Although we had heard of robberies and assaults before we came to Belize, we felt completely safe, even in the remote areas. We definitely were more on edge in Mexico. The atmosphere and people is an obvious change as soon as you cross the border from Mexico. We also had such a laugh with the locals.
Belize also has a massive European, American and Canadian draw, so don't be surprised to bump into tourists. It was actually nice for us, as we got advice and it's always good to swap stories, and talk to someone other than your travel companion. Places like the Cayes are particularly tourist led. Although these were more developed than we anticipated, they're a good place to relax for a few days.
Belize doesn't have many signature dishes (more a mix of American, Mexican and Caribbean fare), but it was always tasty and there weren't weird items on the menus (like you'll find in China or Japan for example)...apart from the 'royal rat' and cow's foot soup.
We reckon you could cover a lot of ground in Belize in a week, without the need to pre-book anything before you go. We spent 9 unrushed days and even though we had a good time, it's the type of country we both felt we had our fill of and we've seen the highlights.
We would recommend it as a holiday destination for those who are prepared to move about in order to fill the days, or those who don't mind chilling in the Cayes for 'x' amount of time (but if you are willing to pay the price for the latter, we'd head for the Caribbean for better tropical beaches).
As always our highlights and lowlights are listed below and click here for our day-by-day blog.
People - funny and friendly.
Howler monkeys, especially as they climbed over us at the sanctuary.
Blue Hole - the second dive 'Half Moon' was our favourite.
The relaxed atmosphere of the country.
English speaking - we may sound uncultured, but there's no doubting it's less grief when both parties speak the same language, and you don't tend to get ripped off
Cost - everything's imported so it's not a cheap place to visit. You can get some cheap bites, but the excursions are pricey, especially if you don't have a car to get around. It's also expensive to hire a car, so there's not a cheap alternative. There aren't many hostels either, so costs will mount up here.
Altun ha - maybe we are 'ruined out', maybe it was too touristy, or maybe we've just been spoiled, but this was our least favourite ruin to date.
The mossies - they came out in full force in the jungle, even to Gwyn, who usually doesn't get any.
On arriving at the Mexican/Belize border you will need to follow the steps below:
1) Pay your Mexican departure tax 295 pesos per person (only payable if you stay over 7 days.
2) Cancel the vehicle permit you got on the way into Mexico. They will give you a receipt and a further certificate for your records. They will check the VIN matches and take a picture of your car.
1) Get your car disinfected (10 Belize). Get the receipt and keep safe as you will need it to cross the final check point.
2) Purchase car insurance (30 Belize for 1 week). Get the sticker on your windscreen as it speeds up any police checks.
3) Park up and enter the immigration building. Pass through immigration.
4) Proceed to customs and get a temporary vehicle import. They didn't seem interested that we had a Passage de Carnet. Keep the import document safe, as you will need to surrender it when you leave. You will need ID and your vehicle registration documents.
5) Vehicle inspection - we opened the back, they asked us a couple of questions and that was it.
6) Cross border giving in the receipt from disinfection procedure.
The total time it took at the border was around 1.5h at the Cheutamel crossing.
The roads in Belize vary a lot. The main highways are paved and in good condition apart from the Manatee highway, which is a dirt road. I would recommend a 4x4 in this country, if you want to get off the beaten track.
The Manatee highway is a 60km stretch of dirt road that links Belize City to Dangria. It is unpaved for the entire length. There are several makeshift bridges along the way, which look like they shouldn't be able to hold the weight of a car. We were unlucky enough to get a flat along this road caused by a sharp rock. Most rental car companies will not let you drive on this road. You cannot rush this one!
If you want to go anywhere off of the main paved highways things are going to get bumpy. Most roads which turn off of the main highways are unpaved. They range from nice and smooth red dirt, to rocky and full of pot holes. When it rains things get muddy and boggy.
Signage around Belize is good and the road network is simple, the use of a Sat-Nav is not required, but we still found it helpful to estimate journey times. The maps supplied in our guidebook were adequate.
The speed bumps in Belize are signposted. They were generally on the way into towns and before/after bridges.
Planning on going to the cayes? We parked outside the Princess hotel and casino in Belize City, which has more security than the prisons here. We had no problems. From there it is a 10 min walk to the water taxi terminal or a 10 Belize cab ride.
Planning on visiting the pine ridge area? If it's been raining ask local advice such as a tour company. We were told the roads were in a bad state but passable. We encountered knee deep mud, massive ruts where heavy rain had channeled and difficult driving conditions. If you are here in rainy season we recommend having a winch fitted and ensuring you have a vehicle with high ground clearance.
Diesel is not cheap here ie 10.20-10.50 (3.60GBP per gallon) for a gallon. Fuel stations are in all major towns. There is one approx 5-10 miles after crossing the border.
We used Caarte Data LLC Sat-Nav GPS maps. It was basic but does the job. Don't expect any fancy functions. Navigation is done by searching for points of interest, so if you are looking for a particular street, best ask somebody as this app will not be useful.
Belize is a country which is expensive to visit. It's the most expensive out of the Central American countries.
With an exchange rate of roughly £1GBP = $2.85BZD or $1USD = $2BZD we weren’t going to get much bang for our buck. It is just as cheap to eat out as it was to go to a super market and buy food in, which we discovered early on. This is why both costs are roughly the same.
If you need any toiletries, sun screen or bug spray buy these before you arrive. They will cost you around $25-$30BZD each per item (around £10GB/$15USD). The border crossing costs were mainly down to the import fees of the vehicle, although the $37.50BZD departure tax should not be forgotten.
Fuel in Belize is incredibly expensive comparable to the average wage. It costs roughly double here to fill up than it does in the USA.
Here we encountered having to pay out for additional transportation to the islands and also required accommodation on the Cayes.
Budget hotels or beach cabanas can be found for approximately $50BZD per night. If you are going off-season then try the hotels before the hostels. The hostels are busy all year round but the hotels slash their prices for far superior accommodation. This is worth while especially if there are more than 1 of you travelling.
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