Wild and alive with its lush Highlands, mysterious Mayas, magnificent marine life, and spectacular shorelines, Belize is a destination for the adventurous. You can canoe in the waters of the Macal, trek in the dense forests, and walk among the remains of the great Mayan civilisation or explore the second largest reef in the world.
If you’re the kind who loves to laze in peace and all this sounds like too much action, there are plenty of places tucked away in the highlands or located on the beachfront where you all you need to do is eat, sleep and enjoy the untamed beauty of Belize.
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BELIZE QUICK FACTS
Currency: Belizean dollar (BZD) / U.S. Dollar (USD) (Widely accepted)
Area: 22,966 km2
Population: 383 071 (2018)
Language: English (official), Spanish, Mayan, Garifuna (Black Carib), Creole
Religion: Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant 27% (Pentecostal 7%, Anglican 5%, Seventh-Day Adventist 5%, Mennonite 4%, Methodist 3.5%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1.5%), none 9.4%, other 14%
Electricity: 110/60Hz (North American plug)
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BELIZE PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 9 March, National Heroes and Benefactors Day (formerly Baron Bliss Day)**
- 24 May, Commonwealth Day (Sovereign’s Day)**
- 10 September, National Day (St. George’s Caye Day) (1798)*
- 21 September, Independence Day (1981)*
- 12 October, Day of the Americas (Pan American Day)**
- 19 November, Garifuna Settlement Day (1823)*
- 26 December, Boxing Day*
* Observed on Monday if a holiday falls on Sunday.
** If the holiday falls on a Sunday or a Friday, the following Monday is observed as the bank and public holiday; if the holiday falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, the preceding Monday is observed as the bank and public holiday.
Also, Semana Santa (Holy Week), especially Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday.
FESTIVALS IN BELIZE
Chocolate Festival - (mid-May) The southernmost region of Belize brings together folks who grow chocolate, sell chocolate and just plain love chocolate. Also showcases the Toledo district’s history and culture.
Lobsterfest - (June/July) A celebration of the world's favorite crustacean, along with libations galore. Takes place in San Pedro in mid-June, in Placencia in the last week of June, and then Caye Caulker in early July.
Garifuna Settlement Day - On November 19, this holiday celebrates the arrival of the first Garifuna people to Belize by boat. The best spots to partake in the three Ds – dancing, drinking and drumming – are Dangriga and Hopkins.
BEST TIME TO VISIT BELIZE
Belize is characterised by a moist tropical climate with a seasonal variation slightly different than other Caribbean countries. Its wet season occurs during the months of May to October and its dry season occurs during the months of November to April. The mean annual temperature ranges from 23-27°C, providing some variation throughout the country, with the coast generally exhibiting hotter temperatures than the interior.
- Mid-December to April - Higher prices and drier weather; ideal for beach, diving and wildlife.
- May to November - Discounts abound for those willing to brave the heat and rains.
- September - National holidays spark two festive weeks of music, dancing and parades.
The best time to visit Belize 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 27°C each day.
You'll probably want to pass on visiting during April and May, when humidity mists the tropical landscape and temps reach triple digits. Expect showers from June to mid-November and strong winds. If you want to beat the rush of tourists and don't mind packing an umbrella, come during the rainy season in September and October. But keep in mind some establishments shut down during the offseason.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
HIKING & CYCLING IN BELIZE
The best time for outdoor activities in Belize is from November to May when the weather is dry and temperatures moderate. The jungle terrain and low-lying mountains are studded with Maya ruins. The best places to hike include Mayflower Bocawina National Park, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Mountain Pine Ridge.
BEACH OPTIONS IN BELIZE
The best time to enjoy the beautiful beaches of Belize is from December to April when the weather is dry and temperatures moderate. May and November can also be pleasant, but from June to October it's hurricane season.
SURFING IN BELIZE
Belize is an excellent all year round surfing destination. The most consistent swell is usually from December to March. Long Caye out at Glover's Reef offers the best waves.
KITESURF IN BELIZE
A bit of a secret gem when it comes to kitesurfing, Belize has two main kite spots, on Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye. The only downside is that there is a lack of beach for launching so this often needs to be boat assisted. You can find some usable winds all year round, with the most consistent winds from November to May with the best time from January to April.
For more details on kite surfing in Belize expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN BELIZE
Be aware of possible health risks in
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
BELIZE TRAVEL COSTS
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. Belize is a small country that imports the vast majority of its goods, which obviously results in higher prices. This is then coupled with basic infrastructure, which makes it hard to get excited about what you’re spending your money on. If you’re a budget traveller, Belize will be more expensive than its neighbouring countries, and you won’t receive as much for your dollars.
Accommodation can be a big part of your expenses in Belize, and you might struggle to find a basic guesthouse room anywhere for less than US$40 a night. In general expect prices for accommodation to be slightly more than in Mexico, with the quality only about half as good.
