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Belize

Getting around

Boat

The Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association (223-5752, 226-0992; www.cayecaulkerwatertaxi.com) operates speedy water taxis between Belize City, Caye Caulker and San Pedro (Ambergris Caye), with several daily services each way. It’s one hour (BZ$15) each way from Belize City to Caye Caulker and 1½ hours (BZ$20) to San Pedro. The Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association also serves three smaller offshore islands: St George’s Caye, Long Caye and Caye Chapel. Water taxis are open boats that can hold around 40 people each. Captains usually do their best to avoid traveling during rainstorms; when they can’t, passengers huddle together under large tarps to stay dry.

The Thunderbolt service (422-0026, 226-2904), with indoor seating, also operates the Belize CityCaye Caulker–San Pedro route and provides an additional daily service linking Corozal, Sarteneja and San Pedro (BZ$45).

Otherwise, getting to and around Belize’s islands and reefs is a matter of taking tours or dive-and-snorkel trips, using boats organized by island accommodations or chartering a launch. As a rough rule of thumb, launch charters cost around BZ$200 per 10 miles. They’re easy to arrange almost anywhere on the coast and on the main islands.

Another useful boat service is the Hokey Pokey Water Taxi (601-0271, 523-2376) between Placencia and Mango Creek (BZ$10, 12 minutes) near Independence, which saves a long detour by road for travelers between Placencia and Punta Gorda.

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Bus & tram

Bus

Since the 2004 bankruptcy of Belize’s main long-distance bus service, Novelo’s, a dozen smaller companies have stepped up to fill the gaps in service. The break-up of the monopoly has caused some confusion, especially in smaller towns where several different companies may run the same route, but depart from different corners at random times throughout the day. But in general, there are still regular buses plying the regular routes, and they are charging – more or less – the same prices.

There are three main bus routes, all of which originate in Belize City:

Northern Hwy From Belize City to Orange Walk and Corozal (and on to Chetumal, Mexico). At last count there were six companies servicing this route and between 25 and 30 buses a day going in each direction.

Western Hwy From Belize City to Belmopan, San Ignacio and Benque Viejo del Carmen. Several companies service this route, resulting in a regular service that runs in both directions every half-hour throughout the day.

Hummingbird and Southern Hwys From Belmopan to Dangriga, Independence and Punta Gorda (buses on this route use the Western Hwy between Belize City and Belmopan; from Dangriga there are separate buses to Hopkins and Placencia). Three main companies ply this route: James, National and Usher.

Most Belizean buses are old US school buses. Regular-service buses stop anywhere to drop and pick up passengers. Express buses, ­sometimes air-conditioned, have limited stops and as a result are quicker and usually less crowded. They cost a bit more but it’s worth the extra few dollars, especially on longer trips. The 86-mile run from Belize City to Corozal, for example, takes about 2½ hours for BZ$14 on an express, or 3¼ hours for BZ$10 on a regular bus. In general, you pay about BZ$5 per hour on express buses and BZ$3 per hour on regular buses. If you’re traveling at a busy time, it’s worth buying your ticket a day or two in advance.

A variety of smaller bus companies serve villages around the country. They often run to local work and school schedules, with buses going into a larger town in the morning and returning in the afternoon.

Occasional breakdowns and accidents happen with Belizean buses but their track record is at least as good as those in other Central American countries. Luggage pilfering has been a problem on some buses in the past. Carry valuables with you on the bus and give your stored baggage to the bus driver or conductor only, and watch as it is stored. Be there when the bus is unloaded to retrieve your luggage.

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Car & motorcycle

Having a vehicle in Belize gives you maximum flexibility and enables you to reach off-the-main-road destinations and attractions (of which there are many) without having to depend on tours and expensive transfers. Though car hire is costly in Belize (you’re looking at about BZ$160 per day or BZ$900 per week, plus fuel), it doesn’t look so exorbitant when you consider the alternatives, especially if there are three or four people to share the expenses.

Belize has four good, asphalt-paved two-lane roads: the Northern Hwy between Belize City and the Mexican border north of Corozal; the Western Hwy between Belize City and the Guatemalan border near Benque Viejo del Carmen; the Hummingbird Hwy from Belmopan to Dangriga; and the Southern Hwy, which branches off the Hummingbird Hwy a few miles from Dangriga and heads south to Punta Gorda (it’s all paved except for a 10-mile stretch around Nim Li Punit).

Most other roads are one- or two-lane unpaved roads. The most oft-used roads are kept in fairly good condition, but heavy rains can make things challenging. Off the main roads you don’t always need a 4WD vehicle but you do need one with high clearance, such as a Chevy Geo Tracker.

Hire

Generally, renters must be at least 25 years old, have a valid driver’s license and pay by credit card.

Most car-rental companies have offices at Philip Goldson International Airport as well as in Belize City; they will often also deliver or take return of cars at Belize City’s Municipal Airstrip or in downtown Belize City. Rental possibilities are few outside Belize City, but it is possible to rent cars in San Ignacio and Punta Gorda.

Rental rates, including taxes, insurance and unlimited mileage, generally start at BZ$160 a day for an economy vehicle with 4WD and air-con. If you keep the car for six days you’ll often get the seventh day free.

Most rental agencies will not allow you to take a vehicle out of the country. One agency that allows cars to be taken in to Guatemala is Crystal Auto Rental in Belize City.

Insurance

Liability insurance is required in Belize, and there are occasional police checkpoints on the main highways, where you may be required to produce proof of it. You face possible arrest if you can’t. Rental companies always organize the necessary insurance for you, and you won’t be able to bring your own vehicle into Belize without buying Belizean insurance at the border.

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Air

Belize’s two domestic airlines, Maya Island Air (code MW; 223-1140; www.mayaairways.com) and Tropic Air (code PM; 225-2012; www.tropicair.com), provide an efficient and reasonably priced service in small planes on the routes Belize CityDangrigaPlacenciaPunta Gorda, Belize CityCaye Caulker–San Pedro and San Pedro–Sarteneja–Corozal, with plenty of daily flights by both airlines on all three routes.

Many domestic flights departing and arriving in Belize City use the Philip Goldson International Airport; others use the Municipal Airstrip, about 12 miles from the international airport; and some stop at both. Flights using the Municipal Airstrip are usually BZ$20 to BZ$40 cheaper than those using the international airport.

According to the US Federal Aviation Administration, the civil aviation authority of Belize is not in compliance with international aviation safety standards. Belize has been assessed as a Category 2 country (which is why its airlines cannot fly into Category 1 countries such as Guatemala and Mexico). However, both Belizean airlines have decent safety records. There have been about 10 crashes in just as many years; one person has died as a result.

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Bicycle

Most of Belize, including all three of the main highways, is pretty flat, which makes for pleasant cycling, but traffic on the main highways does tend to travel fairly fast; make sure you’re visible if riding along these roads. Belizeans use bicycles – often beach cruiser–type bikes on which you brake by pedaling backwards – for getting around locally, but you don’t see them doing much long-distance cycling unless they’re into racing.

Bikes are available to rent in many of the main tourist destinations for around BZ$20 per day. You don’t usually have to give a deposit. It may be possible to purchase a used bike from one of these rental companies for longer-term use.

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