Accessible Travel

Belize lacks accessibility regulations and many buildings are on stilts or have uneven wooden steps. You won't see many ramps for wheelchair access and there are very few bathrooms designed for visitors in wheelchairs.

More difficulties for wheelchair users come from the lack of footpaths, as well as plentiful rough and sandy ground. With assistance, bus travel is feasible, but small planes and water taxis might be a problem.

Not to put too fine a point on it – Belize is a very challenging destination for visitors with limited mobility. But while Belize definitely lacks accessible travel facilities it has no shortage of extremely helpful locals who are generally more than willing to lend a hand to assist travelers with special needs in getting around.

Accessible Travel Online Resources

Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

There are a number of useful organizations and websites for travelers with disabilities, though there's little information that is specific to Belize:

Access-Able Travel Source (www.access-able.com) Has good general information.

Global Access Disabled Travel Network (www.globalaccessnews.com) Good website with interesting general travel information.

Mobility International (www.miusa.org) US-based website that advises travelers with disabilities or mobility issues; you can organize a mentor and someone to help you plan your travels.

Bargaining

Bargaining is not common in Belize with the notable exception of outdoor souvenir markets, where everything is negotiable. When business is slow, it's possible to obtain a discount on hotel rooms, golf-cart rentals and other tourism services, although this is usually limited to a quick back-and-forth rather than hard-edge bargaining.

Dangers & Annoyances

Belize has fairly high levels of violent crime, but most areas frequented by travelers are safe and by taking basic precautions visitors are unlikely to experience any serious problems. The most likely issues for travelers involve opportunistic theft, both while out and about, and from hotel rooms.

In order to minimize the risks:

  • Keep your bag in the overhead rack or under your seat on long-distance buses rather than at the back of the bus.
  • Make sure windows and doors lock correctly in your room, especially in remote beachside huts, and use hotel safes where provided.
  • Ask hotels and restaurants in major urban areas to phone a trusted taxi.

Government Travel Advice

Official information can make Belize sound more dangerous than it actually is, but for a range of useful travel advice (including information on healthy traveling) you should consult the travel advisories provided by your home country's foreign-affairs department.

  • Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
  • British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
  • Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.voyage.gc.ca)
  • German Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de)
  • New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
  • US State Department (www.travel.state.gov)

Embassies & Consulates

A few countries have embassies in Belize. Many others handle relations with Belize from their embassies in countries such as Mexico or Guatemala, but may have an honorary consul in Belize to whom travelers can turn as a first point of contact. Unless noted, all embassies are located in Belize City.

Australian High Commission (www.trinidadandtobago.embassy.gov.au) The Australian High Commission in Trinidad & Tobago handles relations with Belize.

Canadian Honorary Consulate

German Honorary Consulate

Guatemalan Embassy

Honduran Embassy

Mexican Consulate

Mexican Embassy

Netherlands Honorary Consulate

UK High Commission

US Embassy

Emergency & Important Numbers

Belize has no regional, area or city codes. Dial a seven-digit local number from wherever you are in the country.

Belize's country code501
Directory assistance113
Emergency90, 911
International access code00
Operator assistance115

Entry & Exit Formalities

Entering Belize is a simple, straightforward process. You must present a passport that will be valid for at least three months from the date of entry. Officially, visitors are also required to be in possession of an onward or return ticket from Belize and funds equivalent to BZ$120 per day for the duration of their stay in the country but it's rare for tourists to be required to show these.

Customs Regulations

Duty-free allowances on entering Belize:

  • 1L of wine or spirits
  • 200 cigarettes, 250g of tobacco or 50 cigars

It is illegal to leave the country with ancient Maya artifacts, turtle shells, unprocessed coral and fish (unless you have obtained a free export permit from the Fisheries Department). It is also illegal to take firearms or ammunition into or out of Belize.

Visas

For most nationalities, visas are issued upon entry for up to 30 days.

Further Information

Information on visa requirements is available from Belizean embassies and consulates, and the Belize Tourism Board (www.travelbelize.org). At the time of writing, visas were not required for citizens of EU, Caricom (Caribbean Community) and Central American countries, nor Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland and the USA. A visitors permit, valid for 30 days, will be stamped in your passport when you enter the country. In most cases this can be extended by further periods of one month (up to a maximum of six months) by applying at an immigration office (there's at least one in each of Belize's six districts). For further information you can contact the Immigration & Nationality Department in Belmopan.

