Belize is still somewhat of an off-the-beaten-path secret for travelers—although it boasts the second biggest barrier reef in the world, a wealth of Maya ruins, jungle experiences, countless islands (cayes) to explore, 300 miles of beaches, and a topography from Caribbean to rainforest in one trip—it still has some of the smallest tourism numbers in Central America. It is also an English-speaking country where the U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere, and only a two-hour flight from several U.S. hubs, so it is not surprising that tourism and people moving here increases every year.
What you need to travel to Belize
No visas are required for U.S. citizens for tourist visits of up to 30 days. However, this does not apply to all countries—here is a list of those that do require this additional step: https://belize.com/belize-visa/
If your country is listed as one requiring a visa, visit the Immigration Page for information about getting a travel visa: https://ins.gov.bz/index.php/visit-belize/belize-visa
For those traveling to Belize who do not require a visa, it is simple. You must have a passport, and note, like a lot of countries, your passport must not be expiring within 6 months of your travel date. For the temporary COVID-19 restrictions, visit the Belize Tourism Board for updates. Currently, all that is required is a 72-hour negative test, or taking a test at the airport, and wearing of face masks in public, along with social distancing.
You will get a stamp that allows you to stay for no fee for up to 30 days. If you are staying longer than that, you will need to note the date the stamp expires, and visit the local Immigration Office to get another 30-day stamp. The cost is $100 for each 30 days you are staying in the country.
What areas to visit
For your first trip to Belize, I recommend starting in Ambergris Caye, with a day trip to Caye Caulker. From there, you can visit Cayo, and make your way down to Placencia. Options for travel are below. If you are staying for a longer period, I recommend adding Corozal to your itinerary, which you can travel to between Ambergris Caye and Cayo. After you leave Cayo, I recommend a stop at Hopkins/Sittee River, which you can visit on your way down to Placencia.
In Ambergris Caye, don’t miss renting a golf cart and visiting the entire island. You can visit Secret Beach for a great bohemian beach afternoon, and snorkel with sharks and tropical fish at Hol Chan/Shark Ray Alley. Spend time walking through the Boca Del Rio neighborhood, the heart of town, for live music, lively beach bars, and over the water dining. Visit north of the bridge for great experiences like Truck Stop, Rojo Beach Bar, Dive Bar, and many others—you can have a wonderful afternoon bar-hopping for miles up the road on your golf cart. Belize Food Tours is a wonderful culinary tour in San Pedro, too.
In Caye Caulker, enjoy strolling through the go-slow village, and visit the Split, where you can swim, kayak, or paddleboard. You can also take a small boat over to Koko King, with a gorgeous beach club area. Finish your day watching the sunset at Iguana Reef on the leeward side. You can take a short 20-minute ferry from Ambergris Caye to Caye Caulker and have a great day out, returning to Ambergris Caye right after sunset.
In Cayo, don’t miss the world-class caving and Maya ruin adventures—they are plentiful. Xunantunich Maya ruins and the ATM Cave Tour are two of the best.
In Placencia, don’t miss snorkeling at Silk Caye. If you want to have an unforgettable island adventure, sail to Mojo or Ranguana Caye. Or you can have a lively day at King Lewey’s Caye. There is a wonderful food tasting and history tour available through Taste Belize, you can do everything from visit a Spice Farm, dine with a Maya Family, or visit a Chocolate Farm. There are also world-class hiking adventures available within an hours-drive on the mainland from Placencia, check out Bocawina and Cockscomb Jaguar Sanctuary. There are great deep-sea diving and fishing excursions always available, too. Make sure to visit the vibrant beach bars of Barefoot Bar and Tipsy Tuna.
If you are going to Corozal, I recommend going with a guide—it is harder to find and navigate the wonderful expat rich communities unless you know where to find them. In Hopkins, this is even closer to world-class hiking, and check out the Curve Bar and resort row in Sittee River.
