Money & costs
Travel costs are significantly higher here than in most Central American countries, but cheaper than in the USA or Europe. If you’re arriving from inexpensive Central American nations such as Honduras or Guatemala, get ready to bust that wallet wide open. High taxes, many imports and the fact that much of its tourism industry is geared to North Americans on fairly short vacations are the factors that keep prices high.
Prices in Belize are frequently listed in US dollars, especially at upmarket hotels, where you can expect to pay international prices. Most types of tours are charged in US dollars. In fact, US dollars are widely accepted, but the standard unit of currency is still the Belizean dollar (BZ$). The exchange rate has hovered around US$1=BZ$2 for years. Prices in this book are quoted in BZ$ and include all taxes and service charges.
Shoestring travelers can survive on BZ$60 to BZ$80 a day, covering just the basics of food, lodging and public transportation. The cheapest hotels start at about BZ$20 per person for a bed, four walls and shared bathroom. Better rooms with private bathrooms start at roughly BZ$40, depending on the area. It is possible to eat cheaply at the stand-up snack bars and markets and fill up for BZ$20 or less.
Midrange budgeters can travel comfortably on BZ$200 to BZ$300 per person per day. Hotels in this category offer very good value, and double rooms come with comfortable beds, private bathroom, hot water (most of the time) and – usually – some stylish details. Expect to pay anywhere between BZ$150 and BZ$200 per night. Some hotels in this price range also have shared or private kitchenettes, which is a great option for families. A good two- or three-course meal with a couple of drinks in a pleasant restaurant will average BZ$30 to BZ$50 (more if you have lobster).
Top-end visitors will find a good selection of restaurants and hotels in the touristy towns and within some of the major resorts. Luxurious beachside lodges and boutique hotels cost anywhere from BZ$300 – and all the way up – and offer meals that begin at BZ$50.
Traveling by public bus is dirt cheap, but car hire, taxis, boats and hotel transfers are not. Expect a day’s auto rental to cost between BZ$150 and BZ$200. Tours and excursions mostly run from BZ$100 to BZ$200 per person for a day (more for diving trips).
Lodging prices are generally higher in the dry season (December to May), and highest during holiday periods (between Christmas and New Year and during Semana Santa). During slower seasons, most hotels are eager for your business, so you can try to negotiate a lower rate.
Tipping is not obligatory but never goes amiss, especially if guides, drivers or waitstaff have provided you with genuinely good service. Rounding up the bill by somewhere between 5% and 10% is usually a suitable tip. Some hotels and restaurants add an obligatory service charge to your bill (usually 10%), in which case you definitely don’t need to tip.
Belize’s currency, the Belizean dollar (BZ$), has been fixed for many years at US$0.50, although talk of a devaluation is never far beneath the surface. The currency bears the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and the dollar is divided into 100 cents. Coins come in denominations of one, five, 10, 25 and 50 cents and one dollar; bills come in denominations of two, five, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollars. The 25-cent coin is sometimes called a shilling, and you may hear the 100-dollar bill referred to as a ‘bluenote.’
Prices are usually quoted in Belizean dollars, though you will sometimes see prices quoted in US dollars, especially at tour companies and upscale resorts. If in any doubt, ask which type of dollars people are talking about. Many businesses are happy to accept cash payments in US dollars. US dollars are also widely accepted across the border in Guatemala. But the official unit of currency is the Guatemalan Quetzal (Q).
Atlantic Bank, Belize Bank, Scotia Bank and a few other banks’ ATMs are on international networks, accepting Visa, MasterCard, Plus and Cirrus cards. There are internationally compatible ATMs in most major towns, including Belize City, Belmopan, Caye Caulker, Corozal Town, Dangriga, Orange Walk Town, Punta Gorda, San Ignacio and San Pedro. ATMs give only Belizean dollars. They are convenient but the exchange rate you get from ATMs is usually a cent or two under the BZ$2 = US$1 rate used for cash or traveler’s-check exchanges. Belize Bank charges a fee for each use of an ATM (BZ$2) and enforces a BZ$500 per day withdrawal limit. Atlantic Bank and Scotia Bank do not charge fees and Scotia Bank has a higher withdrawal limit.
A few hundred US dollars in cash are handy to have. You can use them to pay for things in most places, and they are also easy to exchange informally, or in most banks, at the rate of BZ$2 = US$1. Canadian dollars, pounds sterling and euros can also be exchanged at many banks but are harder to use as cash than US dollars.
Visa and MasterCard are accepted by airlines, car-rental companies and at the larger hotels, restaurants and shops; Amex is often accepted at top-end places and is becoming more common among the smaller establishments. Some places levy a surcharge of up to 5% if you pay by card.
You can also use a credit card to obtain an over-the-counter cash advance from most of the banks in Belize. The exchange rate is likely to be the same as the rate for ATM withdrawals, and again you face the commissions and handling charges imposed by your card issuer.
Hotel room tax is 9%. Rates given in this guide also include the room tax. Restaurant meals are subject to an 8% sales tax. Prices given in this guide include all taxes to the best of our knowledge.
You can exchange traveler’s checks at most banks, especially if you carry a well-known brand such as Visa or Amex and they are denominated in US dollars. They usually attract the same advantageous exchange rate as cash, though there may be per-check fees to pay.