Travel in Belize
We chose to visit Belize for a short trip in 2016. We flew out of Denver and into Belize City, where we went straight to the pier to catch a ferry to Caye Caulker for Lobster Fest 2016. We went back to the mainland and visited Hopkins and Placencia before going to Dangriga and taking a boat out to a really small caye called Tobacco Caye. When we returned we spent a few nights at the Maya Village Jaguar Reserve before going to San Ignacio to see the Caracol ruins. The whole country is easily navigated by bus. The only cab we had to take the entire time was to and from the airport in Belize City. We only spent two weeks in Belize, but I can’t wait to go back. There is a rich and diverse culture in Belize. Depending on where you visit, you will hear as many as four different languages being spoken. English is the language of choice for most people. Not many people speak Spanish, unless they are from Guatemala. You will most often hear people speaking Creole, especially in the beach towns, otherwise it’s Garifuna.
The Cost of Travel in Belize
- Currency: The Belize Dollar
- Exchange Rate: $1 US Dollar = $2 BZD
- Hotel/Private hostel room = $25-$30 usd
- Food & Drink
- The local beer is called Belikin. The bottles with blue caps are actually Stouts, which the locals seem to like the best, as well is Guinness. The other ones are Lagers. They cost $8 usd for a 6-pack
- BBQ chicken and pork are super popular too. You can find a great BBQ place just by smelling your way down a street. A meal here will cost you anywhere from $6-$10 usd depending on where you are.
- The rum is so good and cheap in Belize. The bottles with pictures of different Belize scenery are suspiciously cheap, but they are so good! You can buy a 750 ml bottle for around $3 usd.
- Panty Droppers, Panty Raiders, Panty Invaders, Panty Destroyers, etc., etc., = Coconut Rum + Pineapple juice. You can find them on hapy hour in a lot of beach bars for only a dollar or two.
- Lobster is great when it’s in season. We went to Lobsterfest 2016 in Caye Caulker. The lobsters we ate cost $8 for a whole one.
- Boil up-Potato, fish, yucca, etc. all boiled together in a big pot and served over rice. A nice boil up is always close by, usually being served off of someone’s front porch by an old lady for just a few dollars.
Note: Food and other consumer goods are basically the same price as in the west.
Tips for Traveling in Belize
- Try to eat at little hole in the wall places for authentic food. Usually, you will see just some tables in a yard and you can just go ask for “a lunch” and be surprised at whatever it is. There’s a dish called a “Boil Up” where they boil fish and potato and corn and stuff in a big pot. Don’t be shy about the hot sauce either.
- Habanero is super popular and its usually just cut up fresh and placed in a jar with vinegar for use with every meal.
- Like most anywhere in Latin American and the Caribbean, there is a deposit on the glass beer bottles. So save them and bring them back to where you bought them and your next round will be cheaper.
- Hitchhiking is perfectly acceptable
- People really are nice and genuinely just trying to hep you. I typically don’t trust white people though, and Belize is no exception.
Things to do in Belize
- Tobacco Caye is a secret gem of an island, but I’m sure it will be spoiled quickly. There are only about 20 permanent residents on the island which is on a coral reef where you can see all sorts of sea-life. Snorkeling is about the only activity on the island. Otherwise, it is just relaxing in the sun and drinking rum. There is no food on the island though, so bring your own.
- The Caracol ruins are a must see if you are visiting the jungle. The tallest building in the country was actually an ancient temple until recently. There are a number of tours that take you here from San Ignacio and they make several other cool stops along the way.
- The Jaguar Reserve is located in the Maya Village. It is a great experience and full of hiking trails and waterfalls. You can rent a tube for $5 and take it down the river for a lazy 1 hr long ride through the jungle. You probably won’t spot a jaguar but there is other wildlife to be seen. There is no food in the village though, so bring your own.
- Caye Caulker is the main stop for most people who travel to Belize. The island has the potential to be a big party on the weekends, but during the week everyone is too lazy to do much more than fish and swim.
- Shark Ray Alley is a big attraction that is accessed via Caye Caulker. Here you can swim with rays and reef sharks and check out the Belize Barrier Reef where there is some really good snorkeling and diving.
