From Coral Reef and Mayan Ruins to the Cloud Forest

Picture of Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize
The Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize

Occasionally we get this question… people rightly figure that if they are going south, they want to stay south and see more than just one country. What a great combination! Belize for the coral reefs and Mayan ruins, and Costa Rica for the cloud forest.

Three different airlines fly between the two, and on the quickest and cheapest schedules there is only one stop (San Salvador, El Salvador), so it’s very doable. They all share so you may actually be on one airline on the way over and a different one on the way back. The three airlines are  Avianca, Taca, and Lasca. They can get you between the two in just over four hours and they go every day. You can also fly between the two in about five hours stopping in Panama instead of El Salvador, but it costs about $200 more.

San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) to Belize City, Belize (BZE) – Leave SJO at 6:47 am, arrive BZE 9:52 am
BZE to SJO – Leave BZE 12:15 pm, arrive SJO 4:05 pm

Comparing Flight Costs: Belize vs. Costa Rica

Picture of the Santa Elene cloud forest skywalk, Costa Rica
Santa Elena Skywalk, Costa Rica

The cost between the two is currently $334 – $584 (depending on the day of the week) round trip. You will have to do a little research to figure out whether to fly from the US to Belize or to Costa Rica. On some dates it is roughly the same, on other dates we checked it was more expensive to fly in and out of Costa Rica.

  • Houston to Belize, approx. $300 round trip, 1 stop on American (Miami), or non stop on Southwest
  • Houston to Costa Rica, approx $315 non-stop on Southwest, and approx $425 non-stop on United

Costa Rica Tour Company Recommendations

There is a great travel company in Costa Rica similar to us: Serendipity Adventures. They come highly recommended, and are the only other company I have found offering as many sports as we do. Why not spend a week in Belize on our island, then fly to Costa Rica and do one of their week-long trips? For example, consider their 7-day Costa Rica Intrepid Adventure Tour which is 7 days of horseback riding, hiking and climbing trees, rafting, rain forest, cloud forest, hiking a volcano, soaking in hot springs, and a zipline canopy tour.

Wouldn’t this be a great honeymoon? Or why not a second honeymoon if you already took your first?

In major Belize transportation news, Tropic Air announced that they are expanding their routes and will now be servicing the remote San Ignacio (Benque Viejo del Carmen) area beginning on December 10, 2012.

The October 3rd announcement comes in response to the requests of locals and international travelers looking for easier options for traveling to the Cayo District. Service will be daily from San Pedro and Belize City, utilizing the Maya Flats Airstrip, conveniently located between San Ignacio and Benque Viejo.

“When we inaugurated San Pedro Sula earlier this year, we promised the people of Belize to add even more exciting destinations. With the support of our resort partners and area residents, we now feel the time is right to add San Ignacio to our growing network,” said John Grief III, President of Tropic Air. “We hope that in the coming months, we are able to add flights and other destinations from San Ignacio.”

Cayo is often considered the cultural gateway of the country, offering an ideal location for exploring much of the country. Eco-tourism, Maya temples, and a wealth of outdoor activities are some of the key reasons travelers head inland to towns like San Ignacio.

The Maya Flats Airstrip is close to the renowned Lodge at Chaa Creek and other recommended resorts in the area. The new route will help facilitate additional tourism growth in the area, along with increasing trade between Cayo and the remainder of Belize.

Tropic Air’s website has been updated with the new destination, and travelers can book now for December 10 and beyond. The daily schedule is as follows:

  • Flight 941 departs San Pedro (SPR) at 11:30 a.m. and arrives in San Ignacio (MYF) at 12:40 p.m.
  • Flight 981 departs Belize City (BZE) at 12:00 p.m. and arrives in San Ignacio (MYF) at 12:40 p.m.
  • Flight 940 departs San Ignacio (MYF) at 12:45 p.m. and arrives in San Pedro (SPR) at 1:50 p.m.
  • Flight 980 departs San Ignacio (MYF) at 12:45 p.m. and arrives in Belize City (BZE) at 1:30 p.m.

This post is about my ongoing obsession, ie; how do you figure out the airline companies and their pricing structure? I talk to people all day, all week, all month, about travel to Belize. Everyone asks “When should I get my ticket? Should I wait, or get it now? Are they going to get less or more expensive as the trip gets closer?” Good questions!

Two weeks ago I did my weekly check of Belize flights and was stunned to see that they had dropped across the board. We track 26 cities for our Belize fares web page, and the least any fare had dropped over the course of that week was 11%. One route dropped by over 50%!

I blogged about it and sent a mass email to our list of 20,000 telling everyone to buy air tickets to Belize right away. I know some of you took my advice because we heard from many of you. At that time I predicted these fares wouldn’t last long, and they didn’t. A week later some of the routes were creeping up, and now, two weeks later, they are back up to the neighborhood of where they started.