Etiquette

  • Dress Apart from formal occasions, such as going to church, dress in Belize is generally very casual even when heading out to eat or for drinks. However, Belize remains a conservative nation and very revealing outfits may be frowned upon in some areas.
  • Greetings Don't be shy about making eye contact and greeting strangers on the street. Belizeans are friendly! The most common greeting is the catch-all 'Aarait?' ('Alright?'), to which you might respond 'Aarait, aarait?'
  • Queues Belizeans for the most part are firm in respecting queues. Where there is a turn system for services, respect the order. This is especially important at taxi ranks; while you may not be able to see a physical line, the drivers know whose turn it is, so ask before jumping into a vehicle.

Insurance

Travelers should take out a travel insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems. Some policies specifically exclude 'dangerous activities,' which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking. Check that the policy you are considering covers ambulances as well as emergency flights home.

You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than requiring you to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation.

Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.

Checking insurance quotes…

Internet Access

With plenty of wi-fi and affordable 4G in Belize, internet cafes are virtually nonexistent these days. Even remote hotels and lodges will usually have limited wi-fi where guests can access the internet, but occasionally you'll be completely off-grid.

For those traveling with laptops and smartphones, most accommodations have wireless access in the rooms or in common areas, as indicated by the W icon. This access is fairly reliable, but is easily overburdened if there are several people working simultaneously.

Public wi-fi hotspots have not really taken off in Belize, but getting hooked up to the 4G network with a local SIM card is a reliable way of getting online when there's no wi-fi around.

LGBT Travellers

Male homosexuality only became legal in Belize in 2016, when the Supreme Court found the anti-sodomy laws to be unconstitutional. The country's first official Pride march was held in 2017. Generally speaking, Belize is a tolerant society with a 'live and let live' attitude. But underlying Central American machismo and traditional religious belief mean that same-sex couples should be discreet. Some useful resources:

International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (www.iglta.org) General information on gay and lesbian travel in Latin America.

Purple Roofs (www.purpleroofs.com) Includes some listings in San Pedro and Cayo District.

Undersea Expeditions (www.underseax.com) Gay and lesbian scuba-diving company that sometimes offers live-aboard trips to the Blue Hole.

Maps

Lonely Planet maps will enable you to find your way to many of the listed destinations, but if you'd like a larger-scale, more detailed travel map, you cannot beat the 1:350,000 Belize map, published by International Travel Maps of Vancouver.

Another high-detail map is German firm Borch's laminated 1:500,000 Belize road map, which also includes Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker at 1:250,000 and individual maps of all the main Maya ruins.

Divers should check out Franko Maps' laminated dive side map, which has a full-colored tropical fish identification card on the back.

Media

  • Newspapers Belize's most-read paper is Amandala, a twice-weekly publication with a left-wing slant.
  • Radio Love FM is Belize's most widely broadcast radio station, with spots at 95.1MHz and 98.1MHz, while KREM FM (www.krembz.com) plays a modern selection of music at 91.1MHz and 96.5MHz.
  • TV There are two main commercial TV stations, Channel 5 (http://edition.channel5belize.com/) and Channel 7 (www.7newsbelize.com).

Money

ATMs are widely available; credit cards are accepted at most hotels, restaurants and shops.

Currency

The Belizean dollar (BZ$) is pegged to the US dollar at two to one (BZ$1 = US$0.50). Nearly every business in Belize accepts US dollars and prices are often quoted in US dollars at resorts and hotels – always check in advance whether you're paying in Belize dollars or US dollars.

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1BZ$1.47
CanadaC$1BZ$1.54
Europe€1BZ$2.31
GuatemalaQ1BZ$0.27
Japan¥100BZ$1.83
MexicoM$1BZ$0.10
NZNZ$1BZ$1.33
UKUK£1BZ$2.58
USAUS$1BZ$2

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

Tipping

Tipping is not obligatory but is always appreciated if guides, drivers or servers have provided you with genuinely good service. Some hotels and restaurants add an obligatory service charge to your check (usually 10%).

  • Hotels Not needed but baggage porters appreciate a small gratuity.
  • Restaurants Round up the check between 5% and 10%.
  • Taxis Tips are not expected.
  • Tour guides In high-volume areas, tour guides are used to receiving tips.

