This post is all about the most important things to know before going to Belize.
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Almost every local I met while traveling solo in Belize asked me the same question:
“Why did you choose Belize?”
And to be honest I didn’t really have an answer. I was browsing cheap flights to Central America one day (as one does in their free time).
I had already traveled to Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica recently. Jamaica, Aruba, and the Grand Cayman islands all sounded out of my budget. So I landed on Belize.
It wasn’t until after I booked my tickets that I started researching what Belize had to offer and to be honest…the internet kind of let me down.
There’s not as much information available for travel and facts about Belize as there are in places like Thailand, Indonesia, or Italy.
So here you go internet. I put together a list of 14 helpful things to know before going to Belize.
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Things to Know Before Going to Belize:
1. The Snorkeling Is Amazing
Belize boasts the second longest barrier reef in the world, which means it’s home to abundant sea life and colorful corals. In fact, many people travel to Belize for the sole purpose of snorkeling or diving — it’s that good.
The reef is located just off the coast of Belize, and is best enjoyed from Hopkins, Placencia, or one of Belize’s many islands.
Most snorkeling trips take you over to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where you can swim with nurse sharks, stingrays, turtles, tropical fish, and maybe even a manatee.
I took a tour with Ragamuffin Tour Company and you can check out my review of the experience here.
Experienced divers can explore The Great Blue Hole, a huge sinkhole off the coast of Belize. The hole measures 984 ft (300 meters) across and 354 ft (108 meters) deep.
2. English Is The Official Language Of Belize
Many travelers are surprised to find out that English is the official language of Belize, especially because the country shares borders with Mexico and Guatemala.
Belizeans speak English because the country was actually under British rule until 1981.
In fact, most Belizeans are actually trilingual – they speak English, Spanish, and Kriol. Some also speak other local dialects such as Garifuna and Maya.
English-speakers will find it incredibly easy to get around the country and chat it up with locals.
3. Rice & Beans Is Different Than Beans & Rice
This may seem silly but this is one of the most important things to know before going to Belize. I remember one of my first days I asked my waiter what the difference was.
He laughed a little bit and rolled his eyes and I could just feel the word tourist being branded onto my forehead.
I’m here to save you from a tiny bit of embarrassment.
Rice and beans consists of rice and beans MIXED together and cooked with coconut milk. Beans and rice refers to stewed beans in a broth with a side of rice.
4. USD Is Widely Accepted
Cash is king in Belize. Some restaurants, big stores, and tour companies do accept credit cards but there is often a large fee to use them.
Luckily for U.S. citizens, the USD is accepted just about everywhere in the country.
The steady exchange rate of 2:1 makes it easy to pay in US currency.
Fair warning though – you may get your change back in a mixture of US and Belizean dollars. And if you withdraw from an ATM you will definitely be getting Belizean currency.
Travel tip: make sure you clarify if the price quoted is in Belize dollars or USD. It’s easy to get confused when using the currencies simultaneously.
5. Belize Is SMALL
The whole country is only about 70 miles east to west. This makes traveling between cities really easy and cheap.
Do be aware that the roads are pretty rough and winding so it can take hours to drive between places even if they don’t look far apart on a map.
This also means that everyone knows everyone. In a country of only 350,000 people, you’re bound to run into someone you know.
To put that into perspective, my home city of Milwaukee has a population of about 600,000 and I run into friends around town all the time.
On bus rides across Belize, passengers would often wave to friends and family from the window.
6. There’s Ancient Ruins Everywhere
There are endless Maya ruins to explore in the country. Belize was once home to at least a million Mayas, and a lot of their stunning architecture remains intact.
Some of the famous ruins are Caracol, Lamanai, Xunantunich, Altun Ha, and Cahal Pech.
What most people don’t know is that there are actually thousands of Mayan ruins around the country — and most are still buried underground.
If you drive anywhere where there is land clearing you will see mounds dotting the landscape.
These are actually Mayan houses and buildings that date back thousands of years, so odds are you’ll be standing on a piece of history at some point during your trip.
7. You’re On Island Time
Belize has a very laid-back Caribbean vibe, especially on the islands. The motto of the entire island of Caye Caulker is “Go Slow”.
If locals see you power walking to the beach, they will laugh and yell at you to “go slow”.
This also means that you’re not going to be experiencing prompt service just about anywhere in Belize.
