What You Need to Know Before Your Belize Vacation

What You Need to Know Before Your Belize Vacation

Belize is a small country that’s packed to the brim with adventure, nature, and culture. With everything from incredible scuba diving to jungle expeditions, there’s no shortage of fun things to do.

And it’s no surprise that Belize tourism is becoming quite popular.

Your vacation to Belize can be full of relaxing on the beautiful beaches, exploring countless islands, and soaking up the sun for days on end. Grab a Belikin Beer go to the best beaches in Belize, or walk down the road to your favorite watering hole to grab a rum-infused specialty.

But which specific area of Belize should you visit during your vacation and why? What sort of currency do you need in Belize? Is it difficult to get around Belize?

The waterfall in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve

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This post will answer those questions and more. Plus, you can check out our other posts covering our favorite parts of this wonderful country to plan out the best Belize vacation possible!

On the other hand, if you’d rather have someone else do the heavy lifting, we recommend checking out Intrepid Travel tours. Their sustainable and responsible travel methods are combined with a focus on authentic experiences, allowing for their tours to be much less touristy than most.

Contents:

What Currency Do You Need to Visit Belize

In order to vacation in Belize, one of the things you need to know is how to use cash here. Credit cards are accepted at some retailers and vendors, but they often charge an additional 3% fee. As usual, cash is king.

While Belize does have its own currency – the Belizean Dollar (BZD) – the entire country is extremely friendly to using the US Dollar as well.

And for a very simple reason: The Belize Dollar has been “pegged” to the US Dollar for decades. This means the exchange rate between the two currencies does NOT fluctuate.

Sunrise near Anchorage Resort in Caye Caulker Belize

One US Dollar is equal to two Belize Dollars. It’s that simple. No place should charge you a fee for using US Dollars and there is essentially no reason to exchange currency before or during your vacation to Belize.

You may receive Belize Dollars as change when you pay with US Dollar. They may even give you back a mix of the two currencies. While this sounds confusing, you’ll quickly get used to it. Just make sure to count your change carefully (an important tip for any vacation).

Always assume that the price listed is in Belize Dollars. If you think it’s US Dollar, you might pay them double what they’re actually charging. Some people might correct your mistake, but others will be happy to take your generous offering.

Placencia, Belize: Why You Should Visit This Hidden Beach Paradise

How to Get Around Belize

You have plenty of options for getting around when you vacation in Belize: air travel, car rentals, ferries, taxis, shuttles, and buses. So which fits your needs the best?

If you prefer the peace of mind and customer service that comes with using a transportation agency, check out GuateGo. They offer a wide variety of transportation services all around Belize and nearly every destination in Guatemala, including shared shuttles/buses, private transit options, and even flights.

Flying Around Belize

If time is more of a concern than money, flying is usually the best option for many Belize tourists. Maya Island Air and Tropic Air are the two main carriers servicing Belize.

The major international airport in Belize City is where most international travelers first land, but you can almost always get a flight from Belize City to your final destination for around $100 USD, one-way. Don’t get discouraged if this is out of your budget. There are plenty of other ways to get around.

The sunset at Buba Wuba Grill in Placencia, Belize

Renting a Car in Belize

Renting a car is also popular in Belize, especially if you plan on doing a lot of inland adventures. There are major car rental agencies including some of the top brands.

It is wise to discuss your potential route with the agency or another local with knowledge of the roads. Google Maps almost took us down a very desolated road rather than the better highway option just a bit farther away. Read more about that in our post about Why We Got Married in Placencia Belize.

Inspect your vehicle (especially tires, including the spare, and windshield wipers) before heading out. Avoid driving at night due to animals and increased overall danger. And watch out for speedbumps, otherwise you might go literally airborne.

The small ferry from Chetumal Mexico to Caye Caulker Belize

Ferry Services

If your adventures are taking you out to islands, such as Caye Caulker or San Pedro, you probably don’t want to rent a car. And flying can be expensive.

But there are quite a few ferry services leaving from Belize City to the surrounding islands. A $25 USD taxi ride from the airport to the ferry dock is all it takes. Then you can hop right on board the ferry to your final destination.

If you’re going to Caye Caulker (which we highly recommend), see our post on How to Get to Caye Caulker for more informaiton.

Otherwise, check out the two main ferry operators in Belize to check their routes and schedules: Ocean Ferry Belize and Belize Express Water Taxi. We used Belize Express Water Taxi and thought they did a great job.

