Replies: 12 - Last Post: Jun 23, 2013 11:30 AM Last Post By: hopefulist
Jun 20, 2013 8:38 PM
safe travelMy wife and I have decided to travel to Belize in January. We have reservations in Punta Gorda at the Hickadee Cottages for the 2nd half of the trip. I am looking at Cyrstal Paradise, San Ignacio, for the first half of the trip in order to include a trip to Tikal for an overnight. We are interested in jungle experience as well as archaeological and cultural experiences. But, I read on the State Dept website yesterday that traveling around in a rental car, and especially to Tikal in Guatemala is not so safe. Is it as bad as they describe? We would be going to Tikal, as well as a few of the caves in Belize, as part of a tour.
Is my wife going to hate me after this trip, since I am the one planning the trip?
Also, does this plan sound reasonable to get a general feel for some of the country given that we are not interested in the ocean activities?
Thank you for any insight.
Jun 21, 2013 1:37 AM
1Sounds like a great plan, though I've never been tempted to rent a car. We enjoy the local buses but shell out for flights or taxes sometimes. Note that most car rental companies don't allow you to cross into Guatemala with their cars and you wouldn't have insurance there - I wouldn't recommend driving that part. Have a great trip, whatever you decide!
Jun 21, 2013 5:04 AM
Jun 21, 2013 8:08 AM
3I haven't read the State Dept website, but driving in Belize should not be a problem.
I think only a couple of Belizean car rental companies allow cars to leave Belize -- Crystal is one of them. Notify them in advance so they can prepare the paperwork.
All the main highways are paved, two-lane and well signposted (visitors might disagree about the signposting). A four-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary unless you plan to get way off the highways. Insurance is mandatory.
Some general safety tips…
On the highways, be aware of unmarked speed bumps near towns and villages. In wet conditions, the pavement can get extremely slippery due to the type of paving material. Be aware of pedestrians and cyclists walking & riding ON THE HIGHWAY, not on the shoulder. Be careful of that especially at night because lights and reflectors are seldom used. And there are some bad drivers in Belize -- watch out for speeding buses. If driving at night, take more care because road lighting is poor (non-existent). The highways have white posts that act as mile markers.
Beware of drunk drivers and speeding buses.
Jun 21, 2013 10:19 AM
4Thanks for the feedback. If we stay at the Crystal Paradise Resort near San Ignacio, they will pick us up at the airport and take us back, so I don't plan to get a rental car until we return. Then we would drive down to Punta Gorda. The trip over to Tikal we would be taken by the Crystal Paradise Resort, so wouldn't doing any driving across the border. Plan is to stay a week at the Resort, doing their tours and then spend a week in Punta Gorda at Hickatee doing our own little day trips.
I did think about spending a day or two on the way back up north along the shore somewhere, but didn't really know where to go. We are not divers, more just walk along the beach people. If anyone has any ideas please let me know.
But what I really need to know is it safe, crime wise, to make the trip. The State Dept site seems to say stay away completely from Guatemala, including visiting Tikal and that even driving the highways in Belize is very risky. Is this really the case?
Jun 21, 2013 12:29 PM
5I have been to all of those places (just not Crystal Paradise specifically) and have always felt safe. No one can guarantee your safety, even at the grocery store nearest your home. My photos with blog and travelogue links on the main page of each collection are below in case you're interested - maybe reading about our trips will ease your concerns. http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections
We love Hopkins Village - nice beaches for walking and swimming and it's a friendly, culturally fascinating place. Check out the Hopkins Inn - similarly safe, cute, friendly, and good value to Hickatee but on the beach. Placencia is a popular stop, too - you can see both in our photos and blogs, link above. Happy trails!
Jun 21, 2013 1:14 PM
6Driving ANY highway has the potential to be risky, but we don't have horrific vehicular collisions every day here in Belize, if that's the image you got from the State Dept website. We have had a few mainly due to some poor driving skills and poorly maintained vehicles, but the main highways are in satisfactory condition. Drive with care (defensively) and you'll be fine.
If you're beach people, Placencia is the place to go.
Jun 21, 2013 3:55 PM
Jun 21, 2013 9:37 PM
8HI John, That sounds like a good plan. My only objection to renting a car is the cost. For $80US I can get two hotel rooms but I understand the convenience of having one. Drive during the day and watch out for the other guy. Sometimes there is nowhere to pull over if someone is riding your bumper.Watch out for those topas ? in the road especially in and near villages. Make sure that you park in a secure place like at a hotel and never leave anything visible in the car. You should be fine.
Jun 22, 2013 6:11 PM
9I always rent a car for the mainland in Belize. Just don't drive at night as it is easy to hit things on the roads. I would rent a car right away. Why go back and forth to Belize City. It is easy to drive in Belize as there are just a few main roads so there is no confusion. Having a car in San Ignacio will give you to freedom to see the area without having to be driven everywhere. It would also reduce the cost of seeing the sites as they really get you for the tours as you are trapped at the lodge. I would think that this part of the trip would be the best for a rental vehicle. You could save the cost of the pickup with the hotel and probably the cost of most of the side trips and put that toward the cost of the car. Go on line and look at Crystal.
You could leave and take the hummingbird highway to Punta Gorda (why Punta Gorda???) It's a nice drive and that way you won't have to backtrack as you would if you return to Belize City. The Hummingbird is the only way I know of to get to the south as the Coastal Highway is not paved. Trust me, I have done it and it takes a long time on that road.
Jun 23, 2013 8:18 AM
10Thanks for your input. Dollyd, I had originally planned to do exactly as you described, but the Crystal Paradise Lodge has a package that includes pickup and return to the airport. And since I thought that it might be better to let them arrange the tours, for safety reasons, thought that I could save the price of a week's car rental, by letting them shuttle me around, and that might make up for the difference in price for the guided tours. Driving down the Hummingbird Highway seems best. Punta Gorda because I had read about Hickatee Cottages, which sounds great, and wanted to really relax doing just short little culturally related trips during that week, and there seems to be a couple of ruins down that way to visit. But mostly just to sit around, make short jungle walks, and listen to the monkeys.
But back to up north, I might be better off using Crystal Paradise's menu of tours to be more chosey and do the driving myself. Will have to look over the differences more closely before making a decision.
Also, anyone have any real recommendations for places to stay around San Ignacio besides Crystal Paradise? I also had looked at Table Rock Jungle Lodge, but it looks extremely expensive. We, as an older couple, are looking for something comfortable, not real expensive, and that will give us a chance to experience the flora and fauna of Belize.
I appreciate all of the input you have given me.
Jun 23, 2013 11:01 AM
11dollyd - Have you ever visited Toledo District? We hadn't until last summer and really loved it - so much to see and do! Simply staying at Hickatee and riding bikes around and about and to Punta Gorda town to explore was a highlight and a day trip to the jungle cacao farm and the home of Eladio Pop was another highlight - very highly recommended. You can get a feel for our trip from my blog posts; the Toledo District ones start here:
You can hit 'Newer Post' at the bottom to see the others. We are heading back to Hickatee next spring. Happy trails!
Jun 23, 2013 11:30 AM
12We really loved Macal River Camp, Chaa Creek's jungly cousin. Another place we have stayed in the area is the Aguada, in a neighborhood of Santa Elena, just across the bridge from San Ignacio. It's a great value - we loved having a kitchenette, onsite restaurant, free pickup by tour companies, and ac and the pool since we were there in the summer.
Check out all our reviewed and recommended accommodation and book online.