I hear you want to go to Belize
Leave questions and I’ll update this post based on them!
So, hey friend/friend of friend/somebody’s sister-in-law, I hear you plan to go to Belize. I get why you want to! The largest living barrier reef with amazing sea life, Caribbean islands with that blend of Mexican-meet-Caribbean cuisine, the safety (really, only one corner of Belize city has crime, and the rest is safe) the gorgeous weather, blue skies, the fact they speak English (former British colony). The Belizean dollar conversion is 2:1 so it feels like the entire place half off.
And I get why you are asking me, after all I live there sometimes, in my little cabana in the jungle. Although I might remind you I mostly go there, drink beer, swim, look at the water, read a book a day and go home. So I do not know everything about Belize, this is just stuff I like.
Things to know
You fly into Belize City (BZE.) It is the international airport. There are some very tiny airports that you can fly into via puddle jumpers Tropic Air or Maya Air. It’s about $80 bucks to fly to Caye Caulker or San Pedro (the biggest town on Caye Ambergris) and takes 10 minutes. You go up, you go down.
The Belize Water Taxi is much cheaper, but much slower. I like it for getting ot the island, as I like the slow transition. A taxi from the airport to the water taxi is about 25 US and 30 minutes. You can ask the guy to stop at a grocery for beer. I can never wait to have my first Belekin, which is often followed by a second one or third while waiting for the water taxi. You officially can’t take it on the boat, so get a cup or keep it on the DL. There is another water taxi, Ocean Ferry, but I think the terminal is much yuckier, with no restaurants. And lets say I have safety questions around how many people they load on, after an alarming Easter one year. If you take my advice, take Belize Water Taxi.
I dislike San Perdro, and avoid it. It’s much more built up, lots of bars, restaurants and shops. It has cars as well as golf carts (you can easily rent the latter at a grocery store to get around.) I’ve gone over a few times, and even stayed there and <shrug> ain’t my scene.
I’m a Caye Caulker girl. But Caye Ambergris is Madonna’s “Isla Bonita” so your mileage may vary. I can only tell you what I like. Placencia is my second favorite spot. I have notes below on what to consider there.
If I have 7–10 days, I’d fly into BZE, head over to Caye Caulker, hang for a day or so just to chill and shake off any work vibes, take the 3 day boat trip to Hopkins via Ragamuffin (see below.)
Everyone uses Whatsap and Facebook, as a FYI. You can get a Belize Digi chip for your phone if you want, of if you already have T-Mobile you’re pretty much good to go. Wifi is pretty common: most restaurants, hotels and bars have it, but it won’t be fast.
High season is around Christmas through Easter. If you go during Spring break/Easter book ahead. Especially for Easter. Easter in Central America is a wild party with loud music and much drinking. I know, didn’t see that coming either, growing up in protestant Iowa. But it is a drinking holiday to the point some areas have banned the sale of liquor the Friday and/or Saturday before. Ask around in case you need to fill your fridge ahead of time. Elections also have a ban on selling alcohol, so that’s a thing to watch for too.
Summer is very hot, but the islands have great breezes. In January, it may actually be a bit cold to swim… it’s hard to predict. You can look up when rainy season happens (September-October?), but it’s so breezy that rains come and blow over so it doesn't slow me down much… also, I think snorkeling in the rain is fun. Climate change has made it hard to predict when it might rain… it’s rained way past the usual, so who knows.
American Thanksgiving is a pretty good time to go if you have it off. Weather is good, rain is just ending, water is warm and you might even hit Garifuna day. I go New Years, and sometimes I will sleep with a comforter! But days are gorgeous and perfect.
There are bugs. There is a jungle and a beach, so this should not come as a surprise. Eucalyptus oil works as well as Deet to keep off mosquitoes, a recent study shows. You can easily get the latter not the former in Belize, so pre-shop as you wish.
The bigger problem is sand fleas, or as I like to call it, ankle measles. These tiny invisible critters will eat you alive until you eventually get an immunity (it takes more than one trip).