A ferry terminal on Caye Caulker Belize for Belize Express Water Taxi

Taxis, Shuttles, and Buses in Belize

Another thing to know before visiting Belize is that there are official taxis which you can easily identify by the green license plates. These are considered a safe and reliable form of transportation for your Belize vacation. But they do NOT run on meters. You should agree to a price before entering the vehicle.

Finally, you can usually find shuttle services, tour operators, or busses to get you to most areas in Belize. We love Mexico’s ADO system – which does travel to Belize City from areas in the southern Mexico.

But there really isn’t a comparable bus service for the rest of Belize. If you want to go door-to-door without much of a hassle, look for shuttle services or tour operators which you book in advance (something like Belize Shuttles).

If you don’t mind being on cramped buses which might be a bit delayed, brave it on the informal bus system. These are usually run using old American school buses. You can get more information about Belize bus services from this site or the privately-run companies such as Ritchie’s Bus Service.

The beautiful Moho Caye in Belize

Language in Belize

Belize is a very diverse place with many languages spoken. English is, however, the official language and most inhabitants speak it fluently, especially if they are in the tourism industry.

So good news English-speakers, you can get by on your vacation to Belize without much to worry about!

You will also find that a significant amount of the Belize population knows at least one other language. Quite often this is either Spanish or Criol (Belizean Creole). You can also find speakers of Maya, Garifuna, and even Mandarin throughout this small, diverse nation.

Where to Visit in Belize

There are quite a few choices when it comes down to where to go for a vacation in Belize. You can choose the relaxing beach and island destinations, which vary dramatically in amenities and culture. Or you can go for jungle-based expeditions full of caves, archeological ruins, and hikes.

Our two favorite areas of Belize are Caye Caulker and Placencia.

Tables in the water at The Split in Belize

Go Slow in Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker is a small island that is located relatively close to Belize City. The favorite saying here is “go slow” and the relaxed vibes are felt throughout. Caye Caulker is easy to get to from the international airport and the entire island uses exclusively golf carts and bicycles to get around (or even just walking).

You can see the sunrise on one side of the island and sunset on another. The Split is the main party scene and it is a blast. Order a local “lizard juice” drink and chill by the water all day. Or head over to find more relaxing areas of the island to hang out on your own.

And plenty of boat tour options are available. Check out our full post for more information: “Go Slow” in Caye Caulker Belize.

The sign at The Split in Caye Caulker Belize

Placencia: A Hidden Beach Paradise

Our other favorite location in Belize is Placencia. It is a small peninsula toward the southern end of the country, reachable via a short plane ride from Belize City or a 3.5-hour drive. Placencia has long stretches of white-sand beaches, a lovely village area, and all-around beautiful scenery.

You can stay in small hotels, rental houses through VRBO, and even some upscale resorts in the more isolated areas. The scuba diving and island hopping in Placencia is excellent. Read all about Why We Chose to Get Married in This Hidden Paradise.

The beach and lounge area at Brisa Oceana Resort in Placencia, Belize

The Center of Attention: San Pedro

San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is a major beach community that many people choose for their vacations in Belize. It is a very popular tourist area. We stopped by here on our way to Caye Caulker and were shocked at the amount of development. Some sizeable resorts are here.

After speaking to others who spent a lot of time there, it seems San Pedro lacks a bit of authentic Belizean culture and instead has been replaced by a heavy tourism industry.

Sunrise in Caye Caulker

Other Areas for Vacations in Belize

The beach towns of Dangriga and Hopkins are situated between Belize City and Placencia. Dangriga has been described as a bit of a grungy scene, but with plenty of authentic Belize culture. Not the place to go for beaches though.

Hopkins seems to have a better beach environment but isn’t quite as nice as Caye Caulker or Placencia.

Another popular area to visit San Ignacio, located in central Belize somewhat close to the border with Guatemala. This is near the Cayo District which is best known for having a cluster or archeological ruins sites and cave systems (more on those in a bit).

You’ve seen me mention Belize City quite a bit so far. But to be honest, most people visiting Belize say that Belize City is not worth spending any time in. And we agree.

The international airport is on the outskirts of town, but we went through Belize City and did not find much to write about. Maybe someday that will change, but for now, you’re likely better off visiting other areas in Belize.

Things to Do in Belize

Some people know Belize simply for its amazing beaches. After all, it is on the Caribbean Sea and has some of the best water around the world with outstanding visibility. But that’s not the only thing going on here, at all. Ruins, caves, and other jungle adventures await for your Belize vacation.

Scuba Diving and Snorkeling

Belize is on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest reef system in the world. And because of this, many people vacation in Belize to go scuba diving and/or snorkeling.

