Things to Know Before Travelling

Nestled between the turquoise Caribbean Sea and the lush jungles of Guatemala, the Central American nation of Belize draws in visitors with its natural wonders and ancient Mayan heritage. Long cherished by divers and adventurers, Belize is swiftly gaining recognition as one of the continent's most enticing and alluring destinations. If you're considering a trip to experience its vibrant flora and fauna, read on for our guide on things to know before travelling to Belize...

Climate & Weather in Belize

Belize boasts a subtropical climate, characterized by a dry season extending from late February to May, and a wet season from June to November (though August and September see drier spells). Belize City, the country's hub, enjoys average temperatures of approximately 23°C in December, rising to 29°C in July. Even during the winter months, temperatures seldom dip below 16°C, with humidity persisting year-round. Fortunately, coastal sea breezes offer respite from the heat and humidity during the summer. Trade winds blow onshore consistently, and from September to December, northerly winds usher in cooler, drier air. Be mindful that hurricanes (tropical cyclones) pose a threat from July to November. For the ideal blend of warmth without scorching heat and with less rainfall, plan your visit to Belize between January and April.

Currency in Belize

The official currency of Belize is the Belize dollar (BZ$), although US dollars are widely accepted and utilized. ATMs are accessible in larger urban centres, but it's wise to carry some cash, in case of any issues with ATMs. To ease financial transactions, consider bringing an international card without transaction fees, especially for establishments that accept credit card payments. While locals typically don't engage in tipping, a gesture of around 10% is not only welcomed but appreciated in taxis and restaurants. Haggling, unlike in some other destinations, is uncommon in Belize and may be perceived as impolite, except for the bustling street markets where it may be more acceptable.

Food & Drink in Belize

Belizean cuisine is a fusion of Latin American and Caribbean flavours, celebrated for its use of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and Creole influences. The culinary centrepiece of Belize is its seafood, featuring an abundance of fresh fish, lobster and shrimp available throughout the country. Most main dishes are complemented by the staple combination of rice and beans, while a vibrant array of tropical fruits such as mangoes, papayas, pineapples, melons and bananas add a refreshing touch. A taste of Belize wouldn't be complete without savouring dishes like conch fritters, tacos, carnaches (fried tortillas with refried beans, cabbage, carrots and cheese), ereba (cassava bread, often served with fish, plantains or gravy), ceviche (marinated fish or conch), and an assortment of hearty meat stews.

When it comes to quenching your thirst in Belize, beer reigns supreme, with Belikin being the most popular choice. Some villages offer unique cashew-nut and berry wines, while imported wines, albeit a tad pricey, are accessible in select locations. The undisputed champion of liquors is rum, available in both dark and clear varieties and incredibly affordable. You can also enjoy a wide array of fresh juices and smoothies. For a more unusual local drink, explore the intriguing blend of dried seaweed with evaporated and condensed milk, infused with delightful notes of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Transport in Belize

To explore Belize, the most economical and straightforward mode of transport used by locals is the bus, connecting nearly all towns and villages via comprehensive routes. Fast, comfortable express buses are readily available for traveling between major cities and towns, while local services cater to smaller villages with reduced schedules. Taxis provide a convenient and secure urban transport option for travellers. Ensure that you choose licensed taxi companies and avoid unregistered street taxis. Licensed taxis in Belize can be identified by their green number plates and are typically stationed in central ranks within towns. Since taxis lack meters, it's advisable to negotiate your fare in advance. Within towns, a fixed rate of approximately BZ$8-10 (around £3-4) should suffice.

For those seeking independence and flexibility, renting a car is an excellent choice. Cycling is another great way of exploring, especially in quieter towns, where bike rentals are increasingly available, notably in San Ignacio and Placencia. If your journey includes visits to the Cayes, opting for boat transport is the ideal choice. Numerous small boats operate daily between Belize City, Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, ensuring easy access to these coastal gems.

Language in Belize

English stands as the official language of Belize, spoken by approximately 60% of the population. Spanish ranks as the second most prevalent language, used by over 50% of Belizeans. Additionally, a Creole patois is widely spoken. Among the Maya community in Belize, languages like Yucatec, Mopán and Kekchí are used, adding to the rich linguistic tapestry of this diverse nation.

Etiquette in Belize

Belizeans are renowned for their warm hospitality, making it customary to greet locals with a friendly 'good morning' as you embark on your day or when stepping into shops and museums. Respect the country's conservative values by dressing respectfully, especially when visiting places of worship. Nevertheless, local attire tends to be quite casual. When considering photography, where possible seek permission before capturing images inside churches or of indigenous people. If you do take photographs of people, it's customary to offer a small token of appreciation as a thank you gesture. In Belize, the concept of punctuality is somewhat relaxed, with it being customary for appointments to start around half an hour later than scheduled.

Health and Safety in Belize

While Belize is generally considered safe for travellers, it's crucial to exercise caution due to occasional instances of both petty and violent crimes. Avoid isolated areas and dimly lit alleys, especially after dark in urban areas, to mitigate the risk of muggings. Particular vigilance is advised when near the south side of Belize City, known as Haulover Creek, due to elevated crime rates. Protect both yourself and your belongings by avoiding leaving items unattended and remaining vigilant against pickpockets in public spaces. Ensure you have adequate travel insurance covering your valuables. Hitchhiking or accepting rides from strangers is discouraged. Opt for licensed taxis over public transportation for nighttime travel. Be mindful that flaunting expensive jewellery may attract unwanted attention, and refrain from using your mobile phone openly in the street. Safeguard essential documents like your passport in a secure location. Whenever possible, travel in groups and enlist qualified guides for off-the-beaten-track adventures. Promptly report any instances of crime to the police by dialling 911.

Exercise caution when traveling near the border between Belize and Guatemala, considering the ongoing territorial dispute between the two countries. Only use officially recognized border crossings to avoid complications.

Given the array of adventure activities available in Belize, injuries can occur. Prioritize safety by taking appropriate precautions when engaging in activities such as snorkelling and diving. Check that weather conditions are suitable and engage with registered and licensed operators for your safety.

Must-Sees in Belize

Belize Barrier Reef and the Great Blue Hole: Dive into Belize's UNESCO World Heritage-listed barrier reef, a haven for scuba enthusiasts. Explore the Great Blue Hole, a colossal marine sinkhole off the coast.

Caye Caulker: Embrace the essence of an idyllic 'island getaway' on Caye Caulker, one of Belize's charming offshore islands.

Ambergris Caye: Another coastal paradise, Ambergris Caye houses the second largest reef in the world.

Lamanai Archaeological Reserve: Located in northern Belize, Lamanai is a Mesoamerican archaeological treasure, once a prominent city of the Maya civilization.

Adventures Galore: Belize offers a plethora of adventure activities, from catamaran excursions, caving and trekking to snorkelling, diving and swimming.

Packing Essentials for Belize

Prepare for your Belizean adventure by packing essentials to enhance your experience. Suncream, a sunhat and sunglasses are vital to guard against sunburn. Insect repellent is worth brining, and it's advisable to bring an ample supply, as these products can be relatively costly to purchase locally. Sturdy walking shoes are indispensable for exploring both the inland and coastal regions, while a rain jacket is a valuable asset in case of unpredictable weather patterns. Ensure you have all the necessary gear for your chosen activities during your stay.

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Jacqui and Tom are our 'Belize' experts and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.

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