Why isn’t everyone backpacking in Belize?
Honestly I didn’t know a lot about Belize before we came. I knew it was small just 400,000 people, locals speak English and there’s a big blue hole. That’s pretty much it. It turns out Belize is one of the most underrated backpacker destinations in the world. Sure it’s not the cheapest country in Central America but it is jam packed with Mayan ruins, wildlife, epic jungle scenery and delicious Creole food. Also the coconut rum is pretty good! If you’re thinking of visiting for a couple of weeks, which you should, here’s a good place to start (all prices are USD).
Caye Caulker and the Blue Hole
You can’t visit Belize and not come to Caye Caulker. Of course most people are here for the Blue Hole which you can dive $300, snorkel $120 or take a flight over to experience it’s true magnitude. Check out Tsunami Adventures here, a scenic flight costs $185pp based on 5 people sharing.
The Meso American reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world and a paradise for divers and snorkelling. Hol Chan Marine reserve and Shark Ray Alley are offered on boat trips from the Cayes and don’t disappoint with loggerhead turtles, southern sting rays and nurse sharks in abundance. Manatees also hang around the waters here.
But there’s more to Caye Caulker than the water surrounding it. Expect to find barefoot locals, golf carts instead of cars, hammocks over sea views and some of the best food in the country. Meldys serves up fried chicken to die for while Fran (opposite Vista el Mar a great place to stay) has the jerk chicken and coconut rum of your Caribbean dreams. Ice and beans has the best coffee and mini donuts on the island while Yummy Yummy is the place to go for cheap and delicious Asian food. Also make a stop in the rescue center on the island to pet a good doggo.
More of a place to go through than stop, Belize city is the capital but more of a shanti town. Tourists rarely get further than the bus station and ferry dock and it has a reputation of being unsafe at night.
A great way to see all of the animals of Belize without the legwork. Belize zoo is more of a rescue center only housing animals local to the area and is probably one of the best zoo’s in the world for that reason. They even famously released a Harpy eagle that had been rescued and rehabilitated. After months of teaching it to hunt and fend for itself it refused to leave and they had to let it back in to the zoo. The signs are also brilliant in a way that could only happen in Belize. If you’re passing through on the bus lockers are available for luggage. Entrance is just $15.
The most famous road in Belize, the hummingbird highway winds through the lush tropical mountains from Belmopan to Dangriga. A perfect place to spot wildlife and take in the scenery. St Herman’s Blue Hole, Belize’s “other blue hole”, and cave is worth a stop to explore and cool down. Lamanai chocolate is also worth a stop for some nibs.
An affordable jungle lodge with all the comforts of home Lower Dover is an experience in itself. Maddy, the friendly and extremely knowledgeable hostess, and her family bought a piece of jungle in the 80’s only to discover ancient Mayan ruins. Now you can borrow a dog and go and explore the jungle and discover the ruins for yourself.
There’s so much wildlife to see here not to mention the chickens, ducks, turkey’s, goats and guinea fowl that live amongst the cabins. Mosquito nets, hot showers, a communal kitchen and healthy delicious home cooked meals are included. Mealtimes are a must with a chance to get to know other travellers and hear Maddie’s tales of jungle life and the history of Belize.
Possibly one of the best things to do in Belize. Actun Tunichil Muknal was discovered in 1989 and is the site of Mayan sacrifice deep within a cave. Tours to ATM include a jungle hike, fully submerged river crossings, impressive cave systems, some proper spelunking and skeletons. You need to have good fitness levels and a healthy disregard for health and safety but it’s an experience you won’t forget. Tours cost $110 from Lower Dover with a truly fascinating guide, Ben. You have the benefit of getting there early and being the only ones in the vast cave system. You can also visit from San Ignacio for around $80, River Rats come highly recommended.
Another great day trip is Green Hills butterfly reserve. A huge sanctuary full of indigenous butterflies, hummingbirds and native plants. Open 9:00 to 16:00 daily.
