize
Belize is a safe place to backpack and travel – even if you’re traveling solo or as a solo female traveler. Petty theft (including bag snatching) is one of the most common types of crime in Belize. The people who do tend to be involved in some sort of incident are usually drinking or doing drugs or taking part sex tourism.
Stay away from that stuff and you’ll be fine. People are nice and helpful and you’re unlikely to get into trouble.
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take precautions. I would avoid Belize City as much as possible and, if you have spend a night there, avoid wandering too far from the main tourist part of town. It’s pretty sketchy there.
Keep an eye out for common scams against tourists, such as fake ATMs, taxis that don’t use a meter, and questionable tour operators.
Always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it here! Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in Belize, check out this post we wrote that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Belize Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Belize. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Belize, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Belize Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Belize Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Walking the Americas, by Levison Wood
This is the true story of Levison Wood’s 1,800-mile trek across the Americas, through eight countries from Mexico to Colombia. He works his way down through Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama – meeting refugees in Nicaraguan camps, friendly locals, and dangerous wildlife along the way. Some of his tales are harrowing, but mostly you’ll want to be right there with Wood, enjoying secret waterfalls and making awkward negotiations with policemen.
Understanding Belize, by Alan Twigg
Despite its small size, Belize has a fascinating history and a cultural background with roots in Creole, Maya, English, East Indian, Mennonite, Chinese, Lebanese, and more. In this book, Alan Twigg starts from Belize’s early days as a pirate hub to its colonial period to its current position as a prime place for Mayan archaeology. It might seem like a dense book but it’s full of original photography and makes for a good base of knowledge before your trip to Belize.
The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, by Bruce Barcott
This might not be something you’d typically read, but bear with me. This is the true story of Sharon Matola, an animal rights activist who cared for orphaned animals at her zoo in Belize. When a multinational corporation began building a dam that would destroy the nesting ground of the only scarlet macaws in the country, Matola became the symbol of resistance, leading a crusade to stop the company in its tracks. With some brave locals, she she sparked protests around the globe and took the company to court. The author, Bruce Barcott, does an excellent job of telling the story.
If Di Pin Neva Ben, by Timothy Hagerty
If Di Pin Neva Win is a collection of Belizean oral tradition that recounts tales and legends that reflect Belize’s amazing cultural diversity. They include supernatural stories, mythical animals, and entertaining tales that originate from Africa, the Maya kingdom, and Europe. It’s a good read to browse before your trip if you want a better understanding of Belizean folklore (and you can read it in bits and pieces).