Getting there & away
To date, the single biggest environment-related issue of the 21st century for Belize is cruise-ship tourism. Every year, cruise liners anchoring off Belize City bring more than 600,000 passengers into the country (that’s two times the population of the country itself). Although the excursions made by these visitors are highly lucrative, many small-scale tour operators and officials fear that the cruisers could potentially be a threat to Belizean tourism.
Most cruise-ship passengers are in the country for less than a day, making it next to impossible for them to experience the country in any substantive way. Furthermore, such massive numbers are likely to inflict environmental damage, whether it’s by harming the reef, trampling through the rainforest or simply overtaxing the infrastructure. Finally, many ecologically aware travelers – who would normally spend lots of time (and money) in Belize – may not want to come if they know they will be sharing space with a shipload of day-trippers. So not only do the cruise ship tourists have the potential to damage the archaeological and natural sites of Belize; they could also seriously impair Belize’s image as an environmentally responsible country.
When planning your trip to Belize, keep in mind that you will see more, do more and learn more if you spend some time actually exploring beautiful Belize; as a bonus, the country will also benefit more from your visit. If you really want to investigate the concept of slow travel, consider overland (or water) travel via Mexico, Honduras or Guatemala.
Travelers can get to Belize by land, sea or air. Overland, travelers might enter Belize from Guatemala or Mexico. Boats also bring travelers from Honduras and Guatemala. Air carriers service Belize from the United States and El Salvador. Flights and tours can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
Airline websites and ticket-booking sites on the internet are the obvious places to start looking for a flight to Belize, but in the search for a good deal it can also be worth checking out a couple of travel agencies and flight adverts in the press. If you travel outside Belize’s main tourist season of December to April, you may find cheaper fares. If you’re planning to transfer onto a domestic flight on arrival in Belize City, you may well get a better deal by booking the domestic flight separately.
The only scheduled boat services into Belize are: from Puerto Cortés, Honduras, to Placencia (BZ$100, three to four hours, weekly) and Dangriga (BZ$100, three to four hours, weekly); from Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, to Punta Gorda (Q114/US$15 to Q147/US$18, one hour, daily); and from Lívingston, Guatemala, to Punta Gorda (Q114/US$15, one hour, twice weekly). (Services from Guatemala do not accept Belizean dollars.)
There are two official crossing points on the Mexico–Belize border. The more frequently used is at Subteniente López–Santa Elena, 9 miles from Corozal Town in Belize and 7 miles from Chetumal in Mexico. The all-paved Northern Hwy runs from the border to Belize City. The other crossing is at La Unión–Blue Creek, 34 miles southwest of Orange Walk Town. If you happened to be driving in from Mexico straight to La Milpa Field Station or Chan Chich Lodge, you might consider using this crossing, as the road is paved all the way from the border on the Mexican side, whereas you face 28 unpaved miles on the road to Orange Walk from Blue Creek.
The only land crossing between Belize and Guatemala is a mile west of the Belizean town of Benque Viejo del Carmen at the end of the all-paved Western Hwy from Belize City. The town of Melchor de Mencos is on the Guatemalan side of the crossing. The border is 44 miles from the Puente Ixlú junction (also called El Cruce) in Guatemala, where roads head north for Tikal (22 miles) and southwest to Flores (18 miles). The first 15 to 19 miles west from the border are unpaved.
Bus passengers crossing Belize’s land borders have to disembark and carry their own luggage through immigration and customs.
In Chetumal, Mexico, buses bound for Corozal Town (BZ$2 to BZ$4, one hour), Orange Walk Town (BZ$6 to BZ$8, two hours) and Belize City (BZ$10 to BZ$14, four hours) leave the north side of Nuevo Mercado, about 0.75 miles north of the city center, once or twice an hour from about 4:30am to 6pm. Both Línea Dorada and San Juan Travel run buses from Chetumal via Corozal to Flores, Guatemala (BZ$40 to BZ$50, eight or nine hours).
