Belize

Located on the East Coast of Central America, sharing a northern border with Mexico and otherwise surrounded by Guatemala, Belize is often called “Mother Nature’s Best-Kept Secret”—though it seems that the secret is definitely out. World-class diving, eco-adventures, boutique luxury resorts, and an evolving culinary scene are just a few of the reasons tourism is on the rise. Belize’s cultural heritage is rich, and the diverse influences are reflected in today’s food, music, dance, and folklore. Despite its seemingly small size, Belize offers ample adventure for adrenaline junkies, while miles of beaches and secluded rain forest retreats beckon travelers looking for a little R & R.

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Photo by Tom Prior

Overview

When’s the best time to go to Belize?

Belize is subject to the Atlantic hurricane season, so expect June through early November to be on the wetter side. Thankfully, Belize is spared from most major tropical storms. But if you are planning to tackle a lot of activities, low season is a gamble. When rains are heavy, roads and rivers on the mainland may be compromised. It’s not uncommon for Maya sites and caves to be closed due to flooding.

December through April is definitely the high season in Belize. The biggest influx of visitors is around the end of the year and Easter week. May is also a good time to visit, when things begin to mellow and businesses offer specials as they scale down for the impending slow season. Expect some restaurant closures and scaled-back staff at resorts during September and October, when many local businesses give their employees time off, take their own vacations, and gear up for the upcoming high season.

How to get around Belize

As of Dec. 14, 2020. Daily flights arrive into Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport (BZE) near Belize City. Large hubs like Atlanta, Houston, and Miami offer the most convenient routes on American, Delta, and United; while weekend flights go between Belize City and Newark, Chicago, and Denver. Many mainland resorts can arrange for airport shuttle service (for a fee) to pick up guests. Belize charges a departure tax, but flights booked through major U.S. carriers have the fees included. Currently, the fee for non-residents departing Belize is about US$35 per person. There are two airports in Belize City—International (BZE) and Municipal Belize City (TZA)—approximately a 20-minute drive apart. Tropic Air and Maya Island Air offer flights to the most-visited destinations, including the Cayes. There are rental car agencies at the airports, and scheduled bus service runs on the mainland between larger villages.

Food and drink to try in Belize

Food is not one of the main reasons travelers choose to visit Belize, but it should be! With so many cultural influences at play in the country’s cuisine, Belizean food is underrated. Look for Garifuna, Maya, Lebanese, Chinese, East Indian, and other international cuisines throughout Belize. Without a doubt, the most popular local dish is stewed chicken with rice and beans.

Fresh seafood is abundant throughout the country, especially in the Cayes, though lobster and conch fishing is tightly regulated, with fines for sale and consumption outside the allotted seasons. You’ll find Belizeans are passionate about their barbecue. It’s nearly impossible to walk down the beach on a Sunday without smelling a grill nearby. Snacks and street food in Belize are definitely worth seeking out. Not-to-miss breakfast specialties include fry jacks and johnnycakes. And no matter what you eat, a meal is not complete without locally produced Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce on top!

When it comes to drinks, a cold Belikin always hits the spot, and for the occasional morning hangover—or goma, as most call it—try a Michelada. Tropical drinks are everywhere, with unique local spins on tried-and-true favorites. Belize produces several varieties of rum, liqueurs, and even wines made with cashews and blackberries.

Culture in Belize

Belize’s tumultuous history is the basis for the numerous cultural influences that define the country today. Look for important cultural holidays and festivities throughout the year. Events like Carnaval, Costa Maya Festival, and Garifuna Settlement Day pay homage to key aspects of Belizean culture. Important cultural holidays of note include what most refer to as September Celebrations—the Battle of St. George’s Caye (or National Day) on September 10, and Independence Day on September 21.

The Cayes are hot spots for festivals and parties, including global holidays like New Year’s Eve, Easter, and Halloween. Many of Belize’s festivals are centered around important cultural holidays like Ambergris Caye’s Carnaval, akin to a Mardi Gras celebration. The September Celebrations recognize important historic battles and Belize’s independence. And Costa Maya Festival celebrates the region’s Maya roots. You won’t find big-name music artists holding concerts here, but that’s OK. Belize has a thriving local musical scene—musicians like Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective have played a historic role in Belizean culture. Culinary celebrations are also an important part of the scene, with everything from rum and chocolate events to countrywide lobster festivals.