I know this does not answer my question “What is the rhyme or reason of Belize fares?” but somehow it makes me feel better putting it out there for everyone to see.

Departure City June 29 July 5 July 13 July 20
Atlanta (ATL)- Belize City (BZE) $554 $463 $463 $625
Baltimore (BWI)- (BZE) $669 $505 $505 $632
Boston (BOS) – BZE $700 $505 $505 $649
Calgary (YYC) – BZE $694 $591 $591 $694
Charlotte (CLT) – BZE $750 $488 $488 $673
Chicago (CHI) – BZE $555 $493 $621 $640
Dallas (DFW) – BZE $556 $463 $556 $569
Denver (DEN) – BZE $720 $493 $655 $690
Detroit (DTT) – BZE $672 $470 $470 $638
Houston (IAH) – BZE $666 $509 $690 $644
Indianapolis (IND) – BZE $631 $470 $505 $641
Las Vegas (LAS) – BZE $579 $514 $524 $638
Los Angeles (LAX) – BZE $631 $465 $510 $595
Manchester, NH (MHT) – BZE $1223 $632 $632 $646
Miami (MIA) – BZE $516 $436 $516 $516
Minneapolis (MSP) – BZE $669 $470 $470 $659
Montreal (YUL) – BZE $670 $558 $557 $692
NYC (NYC) – BZE $650 $479 $505 $574
Philadelphia (PHL) – BZE $670 $490 $670 $667
Phoenix (PHX) – BZE $677 $493 $659 $677
Salt Lake City (SLC) – BZE $627 $502 $524 $663
San Francisco (SFO) – BZE $697 $493 $667 $670
Seattle (SEA)- BZE $579 $496 $524 $641
St. Louis (STL) – BZE $678 $496 $646 $683
Toronto (YYZ) – BZE $670 $558 $557 $663
Washington, DC (DCA) – BZE $670 $490 $626 $640

Belize satellite imageBelize is one of the last unspoiled places on earth. Still undiscovered, often mis-located and usually misspelled… this is a fantastic country, and you DON’T want to miss it.

Tucked into a forgotten corner of the Caribbean, Belize has remained apart from the growth of the rest of the region. Belize offers travelers the richly rewarding authenticity they seek in a Caribbean getaway.

Belize is in Central America, and it harbors the region’s last unspoiled marine and rainforest environments. With direct, inexpensive flights from the U.S. and Canada, this tropical paradise shares borders with Mexico and Guatemala. It’s a breeze for American’s to travel around Belize, because English is the official language, and US dollars are accepted throughout the country.

Belize offers a land rich in natural beauty and steeped in the history and culture of its Maya past.

Altun Ha - Belize Mayan ruinsRenowned for having the second largest barrier reef in the world, Belize’s pristine waters, exotic marine and wildlife, hidden Mayan ruins, and superb adventure sport locations insure that Belize offers some of the most exciting adventure travel opportunities available anywhere. There are enough incredible places to explore to keep you coming back for years to come! Visit our Things to Do in Belize page to see our recommendations.

Don't worry be happyThe first thing you need to remember when visiting Belize is: DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!! Traveling in Central America can be wonderful, relaxing, frustrating, exciting, or dilatory. Of course, much of what happens is out of your control, but your reaction to events can make a world of difference. Just remember that everything always works out fine in the end, and if you are like our past guests, your trip to Belize will be the best vacation of your life! Just take a deep breath, slow down, and keep smiling! We have to remind ourselves this all of the time. It’s a different latitude with different attitudes.

 

Quick Facts

Population: 300,000 (about the size of Corpus Christi, Texas)

Size: 8,866 sq. miles (about the size of New Hampshire)

People: African-European Creoles, Spanish-Indian Mestizos, African-Indian Garinagus, Mayans, and a few Europeans, North Americans, and Asians

The mix of ethnic groups in Belize has created a very diverse society, but culturally it is based on the country’s long history of English rule. As such, the most favorite diet is English based, the language is English, and the government and constitution mirrors a mix of English and US structure. Although the majority of the population is black and retain political control of the government, all the various ethnic groups get along even though they strive to maintain their independent traditions.

Climate: Belize enjoys a subtropical climate, somewhat similar to that of South Florida, with temperatures typically in the 70s to mid-90s. There is a “wet” and a “dry” season, with the dry season lasting approximately from late November through May. Rainstorms can occur during the dry season, but they are usually brief. Hurricanes are a potential threat from July to early November. The worst in recent memory was Hurricane Iris, which struck Placencia in southern Belize in October 2002.

Capital: Although the capital city is Belmopan, the largest city in the country is Belize City, with a population of about 70,000. The capital was moved from Belize City to Belmopan in 1965 as a result of Hurricane Hattie which wiped out much of the northern coast where Belize City is located.

