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Zambezi Feb 1st, 2015 07:32 AM

Driving in Belize
Is it fairly easy and relatively safe to drive during the daytime from Belize City (airport) to the south, specifically Placencia? Or, would it be better to fly to Placencia and rent a vehicle there for the week than to rent one in Belize City? Will an ordinary rental car be adequate? This will be in March and there will be two of us. ZZ

hopefulist Feb 1st, 2015 07:47 AM

We haven't been tempted to rent a car in Belize, preferring a combination of buses and taxis/hired drivers when the bus routes and schedules don't work for us. We have traveled those roads and the route from the airport to Placencia would be fine with a regular car but you don't say where you might want to visit. There was a forum thread lately about driving to Cockscomb, for example, and 4x4 was recommended for the entrance road.

You also don't say if you'll be staying in other places, too, and how you'd get to them.

You might not even want to have a car in Placencia every day if you're staying in/near the village; some days you might want to just want to hang out in town or on the beach or might be doing a tour - diving, snorkeling, Monkey River? - when you wouldn't need it.

Sounds like flying to Placencia and renting for the days you'll want it might work best. Have a great trip, whatever you decide!

Katie_Valk Feb 2nd, 2015 05:15 AM

Easy drive on well paved and marked roads to Placencia, about 3 plus hrs. You will not need 4wd on the main roads, but should have for off roads.

MisterB2 Feb 3rd, 2015 06:19 AM

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.

The George Price Highway (formerly called the Western Highway) is the highway from Belize City to Belmopan, San Ignacio, Benque and the western border. The maximum speed limit is 50 mph (80 kph).

The Burrell Boom Road is a highway that connects the Philip Goldson Highway to the George Price Highway. It’s often used as a shorter route to go from the airport to Cayo District.

The Hummingbird Highway is the main highway between Belmopan and Dangriga. The maximum speed limit is 50 mph (80 kph), but with many curves and some one-lane bridges, it’s not safe to drive the maximum speed limit on much of this highway. If driving to southern Belize, this is a good route because it’s very scenic.

The Southern Highway is the highway from the Dangriga turn-off to Punta Gorda. The maximum speed limit is 50 mph (80 kph). Always been in excellent condition when I've been on it. The road to Placencia is now paved. The road to Hopkins is unpaved but undergoing improvements.

Maps show another road, the Coastal Highway, that runs from the George Price Highway (about halfway between Belmopan & Belize City) to the Hummingbird Highway near Dangriga. It's not really a highway -- it's a gravel road through the bush, and there’s nothing to see except trees and dust, and nowhere to stop (no gas available). If travelling from Belize City to Dangriga, this is a shorter distance, but the road is not paved so you won't be able to drive as fast as on the highway. The Coastal Highway is also used by large trucks that are sometimes reluctant to give way, and the road may be impassable in very wet conditions. If you plan to use this road, try to confirm the condition first. Some rental companies will not allow vehicles on the road. I would not recommend going via that road.

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.

Here's the shorter route from the airport without going through Belize City...
Upon reaching the T-intersection with the Philip Goldson (formerly called the Northern) Highway, turn LEFT towards Orange Walk and Mexico (Belize City is to the right). After about 8 km (5 miles), turn left onto the Burrell Boom Road (watch for the signs). Follow this road -- it intersects with the George Price (formerly called the Western) Highway. Turn right onto the George Price Highway and follow it to Belmopan. You can continue to Placencia.

MisterB2 Feb 3rd, 2015 06:24 AM

Placencia is quite spread out and a car would be useful for getting around on your schedule. Also useful for day trips around the region since bus service isn't the best.

Zambezi Feb 3rd, 2015 08:07 AM

Thank you all for your very helpful responses. To "hopefulist": My sister and I have a particular accommodation in mind for Maya Beach, but have not been able to confirm it. Hence, being risk-takers, we're planning on heading there anyhow to see availability. If there is none, we'll look around in the area of Placencia and Hopkins. That makes having a vehicle seem important. I've done a lot of research into auto rental and, also, compared its cost with airfare from Belize City to Placencia. Crystal Auto Rental in Belize City has a good reputation and good rates. The two auto rental sites in Placencia have rates that are almost prohibitive. There is not a substantial difference in cost of renting a vehicle in Belize City to flying, unless petrol prices crucify us. Last, after studying my new Belize guidebook, it seems likely that we'll sign on to a tour for certain excursions rather than rent a 4 WD to do them. Again, thank everyone of you for your information. ZZ

hopefulist Feb 4th, 2015 12:15 AM

Your point is well taken about higher daily rates in Placencia - we stayed right in the village and have never priced rentals.

Note that Easter falls on April 5th and the week-10 days before that might be a busy time, especially in beachy areas.

Have a great trip, whatever you decide!

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