Opening Hours

Outside of banks, phone companies and government offices, you'll generally find most opening hours to be flexible. Restaurants and bars tend to keep longer hours during high season, but will also close early if they wish (if business is slow etc).

Banks 8am–3pm Monday to Thursday and 8am–4pm or 4:30pm Friday

Pubs and bars Noon to midnight (or later)

Restaurants and cafes 7am–9:30am (breakfast), 11:30am–2pm (lunch) and 6pm–8pm (dinner)

Shops 9am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, some open Sunday

Post

The Belize postal service has branches all over the country and offers fairly slow normal mail and a far better express service. Express mail sometimes needs to be sent from a different counter or office.

Public Holidays

Many of Belize's public holidays are moved to the Monday nearest the given date in order to make a long weekend. You'll find banks and most shops and businesses shut on these days. Belizeans travel most around Christmas, New Year and Easter, and it's worth booking ahead for transportation and accommodations at these times.

New Year's Day January 1

Baron Bliss Day March 9

Good Friday March or April

Holy Saturday March or April

Easter Monday March or April

Labor Day May 1

Sovereign's Day May 24

National Day September 10

Independence Day September 21

Day of the Americas October 12

Garifuna Settlement Day November 19

Christmas Day December 25

Boxing Day December 26

Smoking

  • Smoking Banned in many public indoor spaces such as government buildings, banks and bus stations, but it's still permitted in bars and restaurants with designated smoking and nonsmoking areas.

Taxes & Refunds

Hotel room tax is 9%. Restaurant meals are subject to a 12.5% sales tax. Some hotel owners quote prices with taxes already figured in.

Telephone

Belize has no regional, area or city codes. Every number has seven digits, all of which you dial from anywhere in the country. When calling Belize from other countries, follow the country code with the full seven-digit local number.

Mobile Phones

Local SIM cards can be used in most unlocked international cell phones with the notable exception of phones from some operators in the USA.

More Information

International cell phones can be used in Belize if they are GSM 1900 and unlocked. You can buy a SIM pack for US$10 from DigiCell distributors offices around the country. A typical DigiCell data plan valid for seven days and with 1GB of data costs BZ$11.25; a 5GB plan valid for 30 days costs BZ$45.

If your cell phone is not compatible with the local network or is locked to your phone company, you'll need to activate international roaming, which is expensive – around US$2.50 to US$3 per minute of calls. Check with your service provider back home about coverage in Belize.

If you're staying for more than a week or two, a cheap phone with a prepaid SIM card can be had for less than BZ$80. Many car-rental companies provide free phones with vehicles.

Time

Belize uses North American Central Standard Time (GMT/UTC minus six hours), same as in Guatemala and central Mexico. The Mexican Caribbean state of Quintana Roo, which shares its southern border with Belize, is one hour ahead (UTC minus five hours), which is important to note if flying in or out of Cancún.

Belize and Guatemala do not observe daylight saving, so there is never any time difference between them, but Mexico – with the exception of Quintana Roo – does observe daylight saving from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, so Belize is one hour behind central Mexico during that period.

When it's noon in Belize, it's 10am in San Francisco, 1pm in New York, 6pm in London and 4am the next day in Sydney (add one hour to those times during daylight saving periods in those cities).

Toilets

Public toilets are rare in Belize, although many businesses will lend you their services without a fuss.

Airports and museums generally have toilets, but not all bus terminals have facilities.

Tourist Information

Belize Tourism Board The official tourist agency has information offices in Belize City and San Pedro.

Belize Tourism Industry Association An independent association of tourism businesses, actively defending 'sustainable ecocultural tourism.' The Belize City office provides information about the whole country and it also runs small information offices in some key destinations. The website has a plethora of information.

Travel with Children

Belize has some special ingredients for a family holiday. It's both affordable and safe, especially compared to other Caribbean destinations, and it's small and easy to navigate. Belizeans are famously friendly, and traveling with kids will often break down barriers between tourists and residents, sometimes opening doors to local hospitality.

Best Regions for Kids

  • Belize District

Many of the Belize District activities and attractions are designed with the cruise-ship passenger in mind. Turns out that cruisers and kids have some of the same criteria: fun stuff that's easy to reach and easy to enjoy in a limited time frame.

  • Northern Cayes

The boat ride itself is a sort of adventure. Once you reach these paradisiacal islands, the adventure continues with swimming, snorkeling, sailing, kayaking and more traditional beach fare.