Starting prices for budget hotels range around US$50 per night, but your best value will be renting a room or an apartment from a local over websites like Airbnb.
Public transportation is fairly efficient as well as inexpensive in Belize. You're best off to use local buses over hiring a scooter or car, both for safety reasons and to save money.
The price of food in Belize is relatively high and more in line with what you’d expect pay in the U.S.A, rather than neighbouring Mexico or Guatemala. Hunting down street stalls would get you a meal for around US$5, but if you want a sit-down meal for dinner, you’ll looking in the region of $15-20 per person.
BELIZE TRAVEL TIPS
The central cays are the best bet for budget travellers. Tobacco Caye is right on the reef, so if you bring your own gear you can snorkel for free just off the island. In the cays you will find plenty of options for cheap street food, tacos and fry-jacks, but it's hard to sit down at a San Pedro restaurant without paying as much as BZ$50 per person.
One of the cheapest activities in the country is clambering all over the ruins, so make sure to do exactly that while we based in San Ignacio. In Placencia and Caye Caulker, spend time sunbathing and exploring on foot to save money.
One of the big-ticket items that everybody insists you have to do while in Belize is take a tour of the ATM caves (US$110). This full-day experience takes you through the jungle, where you’ll swim through caves, ford a river, and learn about the Mayan civilisation. Although this is a crazy high price for a single excursion, if you pay attention to online, practically every single person says it ended up being one of the highlights of their trip to Belize.
Dozens of bus companies offer service along Belize's Northern, Western, Hummingbird and Southern highways. However, there is no standard bus system in Belize City . Prices vary depending on distance, the company and the type of service. Autotransportes De Oriente (ADO) provides transport from Belize City to areas in northern Belize, such as Corozal and Orange Walk, and nearby Mexican destinations, including Cancún and Playa del Carmen . Another reliable bus service, James Bus, offers daily transportation between Belize City to Dangria and Punta Gorda, located in Southern Belize near Toledo and Placencia .
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF BELIZE
Belize is compact, occupying about 9,000 square miles. But don't let its size throw you off. Swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers will discover paradisiacal spots along the barrier reef like Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the Great Blue Hole. Wildlife-seekers will marvel at Belize's magnificent jaguars, pumas, howler monkeys, parakeets and keel-billed toucans at the Belize Zoo. And culture hounds will reach new heights exploring impressive Mayan archaeological sites like Corozal, Altun Ha and Lamanai.
- Caye Caulker - Avail yourself of the amazing array of water activities – from kitesurfing and paddle boarding to snorkelling and diving.
- Actun Tunichil Muknal - Spelunk in Belize's most dramatic cave.
- San Pedro - Enjoy sunset cocktail on the deck of a sailboat cruising offshore.
- Lighthouse Reef - Descend into the darkness of the Blue Hole Natural Monument.
- Caracol - Explore remote and ancient Maya ruins.
- Placencia - Eat, drink, slack and snorkel at the mainland 'cay you can drive to'.
- Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary - Cruise the lagoon and marvel at the birdlife.
Start at the western border (from Guatemala) and visit Xunantunich before heading into San Ignacio. From there, your choices for exploration within the Cayo region are limited only by time and budget, and jungle activities abound. Caracol and ATM cave are potential highlights. With a few days left, head to Caye Caulker or San Pedro to spend a few days swimming, snorkelling or just lazing in a hammock.
Start via Corozal (from Mexico) before heading deeper into nature at Crooked Tree or the Community Baboon Sanctuary. The views along the Hummingbird Hwy make the trip from north to south well worth it. Dangriga, a centre for Garifuna culture, is the jumping-off point for Belize's central Cayes, including Tobacco and Glover's Reef. If you want to keep on the terrestrial tip, continue south to either Hopkins or Placencia for a few days on the beach. When you're beached out, make the trek south to Punta Gorda to get the latest on Maya Village guesthouses and learn Garifuna drumming from the masters. Next, head to the Maya villages of the Deep South – Big Falls, San Pedro Columbia and Blue Creek – to explore ruins and hike or swim at beautiful Río Blanco National Park.
Belize City does not exactly top the list of tourist destinations in Belize and many visitors choose to bypass the country's only major urban area. This is the historical (if no longer the actual) capital of the nation, making it an interesting place to spend a day or two. Its ramshackle streets are alive with colourful characters who represent every facet of Belize's ethnic make up, especially the Creoles. Belize City's main historical sights are all located within walking distance of the Swing Bridge and include the Museum of Belize, St John's Cathedral, Image Factory and the Swing Bridge itself.
