Central America doesn’t get that many tourists compared to the nearby Caribbean. Belize nestled on the eastern coast just below Mexico makes the exception. Not only can you find luxurious Belize homes for rent but there are endless opportunities to soak up culture, enjoy the natural beauty and snorkel in some of the best waters on Earth. Before you get online to book your flight and pack the suitcase, check out the following things every tourist should know before visiting Belize.
People Speak English
The most important thing to know about Belize is that, unlike the rest of Central America, English is the official language. While most of the locals tend to have Spanish as their second language, every tourist will be able to communicate without any problems when they arrive. You have the opportunity to get to know the Belizeans, have a more convenient travel experience and reduced chances of getting scammed.
Belize Isn’t as Dangerous as the Media Says
Yes, Belize does have a notoriously high crime rate. And yes, the capital often ranks in the world’s top five for the number of homicides. But if you dig a little below the scary statistics it’s easy to see that most of the violent crime is related to drugs, gangs or both. As long as you avoid spending too much time in Belize City, it’s highly unlikely anything will happen. And even if you do want to explore the capital city, just make sure you don’t wander into the wrong neighbourhoods. The small towns and cayes are completely safe.
Travelling to Belize isn’t Cheap
It can be easy to assume that Belize would be an affordable place to travel. After all, Central America isn’t really known for having high prices. But you might be surprised. Some of the restaurants are on par with what you would expect to pay back at home. If you’re on one of the cayes, basic goods from the shops might be two or three times higher than the supermarkets in Belize City. Compared to the neighbouring Caribbean, however, Belize is a cheap destination.
Poverty is Everywhere
Despite the high cost of travel, the level of poverty in most of the country is striking. Outside of the resorts, the infrastructure is relatively poor and road conditions aren’t the best. It’s also quite likely that you’ll encounter beggars and several people trying to overcharge tourists. This is one of the reasons why some feel uncomfortable about travelling to Belize. But if you exercise reasonable caution and don’t flash expensive jewellery, you shouldn’t face any problems. Just expect to see a lower quality of life.
Expect to Spend Lots of Time in the Water
The waters off the coast of Belize are some of the best in the world for snorkelling and diving. Just below the surface, you’ll see hundreds of tropical fish swimming through the endless stretches of coral. The Belize Barrier Reef holds the title as the second largest in the world. The Great Blue Hole, a giant sinkhole, provides everything an adventurous diver could dream of exploring. Any tourist who travels to Belize should focus on experiencing the incredible array of marine life not far from the coast.
Belize uses the Belizean dollar. The local currency pegs to the US dollar as a rate of 2:1. Visitors can use both currencies throughout the country. While some places do accept credit cards, it’s not a good idea to rely on them all the time. Major hotels and upscale restaurants will have the facilities to pay with a credit card. But the machine may or may not be working and you can expect to pay a hefty fee on top of the price. If you have the option to pay in the local currency, you’re much more likely to get a better rate too. Those who pay in US dollar often end up paying significantly higher. You can find lots of money changers around the country.
Don’t Expect Everything to be on Time
Anyone who has visited the Caribbean will know the concept of Island Time. If you haven’t, it goes something like this: The starting time for something is at 9:00 am but the bus doesn’t show up until 9:45 am. Time is just an approximation in Belize. If someone wants to meet, they’re probably going to be late. This applies to pretty much everything from bus schedules or meeting friends and tour groups. You need to be patient and flexible when you’re in Belize.
Don’t Choose the First Tour Group
One of the highlights for many tourists is exploring more of the country by taking a tour. Some go around the Mayan ruins whereas others will hop between the different cayes. When you look at the price, everything seems to be in a similar range. But one tour compared to the next can be very different indeed. Each group might cater for a specific crowd from rowdy and boozy backpackers to a slower paced trip for the elderly. It pays to research the company and read recent reviews on TripAdvisor before committing to get an idea of what the tour will be like.
If you’re thinking about travelling to Belize, expect the unexpected and prepare yourself. The destination will be very different to what you’re familiar with elsewhere, and it may take a while to adapt. Just remember that the country isn’t as dangerous as the media makes out, to bring cash and to take advantage of the incredible marine life. Follow these suggestions and you’re almost certain to have a wonderful time in Belize.