Thinking of Belize? – Things you need to know…

First Things First

When to go?

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The best time to visit is between December and March (but of course this is also the most expensive). The rainy season is from June to November. Most hurricanes (Sept/Oct) pass north of Belize but there is no guarantee of course.

Paperwork

Everyone needs a passport.

If you are from the US, Canada, EU, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, you do not need a visa. Most other nationalities need to apply at a Belizean embassy or consulate before travelling – you cannot get the visa at the border.

If you are flying via the US then you may need ESTA.

Make sure your travel insurance is up to date.

Make photocopies of your documents before you go.
Driving Licence is needed for golf buggies as well as car rental

Copy of medical prescriptions

Vaccinations / Health

Check with your travel clinic 6-8 weeks before departure for current recommended vaccines – Diphtheria, Typhoid, Hep A, Tetanus….
Malaria – consult travel clinic for updated recommendations.
Zika – pregnant women must seek medical advice before travelling.

If booking with a tour operator make sure they are aware of any pre-existing medical conditions or disabilities which could affect your holiday.

Bring extra prescripted medicine and a copy of your prescription.

What to Pack

Its hot and its casual so you can travel light. Pack accordingly – and leave room for the following:
Walking shoes or runners – especially if you are going to the jungle.
Waterproof phone pouch if you are going to the cayes

Check online for a ‘Birds of Belize’ checklist – they are not widely available in the country but it really adds to the experience if you can identify what you are looking at.
Water bottle
Repellent
Chargers and adapters (110 volts AC … same as USA)
Binoculars
Sun hat
Torch (if there’s none on your phone)

Money

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Advise your bank before you go – even though notification is no longer required by our bank, our credit card was blocked in San Pedro – so save yourself the hassle later and just do it before you head off.

The Belize dollar is pegged to the US dollar at $2 Belizean Dollars to $1 US dollar. You don’t have to worry about currency – the US dollar is accepted pretty much everywhere (although you’ll probably get your change in local currency)

Stock up on US dollar bills before your trip and keep them for tips etc.

Bring cash with you – your credit card won’t be accepted everywhere.

There are ATM’s in the main towns
Budgeting – Belize is considered the most expensive country in Central America. After flights and accommodation, your biggest outlay will be on tours and activities. Have a rough idea of what you’d like to do and give yourself time to do a bit of research on tripadvisor, etc. before setting out on your trip.

Getting There

If travelling from Europe then it is likely that you will go via the US. You will most likely stay in the US overnight. On the way home, you will probably have an overnight flight. So for a 14 night trip you will have 12 nights in Belize.

Baggage

If you are availing of internal flights then make yourself aware of the baggage allowances – especially if you have a rigid case as opposed to a bag. The small planes have size restrictions ( more valid than weight restriction) although most luggage will fit the criteria.

Hand Luggage

The following should be included in hand luggage:
T-shirt, toothbrush, etc. (in case your luggage doesn’t turn up at the same time as you do!)

All prescripted medication.

Phone chargers, etc.

Depending on the security system, some allow kindles through and some don’t – so just pull it out of your bag and put it in the tray with your liquids – its a pain when the bag is rejected and you’ve to wait for a search.

Apply your usual precautions – don’t leave valuables in checked luggage.

Getting Around

Flights

If you have the budget, then flying is a great option. Maya Island Air and Tropic Air operate out of many of the internal airports. Check in is fast and stress free and flight times are very short. You should really consider it if you are going to a few destinations within a limited period of time.

Buses

There is a bus network between all the major towns with both express and local services. Many local bus companies don’t have websites so check with your accommodation for info.

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Ferries

There are regular boat connections from Belize City out to the main cayes and between the cayes themselves. You can buy tickets online.

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Self Drive

If you are from the US, Canada, EU, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand then you do not need an International Driving Licence

The are rental companies at the airport and in Belize City.

The main highways are paved. If straying further afield then you may need a four-wheel drive.

Distances are measured in miles.

Where to go and what to do

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The big three are :
Blue Hole
ATM Cave
Maya Ruins

After that it depends on your interests – bird watching, diving, trip to Tikal, trekking…..

For first timers , the ideal is the ‘turf and surf’ option – a mixture of jungle and coast. Even if you’re not interested in ancient civilizations or wildlife, you’ll enjoy the jungle setting. And if you’re not a water lover, you’ll still enjoy towns like San Pedro and Placencia for their laid back vibe, restaurants and colour.

Accommodation

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Everything from hostels to luxury resorts is available, with a greater choice and price range in beach resort towns.

You can opt to stay with the Maya or Mennonites in their communities.
Jungle lodges are fabulous but expensive – you might be better off staying in a nearby town and taking birding and Maya tours from there.

Food and Drink

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Don’t worry – its not all beans!

The emphasis is on Mexican / Creole / Caribbean cuisine with lots of international dishes also available.

For breakfast, you can try Fry Jacks (fried dough)

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There’s plenty of seafood of course. Lobster is available between July and January and the conch season is between Sept and July.

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The fried chicken is fantastic and BBQ is very popular – both chicken and pork.

Mains are served with rice or potato and vegetables.

Wine is expensive but there are good local beers – and great rum cocktails.

About Belize

History and Politics

Belize was formerly known as British Honduras.

The country has been independent since 1981 but remains within the British Commonwealth. The government is headed by a prime minister with the Queen as head of state.

Guatemala has had a long term territorial claim to Belize. In a recent referendum, 55.4% of voters agreed to allow the dispute go to the International Court of Justice for resolution.

Population

About 300,000

Capital

Belize City is the main commercial centre. It was the country’s capital but after a devastating hurricane in 1961 swept much of it into the sea, it was decided to move the seat of government to higher ground and the new city of Belmopan was built about 80km away.

Language

English is the official language but Spanish and Creole are the most widely spoken.

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Blue Hole – Photo credit: seann.mcauliffe on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

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