BELIZE NORTHERN CAYS
If you imagined stringing up a hammock on a deserted beach, there is an outer atoll with your name on it. There is no shortage of an ever-growing collection of ritzy resorts on Ambergris Caye. San Pedro is the place for dancing the night away to a reggae beat, while Caye Caulker moves at a slightly slower pace. But the islands are only the beginning: the northern cays' richest resource lies below the surface of the sea. Only a few miles offshore, the barrier reef runs for 80 miles, offering unparalleled opportunities to explore canyons and coral, to face off with nurse sharks and stingrays, and to swim with schools of fish painted every colour of the palette.
On Caye Caulker, there are no cars, no fumes and no hassles, just balmy breezes, fresh seafood, azure waters and a fantastic barrier reef at its doorstep. The easy-going attitude is due in part to the strong Creole presence on the island, which pulses to a classic reggae beat and is home to a small community of Rastafarians. Activities on the island is focused on water sports and sea life.
Ambergris Caye remains for many visitors the archetypal tropical paradise where sun-drenched days are filled with fruity drinks and water sports. There are plenty of simple pleasures to be had here from riding a bike along a windswept beach path under the shade of coconut trees to snorkelling in crystal clear waters. Though the entire island is often called San Pedro, technically that is the name of the town that dominates the southern half. San Pedro is awash with tour companies and individuals organizing scuba diving, snorkelling, windsurfing, sailing, kitesurfing, swimming and fishing trips.
More location information and points of interest are available in the above map.
Northern Belize comprises two districts: Corozal and Orange Walk, both traversed by the straight, flat Philip Goldson Hwy. Off the main road, adventurous travellers will find pretty fishing villages, pristine jungles, ancient Maya cities and anachronistic Mennonite communities. Corozal has a vibe different from any other town in Belize. The Mexican influence is palpable on the streets of this provincial town, where you are likely to hear Spanish and eat tacos. If you came to Belize in search of sparkling blue waters, delicious fresh seafood, fauna-rich forests and affordable prices, look no further than Sarteneja. The tiny fishing and shipbuilding village, located near the north-eastern tip of the Belizean mainland, is a charming base from which to explore both the nautical and jungle treasures of the region.
Cayo District is Belize's premier adventure and eco-activity region. The lush environs of the Wild West are covered with jungle, woven with rivers, waterfalls and azure pools, and dotted with Maya ruins ranging from small, tree-covered hills to massive, magnificent temples. Cahal Pech, Xunantunich, El Pilar and the mother of all Belizean Maya sites, Caracol, are all in Cayo.
San Ignacio is the heart and soul of the Cayo District, a vibrant traveller centre from where all roads and activities fan out. Together with twin-town Santa Elena, on the east bank of the Macal River, this is the main population centre of Cayo, with lots of good budget accommodation, decent restaurants and frequent transport.
Southern Belize is the country's most absorbing cultural melting pot, with a strong Garifuna influence around Dangriga and Hopkins, and Belize's largest Maya population down in Toledo. Nature is rich here too, where open savannah and citrus-filled farmland give way to forested hills dotted with Maya villages and ruins. Placencia, a true beach-holiday strip on the mainland, is enduringly popular with North American expats and tourists. Perched at the southern tip of a long, narrow, sandy peninsula, the village has long enjoyed a reputation as 'the cay you can drive to' – a fully-paved 27-mile road heads off the Southern Hwy via Maya Beach and Seine Bight to the tip of the peninsula.
Less crowded, lesser known and often less costly than the cays in the north, the central cays – most of them private islands – off Belize's central coast are smack in the middle of some of the country's most amazing diving, snorkelling and fishing sites. South Water Caye and Thatch Caye are home to fancy all-inclusive resorts, but some good deals can be found on Tobacco Caye and Glover's Reef Atoll.
In most cases the resorts will arrange boat transfers. The central cays are best reached from Dangriga, but charters also run from Hopkins and Placencia.
WHAT TO EAT IN BELIZE
Rice and beans prevail on Belizean menus and plates. They’re usually served with other ingredients – chicken and beef (and sometimes more exotic items like gibnut; a type of rodent found in South and Central America) are the usual suspects – plus some spices and condiments, such as coconut milk.
But Belizean cuisine is so much more than this ubiquitous rice-based dish. Seafood abounds everywhere on the coast. Lobster – in season (June to February) – is always excellent, and conch fritters are a must-try. Expect to find plenty of Mexican dishes like salbutes, garnaches and ceviche. And of course, no visit to Dangriga or Hopkins would be complete without tasting hudut, a beloved Garifuna dish.
LGBTQ IN BELIZE
Travellers should be aware that male homosexuality is illegal in Belize, although female homosexuality is legal. Tourists have not been prosecuted for homosexuality, but local people have been arrested and jailed. Generally speaking, Belize is a tolerant society with a 'live and let live' attitude. But underlying Central American machismo and traditional religious belief, as well as legal prohibitions, mean that same-sex couples should be discreet.
WHERE TO STAY IN BELIZE