PASSPORT AND VISAS
All visitors to Belize require a valid passport with proof of a return ticket. Visitors from the United States, United Kingdom and most Caribbean countries do not require visas for stays under thirty days. Most other nationals do. Check with your local consulate for details.
Visitors departing Belize International Airport pay US $39.25 per person. To Mexico and Guatemala, visitors pay US $18.75. Returning to the UK, a traveller may bring 200 cigarettes, one litre of spirits, two liters of wine, 60 ml of perfume and $232.61 of duty free items.
The Belize Dollar has a fixed exchange rate to the US dollar (BZ $2 = US $1). Other currencies such as £ Pounds and € Euros can be exchanged at most banks. ATM machines are available throughout the country. American Express, Visa and Master Card are widely accepted in most shops, however, cash is preferred.
The population of Belize is approximately 311,480. Ethnic groups include Mestizo (Spanish-Indian), Creole (African-European), Garifunas (Caribs), Maya and European.
Belize is an independent country with a democratically elected parliamentary government and is a British Commonwealth member. The capital is Belmopan.
Belize occupies time zone GMT-6, Same as US Central Standard Time. Daylight saving time is not observed.
GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE
Belize is bounded on the N by Mexico, the S and W by Guatemala and the E by The Caribbean Sea. Belize has an area of 8,867 Square Miles. Belize City, the capital until 1970, is the largest city and main port. The climate is subtropical with constant winds from the Caribbean Sea. The annual temperature averages 27° Celsius / 80° Fahrenheit. The land is generally low with mangrove swamps and cayes along the coast, but as you move inland north, west and south the land rises. Although most of the area is heavily forested, yielding cedar, mahogany and logwood, there are regions of fertile savannahs and barren pine ridges.
Light, cotton clothing is recommended during the day; a jacket or sweater for cool evenings. For jungle trekking, long sleeves shirts, comfortable shoes, trousers, binoculars, insect repellent, sunscreen, and hats are essential.
The official language of Belize is English. With a diverse mix of cultures, Belizeans also speak Creole, Spanish, (Mopan, Ketchi & Yucatec) which are Mayan dialects, Garifuna, German (Mennonites) and Mandarin.
As everywhere, caution must be exercised when travelling. Belize is relatively safe, but you should ask your hotel or local guide before venturing out.
WATER Tap water in Belize is drinkable.
10-15% is the standard gratuity for must restaurants and tour guides. Establishments may add a service charge.
TAXES Hotel Tax is 9%, General Sales Tax (GST) is 10%.
From local restaurants serving delicious stewed chicken with rice and beans, to fine restaurants serving international cuisine, visitors will enjoy the wide range of restaurant choices available throughout the country.
HOSPITALS AND CLINICS
It is highly recommended that all international travellers purchase medical insurance prior to arrival. Hospitals and clinics are available in Belize City, Corozal, San Pedro, Cayo, Orange Walk and Punta Gorda.
A 16 mile long peninsula. Home to three communities: Maya Beach, Seine Bight and Placencia Village. The village has the narrowest main street in the world according to the Guinness World Book of Records. Lobsterfest is a popular celebration in June as well as Placencia Sidewalk Arts Festival in February. April and May see the arrival of the Magnificent whale sharks. Diving or snorkelling with them is a not-to-be-missed treat and adrenaline rush. From here you can explore Monkey River and The Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve or sail to many of the outer Cayes. Laughing Bird Caye National Park is just 11 miles off the coast and it’s a fun family excursion.
Home to the Garifuna, a unique culture and ethnic group, Dangriga is famous for it’s cultural roots, drums and Punta music. South Water Caye, Tobacco Caye, and Glovers Reef Atoll are a short boat ride from here. Hopkins is a quaint, quiet fishing village. The surrounding marsh landscape is resplendent with Jabiru Storks and other interesting birds. Stretching across nearly five miles of sandy palm strewn beach, Hopkins is home of thousands of Garifuna families, and the Garifuna language is widely spoken. Here you have the best of land and sea, with easy accessibility to the Mayan Mountains and The Belize Barrier Reef.
