8 Things I Learned About Belize

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I seem to have acquired a new trend to my travels — I head to a new country that I've heard good things about and seen some pretty photos of, but don't actually know that much about. I go in without expectations, having done little to no research, and simply open myself up to whatever happens.

So far, this has actually been a surprisingly good approach to traveling. It has left me pleasantly surprised in places like Romania and Bulgaria; in Iceland and Slovenia. I've made some great memories, and learned a few things along the way.

Most recently, I approached a trip to Belize and Guatemala in this way. I had heard rave reviews of Belize, but didn't actually know much about the Central American nation at all.

Belize bus station

As it turns out, Belize is pretty darn interesting, despite being tiny. Here are some things I learned about the country:

8 fun facts you might not know about Belize

Ties to Britain

Belize is the only nation in the region with a British colonial heritage. The Spanish conquistadors originally explored Belize and claimed it for Spain, but they decided not to settle it because of a lack of resources.

Eventually they handed the colony over to the British, who first appointed a superintendent over the Belize area in the 1780s and formally declared it a British colony in 1854, calling it British Honduras.

Belize was granted independence from Britain in 1964, and became “Belize” in 1973. However, according to the CIA World Factbook, border disputes between the UK and Guatemala delayed Belize's actual independence until 1981. Today, it is still a Commonwealth country.

Curiously (to me, at least), they do NOT drive on the opposite side of the road in Belize. I had expected them to, since their ties to the UK are so strong and so recent. But they don't.

The prevalence of English

Perhaps because of its ties to the British Empire, the official language in Belize is not Spanish, but English. Nearly everyone in the country speaks it, which is almost odd since it is completely the opposite if you cross the border into neighboring Guatemala or Mexico. However, most Belizeans speak English as a second language, with Spanish and Kriol (Belizean Creole) being more prevalent.

Belize

Caribbean vibe

Even though Belize is situated firmly in Central America, the country has a distinctly Caribbean vibe to it. Perhaps it's because of the English influence, or the fact that Belize is on the Caribbean Sea. Or perhaps it's neither of those reasons.

Regardless, Belize felt less to me like a Latin country, and much more like a Caribbean one (especially out on Caye Caulker, where the Rasta culture is alive and well).

Mayan history

Before the Brits (or any Europeans, for that matter) came in, Belize's main population was the Maya. Even though most people associate the Maya with Mexico, the civilization actually extended through Belize, Guatemala, and even Honduras at its height.

The largest Maya city in Belize was Caracol (which you can still visit today), and it's estimated that, at one point, up to 400,000 Mayas lived in the area that is now Belize.

Cahal Pech Maya ruins, Belize
Ruins at Cahal Pech

Small population and size

Believe it or not, there are actually less people in Belize today than there were in the Pre-Columbian Maya days. There are only a little over 300,000 inhabitants in Belize these days, giving it one of the lowest population densities in Central America.

The country of Belize itself is small, though — it's not much larger size-wise than the U.S. state of Massachusetts.

Belize Barrier Reef

Off the coast of Belize lies part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which stretches from the upper Yucatan peninsula all the way down to Honduras, making it the second-largest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Because of how close the reef is to the coast of Belize, it is easily the country's top tourist attraction, popular with both snorkelers and divers. (Go on a snorkeling and sailing tour with Ragamuffin Tours – they're great!)

Belize Barrier Reef

Exchange rate

The exchange rate in Belize is $2 Belizean dollars to every $1 USD. It has been this way for decades, and will probably remain this way for decades more. Most places in the country will accept either Belizean or American money.

The dark side

I'd be remiss talking about Belize if I only focused on the good or safe facts. Like any country, Belize has its issues. Issues like poverty and bad roads and violence that cannot be glossed over.

Belize currently has a heavy foreign debt burden, high unemployment, and a massive income disparity between the rich and the poor (more than 40% of Belizeans currently live in poverty). The country also has a high rate of HIV/AIDS, growing involvement in the Mexican and South American drug trade, and gang violence in cities like Belize City.

I'm not sharing this to scare you off of visiting Belize; I'm just simply pointing it out because you DO see evidence of most of this while traveling here. The roads are mostly unpaved, there are many run-down houses and huts, you are not advised to drink the water, and Belize City is certainly not a place I would ever want to go walking around in on my own.

However, the positive things about the country — the friendly people, the beautiful landscapes, the interesting history, the uncrowded destinations — more than make up for Belize's shortcomings.