To bring a vehicle into Belize, you need to obtain a one-month importation permit at the border. This obliges you to take the vehicle out of Belize again within the validity of the permit. To get the permit you must present proof of ownership (vehicle registration) and purchase Belizean motor insurance (available for a few US dollars per day from agents at the borders). Permit extensions can be obtained by applying to the Customs Department (Belize City 227-7092). In the unlikely event that a Mexican or Guatemalan car-rental agency permits you to take one of their vehicles into Belize, you will also have to show the rental documents at the border.
It’s not unusual to see US license plates on cars in Belize, as driving from the USA through Mexico is pretty straightforward and car rental in Belize is expensive. The shortest route through Mexico to the crossing point between Chetumal and Corozal is from the US–Mexico border points at Brownsville–Matamoros (1257 miles from the Belize border) or McAllen–Reynosa (1267 miles), a solid three days’ driving. The other main US–Mexico road borders are Laredo (Texas) –Nuevo Laredo (1413 miles); El Paso–Ciudad Juárez (1988 miles) and Nogales (Arizona) –Nogales (2219 miles).
You are required to obtain a temporary import permit for your vehicle at the border when you enter Mexico; as well as the vehicle registration document you’ll need to show your driver’s license and pay a fee of around BZ$50 with a Visa, MasterCard or American Express credit card. And you’ll have to buy Mexican motor insurance, also available at the border.
Entering Belize is a simple, straightforward process. You must present a passport that will be valid until you leave the country. It’s advisable to have at least six months of validity remaining. Officially, visitors are also required to be in possession of an onward or return ticket from Belize and funds worth BZ$120 a day for their stay in the country, but it’s rare for tourists to be required to show these.
Tourists are generally given a 30-day stay, extendable once you’re in Belize.
Philip Goldson International Airport (BZE; 225-2014), at Ladyville, 11 miles northwest of Belize City center, handles all international flights. With Belize’s short internal flying distances it’s often possible to make a same-day connection at Belize City to or from other airports in the country.
Maya Island Air (code MW; 223-1140, 225-2219; www.mayaairways.com) Hub Belize City. Although Maya Island Air has long offered twice-daily flights between Belize City and Flores, Guatemala, the airline was forced to suspend its flights to Flores in November 2007, when Guatemala began enforcing new safety regulations. Flights are expected to resume when the Belizean airline is able to meet the new civil aviation standards.
Tropic Air (code PM; 226-2012; www.tropicair.com) Hub Belize City. Normally operates twice-daily flights between Belize City and Flores, Guatemala. Like Maya Air, Tropic Air was forced to suspend these flights until it can upgrade its technical requirements.
Grupo TACA can fly you from all Central American capitals to Belize City via San Salvador, El Salvador; plus San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba and Roatán in Honduras; Havana, Cuba; and several South American cities. Sample high-season one-way/roundtrip fares are about US$280/350 from Guatemala City, US$300/350 from San Salvador, US$275/295 from San Pedro Sula and US$340/400 from San José, Costa Rica.
Both Grupo TACA and the Guatemalan carrier TAG fly between Guatemala City and Flores for about US$200.
From Europe, you need to fly to Belize via the USA (high-season roundtrip fares start at €800 to €900 but you may have to pay considerably more), unless you want to fly to Cancún, Mexico, and then travel overland to Belize. Roundtrip fares to Cancún start at €600 to €700, but you’re more likely to pay €800 to €900.
There are currently no flights to Belize from anywhere in Mexico, but the domestic airport at Chetumal is just 8 miles from the Mexico–Belize border. You can fly from Mexico to Belize City via Guatemala City or San Salvador on a combination of Grupo TACA and Mexican airlines flights. Grupo TACA also flies from Cancún to Flores, Guatemala.
To get to Belize from the UK and Ireland, you have to fly via the USA – high-season roundtrip fares from London start at around UK£500 or UK£600. If you want to fly to Cancún, Mexico, and make your way to Belize overland, you can usually get a London–Cancún roundtrip ticket for between UK£400 and UK£500.
Unless you’re starting from a city with direct flights to Belize City (such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston and Miami), you’ll be making a connection in one of those cities. Examples of typical high-season roundtrip fares to Belize City include US$450 to US$600 from Houston, US$600 to US$800 from New York and US$700 to US$900 from Los Angeles. From Canada, sample fares are C$950 from Vancouver and C$700 from Toronto.