Sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala is Belize, one of Central America’s biggest tourist destinations and one of my favorite countries in the region for its beautiful coast and laid back atmosphere. 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 also fascinating (I did). 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 into this travel guide for you!
Accommodation – A bed in a hostel dorm room averages about 30 BZD per night. Private rooms in hostels range between 70-100 BZD. Starting prices for budget hotels range around 70-100 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 50 BZD per night and an entire home averages 150 BZD.
Food – Expect to pay around 8 BZD for a meal for a quick meal and a local restaurant. A meal at a restaurant with table service and 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 for basic groceries like pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs, but most accommodation doesn’t include kitchens and groceries are pretty bland. Expect about 30% higher prices on the popular tourist Cayes.
Transportation – 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 2 hours and costs 12 BZD. A 5-hour bus to Placencia from Belize City costs about 20 BZD. Ferries to the islands are between 30-40 BZD. A lot of the destinations within Belize are pretty walkable once you get there. Taxis are reasonably priced if you need them and in some spots, you can rent golf carts or bikes for other options.
Activities – Entrance to most Mayan ruins and national parks cost around 16-20 BZD. Full-day diving trips cost around 200 BZD for a full day. A half-day manatee-spotting tour ranges from 75-100 BZD. A visit to a wildlife sanctuary costs around 8 BZD. A day of sea kayaking in Placencia starts around 60 BZD. Entrance to the Belize Botanic Gardens in San Ignacio costs 15 BZD.
Suggested daily budget – 100 BZD / 50 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
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.
- 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 the price of one 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.
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. Admission is 30 BZD and the zoo is open daily from 8:30am-5pm.
- 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. Activity prices start at 25 BZD.
- Altun Ha – 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 100 BZD 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. 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 (you definitely want to hike around here. The landscape is lush and beautiful!).
- Bacab Adventure & Eco Park – 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 are provided.
- Xunantunich – Xunantunich is one of Belize’s most impressive and easily accessible Maya sites. Although strenuous with all the hills, it is well worth the sighting of birds and butterflies, and the 7th-century temples and plazas offer some stunning views. 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. 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. 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 (which made them my favorite because I felt like Indy). The site is full of reservoirs, stellae, walls, and tombs, with the best attraction being the Sky Place, a 141 feet tall building. Admission is 30 BZD. Hours are from 8am-4pm.
- Actun Tunichil Muknal – One of the most exhilarating, if not spooky, things to do 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 a popular tour ever since then. Expect to pay around 150 BZD for an organized tour. 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!
- The Barrier Reef – The second longest barrier reef in the world, the vibrant 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 World Heritage Site.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 three-foot wide main street where you will find most bars and restaurants. I loved my stay here and ended up staying an extra week.