Ready to make your plans to come to Belize? Here are several things you need to know before arriving.
Belize is a wonderful destination for an unforgettable getaway, vacation or relaxing family retreat. Although a relatively small country, Belize – approximately the same size as Massachusetts – it is home to one of the most diverse natural habitats on Earth. Few spots on the globe can rival the gorgeous tropical landscape, complete with an enormous coral reef offshore. On land, the Belizean countryside is dotted with the ruins of huge Mayan cities, interspersed in a kaleidoscope of tropical rainforests and jungles. The people of Belize are a patchwork of indigenous and local cultures, with a rich history and proud craftsmanship traditions still preserved in hundreds of villages.
Belize is also the only Central American nation with English as its first language. It’s home to the largest living barrier reef in the world. Its small population (397,628 as of 2020) includes a richly diverse cultural mix and the residents are friendly, hospitable and are willing to accommodate. Many tourists come to Belize and enjoy the experience so much they keep coming back for more!
For many years, tourists neglected Belize in favor of more popular destination spots in Mexico such as Cancun, Cozumel, and Tulum. But today, Belize is becoming increasingly popular as vacationers can luxuriate in jungle lodges, climb large Maya temples, snorkel in the crystal clear waters, and relax in the slow-paced lifestyle that characterizes much of Belize. Located on the edge of the Caribbean Sea, Belize has hundreds of miles of gorgeous beaches, while inland rain forests and mountain slopes are home to large nature reserves. Over 450 small islands (known locally as “cayes”) and atolls can be found just off the coast, offering unparalleled opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, and diving.
The largest island in Belize, Ambergris Caye, is a popular destination spot for visitors. A true tropical paradise, the island has laid-back beaches with waterfront bars, and the island is home to numerous clubs and places to dance until dawn.
MAYAN CITIES & CIVILIZATIONS
Belize was home to ancient Mayan cities and civilizations, many archaeological sites are scattered across the country.
These mysterious historical monuments offer a glimpse into the past of the people who once inhabited the land.
Belize was first occupied by Spain but later became a British colony.
It was granted independence from Great Britain in 1981 and remains a member of the Commonwealth nations.
BELIZE & GUATEMALA BORDER DISPUTES
It is locked in an age-old territorial dispute with Guatemala, which claims Belize as part of its territory.
The countries are currently in que for their case to be heard by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Early in the country’s development, its economy depended heavily on agriculture, but now it's tourism
Because tourism is now the primary focus for the country, you can expect an excellent experience as a guest.
The exchange rate from Belize dollars to USA dollars is 2 to 1. It has stayed this way for years, simply because its easy for most people to convert. USDollars are widely accepted, so there is no need to worry about exchanging money. I personally don't know of anyone who will turn down a US dollar.
Cash is king in Belize. Having cash on hand is encourage, since ATM's are few and most businesses charge a 5 percent (surcharge) for using a credit card. Also keep in mind, that some of the smaller businesses may not have credit card machines.
Credit cards are widely accepted (in the more popular spots). Two cards which are widely accepted down here are Master Card & Visa.
There are no Visa requirements for citizens of the European Union, CARICOM, the US, Costa Rica, Chile, Guatemala, Iceland, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, Tunisia, Uruguay and Commonwealth territories.
There is a US $35 departure tax to be paid when leaving the country.
Additional Things You Need to Know Before Traveling to Belize Belize is the vacation destination of a lifetime waiting to happen. It is incredibly beautiful and warmly welcoming. It comfortably close to home for Northern American visitors. It is surprisingly affordable and is sure to provide tons of fun for all members of the family but before booking your adventure vacation to the “Jewel” here’s what you need to know. LANGUAGE - The official language in Belize is English, which most of the population speaks. For the people who live here, many of them are bi-lingual, meaning they speak both English and Spanish. You will find some who speak Kriol, and Garifuna, Chinese and Lebanese. CURRENCY - The Belizean Dollar is permanently pegged to the American dollar at a 2 to 1 ratio (2 Belizean Dollars are 1 U.S. dollar), making it very easy to convert prices. The local currency in Belize is known as the Belizean Dollar (BZD), but American dollars are accepted almost everywhere. DRINKING WATER - The water is potable in Belize, but we don't recommend drinking it. Bottled water is widely sold throughout Belize. You can find anything from Schilling waters, 8 oz. water bottles, 32 oz. water bottles Bottled water is a must, as it is not recommended that you drink tap water unless you are sure it has been purified and boiled. The U.S. State Department also advises visitors to Belize to get vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid, as well as ensuring that your vaccinations for tetanus and diphtheria are still valid. ELECTRICITY - The entire country operates off a 110 voltage, similar to the United States. So there is no need to worry about adapters for cell phone chargers, laptops, blow dryers, hot rollers, cameras, etc. TAXI'S - When accepting a ride from a taxi, make sure they have a green license plate. Always ask the price to where you are going, prior to getting into the taxi. This is your best way to prevent from being overcharged. Always ask for a telephone number or a business card before exiting your taxi. If after departing the taxi, you realize that someone in your party accidentally left something in the taxi, by getting contact information you just increase your chances of getting it back. DRESS CODE - The dress code in Belize, even for most formal events, is rather casual. Tropical attire, Bermuda shorts, cotton pants/tops, sandals will get you in most any establishment on the island. FOOD - Due to its abundant coastline, you'll find many restaurants serve up their favorite version or snapper, grouper, snook and barracuda. Many restaurants offer a Caribbean-Latino cuisine, which many tourists find appealing. If you're looking to keep your expenses down as regards eating out, go to where the locals go to eat. You'll not only find the prices cheaper, but the food is just as delicious. Belizeans each stewed chicken, fried fish, beans & rice, potato salad, conch, chimole, and shrimp ceviche, to name a few. You'll find lots of fresh fruits & vegetables sold at local road-side stands. For the adventurous souls, check out some of the seasonal local fruits, typically not sold in the North American grocery stores. TIPPING - Tipping is not mandatory but is encouraged. People customarily tip between 10-20%, depending on the service. Keep in mind, when paying at some resorts & hotel restaurants, they may charge an additional 10% as service charge. If you tip on top of this (say 15%), then in reality you are leaving a 25% tip. So check your bill out before calculating your tip. Tour guides are generally are tipped 15% off the rate per person for your tour. There is no need to tip taxi drivers, there fare is inclusive, and they are not expecting you to tip them.
