What You Should Know About Belize

I had no idea what to expect when I landed in Belize. The only reason I chose this country was because they were the cheapest international destination for the dates I wanted.

Planning roughly, I sketched out an itinerary a few days after buying tickets, put down some deposits for the hostels I would stay at, and thought no more of it until the time came. All I knew was that the big attractions were the Great Blue Hole, the 2nd largest barrier reef system, and Maya ruins. What I didn’t expect was how much I would fall in love with the place.

Guys, Belize is AMAZING.

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Accessibility

For us Americans, it’s close enough to head to for quick little vacations. From Texas or Florida, the flight is only about 3 hours! From Chicago, the total travel time including a 1-hour layover was a mere 8 hours to get all the way to paradise.

Out of all the countries I’ve been to, I met by far the most Americans in Belize. It was a pleasant change, knowing that some of us do travel from time to time. I loved all the people I met on this trip and had such a great time with all of them.

Though I was there for about 8 days, I believe 4-day weekend getaways here–provided you stay in one place–would still be a good time. And since their national language is English, so there’s no language barrier to worry about. I always say this, I know, but I hope it’s going to become one of my regular spots (although I’ve yet to become a regular anywhere…).

When the time came to leave, I regretted that I only had a week in this beautiful country.

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Currency

Another reason why Belize is so accessible is because they use USD throughout the entire country. I was worried at first since I didn’t have time to do any money exchanges before leaving the airport, but on the bus to San Ignacio, they accepted my USD happily.

Be prepared to received BZD in return. Since BZD is only used in Belize, it would be wise to use all your Belizean dollars before leaving the country. If you’re like me, you’ll use that as an excuse to buy anything and everything on your last day.

There were countless times when I didn’t have enough USD, so I used a mixture of USD and BZD, which also worked. Strangely, the exchange rate is ALWAYS 2BZD = 1USD no matter when you go. This is convenient, but confusing if you think too much about how that impacts the economy.

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The People

The people of this country are so friendly and helpful that it put me at ease almost immediately. Locals in general, I found, were quite eager to help and interact with tourists. When I left Caye Caulker, I felt like I left behind a big family.

As a solo female traveler, I get a little apprehensive touching down. I have to be on guard, cautious, yet open to the experience; it’s a fine line to tread! But once I’d been safely deposited at the bus station, with detailed information on how the bus system works from my taxi driver, I was more at ease. Another taxi driver dropping me off at the water taxi even told me, “Be careful out there, baby, stay safe. If anything happens or if there’s anything you need, this is my number.” But some friends say that he was just trying to hit on me.

I worried about the safety of the San Ignacio streets at 4:30AM, when I needed to catch a bus back into Belize City. Though the streets were pretty empty, once I reached the bus station, many of the locals reached out to help, asking me where I wanted to go and which bus I should catch.

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Solo Female Travel

I’ve read a lot of blogs that mention the street harassment. Yes, that definitely happened a lot in San Ignacio and a bit in Caye Caulker, but it wasn’t notable enough to affect my time there. I’ve been to countries where street harassment felt aggressive and threatening, but in Caye Caulker, it was more of a way to start a conversation. It was more lighthearted and friendly, geared towards getting some laughs. (Not that it makes street harassment acceptable by any means)

To me, Belize is definitely a great place for solo female travelers. There are a lot of solo travelers in general, at least during the shoulder season, and the country felt very safe even at 4AM in the morning while catching a commuter bus.

However, like in any other place–even in your home country–you should exercise awareness of your surroundings/situations and limit your risk-taking.

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The Tourist Industry

Most notable to me was their tourist industry. Belize boasts a strong eco-tourism presence that is also highly regulated by the government. A few people I talked to said that in order to qualify as a tour guide in Belize, they have to go through rigorous training and then additional specialization. Tourism is second-largest industry in their economy.