All those cute restaurants on the beach with sand floors? View them suspiciously. Luckily, there is an easy fix: coat your body from foot to knee (or a bit higher) with oil. Any oil will do — baby oil, vitamin E oil, coconut oil — or really thick sun lotion. The tiny buggers can’t eat through it. You can also buy “it works” or “jungle oil” from various pharmacies, which adds various herbal bug repellents to the oil. But the oil does work. And your legs get really soft.
Other than that, Belize is a pretty civilized place and if you forget something you can probably get it or a reasonable proximate. They sell reef-safe sun lotion and most other things in the many little groceries.
The One Thing I Think You Should Do
No matter what, take one of the Ragamuffin boat rides, preferably the three-day one.
Being on a sailboat for three days will unstress the most stressed. And if you resist: rum punch! Ragamuffin keeps you well lubricated.
The boats often have a ton ofyoung people, but I’ve seen families as well, and the ragga captains are amazing at making sure everyone is taken care of. One young woman because sick (she had a chronic condition) and they had a little boat to whisk her off to Belize City in no time. In general, the fellows are always walking around, makign sure everyone is having a good time and behaving themselves.
Due to us adding Ragga Caye to our itinerary we have recently changed the structure of the tour to finish in Dangriga…
The first night of the three day is camping on Rendezvous island (tents etc provided.) I pack a hammock, and sleep the first night in that rather than the tents, which I don’t much care for. They get hot.
I find it nicer to hang a hammock on the palapas and sleep wrapped in a sheet (the wind can get chilly even in the hottest nights.) The second night, on the Raggamuffin island, I get a cabana. But I HATE camping. If you do not hate camping, I’m sure you’ll be fine.
This trip will be the best snorkeling you’ll do, as it’s not one of those hyper-guided tours full of people kicking you in the face with flippers. It’s also fun, social, you can fish if you want (you may find after a day, you want) spear-fish, learn a bit about sailing, and have a generally awesome time. Hey, I hate camping and am an introvert, and I love this.
Ragamuffin also has one day tours to Hol Chan, which is a must to visit. There are a number of great tour operators on Caye Caulker to choose, but I prefer Ragamuffin because I think sail boats are more pleasant, especially when the water is rough.
And the sunset tour is lovely.
The Rest, by Location
This is stuff I’ve done. There is a LOT of stuff I have not done, Like ATM cave, Altun Ha, Tikal (in Guatemala, actually, but just over the border) so don’t use this instead of a guide book, it’s just a supplement. A very opinionated supplement.
Around Belize City
Lamanai : It’s a Mayan Ruin you get to by boat. The boat ride is a blast with monkeys and crocodiles, and the ruin is terrific. Giant heads!
Climb a pyramid!
Belize Zoo: Yes, the zoo. It is a zoo worth visiting. “ The Belize Zoo was started in 1983, as a last ditch effort to provide a home for a collection of wild animals which had been used in making documentary films about tropical forests.” It’s all about the rescue there. You’ll see the wildlife that you can’t normally get close to. It’s small enough to be manageable at the start of your trip down the hummingbird highway. Schedule a guided tour, you might meet the founder!
This is my island. It is long and narrow. I have a little cabana on the north part, on the far side of the split. You can get from the south side to the north by the KoKo King Ferry.
The KoKo King is a tiny “resort” and has only true beach on the island. Sunday everyone is there, so go if you like crowds OR you want to meet people who actually live in Belize. Eating at Kokoking is usually fine, but eat early on Sunday, because it’s so busy they tend to have melt downs.
The split is the other well known sunning and swimming spot. The spit refers to a split in the island, which separates the developed south from the wilder north.
What to do on Caye Caulker? Very little, honestly. It’s a tiny tiny quiet island without cars (except for construction occasionally, but it’s mostly beach bikes and golf carts.) It’s a great place to do nothing. Or go snorkeling, then do nothing. Or go kayaking, then do nothing. Or paddle boarding, or jet skis… well, you can keep yourself busy if you must, although I prefer a hammock and a bekekin.