A little slice of island paradise, this Caye is definitely one of the most popular spots in Belize, but it is a great mix of travelers and locals. There are not resorts there, just rental houses and hostels. Definitely get some fresh lobster from a restaurant and cool off by the docs where the island is split in two. You can walk the trail all around the island as well (ignore anyone that says you can’t.)
*Tip: Don’t stay at the Dirt McNasty Hostel. They are a bunch of rich, white, pricks from the South in the U.S. and don’t deserve your business. Give your dollars to a local hostel instead, that way your money stays on the island or at least in the country.
Hopkins is a fun and relaxing little town. I don’t think we ran into any other travelers while we were there. There is a cool bar with good fry fish by the docs right when you come into town. Otherwise, walking down the length of the dirt roads will lead you to several great BBQ restaurants. We stayed at the Abacus Cabanas at the end of town. The owner is super nice and helpful. She picked us up hitchhiking into town and told us about her hotel, which happened to be the best deal in town anyways. Find some trees that are close together and tie up your hammock for a relaxing afternoon.
Take a bus that runs from Hopkins to Placencia or the other way around and ask to get off at the Maya Village. Most people probably have rental cars to get to the reserve, but we walked from the bus stop. It was about a 2-3 hr walk, so make sure you have some shoes you like and a pancho or something to protect your bag from the rain. You can hitch hike if you see a car, but we didn’t… MAKE SURE TO BRING FOOD IF YOU PLAN ON SPENDING THE NIGHT. They have a kitchen there, but there is no food to purchase so you will starve if you don’t bring something. There are so many great trails to walk on and spot wild life. All of the trails are pretty short too, so you can easily fit in several hikes in a day. We spent a whole day just going up and down all of the different trails. The next day we rented tubes ($5/each) and went tubing down the river. It was super calm and relaxing and seriously the longest I’ve ever gone tubing without having to get out and walk. Just make sure you get out before the waterfall and watch out for snakes.
Placencia is a quiet little beach town. There are cool little pathways around the town and plenty of little spots to sit in the sun. There are a few restaurants in town that cater towards tourists more, but some of them have cheap happy hours if you want to drink some panty droppers and a few beers. There’s a little shack off the main road you come in on where two sisters make real good burritos and stuff for cheap. I think it might even be called Two Sisters or something like that. They speak Spanish. The doc is a great place to watch the sunset and there is a cool bar there that a lot of locals hangout at at night. They serve good fry fish and fry chicken.
I don’t even know what to say about this Caye. We just saw it on a map and went down to the docks in Dangriga to ask about a boat there. They said we were in luck because one was going that day. We waited about 4 hours for it and then got to go. It was about an hour ride in a boat and when we arrived it was basically Gilligan’s island and the coolest thing ever. The island is literally located on a reef and is home to about 20 people. There are a few rental houses and one Swedish guy runs some kind of scammy all-inclusive vacation package off on one whole side of the island. There are only 2 reasonable places to stay though as a backpacker. You can stay with a lady named Margaret, who will include meals with your room ($25/night) or you can stay with _______ who doesn’t cook for you, but is a real nice guy and has a nice place. However, he’s not always there. Once again, bring some food with you if you don’t want to starve. No one told us that there weren’t restaurants or anything to buy on the island, but luckily we had brought several cans of sardines and a gigantic bottle of rum…. You can snorkel with rays and everything else you can imagine right off of the docks. This was honestly the high point of our entire visit.
San Ignacio (Caracol)
The town of San Ignacio is the hub for tours going to all of the different ruins in the jungles. You can negotiate the price of your tour a little if you are good at haggling. There are hostels in this town, but there are also “hotels” that are super gnarly and cheap. My favorite. The door frame in our room was mangled to bits from the door being kicked down so many times. There are some really cool free ruins you can get to with a bus and a hike. You can easily spy on some monkeys in the trees around these areas. My advice is to go ahead and bite the bullet and price out the best tour to go see Caracol and anything else you want, because it is totally worth it. Caracol was amazing and has some of the largest ruins in Central America. Our tour took us to a cave and to a swimming spot as well as to Caracol for most of the day. They provided lunch and a milk jug filled with jungle juice.
There’s really no reason anyone should ever go to Dangriga. There’s a guy named Charlie that hangs out by the docks. He can help you get a boat to some of the cayes. He also tried to hit a guy with a beer bottle who tried to sell us some shit mangos…so I wouldn’t cross him.