Belize, Central America Facts
Still undiscovered, often mis-located and usually misspelled… this is a fantastic country, and you DON’T want to miss it. This page will tell you everything about Belize that you want to know.
Tucked into a forgotten corner of the Caribbean, Belize has remained apart from the growth of the rest of the region. Belize is in Central America, and it harbors the region’s last unspoiled marine and rainforest environments and offers some of the most exciting adventure travel anywhere. Belize is also inexpensive to get to and easy to travel in. English is the official language, and US dollars are accepted throughout the country. There are enough incredible places to explore to keep you coming back for years to come!
[photo credit at top of page: Patti Bleifuss]
The first thing we’d like to remind you is DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!! Belize travel can be wonderful, relaxing, frustrating, exciting, or dilatory. Much of what happens is out of your control, but your reaction to events can make a world of difference. Remember that everything always works out fine in the end; take a deep breath, slow down, and keep smiling! We have to remind ourselves of this all the time. It’s a different latitude with different attitudes.
“The trip was fantastic. It was as advertised and met and/or exceeded our expectations. The food definitely exceeded our expectations. There was a nice variety and it was all so fresh. “Luxury Camping” was the perfect way to describe the accommodations and the variety of activities kept us engaged. All staff seemed to have smiles on their faces most of the time. That says a lot about how the island and trips are run. The island was clean and well maintained. The boat captains knew their job well, as they guided us through the bumpy waters outside of the reef. We will definitely recommend this trip to friends. It’s a great way to try a variety of water activities that we don’t always have the opportunity to try with instruction in a friendly and safe environment. It’s a great way to unplug.”Sandy Gareton, Cary, NC
Belize is a fantastic country. Not only is it a fascinating place to visit, but it is also easy and inexpensive to get to, English is the official language, and it is a great winter destination as it enjoys a warm winter climate. The population (330,000) is about the same as Tampa, Florida, and the country itself is about the size of New Hampshire. The society is multicultural, consisting of African-European Creoles, Spanish-Indian Mestizos, African-Indian Garinagus, Mayan Indians, and a few Europeans, North Americans, and Asians. Outside of the “troublemakers” in Belize City, Belizeans are, for the most part, genuinely friendly people, who lead a laid-back Caribbean lifestyle.
Belize is on Central Standard Time and they do not observe Daylight Savings Time. The water is safe to drink in most areas, and the Belize health care system is among the highest quality in Central America.
The city so central to their country, they named it twice. Although the capital city is Belmopan, the largest city in the country is Belize City, with a population of about 65,000. Belize was known as British Honduras until 1981 when they gained their independence from Britain; at that time they named the country after their largest city. Even today, when locals say they are “going to Belize”, they mean the city, not the country.
Belize enjoys a subtropical climate, somewhat similar to that of South Florida.The temperature in Belize is typically in the 70s to mid-90s. There is a “wet” and a “dry” season, with the dry season lasting approximately from early December through May. Rainstorms can occur during the dry season, but they are usually brief. Over the past few years, changes in global weather patterns have made the dry and wet seasons less predictable. Hurricanes are a potential threat from July to late October. The worst hurricane in recent memory that affected our island in a significant way was Hurricane Iris, which struck Placencia in southern Belize in October 2002. Visit our Belize weather page for a month-by-month weather description.
Tourism in Belize
Despite what you may have heard, Belize remains a little-visited country; the number of international visitors to Belize is about one-half the number that visits Costa Rica. Cancun alone gets four times the annual number of visitors to all of Belize. Only about 35% of Belizean visitors are from the United States and well over half of the tourists go to either Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker. The next most-popular destination is the Cayo District, the area around San Ignacio. The smartest thing the Belize tourist can do is avoid the crowded locations and avoid holiday travel if you can. If you cannot, go to a place with strict guest maximums rather than a place that takes as many people as they can possibly hold, without being able to adequately provide for everyone.
On all of our trips we are far from medical care. Guests should bring all medications for chronic or recurring ailments. Recent medical and dental exams should be completed to ensure that you are fit for travel, and you should carry health insurance documents. If you purchase a travel insurance policy it will cover medical costs in the country, as well as your last-minute trip cancellation and other risks of travel. Travel insurance is available from many providers. Our recommendation is Travelex, although they only offer insurance policies to US residents. Call Travelex: (800) 228-9792, and tell them that you are traveling with Slickrock. Slickrock’s location number is 44-0013. You may also visit Travelex’s website.
Our trips are not overly-strenuous, you don’t need to be an athlete, but you must be capable of moderate to vigorous exercise a few hours each day. We cannot evaluate your fitness; you must determine if your own fitness is appropriate. If you are overweight, in poor physical condition, or have special medical considerations you should call us first and consult with your physician before signing up for a trip.