In some countries, when talking to people in the tourist industry, it feels like you’re always waiting for the pitch to drop. Walking near a store, you have to feign disinterest so that they don’t try to lure you in. You get in a taxi, ask to be dropped off at a bus terminal, and they try to work in that taxis often take you there quicker and in more comfort.

Here, in Belize, that didn’t happen and it surprised the heck out of me. They were respectful when you said no, and at no point did you feel like you were being conned out of something.

Once, I was trying to catch a local bus to Xunantunich when a taxi driver asked me if I wanted a taxi ride. I refused, saying that I just wanted to catch the local bus. He asked me where I wanted to go. Suspicious and ready for his pitch, I told him Xunantunich.

“Oh, if you’re trying to visit Xunantunich, they’re about to close. I’m sorry, I don’t think you’ll make it. Maybe try again tomorrow?” And then he gave me the times that would be best to visit the ruins!

Getting Around

You can rent a car, order a private shuttle, or bus it the way locals do!

Although you’d be hard-pressed to find an updated bus schedule online, the old information is still relevant. I used this site, this site, and this site. If you’re a paranoid person like me, it doesn’t hurt to ask the locals or the people working at the hostels. If all else fails, be flexible with your schedule and a bus should come around every hour or so. You should be pretty flexible anyways because these buses are very rarely on time, but not by more than 30 minutes I’d say.

Belize also has a comprehensive system of local airports if you’re short on time. The two most popular airlines are Tropic Air and Maya Island Air. These flights can cost upwards of $100 for a one-way ticket, so for those on a budget, it might not be the best idea. Transfers are usually done in Belize City, but the flights are pretty quick compared to the buses.

Where I Visited

  • San Ignacio for 2 nights/1 day
  • Caye Caulker for 5 nights/5 days

What I Did

Actun Tunichil Muknal tour. Located near San Ignacio in the Cayo district, Actun Tunichil Muknal, or ATM, is a cave system where ancient Mayans used for sacrificial ceremonies and to commune with their gods.

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Visited Cahal Pech, a Maya ruin site a 40-minute walk from the San Ignacio city center. I know because I walked all 40 minutes of it. This site was a hilltop home for an elite family back in the day. It’s one of the oldest sites in Belize.

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Got my Open Water Dive Certification. 

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Dove the Great Blue Hole.
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Snorkeled Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

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Though Belize is one of the most expensive Central American/Caribbean countries to visit, it’s well worth it! For those seeking adventure, Belize has so much to offer. I left with countless things that I wasn’t able to fit into my brief visit, like visiting more Maya ruins, the iguana sanctuary, learning about the medicine trail, but that just means I’ll have to come back for more.

I can’t wait.

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  • http://www.crumbsinthebed.com/ Kerri

    It looks like a lot of fun, and sunshine, something which Belgium is seriously lacking at the moment.

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      It was a lot of fun :) I hope Belgium warms up soon! When does it usually get the hottest?

      • http://www.crumbsinthebed.com/ Kerri

        Around August time usually, but today was sitting about 29! That’s pretty damn hot haha!

  • Rebecca

    My Dad used to go to Belize often for work and bring back little presents or postcards of exotic birds and I’ve always wanted to visit, and now I want to even more! Very refreshing to hear that travelling solo is not a problem.

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Aw that’s so cute! Where can I get that job? ;) Going to Belize for work wouldn’t be tooo bad hahah. You should definitely think about going one day!

  • http://snowintromso.com/ Van @ Snow in Tromso

    Belize certainly looks gorgeous! And I didn’t know they had Maya ruins – okay, to be fair, I didn’t know anything about Belize until now so thanks for teaching me :D I’d love to visit one day!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      I’ve never seen the water that blue before! You and me both, sister! I’ve never even considered visiting except for those cheap tickets! Hopefully you get to go one day :)

  • http://www.clemandmarcella.wordpress.com/ Marcella ~ WhatAWonderfulWorld

    It really does sound and look incredible!! There is nothing better than not knowing too much about a place and then loving it, take me there, pleasssse!!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      I definitely prefer that over having high expectations for a place and then being totally let down! Haha whoever’s listening, take me toooooo

  • http://www.tanamatales.com Ruth Rieckehoff

    I went to Belize 8 years ago. Because of that I believe the tourist infrastructure has improved a lot. When I visited, it was very difficult to move around the country (I found that was my biggest obstacle). Private shuttles were basically nonexistent and some of the few ones didn’t want to transport only 2 people. After that trip, I have been to Honduras, El Salvador and the Riviera Maya and I observed various options to travel to Belize (even by boat from Cancun). I think it is time to go again. I miss Central America.

