When you visit Belize, you have to explore at least one Belize Mayan ruin. You’d be crazy to go all that way and never visit one of these amazing ancient cities. Altun Ha is the closest ruin to Belize City, so if you don’t have much time, you can definitely see this one (about 45 minutes north of the international airport).
Altun Ha was occupied for around 1200 years and its population peaked at about 10,000 inhabitants. Around 500 buildings have been recorded here, but the core of the site consists of two plazas and 13 structures. These structures have been extensively restored, exposing fine stonework. A magnificent tomb has been discovered beneath one of these structures, the Temple of the Green Tomb. This rich burial chamber contained over 300 objects including jade pendants, beads & earrings, obsidian rings, stingray spines, and jaguar skins along with the remains of a Maya codex.
The largest temple on the site is known as The Temple of the Masonry Altars. This temple is famous for more than its impressive history, it is also on the Belikin beer label (Belize’s own beer). This structure had been covered over with an even larger building, and expanded a least 8 times since it’s creation in 500 A.D. Seven layers of tombs were found, with the most impressive being the earliest. Inside the intact crypt a jade head representing the Mayan sun god was found lying on the right wrist of the body entombed there. This object weighs almost 10 pounds and is 6 inches tall. It is the largest jade object ever found in the Maya world. A replica of this head is in the Museum of Belize in Belize City. The body was originally covered by Jaguar and Cougar skins and the entire tomb was covered in red pigment.
Many companies offer half-day tours to Altun Ha, or you could rent a car, or take a bus. (For more info on Belize car rentals, visit our website.) For more information on all Belize Mayan ruins, visit our website as well.
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 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:
Crystal Belize Car Rental www.crystal-belize.com
Belize phone: 011-501-223-1600, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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: email@example.com
Tropic Air www.tropicair.com
Belize phone: 011-501-226-2012, USA phone: 1-800-422-3435, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.