touring belize on your own
Burrell Boom, Belize

Many of our guests arrive a day or two early for one of our week-long adventure packages. We often get questions about touring Belize on your own. I have a favorite one-day loop trip that takes in the Baboon Sanctuary, the Belize Zoo, and my favorite restaurant for lunch: Cheers. Because it’s a loop, you can start anywhere on the loop and circle around and end up back in the same place. I’ll describe it here as if you are arriving in the country and continuing from there to stay at Black Orchid Resort or the Howler Monkey Resort, with the plan to do the driving tour the next day. However, the itinerary can be modified as you see fit to go in a different direction, or to stay in a different location.

So, landing at BZE, you will first rent a car. Renting a car can be expensive in Belize (about $100/day), so this is most affordable for a group or family of four or more. If you compare the car rental to a guided tour, the car rental compares favorably when you consider four people x about $75/day per person for the tour.

All of the Belize car rental places are in the parking lot at the airport, so that part is easy. You don’t have to make arrangements in advance unless you are traveling at peak times like Christmas or Spring Break. Once you have your car, drive out of the airport and turn left on the Northern Highway, going north. You will go about 5 miles to the turnoff for the town of Burrell Boom. Turn left there and continue on to Black Orchid Resort or the Howler Monkey Resort, where you have already made reservations for the night. Most flights do land later in the day, so you would not have time for this tour without having the full day ahead of you, and you will need a place to stay. Black Orchid is about 25 minutes from the International airport, and the Howler Monkey Resort is about 45 minutes away, located in the village of Bermudian Landing.

After breakfast at the restaurant at Black Orchid the next morning, you will have to decide whether you are taking all of your luggage with you, or coming back to pick it up. That will depend on what you plan to do next. It will likely be easiest to take it with you, unless you plan to spend several days at Black Orchid.

The Community Baboon Sanctuary does a great job with stewardship of the monkeys.
Crocodile skull – Community Baboon Sanctuary Museum

Continuing west, drive on into Burrell Boom Village and beyond due west to the village of Bermudian Landing. This is where the visitor center for the Community Baboon Sanctuary is located. It’s a small, semi-funky, but charming museum. Well worth the minuscule entrance fee.

There will hopefully be a guide there offering to take you to the baboons (actually they are Howler Monkeys, but the locals call them “Baboons”.) By all means hire them! The fee will also be surprisingly affordable. A young woman walked us about a block back into the trees and there were the monkeys!

When you have had your fill of the Baboon Sanctuary, get back in your car and go back to Burrell Boom and turn south (right). You’ll be heading toward Hattieville. When you are almost to Hattieville you will pass the prison! You can see the prisoners right there inside the fence, it’s quite strange, but interesting. It’s a view of the country most people do not get.

touring belize on your own
Tapir at the Belize Zoo

At Hattieville you turn right and head west toward the Belize Zoo and Cheers Restaurant. Don’t miss Cheers. If you are hungry, go there first, it’s a little bit past the zoo. Then double back to the internationally famous Belize Zoo. You’ll want to spend several hours there. They quit letting people in at 4 pm, and close at either 4:30 or 5:00. Allow at least 2 hours for the zoo, but really you need 3 or 4.

After you have finished your tour, you don’t have to go back the same way. Continue on the Western Highway back almost to Belize City, then take the brand new cut off back over to the Northern Highway so that you miss downtown Belize City. You will come right out by Brodie’s Supermarket and the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel. Continue to the International Airport to return your vehicle (which is why you might be glad you don’t have to double back to get your luggage at Black Orchid.)

black howler monkey
We didn’t feed them, I promise! We handed them fruit from the tree they were in that was lying on the ground

If you are meeting us for the first night of your adventure tour, take a cab from the airport back to the Biltmore to start your tour with us! Here’s the route.

belize one day tour map

[photos by Lucy Wallingford and Kathe O’Donnelly]

We have many recommendations of what to do in Belize before or after your island trip with us. It might not occur to you to visit a zoo when you’re on a tropical vacation, but if you have extra time while in the country of Belize, a visit to the internationally famous Belize Zoo is well worth the trip. There you can see many native species, including the jaguar, the king of the jungle.

The zoo was started as a home for wild animals that had been used in making documentary films. The zoo’s creators soon realized that Belizeans were unfamiliar with their native animals and they decided to develop a wildlife education center. The zoo exhibits over 125 native animals, all were orphaned, born at the zoo, or rehabilitated pets. The enclosures are large, natural pens.

Many of the animals that are native to Belize are nocturnal, so a visit to the zoo may be the only way to see them. The zoo is located about 30 miles west of Belize City. Busses pass by regularly, and if you are comfortable standing by the side of the road waiting for the next bus on the return (as the locals do), this is the cheapest way to go. You may also take a Belize cab and ask the driver to wait for you (would probably cost $60 or so). or make a day of it and rent a car, visiting both Xunantunich ruins (west of San Ignacio) and the zoo (get an early start). Don’t miss lunch at Cheers, across the highway and down the road a little from the zoo.

And on a side note,  this morning, the zoo posted on their Facebook page that their 2 year-old tapir (the national animal of Belize), Tambo, is going to be the star of a children’s book . Here you see Tambo gracing their xmas card.