Belize jungle

Overall, my experience in Belize was an extremely positive one. I learned all of these things about the country, plus one more:

I also learned that Belize is definitely a place I want to go back to.

Tips for planning your trip to Belize

I went to Belize on a tour with Intrepid Travel, but it's absolutely a Central American destination you can visit on your own.

How to get to Belize

Belize is a fairly short flight from most US destinations; all the major airlines fly to Belize City

Where to stay in Belize

I would recommend spending some time on the mainland in San Ignacio (near Mayan ruins and some cool adventure activities), and then heading out to the Cayes – Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye are the two most popular.

Hotels to check out include:

  • Ka'ana Resort in San Ignacio – One of the best hotels in the city (and maybe in all of Belize), this eco resort can help you book all sorts of adventurous activities.
  • Island Magic Beach Resort on Caye Caulker – This property is “beachfront” (really, waterfront as Caye Caulker doesn't have many actual beaches), and has a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor.
  • The Phoenix Resort in San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) – This is the #1 hotel in San Pedro. It's located in town, but gives you the feel of staying at a secluded beachfront resort.
Caye Caulker, Belize
Caye Caulker

Cool tours to take in Belize

Here are some fun day tours to check out:

More essential info

Have you been to or would you like to go to Belize?

 

*Note: I explored Belize as part of a complimentary “Land of Belize” trip with Intrepid Travel. As always, though, all opinions are my own.

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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65 Comments on “8 Things I Learned About Belize

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  1. It’s been a big dream of mine, and one of the first points on my Bucket List, to go to Belize. Sounds just as exciting as I’d imagine it!

    Plus, what you say in the very beginning – for the last 3 years I’ve been traveling without usually as much as even looking at a guidebook, let alone getting it for myself or following it along the road. Not having expectations is the best thing we can do, not only while traveling but in life in general.

      Well I really hope you make it there soon! It sounds like you would enjoy it.

    It’s only been recently (since you started writing the blog posts about Belize) that I’ve actually wanted to go. I’d never really given it much thought before. But now, Caye Caulker is one of the top things I want to do in the whole world! It looks so sunny and quiet 🙂 Belize is DEFINITELY a place I want to go to!

      Thanks awesome to hear, Rebecca! Caye Caulker is so awesome – well worth being on your travel wish list!

    I always find some new info in your posts, Amanda 🙂 I would, definitely, learn Spanish before going to Belize 🙂 and driving on the right side… that’s awesome! Would love to visit Mayan Caracol one day.

      The great thing about Belize is that you DON’T need to learn Spanish! Everyone speaks very good English.

        Of course they speak very good English. They are an ex-British colony. It’s on par with saying Canadians, Americans, Australians etc. Speak pretty good English. Different accents don’t make for better or worst English.

          But with Belize being located in Central America, someone traveling there without much knowledge of their colonial past wouldn’t expect to find English as everyone’s first language. It’s a fact not everyone knows!

    Good to see Belize getting some blog love – it’s one of those places that doesn’t seem to get mentioned much. Can’t wait to get out there myself this time next year, I’m going to be doing a few weeks on a backpacking honeymoon around the country. Helpful to know my terrible Spanish won’t be a problem too!

      That sounds like an awesome honeymoon, Lucy! I would definitely consider Belize a great, little-known honeymoon destination. Such diversity in a small area!

    My mom’s friend has a property on Ambergris Caye and the pictures she always shows looks fantastic. I knew a few of these, but I didn’t know Belize’s population was so low. That kind of surprised me.

      Oh man, what I would give for a holiday home in Belize!! That must be lovely.

    I’m in Caye Caulker right now! 3rd time in the last 12 months!

    Very interesting post. Learned a lot here. Darn, I realize I sound SO general here, but I mean it! I must admit I knew nothing about Belize except that it existed.
    I must say it looks ‘nice’, but it doesn’t make me go: “I want to go NOOOOOOW!”.

      I feel like most people don’t know very much about Belize. (In fact, my grandma DIDN’T even know that it existed, and didn’t believe me that it was a real place! She requested a postcard as proof. Haha.)

      And, as for making you want to go there right now, check out my post on Caye Caulker. 😉 That might convince you!

    really appreciate this article and the honesty in it. I had never heard of this place before but Its a place I would now love to go to. Its interesting to think you can see evidence of the bad parts of the country, yet the reef looks so beautiful!

      Belize is like any other country, really. It has its shortcomings and failings, but there are a lot of great things about it, too!

      And yes, the reef is amazing!