Out on our island we are somewhat isolated from the typical medical risks of the tropics. Everyone should be up-to-date on their tetanus shot. Tetanus shots are good for ten years unless you have an exposure; if so you should get another shot at five years. You should also talk to your doctor about allergic reactions to marine life, and bring appropriate medications that your doctor recommends. Those who travel inland should consider taking precautions to prevent malaria and/or hepatitis. Both zika and dengue fever have been reported, but there is no treatment for either. There is no threat of malaria, dengue fever, zika, or hepatitis on our island, and at the present (August of 2017) the risk is low for each of these diseases country-wide.
If considering malaria medication, you need to remember that a course needs to be started two weeks prior to departure. Most travel clinics and many Internet sites will recommend malaria protection for all parts of Belize, but mosquito control in larger metropolitan areas has eliminated mosquito habitats close to human population settlements. Both zika and dengue fever can be contracted from infected mosquitoes as well. Please don’t ask us to tell you whether to get protection for malaria, even doctors do not agree; it is a personal choice. Malaria pills are bad for you, but getting malaria is worse. The only true protection against mosquito-borne illnesses is to not get bitten by a disease-infested mosquito. The best prevention for bites is to wear a bug repellent that contains at least 25% DEET and to wear long sleeve pants and shirts when in areas where mosquitoes are currently present (carry them in your daypack for quick access if mosquitoes show up.)
Hepatitis A is contracted through infected water; our drinking water is safe on all of our trips. If you plan to travel extensively in remote areas before or after our trip you should consider the Hepatitis A vaccination. For more info see the CDC website.
The biggest health hazard on our trips is the threat of sunburn. Be careful the first few days, a bad sunburn can ruin the rest of your trip. Also, seasickness can occur on travel days out to the island.
Our guides are trained in First Aid, but cannot be expected to serve as doctors. All participants should be sure their own medical coverage is adequate. We assume no responsibility regarding provision of medical care. Before your adventure, the best precautions are don’t get hurt and make sure you are in good health the week before the trip. For more details on avoidable problems, please refer to Our Hints for a Better Vacation. Remember you will be in an isolated area 35 miles off shore with no medical helicopter available in the country; there is no emergency room and you can’t call 911, although we do have emergency contact with the mainland.
Belize Airports and Airlines
Belize has two airports and two airlines. Visit our Local Belize Flights page for complete information.
Belize Car Rental
There are at least 10 rental car agencies in the country. Basically any national car rental agency you can think of has a representative: Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Alamo, etc. Each has an office in the parking lot at the International airport. However, we recommend a local agency because they are walking distance from the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel, where we stay the first and last night of our trip. Because our guests are advised to arrive one day early to avoid missing a flight and therefore being one day late, many of our guests wish to rent a car for just a day or two. The location of this agency makes it an ideal way to extend your stay in Belize when you are travelling with us. You can take a cab from the airport to the Biltmore, drop off your stuff either in your reserved room and use the vehicle just for the day, or drop most of your stuff in the Biltmore’s locked closet where it will be safe. Then walk one block to the car rental place with your reduced luggage, and drive to an alternate hotel out of town for the night, returning your vehicle the next day in time to check into your room and be on time for our 5:30 pm orientation meeting.
There are pros and cons to renting a car in Belize. Rental cars allow you to stop along the way without having to deal with storing your luggage. However, if planning to go to Tikal in Guatemala, be sure to ask if they will let you take their vehicle across the border. Check out websites for specific rates.
The downside to renting a car in Belize City is you are probably taking it to some remote lodge where it will remain parked the whole time you are there, since you will probably be taking tours that provide transportation. In many cases it is best to fly or take a bus or taxi to your destination to avoid paying several days for the car to just sit there, waiting for you to drive back to Belize City. You cannot return rental cars to any city or town other than Belize City.
Buses are often the best way to go, and they are inexpensive. Bus prices and schedules change too often to include here, but remember, this is a country where most of its citizens depend on bus service. There are at least four bus companies in the country. Also be aware that buses don’t run as often on Saturday or Sunday; for example, a route which has hourly service during the week may only have two choices on Sunday. The staff at your hotel will be familiar with buses in their area.
Taxis are available everywhere, are more expensive than the bus, but make a lot of sense under certain circumstances. If you are traveling with a group of four, taxis are a great deal. Some cab drivers also act as an impromptu guide, hoping for a tip.
Belize Shuttle Service
There are two shuttle services that will pick you up at International and take you to the San Ignacio, Belize area, a popular tourist destination.