Since Belize has about 200 miles (325 km) of mainland coast and as many as 1,000 islands (most just tiny spits of sand, coral and mangroves) in the Caribbean, water taxis, passenger ferries, and private boats are key to moving around the islands and coastal areas.
To reach the more remote cayes and the atolls, you're basically left to your own devices, unless you're staying at a lodge or resort where such transfers are arranged for you. The resorts on the atolls run their own boats, but these usually aren't available to the general public.
Ferries and Private Boats
A local ferry company, Coastal Xpress, provides scheduled boat transportation up and down the east side of Ambergris Caye. One-way rates start at BZ$10, and daily and weekly passes are available.
Several private boats make daily runs from Dangriga to Tobacco Caye; boats usually leave Dangriga around 9 or 9:30 am and return later in the day. Check at the Riverside Café in Dangriga or ask your hotel on Tobacco Caye, as several of these lodges include transport in the rate. Charter boats to Tobacco Caye also are available from Hopkins. Many hotels on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker and in coastal resort areas can arrange boat charters for you with a captain. Visitors can not pilot a boat unless they have a Belizean captain's license; exceptions include the use of small personal sailboats such as Hobie Cats and bareboat sailing charters, usually weekly, of catamarans and monohull sailboats. In the case of bareboat sailing charters, you need to demonstrate you are an experienced sailer to get a boat.
Coastal Xpress. Coastal Xpress boats make scheduled runs up and down the east side of Ambergris Caye, stopping at selected resort docks to drop off and pick up passengers. Rates depend on distance and range from around BZ$10 to BZ$80 per person. Weekly and other passes are available for unlimited use of the ferry. In August 2016, Hurricane Earl destroyed or significantly damaged more than two-thirds of the piers and docks on Ambergris Caye, which affects which stops the Coastal Xpress boats can make until the piers are rebuilt. Beachfront, Amigos del Mar Dock, San Pedro Town, Belize District. 226/2007; www.coastalxpress.com.
There are two main water-taxi companies that serve the Northern Cayes of Ambergris and Caulker: Ocean Ferry Belize and San Pedro Belize Express. Fast boats that hold up to 50 to 110 passengers connect Belize City with San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) and Caye Caulker. From Belize City, water taxis make the 45-minute run to Caye Caulker, and then continue on to San Pedro, which requires another 30 minutes on the water. Ocean Ferry boats stop and pick up at Caye Chapel and St. George's Caye, on demand. These water taxis also connect San Pedro with Caye Caulker and both of these islands with Chetumal, Mexico. Thunderbolt connects San Pedro with Corozal Town in Northern Belize, with a stop on demand in Sarteneja.
Most scheduled water taxis allow two pieces of luggage per person, along with miscellaneous personal items. Seas, especially in the south between Dangriga and Placencia and Puerto Cortes, Honduras, and also between Punta Gorda and Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, can be rough. Postpone your trip if the weather looks bad, or, in the case of private charters, cancel if the boat offered looks unseaworthy or crowded.
Several water-taxi companies, including Requena's, offer daily service from Punta Gorda to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. D'Express offers weekly service between Placencia and Puerto Cortes, Honduras.
The Belize water-taxi business is in a state of flux, with companies entering and leaving the business. Schedules and rates are subject to frequent change.
D'Express. D'Express has weekly service on Friday from Placencia, with a stop in Independence to clear immigration and customs, to Puerto Cortes, Honduras. It returns from Puerto Cortes to Placencia on Monday. Information on the service, including updated rates and schedules, is available at the Placencia BTIA (Placencia Information Center) in Placencia Village. Placencia Municipal Pier, Main St., Point Placencia, Placencia Village, Stann Creek. 626/8835.
Ocean Ferry Belize. Marine Terminal, 10 N. Front St., Commercial District, Belize City, Belize District. 223/0033; www.oceanferrybelize.com.
Requena's. 12 Front St., Punta Gorda, Toledo. 722/2070; www.belizenet.com/requena.
San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi. Brown Sugar Terminal, 111 N. Front St., near Tourism Village, Commercial District, Belize City, Belize District. 223/2225; www.belizewatertaxi.com.
Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt makes a daily round-trip run between San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) and Corozal Town, with a stop on demand in Sarteneja. The “Thunderbolt” departs Corozal at 7 am and departs San Pedro daily at 3 pm. The cost for the two-hour trip is BZ$50 per person. Thunderbolt, Municipal Pier, Corozal Town, Corozal. 422/0026; www.ambergriscaye.com/thunderbolt/.
Water Jets International. Angel Coral St., on back (lagoon) side of island near soccer field, San Pedro Town, Belize District. 226/2194; www.sanpedrowatertaxi.com.