  • Cayo District

Older kids especially will enjoy the wild west and all of its jungle activities.

Belize for Kids

Fun & Games

Attractions in Belize – sea life, exploring caves, climbing ruins, watching for birds, wildlife and bugs – will delight kids as much as grown-ups. Most tours and activities can easily accommodate children and teenagers, although they are generally not appropriate for toddlers and babies. With these wee ones, activities might be limited to playing on the beach, swimming in the sea and swinging in the hammock. That's not the worst vacation either.

Most towns and tourist destinations have parks and public beaches where your little ones can frolic with the locals. If your child speaks English, there'll be no language barrier to mixing with local kids.

Food

Your kids will probably be happy to eat most typical Belizean and Mexican foods, such as sandwiches, rice and beans, fried chicken, hamburgers and tacos. Bakery goods, pasta and pizzas are additional favorites. Tropical fruit smoothies are delicious and healthy.

Health

For the most part, Belize is safe and healthy for you and your family. Be cautious concerning insect bites, sunburn and, of course, water and sanitation.

Transportation

If you do not intend to do much traveling around the interior, consider going local. Public intercity transport is usually on old American school buses that have retired to Belize, so your kids will probably be familiar and comfortable (as long as the journey is not too long). Most car-rental companies can provide child seats – usually free of charge – but it's advisable to inquire when you make your reservation. Around the cays, most transportation is by boat, which is a fun activity in itself.

Children's Highlights

Belize attracts plenty of families for an exciting and exotic adventure vacation.

Action & Adventure

Animal Encounters

  • Ambergris Caye Kids get a kick out of fish. Take them snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve near Ambergris Caye.
  • Belize District Sightings (and hearings) of the black howler monkey are practically guaranteed at the Community Baboon Sanctuary.
  • Belize District Children love to get up-close-and-personal with the animals at the Belize Zoo. Even teens are keen on the night safari.
  • San Ignacio Kids come face to face with some scaly monsters at the Green Iguana Exhibit at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel.

Beach Retreats

  • Around Placencia For traditional sun-and-sand activities like sandcastle-building, kite-flying and wave-wading, beaches are the best at Placencia or Hopkins.
  • Central Cayes Snorkeling and kayaking are on your doorstep at family-friendly Thatch Caye or budget-friendly Tobacco Caye.
  • Ambergris Caye Children's yoga classes are just the beginning of the fun at Ak'bol Yoga.
  • Ambergris Caye The giant waterslide into the sea, floating trampoline and sailing classes are sure to keep little ones entertained at Caribbean Villas.

Jungle Lodges

Rainy-Day Destinations

  • Belize District Life-size replicas of Garifuna homesteads and logging camp scenes bring history to life at Old Belize outside of Belize City.
  • Cayo District Learn about the life cycle of the butterfly and play disc golf at Tropical Wings Nature Center.
  • Toledo District At Ixcacao Maya Belizean Chocolate kids can learn how to make chocolate with plenty of tasting throughout the process.
  • Hopkins Kids will enjoy learning Garifuna drumming at Lebeha or other schools in the village.

Planning

Successful travel with children requires some forethought.

When to Go

Kids are less likely to tolerate the tropical showers that occur often during the rainy season. Considering that Belize is an outdoor-activity sort of place, you're better off taking your children during the drier months (December to May).

Before You Go

Make sure your children are up-to-date on all their routine vaccinations such as chicken pox, tetanus and measles, in addition to any special vaccinations recommended for Belize.

What to Pack

In the towns and tourist destinations, grocery stores are stocked with basic necessities, but you are not guaranteed to find the exact brand your child is accustomed to, so make sure you bring enough supplies. Other more specialized children's items might be difficult to find.

Feature: Don't Leave Home Without…
  • Child-safe sun block
  • Child-safe insect repellent
  • Children's painkillers
  • Swim diapers

Where to Stay

  • Most hotels, lodges and resorts welcome children – some with special activities and even childcare. Many places allow children (usually under the age of 12) to stay for free or at a reduced rate. The icon c indicates accommodations that are family-friendly.
  • Look for suites, cabins and condos that have the possibility of self-catering (eg in-room kitchenette). Eating at 'home' is an easy way to save money on meals, to make sure everybody gets to eat what they want, and to avoid waiting for tables and the other hassles of dining out with children.
  • Inquire in advance about the availability of high chairs and cribs at your accommodations. Some resorts and restaurants will be able to provide these upon request but it's worth finding out for certain so you can make alternative arrangements if necessary.
  • Holiday rental sites such as Airbnb are a good option for booking houses or apartments.