Local travel tips for Belize

Belizeans are some of the friendliest and proudest people you will encounter—if someone is offering help or suggestions, they usually are doing so with the most genuine of intentions. In many cases, locals dine in the same restaurants tourists do. Absent is the stigma of “tourist traps” you find elsewhere in the world. Expect grocery prices to be higher on the Cayes than on the mainland, especially for Western products. Don’t look for McDonalds, Starbucks, or other chains—Belize doesn’t have them. Most businesses are family-owned, lacking a noticeable corporate influence.

Practical Information

The exchange rate is pretty much always 2 Belize dollars for 1 U.S. dollar. U.S. dollars are widely accepted, but be advised that some businesses will refuse them if they are torn, wrinkled, or contain any writing. The recent rule has been implemented because local banks won’t accept tender of torn and marked bills.

English is the official language, but expect to hear a variety of languages as you travel the country—Spanish, Mayan, Kriol, and Garifuna among them.

U.S. citizens traveling to Belize will need a passport that is valid beyond the length of their stay; tourist visas are only required for stays longer than 30 days.

Belize uses 110 voltage and the same electrical plugs as the U.S., so adapters and converters aren’t necessary.

Guide Editor

Read Before You Go
Hotels
They’re also kind to the Earth.
Resources to help plan your trip
Visitors can now move freely around Belize, but must have negative COVID-19 test results and reservations for government-approved accommodations to be allowed into the country.
Today, the Maya still farm the same lands and travel the same rivers as their ancestors did from north in the Yucatan down to Honduras. Belize is home to a number of pre-Hispanic Maya sites that form an integral part of the country’s cultural heritage.
A big reason to visit Belize is the abundance of water-related activities along the Belize Barrier Reef System, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Dive the famous Blue Hole or one of the countless sites accessible from coastal spots on Belize’s mainland or cayes.
Waterfalls, Maya sites, luxury resorts, Belizean cuisine, and colorful markets await visitors to Belize’s Cayo District.
Interested in eco-adventure, but don’t want to sacrifice luxury? How about a romantic getaway? No worries! One of Belize’s best attributes is its lack of massive all-inclusive resorts where you battle for pool loungers and reservations at restaurants. Instead, the country offers a number of boutique and luxury resorts situated beachside on the Caribbean, or nestled in Central American rain forest.
With our nonstop schedules and always-on existences, it’s entirely possible that the idea of chilling out on a beach leaves you feeling anxious. If you need some help learning to let go, here’s our five-point plan to embrace the laid-back atmosphere of Belize’s cayes.
Stay in a beachfront suite. Dine on seasonal seafood dishes like conch ceviche. Drink Belikin beer. And jump into the festivities that take place throughout the year on this party-loving reef island.
From the Belize Barrier Reef near the Great Blue Hole to a wildlife sanctuary in Northern Belize, these are some of the best places in Belize to visit on your next trip.
Order up a cold Belikin poolside overlooking Ambergris Caye, savor a craft cocktail at a celebrity-owned resort, or pull up a chair on the beach and cool off with a local rum concoction.
A number of influences combined to make Belizean cuisine what it is today. Sample Creole chicken stew in Belize City, Mestizo tamales or escabeche on Ambergris Caye, Mayan fish in San Pedro, Garifuna hudut in Hopkins, or Mayan caldo in Punta Gorda. Here is a list of the best restaurants in Belize to sample it all in.
Belize is that rare combination of Caribbean sea and Central American jungle that allows for unrivaled adventures. The hotels and lodges here specialize in showing visitors the best side of their enchanted country so whether you’re in Belize for zip lining the jungle canopy or diving into a blue hole, you can find a place to stay that will give you the best, wildest, and most comfortable experience.
One way to see as much as possible of Belize is with a “rain forest to reef” package. Split your week between adventures in Western Belize’s Cayo District and R & R on the North Islands—either Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker.
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