Eating at a restaurant can be a long process involving seating yourself, flagging someone down for a menu, and then waiting a long time for your food to arrive.
Tours often depart 20-30 minutes after their scheduled time.
Yes, it can be frustrating when you’re trying to fit a lot into your schedule. But just remember you’re on vacation. Chill out and go slow!
8. Marie Sharp Hot Sauce Goes On Everything
Marie started her hot sauce company in Belize in the early 1980s and you’ll see her hot sauce on every table in Belize.
Restaurants, coffee shops, airports, bus station bathrooms, you name it and you’ll probably find Marie Sharp’s there.
Even if you’re not a spicy food person you can’t leave Belize without trying the sauce.
9. You May Be Getting Ripped Off On Beer
The national beer is the Belikin and you will find it everywhere in Belize. It’s your basic pale lager, nothing fancy but it tastes great on a hot day in the tropics.
It isn’t until you finish your first Belikin that you realize you’ve been hustled. The bottles are the same size as regular 12oz bottle but the glass is much thicker.
You’re actually only getting 9.6 ounces in each bottle. Yes, they’re still a great deal but you’ll probably need to buy a couple extra to make up for the trickery.
But you probably won’t mind when this is where you’ll be drinking them:
10. Don’t Expect To Get Any Sleep On Bus rides
Yes, your driver will be blasting those reggae remixes of pop hits the whole 4 hour bus ride. No, it will never grow on you.
Just when you begin to relax, someone will hop on the bus selling meat pies and coconut treats. The buses are also extremely crowded. If you’re lucky enough to find a seat, hold on to it tight.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t ride the bus. Taking public transport is such an incredible way to get to know the culture of the country a little bit better.
So ride the bus but don’t have any expectations of getting some shuteye.
11. You Can Only Drink The Tap Water In One City
Placencia is the only city in Belize where you can drink the tap water, due to an underwater spring. Everywhere else in the country you’ll want to stick to bottled water.
If you’re an environmentally conscious traveler (which we all should be) you should invest in a filter bottle.
12. Tipping Is Appreciated
One thing that is important to know before you travel anywhere is the tipping culture. You never want to come across as rude by tipping or not tipping when expected.
In Belize, tipping is appreciated but not expected. 10% is an adequate tip amount.
13. You May See Dead People
There are several ways you may end up seeing dead people on your trip to Belize.
Belize has a unique way of handling their deceased. Instead of burying the dead, the cemeteries in Belize have above-ground coffins. They’ll often be colorful and have flowers and gifts placed near them.
If you want an up-close-and-personal experience with the deceased, you can take the ATM Cave Tour
This will put you face-to-face with ancient Mayan artifacts and real human remains. Isn’t that what you look for in a vacation destination — multiple ways to encounter corpses?
14. It’s An Incredibly Diverse Country
The five largest ethnic groups in Belize are Latino, Creole, Maya, Garifuna, and, surprisingly, Mennonites. You may also encounter Chinese, East-Indian, and Middle Eastern people.
The diversity of the country is evident in their multitude of colorful celebrations, flavorful dishes, and languages spoken.
Where To Stay In Belize
Belize is one of the pricier countries in Central America. However, there are still some great deals for accommodation.
As a rough guide, hostels and other budget accommodations will cost about $10-30 per night.
Mid-range hotels will typically be about $50-100 per night.
And if you have a bigger budget, you can get some seriously luxurious accommodations for $150+ per night.
Here are some of the top rated hotels in Belize:
Caye Caulker Hotels
I stayed at Yocamatsu and I had an incredible time! The staff was so over-the-top welcoming and warm. The rooftop bar area was gorgeous for sunrise and sunset.
Ambergris Caye Hotels
What to Pack for a Trip to Belize
Aside from the normal things you pack when you travel, here are some items you can’t forget when you go to Belize:
Filter water bottle: In the majority of the country, the tap water is not safe to drink. Make sure you pack a filter water bottle so you can fill up anywhere! Another option is to use a Steripen. This will sterilize the water using UV light, making it drinkable.
Sturdy shoes: Belize is a very adventurous country. You’ll likely be climbing over ruins, hiking through the jungle, and getting lots of steps in. Make sure you pack comfortable shoes. If you’re going to be doing the ATM Cave tour, pack waterproof shoes or shoes you don’t mind throwing away!
This post was all about things to know before going to Belize.
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