With tropical jungles, clear blue waters, stunning biodiversity and an astounding mix of culture and history, few destinations in Central America are as much fun as Belize. But before you head off on your Belize trip, you need to know what to expect. Educate yourself before you leave, so all your Belizean surprises will be good ones.
1) You’ll Want Plenty of Cash on Hand for Purchases
If you’re like most Americans, you probably don’t carry much cash in your day-to-day life. But you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of the folding stuff in your wallet during your travels in Belize. That’s because, while credit and debit cards are accepted in most places, you’ll pay a three percent fee to use them. The fee helps offset the card processing fees merchants must pay and serves to encourage the use of cash in most establishments, as that’s what Belizean merchants prefer. Over the course of your trip, that three percent can really add up if you’re using cards for everything.
ATMs are easy to find in all major cities and on most of the islands. Should you should struggle to find an operational machine, head for the nearest bank; while many ATMs in Belize are privately-owned and replenished by their owners, machines on bank premises are maintained and stocked by the banks in question.
The U.S. dollar is worth two Belize dollars, and both currencies are accepted in many establishments. Make sure to clarify whether the price is in U.S. dollars or Belize dollars before you make any purchase. You’ll need between $50 and $100 USD per person per day, not counting your accommodation, depending on what activities you’ve got planned (snorkeling, for example, can cost $70 USD per person), where you’re eating and whether you’re on an island or the mainland.
2) You’ll Get Cheaper Accommodations on the Mainland
Speaking of which, if you’re traveling on a budget, you’ll get cheaper sleeping accommodations and food on the mainland. Everything is more expensive on the islands because all food and drink must be imported, and real estate is at a premium. A rainforest lodge will be cheaper than staying on one of the cayes, but some cayes are cheaper than others.
Ambergris Caye is the most popular – and the most expensive – of the cayes, but nearby Caye Caulker is considerably cheaper. Backpackers love Caye Caulker, and you’ll find affordable accommodations here. However, plan to spend some time taking in both the island and the jungle atmospheres during your Belize vacation.
3) Don’t Miss the World-Class Diving and Snorkeling
Belize offers some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world, with destinations like the Great Blue Hole, a massive sinkhole off the coast, and a barrier reef second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in size. The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the nation is deservedly proud of it. While only experienced divers should attempt to explore the Great Blue Hole, novice or non-divers can enjoy a breathtaking helicopter ride above the site. Snorkelers here can view stingrays, nurse sharks, hawksbill turtles, sponges and a variety of tropical fish.
4) Be Careful in Belize City
The Overseas Security Advisory Council warns that burglaries, thefts, pick-pocketing and scams are common in Belize, especially in the south side of Belize City. Some travel bloggers go so far as to warn tourists away from Belize City altogether, but if you do go, avoid dangerous neighborhoods and don’t go out on foot at night; take a taxi instead. The good news is that most of Belize, especially touristy areas around Mayan ruins, on the cayes and in the jungle, is safe, and the country is politically stable.
5) There’s No Better Country to Explore Mayan Ruins
If you’re interested in history, archeology or native cultures, you’ll love the plentiful Mayan ruins scattered throughout Belize. Don’t-miss destinations include Actun Tunichil Muknal, or Cave of the Crystal Sepulcher, Caracol, Lamanai, Xunantunich, Altun Ha and Tikal, which is nearby in Guatemala. Many of these ancient cities were home to tens, even hundreds of thousands of people who belonged to a civilization that reached its peak about a thousand years ago.
The Central American nation of Belize offers travelers the chance to explore ancient ruins, get close to nature and live life at a slower, more relaxed pace. The experiences you have in Belize will stay with you for a lifetime, so book your trip today.