Budget - Mid Range—Luxury Lodging and Transport Options in each area
Ambergris Caye—The best high-end places to stay are Ramon’s right in town, Mahogany Bay south of town, or Grand Caribe north of town. Mid-Range—In town, Caye Casa, Blue Tang, Sunbreeze Suites, or Palapa House are great places to stay. Budget—Sandbar, Casa Del Rai, and Parham Plaza are good options in town.
Caye Caulker—if you want to stay in Caye Caulker, the best place is Caye Reef condos, and Island Magic is a good mid-range choice.
Cayo—For luxury—Chaa Creek, Ka’ana, and Francis Ford Coppola’s Blancaneaux Lodge are wonderful. Mid-Range—Midas Resort near town, or Blackrock for a jungle adventure.
Placencia—Higher end choices include Ellysian, Ocean Breeze, Brisa Oceano, Turtle Inn, or Chabil Mar. Budget in the village—Ranguana Lodge or Tradewinds. Maya Beach area north of the village—It’zana is north of the village (high end) or Naia.
Hopkins—Jaguar Reef is in Sittee River and is a great choice for mid to higher-end travel budgets.
In Belize you can get around very cheaply or splurge on the fastest, most efficient transport. Belize has a wonderful regional puddle jumper system—small 12-seater planes that get you all around the country. If you can, it is highly recommended to take the puddle jumpers. Tropic Air and Maya Island Air are the two companies in Belize. There are also great shuttles that will get you around the mainland. The best known are Roam Belize, William Shuttle Service, Belize Shuttle Service, or Discounted Belize Shuttle Service. You can take the ferry between Belize City and Ambergris Caye/Caye Caulker, which is less expensive but takes 90 minutes as opposed to a 12- to 15-minute flight.
You can take the ferry between Belize City and the cayes when you arrive, and when you return to Belize City, you can arrange for a shuttle to pick you up and drive you to Corozal, then Cayo, then down to Hopkins or Placencia. Alternatively, you can rent a car and drive yourself, and while driving in Belize is relatively straightforward, it is somewhat of a challenge and is perhaps better for seasoned travelers. Renting a car is relatively expensive here, and it may be less stress and not much more expensive to take a shuttle for your first trip. You can rent a car right outside of the international airport, and the process is much the same as in the U.S.
Health and Safety
There are rare instances of Dengue or Zika, but this is statistically rare for travelers in Belize. It is recommended you bring plenty of bug spray and sunscreen—the risk of a sunburn is the most common ailment travelers have. Sandflies and mosquitoes can be a problem at times during the year—using an oil-based repellent on your legs is the best defense against sand flies.
Crime in Belize
Belize ranks high in crime numbers but this is due to there being some small pockets of high crime, that are not absorbed by the low population density. Statistically, it is very rare for travelers to be involved in a serious crime. Petty theft does happen, and often results from leaving things unsecured. It is recommended to stay vigilant about locking your doors, and not leaving things unattended—this is a common problem in all areas that attract tourists around the world.
Other FAQ’s about Belize
Tipping is about the same as the U.S.—perhaps 10% to 15%, and these tips are greatly appreciated by the local staff. You can use U.S. dollars everywhere throughout Belize at a fixed rate of 1 USD to 2 BZD. You can easily find ATMS in most areas, and credit cards are widely accepted.
Water: You can drink the water in Placencia, but bottled water is recommended in the rest of the country.
Electrical Outlets: The electrical outlets are the same as the U.S.
Connectivity: You will find ample WiFi available at most establishments, so you will not need to get a local phone while you are here. Most cell phones offer a daily or temporary international rate to allow you to have data while in the country.
Medical Care: Belize is not known for advanced medical care. It is recommended that you educate yourself on the local emergency numbers, some areas use 911 like in the U.S., others will ring to the police front desk. Most places have basic emergency teams, and the one major hospital is in Belize City. Should you have an issue, medical care is affordable and there is no need for in country insurance, though you can add on emergency evacuation insurance if needed.
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