Our trip to Belize was super last minute. The original plan had been to go to Amsterdam, but the Netherlands announced a strict lockdown just a little over a week before our flight. Our options were to scrap the trip we’d been planning since before the original COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, or find somewhere we could go at the last minute.
Belize was chosen not just for the beautiful weather, but also because of the reasonable flights and because their travel restrictions and requirements seemed simple. Belize also happens to be one of Lonely Planet's top countries to visit in 2022. Flights to the country from the US were still very reasonable, with a last minute flight (7 days out) coming in at only around $250.
What are Belize's COVID-19 testing requirements?
Our initial research via the airline stated that a negative PCR test result, taken no more than 96 hours before arrival was all that was required. In lieu of that, visitors were also allowed to take a rapid test at the airport in Belize for $50. Because I flew over the holidays, I ended up doing both, as I wasn’t able to get my results within the window.
We were told that in the event the test was positive we would receive a phone call with results within an hour or two, and be confined to the hotel after that. At the airport they didn’t mention the length of isolation, however according to the Belize Tourism Board, those who test positive will be confined to their hotels for 10 days at their own expense, though there are special rates applied to the stay in this instance.
Though we hadn’t checked the specifics ahead of time, we did expect some kind of quarantine should one of us test positive. I purchased travel insurance ahead of the flight just in case, which would have covered up to $50,000 in the event of a medical emergency, which included testing positive for COVID-19. As of February 15, 2022 visitors will be required to apply for Belize Travel Health Insurance through the tourism board.
It’s also worth noting that I was asked to show my result in New York when checking in for the flight with American Airlines. I’m not sure if this is standard, however it’s worth checking with your airline to see if they want to see a result ahead of time even though Belize is fine with you taking the test when you arrive.
Accommodation requirements in Belize
Be aware that according to the Belize tourism website they have an additional requirement that wasn’t mentioned on the American Airlines website or any additional Belize travel sites where we searched for information. Belize has what’s called a “Gold Standard accommodation” — accommodations that have passed a certain safety standard set up by the Belize Tourism Board in order to combat COVID-19. It is actually required that you stay at one of these resorts and airport officials will ask for proof of your stay when you arrive at the airport, so be sure that wherever you’re staying has this certification. It’s also worth it to print out a copy of your hotel reservation rather than trying to show it on your phone.
Pack paper copies of your documents
In general, we found that paper copies of things like test results, reservations and even boarding passes were required in Belize. For someone used to having that majority of their travel documents stored electronically this can be a bit jarring and cause some delays, so plan ahead.
What travel is like in Belize right now
We took an American Airlines flight out of Miami and it was pretty full, which was a bit surprising. The mask requirement was still in place, except when drinks were served. Refreshments were as usual, with the exception of alcohol, which is still not available in the main cabin.
According to the Belize Tourism Board, all Gold Star Accomodations in Belize are required to meet a 9 point safety standard. At both of the hotels we stayed in, housekeeping was back to normal. In San Ignacio there was hand sanitizer throughout the facility and masks were required inside unless guests were actively eating or drinking. However, in San Ignacio they did serve a breakfast buffet, a former hotel standard that has been eliminated in many places due to COVID-19 concerns. In Caye Caulker there were hand sanitizing stations everywhere, including on the beach.
Are masks required in Belize?
While the official rules of Belize are that masks should be worn in public spaces by both visitors and locals. However, on the ground this wasn’t always strictly followed, particularly in Caye Caulker. Most people in Belize seem to wear cloth masks, though I did see a few visitors, including myself, with N95 masks or even double masked. Service workers in both locations, especially restaurant staff, always seemed to be masked. I think that boxes of surgical masks were available for sale at some of the larger convenience stores in both San Ignacio and Caye Caulker, however we brought enough that we didn’t have to purchase any.
COVID-19 safety in Belize restaurants
There were no vaccine certification requirements at restaurants in Belize, although they did ask that you wear your mask indoors unless eating. As mentioned, restaurant workers were some of the most consistently masked people I saw during the trip. Tables seemed to be wiped down between each customer, though whether there were any extra sanitation measures taken I’m not sure. In Caye Caulker there was a curfew in effect, which meant restaurants and bars closed at 10pm, except on New Year’s Eve.
In San Ignacio, because the town is much smaller, things seemed to naturally wind down earlier. Most businesses were closed by 5pm and the restaurants and bars seemed to close whenever the patronage ran thin.
COVID-19 rules for visiting attractions in Belize
In San Ignacio, many of the ruins, which are the main attractions of the area, were pretty deserted — which was actually wonderful. Our hotel set up tours of the Caracol and Xunantunich sites for us and we were the only ones on both tours. At Caracol, there were maybe one or two small groups in addition to ours, but the site was so large that we rarely saw them and when we did it was from a distance of much further than six feet.
My friend also ended up taking a more or less private horseback riding tour to the usually very busy Xunantunich ruin, as no one else had signed up for the tour through the hotel. Pre-COVID this particular ruin was a popular stop for cruise lines and therefore usually very crowded.
We also took a stroll through the Cahal Peche ruins, which were within walking distance of our hotel, on our own, where again we were one of maybe three small groups of people strolling through. It’s worth noting that a few of these sites have museums on-site where you can learn more about the history and culture of the Mayan, however these were all closed to visitors because of COVID-19.
Beach and pool etiquette
In Caye Caulker things were a bit different. The island itself was a bit more lively with visitors. Here the beach, the bars and water sports are the main attractions. There was some social distancing on the beaches, but it was not always strictly followed. People tended not to wear masks outdoors and there was some ambiguity as to what counted as “outdoors” because so many of the buildings were built in an open-air pavilion style. This meant that patrons at bars were not always wearing masks, though for the most part the servers still did. Beach towels were available from the front desk of the hotel and were given out individually. There were hand sanitizing stations set up around the island in public spaces, which was nice.
On the street
Perhaps because there were a bit less tourists than usual it seemed that we ended up spending time with a lot of locals. In San Ignacio we talked pretty extensively with our tour guides, both about the area and how COVID-19 had impacted them. Many seemed to be of two minds: financially it was difficult without tourism, however they also seemed excited to have the time to really share what they loved most about Belize and their area. For example, one of our tour guides started making special stops to show my friend, an amateur arborist and herbalist, interesting local plants along the way to the ruins. We also got a really interesting lesson about the reef off the coast of Caye Caulker, the importance of preserving it and what was being done, from some locals who ran a snorkeling and scuba operation on the island.
Returning to the US from Belize
The US requires a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 no more than 24 hours before boarding a flight back. This was thankfully super easy to obtain on Caye Caulker. There’s a small cottage set up right on the main street that will do the test for you and turn the results around within a few hours. The cost of the test is $75, and printed and certified copies of your results are available for pick up. In San Ignacio there is a clinic in town where you can take the test and many of the resorts can help you make arrangements as well.
Once at the airport it might be worth it to skip the self-check-in kiosk and wait in the long line for an agent. This is because you have to get an agent to visually check your documentation and check you in either way.
You also need to be sure that you have a printed copy of your boarding pass, a filled-out immigration form and a printed copy of your COVID-19 results in hand, along with your passport, when you get in the line for immigration. The people who check you in at the kiosk or desk may or may not tell you this, but the immigration officials will send you back and make you wait in the line again if you don’t have everything in hand when you get to them so it’s best to be prepared. It’s also really important to give yourself extra time for the check-in process just in case.