The main town on Ambergris Caye, the most northerly and largest of the 200 cayes off the coast of Belize. It is a world-class diving and snorkelling destination with dive sites on the barrier reef, just a 20 minute boat ride away. Hol Chan Marine Reserve is abundant with fish, and a snorkeller’s dream. The clear, shallow waters and prevailing winds are ideal for fishing, windsurfing, sailing and kite surfing. North of the island, the Bacalar Chico Reserve is an adventurers’ paradise. The lagoon on the leeward side provides an excellent opportunity for Kayakking and birding. San Pedro has a unique feel, and offers sophisticated international cuisine in beachside restaurants, mixed with local cafes serving traditional Belizean food. The streets bustle with local artists and craftsman displaying their pieces.
PUNTA GORDA AND THE TOLEDO DISTRICT
PG, as the locals call it, is the largest town in the Toledo District, and the gateway to lush rainforest, Maya sites, waterfalls and rivers, extensive cave systems, and numerous national parks and protected areas teeming with wildlife. The offshore cayes in the sparkling waters of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve and the Sapodilla Cayes offer snorkelling and diving, and the world-class fishing grounds see fly-fishermen return year after year. Toledo is home to a wide range of cultures, from the inland Maya villages to the thriving Garifuna culture in PG and Barranco village. Toledo’s rich cultural heritage is celebrated annually with the chocolate-themed Toledo Cacao Festival in May, and the Garifuna Battle of the Drums held each November.
This is where to go if you’re looking for inland adventures, pristine waterfalls, exciting wildlife and plenty of natural beauty. The Mountain Pine Ridge is one of the highlights as you travel from the jungle into a pine forest hidden in the hills of Cayo. Here you will find The Thousand Foot Falls, Rio On Pools, Rio Frio Cave, a butterfly farm and beautiful rivers. Cayo is also home to some of the most famous Maya sites in Belize. Xunantunich, Cahal Pech and Caracol are all worth a visit. Extreme adventurers should check out the Ruta Maya River Challenge in March. Other attractions include the inland Blue Hole, horse back riding, canoeing underground rivers, hiking, cave tubing, zip-lining, mountain biking and birding.
The epitome of laid back island lifestyle. Situated 21 miles northeast of Belize City and 11 miles south of Ambergris Caye, it is the second largest of approximately 200 small islands off the coast of Belize. End of June/July is famous for the Lobsterfest, celebrating the opening of the lobster season when people flock to the island to enjoy lobster delicacies. Front street is full of brightly-colored wooden houses interspersed with shops, restaurants and small hotels. The reef is clearly visible. Swimming with the sharks and rays at Shark Ray Alley is highly recommended.
The hub of transportation, commerce and culture. The Museum of Belize and House of Culture both showcase stunning ancient artifacts and historic memorabilia. The latter is housed in a 19th century building that was once the residence of colonial governors. St. John’s Cathedral is the oldest Anglican cathedral in Central America. For local art, visit the Image Factory. Watch sailboats rock gently near the hand cranked Swing Bridge. On the outskirts of Belize City, see exhibits of Maya site, rain forests, waterfalls, caves and industry at Old Belize. For a short excursion, get close to jaguars and other native species at the Belize Zoo, or climb the 60 ft. Temple of the Sun God at Altun Ha. Offshore, take a boat to St. George’s or Goff ’s Caye for snorkelling and manatee sighting. There are two airports: the Belize Municipal, in downtown Belize City, and the Philip Goldson International Airport, 12 miles from the city.
DIVING IN BELIZE
Abundant Marine Life –Stretching for 185 miles, there’s more marine life per square foot along the Belize Barrier Reef System, than anywhere else in the entire Western Hemisphere
Blue Hole – The World’s largest known underwater sinkhole at 100 feet wide that plunges to 412 feet at the centre of the Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Made famous by marine explorer Jacques Cousteau.
Clear, clear water – Visibility averages 100 feet, sometimes150 feet on clear days, light winds from April to June
Climate – Waters are clam, temperature averages around 80 degrees F
Conservation – Belize is keen on protection of its underwater treasures, committed to marine research and preservation. The Belize Barrier Reef is a dedicated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Oceanic Society continues to conduct bottlenose dolphin research along the cayes and atolls.
Lots to Do – Topside activities provide adventurous, exciting alternatives to complement underwater sights.
Resorts – Comfortable dive resorts offering diving packages with plenty of opportunities to tour archaeological Maya sites and engage in adventure elsewhere in the country.
You Can Learn to Dive – Ask about PADI, the world’s largest organization of dive instructors In three or four days, a resort course teaches dive safety, equipment, and techniques. Healthy students over 14 complete class time, five pool dives, and four open water dives. PADI offers junior programmes for kids 10 – 14. NAUI is the other leading dive association.