Who in Belize expects a tip - Most Belizeans who offer tourists a service, whether it be handling hotel or airport luggage, restaurants, bartenders and tour guides. This has been an industry standard for years. These people are often paid less per hour, because they do receive tips as their main source of income. This practice was started years ago, to give the service provider an incentive for offering great service. Bear in mind, that many Belizeans support their family on their tip income. So be kind, be generous and reward good service when you receive it.
Who in Belize doesn’t expect a tip - Belizean taxi drivers, street-food sellers, and art and craft vendors don’t expect a tip. Contrary to the USA or Canada, taxi drivers work for themselves and make a decent living. Be sure to collect business cards and telephone numbers. Chances are, you'll need a taxi more than once while you're in Belize.
How much to tip in Belize - Typically, tourists in Belize tip 10% to 20% on average, with 20% being for exceptional service.
Do I have to tip in Belize - Tipping is not mandatory in Belize, it's just considered the right thing to do. Tipping is how many families in Belize support themselves.
Best way tip when in Belize - Cash tips are always preferred, but if you can tip with a credit card as well. Cash tips are better, because credit card companies typically charge a fee for their service, which gets passed on down to the employee. Some hotel and restaurant do not pass on the entire tip to their staff, so if you want to make sure someone gets rewarded for good service, give them a cash tip.
CRIME - Tourism forms the biggest part of the local economy, and most tourist spots are very safe. Nonetheless, it is wise to always be vigilant against petty thefts and pickpocketing. Organized crime has gained a foothold in this otherwise laid-back country, particularly strong in Belize City, where violent crime has recently seen an upsurge. When traveling to Belize, it is recommended that you stay in groups, monitor your belongings at all times, and always carry a copy of your passport with you. One word of caution, do not bring locals you have just met back to your room. This sets up a perfect opportunity for you to be robbed, so do your drinking away and partying away from your room. DRIVING WITHIN BELIZE - Visitors can legally drive in Belize with an international driver’s license and a passport. Be sure to have your drivers license and a copy of your passport on you at all times, Belize is know for the random check-points. BUGS & CRITTERS - There are plenty of bugs & insects in Belize, bring some bug spray with you in your packed luggage, as stores tend to charge a premium for these items. You'll want to keep this spray handy when going out - whether to the beach or in the jungle. If you find yourself with a number of red dots on your legs, these are from "no-see-ums". They are a tiny little sand flea, hardly seen with the naked eye. Simply rub your legs down with baby oil, and enjoy the beach. What your doing, is turning your leg into a human fly strip. The oil prevents them from biting you, and places a layer of protections between your skin and the bug. SUNSCREEN - Belize is fairly close to the equator, so temperatures can be a bit hot at time and since most of our days are sunny with a few clouds rolling by, sunscreen is necessary. Bring an extra bottle or two with you in your packed luggage, as stores tend to charge a premium for these items.
Culture and Customs in Belize Before becoming an overseas British colony, the land now known as Belize was the heartland of the Ancient Mayan Empire. Functioning as an important trade route for goods and valuable resources between what is now Guatemala and Mexico during the Classic Period of the Mayan Empire (roughly A.D. 250 to 950), Belize was also an important religious center as well. Visitors to Belize can explore more than 1,400 different known Mayan religious, ceremonial, and urban sites. In the early part of the 17th century, Belize came under the jurisdiction of the British Empire, which is why English is the official language of this Central American country. The British established numerous sugar plantations, bringing in Creole peoples and the Garifuna from nearby Caribbean islands. Officially known as “British Honduras” until 1981, today Belize is a rich blend of different cultures and traditions. With approximately 350,000 residents, Belize is home to over a dozen distinct cultures. The largest ethnic group in the country are known as Mestizos (Spanish for “mixed”), descended from European and Mayan ancestors. The second largest population group are the Creoles, forming about a quarter of the population, descended from peoples originally from other locations in the Caribbean. Other ethnic groups in Belize include the descendants of the Maya, including peoples of the Yucatec, Mopan, and Ketchi tribes. Also present are the Garifuna, who arrived in Belize just over 100 years ago, a mix of African emigrants who escaped persecuting in nearby Caribbean islands. Other ethnic groups found in Belize include British, German, East Indian, Spanish, and people of Mexican descent.