Feature: For Your Budding Biologist

Several organizations offer excellent programs that combine adventure and education, designed specifically for the younger set.

Belize Zoo (www.belizezoo.org) Kids between 12 and 17 years old can attend Conservation Camp, a five-day program exploring the waterways and wildlife of the Sibun River.

Oceanic Society (www.oceanic-society.org) Your family (kids must be over 10 years) can join Oceanic Society biologists for a family field study, which combines science and snorkeling, to learn about dolphins, manatees and sea turtles.

International Zoological Expeditions (www.izebelize.com) The IZE family adventure explores the rainforest around Blue Creek in Toledo, and the sea and reef around South Water Caye.

Shipstern Conservation & Management Area (www.visitshipstern.com) This organization runs a 'ranger for a day' adventure that allows participants to accompany local staff as they go about their duties.

Volunteering

There are a lot of opportunities for volunteer work in Belize, especially on environmental projects. In some cases, you may have to pay to participate (costs vary).

Belize Audubon Society Invites volunteers who are available to work for at least three months to assist in the main office or in education and field programs. Divers can volunteer for marine research projects. For rural sites, volunteers should be physically fit and able to deal with rustic accommodations.

Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic Offers short-term internships in wildlife medicine for veterinary and non-veterinary students. Various scholarships and work exchanges are available for students with sincere interests and skills, and the clinic is flexible and always interested in speaking with potential interns and long-term volunteers.

Cornerstone Foundation (www.cornerstonefoundationbelize.org) This NGO, based in San Ignacio, hosts volunteers to help with AIDS education, community development and other programs. Most programs require a two-week commitment, plus a reasonable fee to cover food and housing.

Earthwatch (www.earthwatch.org) Paying volunteers are teamed with professional scientific researchers to work on shark conservation projects.

Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary Monkey Bay's programs provide opportunities in education, conservation and community service. It also has many links to other conservation organizations in Belize.

Maya Mountain Research Farm The 70-acre organic farm and registered NGO in Toledo offers internships for those interested in learning about organic farming, biodiversity and alternative energy.

Oceanic Society Paying participants in the society's expeditions assist scientists in marine research projects on St George's Caye and around the Turneffe Atoll.

Plenty International (www.plenty.org) Has opportunities for working with grassroots organizations (such as handicraft cooperatives) and schools, mostly in Toledo District.

ProWorld Service Corps (www.proworldvolunteers.org) Like a privately run Peace Corps, ProWorld organizes small-scale, sustainable projects in fields such as healthcare, education, conservation, technology and construction, mostly around San Ignacio in Cayo.

T.R.E.E.S Internships and volunteer placements are available at this nonprofit conservation organisation on the Hummingbird Hwy.

Volunteer Abroad (www.volunteerabroad.com) A sort of clearing house for volunteer opportunities around the world. The database includes a few dozen organizations that work in Belize.

Weights & Measures

The imperial system is used. Note that gasoline is sold by the (US) gallon.

Women Travellers

Women can have a great time in Belize, whether traveling solo or with others. Of course, you do need to keep your wits about you and be vigilant, as does any solo traveler. Keep a clear head, and keep in mind that excessive alcohol will make you vulnerable.

If you don't want attention, consider wearing long skirts or trousers and modest tops when you're using public transportation and when on solo explorations. Some men can be quite forward with their advances or even aggressive with their comments. Such advances are rarely dangerous: be direct, say no and ignore; they're likely to go away. A bicycle can be an asset in this scenario: you can just scoot.

Avoid situations in which you might find yourself alone with unknown men at remote archaeological sites, on empty city streets, or on secluded stretches of beach. For support and company, sign up for group excursions or head for places where you're likely to meet people, such as guesthouses that serve breakfast, backpacker lodgings or popular midrange or top-end hotels.

Work

Unemployment and underemployment is rife in Belize so visitors should think twice before taking on paid work that could be filled by a local.

In order to legally work in Belize, a work permit must be obtained from the Labor Department in the district where the business offering employment is located. There's a US$100 permit fee (US$750 for professional and technical workers).