Government: Belize was known as British Honduras until 1973, and they gained their independence from Britain in 1981. They have a parliamentary, two-party democracy.

Time zone: Belize is on Central Time but does not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Health: The water is safe to drink in most areas, and the standard of health care is among the highest in Central America.

Tourism: 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 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. Belize has many locations where tourists can really get away from it all.

Geography: Belize is renowned for its diverse geography, all compacted into a relatively small country. Virgin rainforests cover much of the interior mountains, and wildlife is prolific in these protected areas. The Maya Mountains, which cover the southern half of Belize, rise to over 4,000’ from the coastal plain, and provide a dramatic backdrop to the nearby Caribbean Sea. The northern region and coastal plains are covered in a savannah type vegetation, and see rainfall amounts less than half of what the southern mountains get. Most of these areas have been converted to agriculture and are populated, although close to the coast the swampy terrain has been left wild. The best known geographical feature of Belize is the barrier reef and its scattered islands, as well as three atolls found outside the reef. Prolific coral formations support a rich tropical marine ecology, and marine live is abundant. The islands are mostly idyllic, palm covered specks of sand, and many have been developed as tourist destinations. However, the majority of these islands are swampy, mangrove covered refuges for wildlife, such as salt water crocodiles, manatees, and serve as important breeding grounds for many fish species. For a detailed map of Belize which includes most of the islands, visit our web site.

National parks: Belize has been a leader in Central America in creating national parks to preserve its many natural resources. Huge forest reserves cover the Maya Mountain region, and national parks are scattered throughout the accessible jungle areas that contain natural features such as caves, waterfalls, and virgin stands of timber. However, the real jewels of Belize are found along its barrier reef, and many national parks and marine reserves have been established along the reef to protect the underwater resources found there. Belize has become famous for its efforts to protect these natural wonders, and many have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The economy of Belize is based on agriculture (sugar, aquaculture, fruit plantations), but tourism has been steadily growing as an economic force in expanding the economy. Oil exploration has recently paid off and Belize is now exporting small quantities of oil. However, since Belize is unable to export as much as it needs to import, the imbalance of trade has created financial strains on the government, and as a result it has to levy very high taxes on businesses and imports, which has hurt the population and creates widespread poverty and chronic unemployment. As a result, there is a large emigration rate out of the country.

Transportation: Belize has four major highways, the Northern Highway connecting Belize City with Chetumal on the Mexican Border, the Western Highway connecting Belize City with Belmopan and continuing to the border with Guatemala, the Southern Highway linking the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts and the Hummingbird Highway linking Western Belize with the Stann Creek district. All principal towns and villages are linked by roads to Belmopan and Belize City. Regular bus services operate to and from all main towns.

Two airlines service in-country flights in Belize. Visit our Belize page on our website to find links to their websites. There are daily flights between Belize International Airport, Belize Municipal Airport, Dangriga, Placencia, Big Creek, Punta Gorda, Corozol, Caye Caulker, Caye Chapel, Ambergris Caye, Flores, Guatemala, and Cancun, Mexico. Sample rates: Belize International Airport to Dangriga: one way: $54. For a list of airlines to Belize, visit our Flying to Belize page.

When planning for Belize trips, many people wonder about how to get around once they are there. Belize is a small country (about the size of Vermont). There are no 34-hour chicken bus rides because it’s too small; nothing is that far from everything else. Most of the locals don’t have cars, so public transport is used by all and readily available.

Belize bus

Belize car rentals
Many prospective guests call us asking about Belize car rentals, planning to travel the country this way. I usually urge them to reconsider this. You must return all rental cars to Belize City, and if you are going to the jungle for several days, virtually all of that time the car will be parked, because tours will you undoubtedly be taking include transport, and if you are staying at a remote lodge, the only place to eat is right at the lodge. I think there are only a very few instances where renting a car for your Belize vacation is a good idea. And if you are planning to go to Tikal, be sure to ask your car rental company if they will let you take their vehicle across the border into Guatemala. However, here are two reputable car rental firms in Belize:

Buy Belize Auto Rental www.autorentalbelize.com
Belize phone: 011-501-222-4190, Email: steveperera@gmail.com

Crystal Belize Car Rental www.crystal-belize.com
Belize phone: 011-501-223-1600, Email: reservations@crystal-belize.com

Belize airlines
There are two in-country Belize airlines. Basically, you can mostly only fly north and south in Belize, not many flights go east and west, so look at a Belize map to see if there are flights to where you plan to go. There are daily flights between Belize International Airport, Belize Municipal Airport, Dangriga, Placencia, Big Creek, Punta Gorda, Corozol, Caye Caulker, Caye Chapel, Ambergris Caye, Flores, Guatemala, and Cancun, Mexico. One sample rate: Belize International Airport to Dangriga: one way: $68. Consult these websites for other prices and schedules.