Restaurants change a lot, but I like Food Nation, Belizean Flavas, Errolyn’s House of Fry Jacks, and Paradiso. Rainbow has good shrimp quesadillas and Happy Lobster does too. Prices vary: the farther from the beach, the cheaper it gets. There is also a lot of street food from vendors walking around, from great banana bread ot the unique Belizean tamles.
If you are homesick, hit up Pasa Per Casa or Il Pelicano for Italian. The Dreaded Grape, when open, is the best bet for wine that hasn’t gone sideways from the heat, and lovely cheeses. Sometimes there is a farmers market in front of it, but I’ve never figured out when it is supposed to be there, except the one time I tripped over it.
Sports Bar has strangely terrific food, and nice people. It’s a expat gathering spot, if you are tempted to stay (if you are tempted to stay, visit my dear friend Anita. She’s a real estate lady who is really more of a house yenta, and doesn’t lie or hustle, just takes care of people. She literally will watch for years for your perfect spot.)
Hotels/guest houses also change a lot. I’m fond of Carolyn’s house, but there are a ton of new places that look good. I stay in my house, so I’m less useful, but do a quick Air B&B or VRBO search and you’ll find plenty.
Koko King now has rooms as well at their Weyu hotel. They are relatively new, and clean and fine though be warned that full moon parties are a thing at the Koko King, and they also have a pretty rousing New Years Eve…
My second favorite place in Belize after Caye Caulker! A four hour drive from Belize City will take you to Placencia, or you can grab a puddle hopper. I do love the drive, though, with it’s many stops along the Hummingbird Highway(see below.) I have two must-eats in Placencia: The Shak Beach Cafe for stuffed fry jacks for breakfast, and at least one fancy dinner at Rumfish y Vino. Other than that, there is plenty nice eats and little shops and you’ll be fine.
Stay anywhere on the sidewalk (a long board walk that goes through the main part of Placencia.) I’ve never stayed on the outskirts, but people have nice things to say about Maya Beach and Turtle Bay. I like to be “downtown.”
There are a ton of tours you can take from Placencia, including Silk Cayes and Laughing Bird Cayes with TERRIFIC snorkeling. If you see a Chocolate Making tour, it’s a must. We had the best time going into the jungle, eating traditional Maya foods and making chocolate the old fashioned way.
The Hummingbird Highway is well kept up, and you shouldn’t be afraid to drive it. It’s fun to see some of Belize life along the way.
Stop at the Blue Hole Cenote (not to be confused with the Blue hole) to cool off.
We ate leftover ribs from Birds Isle (see above, and yes, have the ribs) in an impromptu picnic, and swam in the icy waters and watched people ignore the do not jump sign.
There is a small cave as well that sometimes scuba folks come out of… it’s connected to one of the many underground rivers that riddle the Yucatan and Belize.
You also must stop at Marie Sharpe’s Hot sauce factory! It’s a woman owned, women run (mostly) factory that makes delicious jam, hot sauces and more. Take the very short tour, learn that people in Japan love Marie Sharpes and they have it in McDonalds there.
There is also a tamales palapa along the road and stop there and get some amazing Belizean style tamales. They are almost custardy. Do beware the bones, as they leave it in.
There is more to do along the way, such as a small maya ruin and a very large waterfall you can hike to the top of… plus the usual zip lining and cave tubing etc etc. I’ll leave it to you to do your research.
More Stuff I know about
Tabacco Caye: tiny tiny island ON the reef with $25 dollar cabanas above the water
I wish I knew more about this area. Maybe I’ll explore is more some day. I know it’s a place to get to places like Tobacco Caye. It’s very Belizean, still, and Garifuna day is a big deal here.
Try this rum. Put it in the freezer, and have it end of day neat or with a little ice like a lemoncello. Fill your luggage with it. Your friends will thank you.
You can buy all the usual suspects such as jewelry and hammocks, plus chocolate and coffee. Carved wood is a big thing.
OK, I’m not much of a shopper, except for rum and hammocks. I have too many hammocks.
I’ll leave you with a few more pictures.