Are you thinking about visiting Belize for the first time? If so, you’ve made a good choice. Not only is this Central American destination full of natural beauty and beaches, but it also has world-class dive sites. Various Belize rentals such as cabins and bungalows provide a luxurious place to spend a few days in your own tropical paradise. Many of the one million annual tourists want to return and some even come back to retire. Here’s how you can have an incredible experience in Central America’s number one holiday destination.
As with any trip, having a solid idea of where you want to visit and what activities you want to do are the best way to make sure the trip runs smoothly. Belize as a travel destination doesn’t come without its challenges. The country has poor infrastructure, an infamous reputation for crime and a number of other potential complications. But, at the same time, there are endless opportunities for snorkeling and experiencing the marine life including the world’s second largest barrier reef and a giant sinkhole.
Grab a guidebook from the bookstore or get onto Google and start researching. The more you know, the easier it is to plan where you want to go. Some of the cayes, or sandy islands, have incredible beaches and crystal clear water that are perfect for snorkeling. Other destinations inside the national parks allow you to watch turtles nest, witness several species of birds and maybe even see the elusive jaguar.
Know What to Expect
Sometimes it’s fun and spontaneous to hop on a plane and just turn up at the resort. Last minute vacations or those looking for an adventure often find themselves in this situation. Don’t do this in Belize. You should prepare yourself for what the country is like and what to expect. After all, Belize is a developing country, and large parts of the population are poor. But the prices don’t match.
The currency is the Belize dollar, which is BZ$2 for US$1. Most places accept both with some actively preferring the US dollar. Belize runs on cash, and while the number of ATMs around the country is increasing, it’s still a good idea to come with notes especially smaller denominations. Credit cards can be used, but businesses often add a 5% charge. Some places change travelers checks, but the fees might be high.
Tourists need to pay a departure tax that recently increased from US$20 to US$40 and can be paid in either currency. Hotels add an additional 9% tax and restaurants usually include 10% as a service fee. This may or may not be included in the price you see on the menu. Just be aware to avoid any nasty shocks when you come to pay, especially since food prices are similar to what you would expect in the United States.
Stay in Luxury
The price of accommodation in Belize is similar to what you would expect in some parts of Western Europe. But the quality of a hotel, guesthouse or homestay might be at the same standards as other Central American destinations. High price for mediocre quality.
If you want to get the best value for money, consider upgrading and stay in luxury. The high-end resorts don’t come cheap, but they have world-class facilities and comfort at lower costs than other places in the nearby Caribbean. Favorite spots to stay include Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Hopkins and Placencia. And if you want to go for all-out luxury, check out Cayo Espanto. The private island has just a few villas and is a favorite spot for the rich and famous.
Tourists almost always arrive in Belize City. Don’t stay here. Either get the bus or taxi to Hopkins or Placencia or take the ferry to the cayes. Few people spend any significant amount of time in the city because of the lack of attractions and dubious safety record.
Don’t Miss the Must-See Attractions
The most famous attraction is the Belize Barrier Reef. The reef stretches for hundreds of kilometers along the length of the country and is near the coastline. Join a tour and snorkel or dive to see the multicoloured corals, fish and the occasional shark. Apart from the reef, the Great Blue Hole is another diving spot attracting visitors from around the world to plunge down the deep sinkhole.
Be sure to visit the cayes, relax on the beaches and soak up the mixture of Central American and Caribbean cultures. Resting in a hammock with a coconut and then heading to beachside bars for a cocktail or a cold beer is a must. There are also lots of nature reserves around the country including Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Bacalar Chico National Park and Five Blues Lake National Park.
You can visit several Mayan ruins around Belize too. The most popular ones include Xunantunich, Caracol and Lamanai. Either join one of the tours which provide transport in an air-conditioned vehicle or have an adventure and use the bus. Belize once had a large population of Maya with some groups in the north still claiming to be direct descendants. Visiting some of the ruins and learning about this ancient civilization is a must.
A Life-Changing Adventure
With all the ingredients on how to have a life-changing trip to Belize, it’s time to put them all into practice. Dream trips become a reality with careful planning and preparation and if you’re willing to splash out on luxury. And after seeing the incredible diversity of marine life, you’ll forever be transformed into a conservationist! Who knows, maybe you’ll want to become a marine biologist.