    Fantastic post! I spent a couple months doing research in Belize last year and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. The people were kind (I was even able to stay with a Mayan family in their house for a while), the Mayan sites were amazing, and the reef was absolutely stunning. Belize is definitely not for those accustomed to “package tours” (unless you head to Ambergris Caye), but the reward is definitely worth it. I do agree on the “roughness” of some parts of the country (I needed an armed escort for some areas I needed to head to), but for the majority of the time I felt safe and welcomed. From wading through Actun Tunichil Muknal to see crystallized skeletal remains of ancient Mayan sacrifices to diving and snorkeling with Whale Sharks near Placencia, Belize is definitely a place worth the visit. Again, great post and safe travels.

      Thanks, Travis! I’m glad to hear that your experiences in Belize were similar to mine!

    I enjoyed Belize for it’s compactness and easy communications as well. It takes awhile to get used to armed guards and violence when travelling through Central America, but I never felt unsafe in Belize, despite being quasi-kidnapped one night.
    As with most countries in Central, just skip over their capital city, and your impression will likely be more positive!

      Good tip on the skipping the capital cities part. I think I would probably agree with that!

      But, like you, I never found myself feeling unsafe in Belize.

    I’ve been to Belize before, and, like the locals say “You gotta SEEZ it to BELIZE it!” 😉

    To be honest, the main thing I had heard about Belize was its reputation (among Central American countries) as a country that is not welcoming to same-sex couples, and apparently (at least according to Wikipedia), there is a “heavy penalty” for homosexual acts. I know there are plenty of countries where it’s apparently a lot worse (Saudi Arabia and its death penalty comes to mind), but considering that Mexico has marriage equality in some states, and that Belize’s other neighbours don’t seem too bothered about the matter, I never considered visiting if/when we travel in that region. However, you’ve painted a very nice image of the country, so we may have to reconsider!

      I had not heard anything about a lack of tolerance for homosexuality in Belize, and I didn’t personally see any evidence of it while I was there. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not there, of course. Interesting! Now I want to know more.

      That was true 5 years ago Sam, but the law has now changed in the interest of human rights. Just for clarity, homosexuality was not illegal. It was ‘buggery’, according to an archaic English law.

        Don’t worry about gender, spent time in Belize and the quays, it’s beautiful and better and cheaper then the Caribbean islands. Just steer clear of the gangs like MS13 and the George street gang in Belize city. They r all into drug trafficking + people trafficking.

    A friend of mine owns a wonderful yoga studio that does retreats every year, and they did one in Belize a couple of years ago. The photos and stories made me really want to go there, and I like the fact that it’s not far from the U.S. (compared to Brazil, for example). Thank you for the comprehensive information!

      Definitely not far from the U.S. in comparison to a lot of other destinations!

    I read this http://www.belizenorth.com/expats.htm who is a real travel consultant, and an expat and wondered why your description is so different. I’ve done a lot of research on Belize and most of it is like this ex-pats. Are you real? or are you just an SEO plant?

      I’m not sure what your question really is, Amelia? I am very real, and I didn’t really write anything about living as an expat in Belize (since I only have experience visiting as a tourist). So not really sure what you’re comparing?

      I was in Belize in May-June this year and loved it. Sure there were moments of aarrgghhh… but all in all – I am on my way back right now! The post you mentioned is written as seen through the eyes of someone who is LIVING in the country. Besides many of her points reminded me a small child whining… Things are different in different countries – that’s just the way it is. Banks can be terribly irritating in Norway too and so on. The easiest way to enjoy living in another country is to learn to take it easy and to accept a few things. I have lived abroad for more than 10 years so I know what I am talking about 😉 Caye Caulker, here I am again – already tomorrow!

      It’s nice to read all the comments I was born and raised in Belize lived in Canada for the past 14 years we move back to Belize a year ago. And so far have no plans of leaving there so many different things to do it’s a perfect place to visit perfect place to raise a family I can’t imagine dragging my kids anywhere else. Just stay away from Belize city

        Haha, I like that even you advise avoiding Belize City… It’s definitely not a very nice place. But the rest of Belize (at least, what I’ve seen of it) is lovely!

    I love all of your posts! I’m a smalltown Ohio girl myself, and I think it is wonderful you are able to travel the way you do! Thank you for your take on Belize. 🙂

    Thanks for this, because I’ve been thinking of doing Belize after Ecuador in 2016, so it’s good to know the good AND the bad. So few people could even answer my questions about it! I really want to dive there, badly, and the fact you could take the photo from the surface makes me so excited to swim there!!! 🙂

      I’ve been told that there’s some great diving in Belize! I’m not a diver, though, so I can’t speak from experience. But the snorkeling was pretty darn great!