Maya-Island Air www.mayaregional.com
Belize phone: 011-501-223-1140, USA phone: 1-800-225-6732, Email: regional@mayaislandair.com

Tropic Air www.tropicair.com
Belize phone: 011-501-226-2012, USA phone: 1-800-422-3435, Email: reservations@tropicair.com

Belize buses
Buses are often the best way to go, and they are inexpensive. Bus prices and schedules change too often to include here, and Belize bus websites, if they have them at all, are not up-to-date…. but remember, this is a country where most of its citizens depend on bus service. There are at least eight bus companies in the country. You need to 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. Basically ANY local will know all the bus schedules to and from their town.

All of that said, here is a very comprehensive schedule to Belize buses… the only thing is, I can’t find a date on it and don’t know if it is updated regularly or not: http://www.guidetobelize.info/en/travel/belize-bus-timetable-route-guide.shtml

And, I have to include a link to this awesome Belize transportation map created by Anson Stewart last fall. This map is based on the London Underground map. What a cool idea! Check it out: http://ansoncfit.com/watson/belize-transportation-map-subway-style/

Belize cabs
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 cabs have green license plates, usually that is the only way to spot them. When you arrive at Belize International Airport, look at the wall when you are going through customs. The current rate into Belize City from the airport (set by the government) is posted there. Cab drivers at Belize International are sometimes guilty of over-charging (currently $35 U.S. per cab, but prices are in flux due to rising gasoline costs). Always remember to settle the price before you get into a cab, and establish that you are talking Belize dollars, not US dollars.

One thing that is amazing about Belize cab drivers: if you hire a Belize City cab to take you to San Ignacio, for example (probably about $125 US), the most striking thing will be that the cab driver seems to know everyone in the country. You will see him waving at many people all along the way. Belize is tiny, the whole country only has about 300,000 people. He’s not faking it, he really does know all of those people, even in entirely different towns than where he lives. He’s probably related to most of them too!

In a nutshell, when planning a Belize vacation, first decide what you want to do, and where you wish to stay, and for how long, and book your lodging or tour first (or put it on hold). Then get your international air ticket, then contact the lodge where you are staying to ask them the best way to get there. They, more than anyone else, will know the best and most economical way to get to their place.

What’s the best way to find Belize flights?
After years of advising people about Belize travel arrangements, we summarize the options and strategies this way:

What airlines fly to Belize?
There are not that many options for flying to Belize because it’s a small country and there are only a few flights/day, and all go through the United States. There are no direct flights from Europe or Canada. You fly to Belize on one of five carriers: Continental (out of Houston), American (out of Dallas or Miami), U.S. Airways (out of Charlotte), Delta (out of Atlanta), or Grupo Taca (out of Houston or Miami). Even if you wanted to go to Belize after traveling in Costa Rica, for example, you would have to fly first to Miami from Costa Rice, then back south to Belize.

How do I find cheap flights to Belize?
There are no really cheap flights, for some reason people expect to find $300 round trip fares to Belize just by looking harder. You should expect to pay around $600 round trip, depending on where you are coming from, of course. If you find a fare less than that, buy it! You will get the best rates if you book early. Another technique is to try other dates (fly in Thursday even if you really need to arrive Saturday). Or try a different airport, possibly driving a little further. If you get a killer rate on a flight to Cancun, you can take the bus down, see our blog post “How to get to Belize from Cancun”. You can fly to Belize from Cancun, but it’s so expensive it cancels out the savings on the Cancun leg of the journey.

Any other advice on flying to Belize?
When you make your reservations, try to arrange for as few connecting flights as possible. If you have several connections, small delays can add up to missing your final flight from your gateway city to Belize. If at all possible, do not accept reservations with less than two hours between connections; very tight connections increase the possibility that you will miss one of your connecting flights. If you are flying in a day early you don’t have to be as concerned about multiple and tight connections. Because most airlines only fly once a day to Belize, if you miss your final flight to Belize, you will be 24 hours late.

We fly to Belize every year, what do we do?
From Moab we drive to Grand Junction, CO or Salt Lake City, UT and on to Houston or Dallas on whichever airline gives us the best deal, or with which we have frequent flyer points, and we often overnight in that US city if the connections would be too tight to get to Belize in one day. We might then switch to Continental or American to fly to Belize. This way we get the best price, and if staying in the US overnight, our luggage can catch up (it may be still behind).

Belize Air Schedules and Rates
For Belize air schedules, visit our Flying to Belize web page. For rates visit our Belize Flights page.

Flying to Belize
Our guest Rich Mitchell took this photo out of his plane window on the way to Belize. He put his sunglasses over the lens!