Belize Feature



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 especially after dark). 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 annually, the number who are victims of any kind of crime, mostly petty theft, 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.

Should I stay at an All-Inclusive? Although Belize is not an All-Inclusive kind of destination, some beach resorts and jungle lodges offer a tweaked version of the sort of all-inclusive you often find in Mexico or Jamaica: optional packages that include nearly everything, such as all meals, guided tours, and sports (fishing, diving, or snorkeling). So when is it worth your money to choose one of these over selecting room, meals, and activities à la carte?

The answer is: It depends. If you're going to a remote caye resort or jungle lodge, you may not have a choice. When you're two hours away from the nearest restaurant, you're pretty much stuck eating at your hotel. On the other hand, at a destination such as Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Placencia, Hopkins, or San Ignacio, there are many excellent restaurants to choose from. Even in less-visited areas such as Corozal and Punta Gorda, you’ll find good, affordable food. It would be a shame to lock yourself into a single dining experience. A few resorts on Ambergris Caye, mainly those located on the far north end of the island (a long boat ride away from San Pedro), do offer all-inclusive or near all-inclusive packages; however, for most people, one of the main reasons for coming to Ambergris Caye is the opportunity to sample the variety of restaurants.

The main advantage of an all-inclusive or mostly inclusive package is that you don't have to worry about the details of travel planning. Once you've paid your fixed price, all you have to do is show up at the airport with your bags packed. The resort or lodge picks you up at the Belize International Airport, takes you on guided tours, provides your meals, and practically holds your hand. It's almost like being on a cruise, with few decisions to make. If you're the type of person who likes an organized travel experience, an AI or semi-AI package could be a good bet for you.

Before you book, be sure to total up the value of what you expect to get at the All-Inclusive, and compare that with what you probably would pay on an à la carte basis.

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 and in the Hopkins area. Ambergris Caye has some beautiful beaches, though swimming isn't always good. South Water 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 websites such as, avoid peak holiday travel (around Christmas and Easter), and sign up for Internet specials and email fare alerts on the airlines flying to Belize—currently United-Continental, American-US Airways, Delta, and TACA. Another option is to fly into Cancún, which usually has good air deals, bus to Chetumal at the Mexico-Belize border, and water taxi or bus from there, or alternatively fly Tropic Air from Cancun International to Belize International. The other option is the ADO express overnight service from Cancún to Corozal Town, Orange Walk Town, and Belize City.

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 around BZ$12 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—usually old U.S. school 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. Shuttles are another option, especially on popular routes such as between the international airport and San Ignacio, where shared shuttles operating on a fixed schedule are BZ$70 per person and up, and private shuttles leaving anytime range from around BZ$180 to BZ$200, and up, for up to three persons.

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.

Updated: 12-2013

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