    This post is from a few years ago, but I’ve been reading through your website and just came across it. I lived in Belize City for 3 months in 2010 while doing an internship at the Belize Audubon Society (a great NGO focused on environmental preservation – not just birds like you might think!). I saw you and a few of your readers commented that Belize City is not safe, and while I would not recommend walking around by yourself at night, I never had a problem walking around by myself during the day (and I don’t consider myself a very adventurous traveler!). I would strongly recommend sticking to the north side of the city though – my host father said the south side is much less safe. There definitely is some violence and gang activity in the city, but it was not focused on travelers, at least in my experience.

    Also, Caye Caulker is the best! We went there many times for the weekend and it is so relaxing and beautiful. I miss Belize!

      Im not sure which part of the city I was staying in, but I definitely felt a bit wary and definitely would not have wandered out on my own after dark! But the rest of the country was great! 🙂

    Hi,I have been to Belize 6 times in the last 7 years and 8 times total.There is a warm spot in my heart for the country and her people.I have been to Xunantunich,Laminai,Cahal Pech,Altun Ha,Characol,Lubantuun.Lim Ni Punit,Mayflower and into Guatamala to Tikal.The caves have been in ATM,Tiger cave, Blue creek cave,Crystal cave ,St Hermans cave,Barton Creek cave,did the 7 mile Cave river tubing,Black hole drop trip and recently last feb. hiked 7 miles in and went into a newly discovered cave that had no name yet.I’m an avid snorkeller and spent time in the Snake Cayes,Sapadilla Cayes and have been to Hol Chan Marine reserve 13 times.Caye Cauker is nice but there are better places to visit.My last trip in Feb 2015 I spent some time in BZ I stayed at the Ramada Princess which was nice while waiting to go to Long Caye for a week out on lighthouse reef atoll(Which if your a diver or snorkeler I highly recommend).I had a unique experience at having a local taxi take my around the city for a most a day and it was great.I went to the museum which is small but very nice,the Garafuna museum which is in someones house and I had questions about the Caribe people who where driven from St, Vincent and the Grenedines to Central America and had a nice talk with the caretaker.He drove me around we ended up breaking down we were rescued by his friends an ended up partying with his friends. What I got out of it was while they may live in a “dump” they were seemingly happy.There are bad places no matter where you go and one must expect the unexpected but I had no problems in BZ.If they would invest money to fix the areas where the cruise ships come in,there is a delapidated art museum with a theatre would help the area.The one thing I would say you missed was the Toledo district is considered to be the “real Belize” and should not be missed.Sorry about the long blog but I’m looking to buy land there and came across your blog.

      It’s a country that managed to capture a little piece of my heart, even though I was only there for about a week. Can’t wait to go back!

    This is the first positive thing I’ve read about Belize. All I keep finding are really scary looking things. I’m planning a solo trip around Central America so really wanted to know whether I could include Belize in it. This at least makes it seem a little more possible.

      I wouldn’t personally want to spend much time in Belize City, but the rest of the country is pretty awesome – especially the Cayes!

    Shouldn’t you write about subjects that you know well? It’s rather pointless to publish an article that basically says, “This is what I know from a couple of visits.” The internet is full of half-truths and opinions from “bloggers.” Honestly, it’s laughable, that your best laid plan was to sit on your butt and type mediocre shallow swill, hoping to attract advertisers. Come on, you are an adult, do something notable with your life.

      A blog is generally a personal recounting on a subject. That’s literally what blogs are. This travel blog is all about my personal experiences traveling the world. I can only write about what I experience, and how I interpret those experiences. If you don’t like what you find here, you certainly don’t have to read my blog. And as for your “you are an adult” comment – yes, I am. And I make more money as a blogger than I did when working full-time at a “real” office job, thanks very much. But, then again, you’re clearly doing something more notable by leaving comments like this on travel blogs. 🙂

        It’s inspiring to see you taking so much pride in your underachievment. This blank space is like your life.

          I was going to delete this one, because I usually don’t allow trolls to live on my website. But it makes me chuckle, so I’m going to leave it. I’ve built this site from the ground up, and will be pulling in a 6-figure salary from it this year. But yeah, you’re right, I’m clearly underachieving.