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      I bet it was very different back then! Even now, their infrastructure really doesn’t compare to what I found in Nicaragua, so I can only imagine. I’ve only started to explore Central America, and from what I’ve seen so far, I’m going to keep going! Everything there is awesome and geared towards outdoor activities. Sounds like you need to go again ;)

  • http://www.laurenonlocation.com laurenonlocation

    Belize seems like an awesome place to visit! I have to admit I didnt know that they speak English there or that USD is widely accepted! Makes for an easy trip, even if you’re just going for a short time! I love being surprised by a place that I either didn’t know a lot about or went in without researching. Honestly that’s kind of what happened with my move to Chile hehe! But anyway, you’ve got me craving some sunshine amd beach weather right now in the Southern hemisphere winter! Jealous! Looks like a blast!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      I highly recommend it! I didn’t know any of these things either until the few days before I left. This saved me so much time and confusion while on the ground, haha! I’m feeling/hoping the same thing happens when I get to Chile.. speaking of, wanna email me some recommendations?! I have an unplanned week after hiking in Patagonia and would love some advice :)

  • http://www.thesunnysideofthis.com/ Isabel @ TheSunnySideofThis

    Great tips! I don’t why there is a misconception that Belize is cheap, it is quite pricey if you ask me. Way too beautiful though! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us :)

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Haha, probably because people think Central America in general is cheap! I agree, it’s way too beautiful to pass up though! Thanks, Isabel :)

  • http://www.wanderingweekenders.com/ Ashley @ Wandering Weekenders

    I had no idea that Belize was such a quick flight from Texas! I’ve heard nothing but good things about the island, and that’s awesome that they speak English too! I’ll have to add this to our list for visiting the Caribbean!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      I know! It’s surprising how close things are once you consider countries within the same half of the hemisphere haha :)

  • http://www.slightlyastray.com/ Anna | slightly astray

    Hey Michelle! I’m sorry for not being around lately, but I’m just catching up on your blog! That’s so awesome that you got your open water certification in Belize. It sounds like such a beautiful place, and good to know that even though it’s such a touristed place, the locals are friendly and don’t push you on sales. I didn’t know they used USD there! Would you say it’s expensive to visit? Like how much USD would a typical meal cost?

    And btw, I LOVE the picture of the sea turtle. I loooove sea turtles!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Anna!! How have you been?? No worries, I’ve been really bad at keeping updated with everyone too :x I would say that it can get expensive. Unless you’re eating from local food trucks and street stalls, the price of a meal is basically comparable to the US.

      In Caye Caulker, I mainly ate from the local food trucks, so for $3BZD ($1.50USD) I could get this huge burrito! But if you stepped foot in any type of sit-down place, depending on how fancy it is, it could range from normal US $10 to $20.

      When I first spotted a sea turtle while snorkeling, I swam like CRAZY towards it and accidentally chased it away hahaha. They’re beautiful!!

  • http://www.snorkelstosnow.com Juliette @ Snorkels To Snow

    Hey! I’ve just discovered your blog – and so glad I did! This is such a helpful & informative article. It is my dream to go scuba diving in Belize one day! I completed my Advanced Open Water earlier this year in NZ. And I love your turtle photo! I’m yet to see a turtle while diving but I look forward to the day!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Hey! Sorry I’ve been completely MIA! Thanks for visiting Juliette, and your blog is killer! I need to do the advanced open water later on… I’m scared that I’ve forgotten everything!