The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is near San Pedro, Ambergris Caye and is a wonderful destination. The Silk Caye Marine Reserve is south toward Placencia, located in a wonderful area filled with isolated islands and excellent coral.

An underwater shot of coral during a snorkel session near Caye Caulker

And it would be irresponsible to mention Belize scuba diving without mentioning the Blue Hole. This giant marine sinkhole is located about 45 miles (70 km) offshore and is world-famous. Plenty of people scuba dive here, but you’re better off sticking to the coral reefs if you want to see marine life and vibrant colors.

Under the surface at the Blue Hole, you’re mainly looking at an intricate wall with spotted caves and many stalactites and stalagmites – still a bucket-list scuba diving site for many.

If you do have a desire to visit the Blue Hole, just be aware that it is a very long boat ride away from many places (up to 4 hours, one way). Another, quicker option is to take a flight overlooking the area and see the Blue Hole from above.

A shark near us while snorkeling in Caye Caulker

Kristina doing one of her favorite things to do in Placencia: snorkeling

Archeological Ruins

Belize is also well-known for many archeological ruin sites. If you’re going to the Cayo District near San Ignacio, you can visit Xunantunich & Caracol, two of their most popular sites. This is next up on our list of things to do when we go back to Belize. The ATM caves are in this area too (described below).

Altun Ha and Lamanai are two other ruin sites located closer to Belize City in the northern region of the country. While Nim Li Punit is another archaeological ruin site located in the southern region of Belize.

The 9 Best Things to Do in Placencia Belize

Other Outdoor Adventures in Belize

Cave exploration is also a popular tourist activity. The ATM caves (Actun Tunichil Muknal) are somewhat close to San Ignacio. You can explore the vast systems there and in other places within the country. Some go on kayak or tubing adventures.

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a jungle-filled area with the primary function of serving as a jaguar sanctuary. It has many different hiking trails as well as a nice river to tube in and even some overnight cabins. We loved visiting this wildlife area and plan on returning to see more.

You can read more about our visit to Cockscomb Basin in our post on The 9 Best Things to Do in Placencia, Belize.

The Belize Zoo is near the central region of Belize. People say this is less of an animal prison and more of a wildlife reserve and rehabilitation center. Based on our research, it does seem to be more friendly toward animals than many other zoos.

Kristina hiking up the steep trail at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve near Placencia, Bleize

Summary of Things to Know Before Your Belize Vacation

Belize is a wonderful country with much to offer. You can visit the touristy beach area of San Pedro or seek out the more secluded beach areas of Caye Caulker or Placencia (our favorite locations).

If you can get your scuba certification before going here, do it! But if not, grab a snorkel and head out on the water. Or put on your hiking shoes and head into Cockscomb Basin or go explore the many different ruins.

What sounds better to you: exploring the jungle-filled jaguar sanctuary at Cockscomb Basin, seeing the ancient temples at the archeological ruin sites in Cayo District, or floating down one of the many intricate cave systems in Belize? Leave us a comment below with your thoughts!

Plan Your Trip

Find a Cheap Flight
We use Skyscanner to consistently get the best fares online. Check out our guide to finding cheap flights for more tips.

Book Your Stay
Live like a local by staying at an Airbnb (get $20 off Airbnb here) or check out all of these awesome Belize hotels on Booking.com!

Pack Your Bags
Wondering what to pack? Read our Ultimate Guide to Packing Light for a list of travel essentials.

Get Covered
World Nomads is travel insurance designed by travelers. They cover medical and dental emergencies, trip cancellation, delayed bags, and more.

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Everything you need to know for your vacation in Belize: where to visit, things to do, how to get to Belize, and much more!

2 thoughts on “What You Need to Know Before Your Belize Vacation”

  1. Hello Michael!
    Thank you for the post! Very informative. Would you mind sharing which company you two used from Caye Caulker to snorkel the Hol Chan Marine Reserve? I’m visiting in May and have seen several companies offer half day or full day tours to various spots.

    Best regards,
    Justin

    1. Hi Justin! I recommend heading to the “marina” area (just south of the Split on the eastern side of the island) and talking to the various companies about your desires. They usually have enough space to discuss the options and get you a spot the night before. That way, you can make sure to find a company that aligns with your interests.

      Some take you all around the island on full-day excursions, while others just do a quick shot out to the snorkel area and back. Unfortunately, I don’t have the name of the one we went with offhand right now. But they’re pretty similar, just make sure to ask questions before heading out.

      Enjoy your visit to this amazing island! I can’t wait to return someday soon.

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