Is Belize a safe place to visit? The best answer is "Yes, but..." Most visitors say they feel quite safe in Belize (except, they say, in some areas of Belize City). Tourist Police patrol areas of Belize City, Placencia, Ambergris Caye, and elsewhere, and many hotels and jungle lodges have security guards. Out of the hundreds of thousands of visitors, the numbers who are victims of any kind of crime is perhaps a few hundred. So, while this is still a developing country, enjoy yourself and follow standard travel precautions: Don't wander into areas that don't feel safe; avoid deserted beaches and streets after dark; and don't flash expensive jewelry or cash. Be aware that there have been a few carjackings and robberies on remote roads or at little-visited parks and Mayan sites; travel in a group or with a guide to less popular places.
Where can we snorkel from shore? Belize has world-class snorkeling, but most of it requires a boat ride to the Barrier Reef. There are exceptions—the small islands that are on or near the reef, such as South Water, Ranguana, and Tobacco cayes, or the areas around the atolls, especially Glover's. Of course, you can go snorkeling off almost any beach, and see at least a few fish, even if there's no patch of coral nearby.
How much does it rain during the rainy season (May through November)? It depends on where you are in Belize and when you're there. Northern Belize gets about a third as much rain—around 50 inches—as the Deep South, which can get 150 inches or more. The seasonal rains begin in Toledo in early May, progress north over the next couple of months, and usually start in Corozal in late June. The cayes have different microclimates than the mainland and generally get less rain.
The rainy season typically peaks from June through September. By November, rainfall in nearly all areas of Belize averages 8 inches or less a month. The so-called rainy season is actually a good time to visit Belize, and that's not just a Tourism Board answer. Often the rains come overnight or in the early morning, and then the sun comes out. Many old Belize hands say they prefer traveling in summer or fall: prices are lower, hotel rooms are plentiful, the landscape is lush after rains. It's also a little cooler than in the dry season months of April and May, and water visibility is usually very good.
Are the beaches in Belize nice? Although there are lovely stretches of beaches, many of them are not as good for swimming or sunbathing as the wide, sandy beaches of the main Caribbean or of Mexico's Yucatán. Belizean beaches are usually narrow ribbons of sand, with clear but shallow water, sea grass, and an often-mucky sea floor. The best beaches on the mainland are on the Placencia peninsula. Ambergris Caye has some beautiful beaches, though swimming isn't always good. Southwater Caye and Belize's three atolls have excellent (nearly deserted) beaches as well. Beach resorts keep their beach areas clean, but elsewhere you may see garbage on the beach, brought in by the tides from other areas and from boats.
Does Belize have "real" jungles? "High bush" in Belize means undisturbed wilderness, and there's plenty of that. However, not all bush in Belize is the kind of canopied, broadleaf jungle that you may be thinking about. The Deep South, with its plentiful rainfall, has lush tropical and semitropical rain forest. The Cayo also has wide swaths of broadleaf bush. Northern Belize and parts of the Cayo have little classic jungle—it's primarily dry rain forest and agricultural lands.
Why are airfares to Belize so high, and how can we find cheaper flights? Belize is not a mass-market tourist destination. Air service is still limited, and service is mostly from a few hubs in the United States. Charter flights are rare, so fares tend to stay high. To find the most affordable flights, stay flexible on your dates, check the meta-fare comparison Web sites such as Kayak.com, avoid peak holiday travel (around Christmas and Easter), and sign up for Internet specials and e-mail fare alerts on the airlines flying to Belize—currently Continental, American, US Airways, Delta, and TACA. Another option is to fly into Cancún, which usually has good air deals, and bus to Belize (there's also new air service on Maya Island Air from Cancún to Belize City, but it's expensive).
While traveling around the country, should we rent a car, take a bus, fly, or hire a taxi? Each has advantages and disadvantages. With a rental car, you go when and where you want, including remote areas that don't have air or bus service or to sites that would otherwise require an expensive guided tour. However, auto rental costs are high, and gas is near BZ$9 a gallon. Buses provide a true local experience and fares are dirt cheap, but buses mainly run on the major roads and stop frequently to pick up and drop off passengers. Buses take up to twice as long as a private car. Flying is the fastest way to get around the country; service is frequent on most routes, and the views from low altitudes are often dramatic. The downside? Fares—especially if you're traveling with a family—can add up, and not all destinations have service. In some cases, transfers by taxi can be an option, although taxis generally are quite expensive. For most long-distance trips, there are no set fares, so the rate is a matter of negotiation and can vary considerably, depending on your bargaining skills. Drivers may also ask a little more if there are three or four going together, rather than just one or two. Expect to pay around BZ$3 a mile for longer taxi trips in Belize.
We want to spend time at the beach and also in the jungle. Where should we go? On a first and relatively brief visit to Belize, sample the best "surf and turf" by splitting your time between one of the popular beach areas—Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Hopkins, or Placencia—and the rest in the Cayo, which has the largest concentration of popular mainland activities.
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