San Ignacio or Cayo as it’s commonly known is more of a chilled backpacker town than a city. Stay at Venus hotel for the comfiest bed in Central America and a great location to see everything from. Of you miss the free breakfast head to Pop’s Restaurant and grab a waffle or an equally huge breakfast pancake any American would be proud of. For lunch Ko-Ox Han Nah (Let’s Go Eat) serves up burgers, Asian and local food with a fresh twist. If you fancy a go at cooking check out Marie Sharp’s Tourist Center & Culinary Class, you may recognise the name from the famous hot sauce all around the country. But if you want a professional to do the hard work for you there’s nowhere else to eat in San Ignacio than the Guava Limb Restaurant & Café. It sits in a secluded little jungle garden fusing American, Asian and Belizean dishes to create something truly delicious. Don’t miss the satay chicken! If you want something a bit more budget friendly grab a pupusa at the market.
Take a day trip to Caracol for Indiana Jones vibes; ancient ruins less visited than most. Admission is 30 BZD. Open daily from 8am-4pm. On the way stop at Rio Frio and Rio on the pools, but be warned the road is extremely bumpy!
Xunantunich is another easy trip from San Ignacio. It’s one of Belize’s most impressive and easily accessible Maya sites. The hills are worth it for stunning views. Admission is 10 BZD.
Need to know
In the late 1800‘s Britain wanted safer seas so gave incentives for pirates to go and log Belize for its teak and mahogany. Slaves from Africa made up most of the workforce and Belize remained a British colony until gaining independence in 1981. So, weirdly for a Central American country, English is the official language. It makes navigating by road signs and asking for directions super easy. But more importantly this mixed up history gives the country a great diversity and there are a lot of really interesting people to have a chat to.
How to get around in Belize
Next time I would rent a car ($65 a day). There are just so many out of the way sights and hidden gems down dirt roads. We did OK on the chicken buses and a few kind lifts from other travellers but a 4×4 would have given us a lot more freedom (note roads are rough so pay a little extra for your comfort!).
Buses are great for one reason. They are cheap. Prices rarely go over a few dollars, you can store luggage in the overhead racks or at the back of the bus if there’s no room. Buses are crowded, slow and hot. If you want to travel by bus here’s where to find the Belize bus schedules:
Any bus west from Belize city will have the town Benque written on it, so they will stop in Belmopan, San Ignacio or anywhere you ask the conductor in between.
You can also book shuttles from most destinations. They rarely cost more than $20 as distances aren’t that great and can save the squeeze of you and your luggage on a chicken bus with thousands of locals (slight over exaggeration).
Taxi’s should be cheap but like in the rest of the world they’ll charge what they think you can afford. Always agree a price before getting in.
How much do things cost in Belize?
Belize isn’t as cheap as neighbours Guatemala or Mexico but you can find good deals and save money by using local transport. The Belizean Dollar is tied to the USD at 2:1 and you can use them interchangeably. I would highly recommend travelling here with USD. ATM’s can be unreliable and expensive and exchanges seem to be non existent other than guys on the street.
A hostel should cost $15 while a double room comes in between $30 to 50 a night. Air BnBs are a great option, at around $25 a night, you can save even more by signing up here if you haven’t used Airbnb before.
Meals cost between $4 and $20 depending on whether you eat local or at international restaurants.
Entrance to most parks cost less than $10 while day tours are usually $100.
A backpacker could live on $50 a day but it’s likely to cost you more with all of the great activities on offer.
Have more time?
Wildlife enthusiasts will love Crooked Tree. Stay at Crooked Tree lodge (book early) and spot birds on a sunrise river boat tour. Or stay in Orange Walk at Casa Ricky’s to explore the nearby ruins of Lamanai and Altun Ha. Meet the Mennonite community, a seemingly incongruous site in a country heavily populated by African and Spanish descendants. Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is probably the most famous wilderness area in Belize. You have the chance to spot jaguars in the beautiful and wild landscape. Placencia is the ideal location for divers, snorkelling and exploring the Mayan ruins in the south of the country.
How safe is Belize?
Everyone we met and spoke to in Belize were so friendly and helpful. It’s a safe place to travel solo and hitchhiking is common practice. Obviously be aware of petty theft and don’t flash your valuables and avoid drugs and over intoxication. Avoid Belize City especially at night. I always travel with insurance just in case the unexpected happens. If you don’t have it already you can check out one of the best policies here:
I hope I’ve convinced you to add Belize to your bucket list! It’s the Central America we all dream about without any of the hassle (plus great food!). Have any other tips for things to do in Belize? I’d love to here them in the comments below.
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