      Grow up Steve. If you had half the cojones this woman has you would do something of note yourself. Stop whining about others and get a real spine.

    While most of your observations are dead on, several are off or vague.. 1. EVERYONE speaks English as a first language. It is taught in schools, and the official language of Belize. Secondary is Kriol which most people speak, and Spanish, which is also taught in schools. Persons you may have encountered not speaking it are most likely recent Central American immigrants.
    2. The reason for the Caribbean vibe is because it shares the same colonial history as other British colonies in the Caribbean. It identifies itself as a Caribbean nation, and not Latinoamerica. 3.While you are right about the violence in Bze City, very few streets are UNPAVED. And contrary to Mexico the rest of Central America or some US states, Bzean tap water is one of the safest in the world. Perhaps you were advised not to drink the water because it is not quite tasty , except for Dangriga, the city known for its delicious tasting water. 4. The huts you mention are not to be found in cities or towns, only in Mayan villages which are mostly in the deep south of Belize. The shacks in the city are mostly confined to a small area in the Southside of the city, an extremely small proportion of the rest of the city or district, for that fact.

    I’m from Ireland I am trying to get as much information to travel to Belize flights hotel accommodation and to be safe I’m traveling alone thanks Bob

      Hi Bob. I do have some Belize content on my site, but not a whole lot relating to planning a trip, I’m afraid. I will say that my favorite places (and the places where I felt the safest) were San Ignacio on the mainland, and then on the islands like Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye.

    I’ve been to Belize we took a cruise there, I took a tour out into the city I want to see what it is like because of post like yours, I thought there would be a lot of interesting things to see. But It is not a safe place. Most of the people live in poverty, and they will rob you if you are not careful. I live in blue Springs Missouri where the bus driver fromHere retired . In Belize. She Worked hard for years as a bus driver and saved all her money. She decided to retire in Belize. Four teenagers broke into her house robbed her, and hit her in the head. Then they stole her car and her ,they drove away with her and threw her off of a bridge. our town is trying to wrap ther head around why someone would do this to such a nice person . Our whole Community has come together to help bring her home. So before you think that you can retire in Belize and live a happy life you better check it out a lot better. When people are desperate and starving and living in poverty they are prone to do whatever they can to survive that’s the case in Belize

      I think it’s important to do your research before going to Belize. Belize City is not the nicest city. But there are other parts of the country that ARE beautiful and safe. It actually really annoys me that cruise ships call in to Belize City, as I think it’s the worst place to be introduced to Belize!

    Im heading to belize the 2nd week of october visiting or staying at blackorchid resort need to no what to do where to eat and shop because its my wifes birthday for 3 nights and 4 days.

      Sorry, Darryl, but I have never stayed there or near there, so I’m afraid I don’t have any tips for you!

    Hello there

    A 9th thing to know about Belize: it is located in North America, not Central America.

    Good to know!
    Thanks for the article

      No, Belize is most decidedly in Central America. North America is the continent it’s a part of, but Central America is a widely accepted way to describe the region between Mexico and the north part of South America (which is where you’ll find Belize). So it’s in both, just like Minnesota is in both the Midwest and the United States, or how Croatia is in Europe and also in a region known as The Balkans.

    Good Job accurate description of Belize
    Thanks for sharing good and bad
    It’s all about using common sense when traveling I was born and raised in Belize now living in Florida.
    With all the problems of Belize I have hopes one day Our Jewels will be back in harmony. With everything as you said the people are friendly .
    I still visit once a year.

    Hello, to all.I lived in Belize for at least 12 years,with my twin daughters,Remy and Dillion. It is still very beautiful but very unlike the Belize I knew in the late 60’s and seventys! I was also there for Independence Day ! I left after my children would have to go to school in Belize City, the school on Cayo Caulker only goes up to 6th form, hard decision,because the Cayo had become our home. I always go back to visit, but for me it is very hard to see how Cayo Caulker has changed. When we lived there there was no electric,and had to draw water from the wells to wash …it was real living ! Don’t let me deter anyone from visiting my day’s there are still in my heart because of all the wonderful Belizian friends and those I still consider my family. So if you do go,please look up the Novello Family, Angellica Mom,at Ediths Hotel, Frenchy, Jim,Edith,NicknameChicken Boy,and more ! The children all have hotels on the island and are great honest people. Also I wanted people to know that Gales Point is a wonderful place to visit as are the Mayan Mt’s! on more thing,Belize is not the capital, it is Belmopan,where you can visit the indland Blue Hole!

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