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7 Tips and Tricks for Traveling to Belize
You’re off to Belize? Of course you are! Who wouldn’t want to experience a country with a Jaguar Preserve, Mayan ruins, fishing, snorkeling, or diving in crystal clear waters with one of the most amazing coral reefs in the world? There is an abundance of fresh seafood and fruit, and the Belizeans could not be friendlier. Did I mention Belize is also known for their coffee and chocolate? Well, since you’re going, here are the seven Belize “know before you go” travel tricks and tips, in addition to my Belize travel guide, so you get the most out of your trip to Belize.
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Belize "Know Before You Go" Travel Tips
1 - Arriving in Belize City
When flying to Belize you’re more than likely to go through the Philip Goldson International Airport (i.e., Belize City Airport), either as your final point of destination or to catch your connecting, local flight. Being a small airport (think Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California), Belize City is a breeze to navigate:
- The plane taxis right up to the airport building, basically. You can disembark from the front and back of the plane, directly onto the tarmac. Yep, just like Burbank.
- Then airport staff line you up in a single line outside against the wall where you meander through until you get to the passport collection window. Don’t worry, lines move quickly. I went during Easter weekend (a very popular time of year) and it took about 25 minutes from the airplane to getting my passport stamped – no issues. Yeah! Another stamp in the passport- such a good feeling.
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2 - Luggage Pick Up / Duty-Free
Once your passport’s stamped (I love that moment), you can get your luggage at the carousel, which is directly in front of you – no joke – or go to duty-free. I recommend packing for carry-on only unless you have large sporting equipment you must check on, such as scuba or fishing equipment. Otherwise, I don’t see lounging on the beach, snorkeling or going for hikes requiring a lot of clothing or personal items.
I brought my own snorkel equipment and dive essentials, less the fins, and still managed two carry-on bags. It’s not so much dealing with customs and baggage pick up going out of the U.S., it’s the coming back to the U.S. I find very time consuming. Still, if you check luggage, expect to get it quickly from the carousel.
Across from the baggage carousel, to your left, are the two duty-free shops – can’t miss them. I had read in advance the store at the farthest end had the best prices, and if you mention “San Pedro Scoop” sent you, you get a 15% discount. Prices are in US dollars. Alcohol is expensive in Belize so if you want to save money, stock up at duty-free. You may wish to consult how much you can bring into Belize before you fly.
Time saving tip after you have your luggage: if the “Nothing to Declare” line is a lot longer than the “Customs With Duty-Free” line – like it was when I was there – and you can’t afford the wait or just don’t like to stand in lines, spend $10 USD at the duty-free. You get to go through the shorter “Customs With Duty-Free” line! This trick easily saved me almost an hour standing in line. Heck, I was buying wine anyway.
3 - Leaving Belize City / Transportation
It’s safe to say you’ll be going through the Philip Goldson International Airport (i.e., Belize City airport), either as your final point of destination or to catch your connecting transportation. I suggest not staying in Belize City and, instead, going to one of the many other destinations Belize has to offer.
Like any other city, Belize City can have some theft or pickpocketing. Yet, considering Belize takes pride in its natural habitats and works hard to protect them, why not go to enjoy the natural wonders?
Belize offers many different types of local transportation: taxis, car rentals, golf cart rentals, shuttle or bus services, and it even has its own airlines. There are no ride-sharing services as of yet in Belize.
If you are going more than a couple hour’s drive, I recommend saving time and taking a flight on either Maya Island Air or Tropic Air. The prices on these airlines is very affordable, especially if you book in well in advance. I do recommend making reservations, especially if you’re there during the high season.
If flying on one of the Belizean airlines, don’t be surprised if your baggage leaves before you do. Don’t worry – it will get to your destination. Just go with it. You have to just hang loose in Belize. I’m not saying things are disorganized by any means – you’re just working on “Belize time”.
Be prepared to have to check any bottles you purchased at duty-free on the plane instead of bringing them carry-on. They will get tagged just like other luggage. All of your items will be at your local airport when you arrive.
I had to get my luggage outside at the Placencia Airport but pick up my duty-free bottles inside the Placencia Airport at the counter. Don’t lose your baggage stubs! Even though things are laid back in Belize, they will check them when you pick up your personal items.
If your hotel or taxi service is not already there waiting for you, don’t worry. Some airports have free Wi-Fi so you can arrange transportation. At least Placencia Airport does. If not, they will offer to call transportation for you if you don’t already go with a taxi waiting outside for passengers. Everyone is very friendly and helpful in Belize.
CORR Safety Tip
Even in smaller towns, try to avoid walking or biking at night. If you need to go out, arrange a shuttle or taxi.
4 - “Belize Time”
This brings me back to another top tip: once you arrive, down shift to “chill and relax” mode. Even if your rushed for your connection or have time to spare, you’re working on “Belize time”, as I call it. Belizeans are laid back and friendly, but this is not to say they don’t get things done. From being under former British rule, there is still that professionalism and courtesy. Belizeans are just calmer about it. Go with the flow and enjoy.
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5 - Belize Currency Exchange
In your international travel planning, one of the first things you do is try to assess your trip budget and research the exchange rate of your destination country to determine your costs, right? I certainly do and do frequently. If you don’t, may I suggest it find its way to the top of your planning list? How else will you know what your trip will cost?
I did the same thing in my recent trip to Belize and to my wonderful surprise, I found the following:
- The U.S. dollar (USD) is basically half of the Belizean dollar (BZE). Think 10 BZ$ = 5 US$. It sure makes doing purchase calculations easy on the fly.
- U.S. currency is accepted everywhere! In short, no need to do any currency exchange before you arrive in Belize. Don’t be surprised if you pay in U.S. cash, but you’re given a mix of BZE and USD back.
Some small notes to remember:
- Get rid of your BZE before you come home (it’s hard to exchange that back in the U.S.).
- If you’re like me and use your credit card for most purchases, don’t forget to bring a credit card with no international fees, and keep your Belize receipts and check them against your credit card statement.I said the exchange rate is basically half, but you may notice some slight additions (pennies per dollar) on each transaction that could add up, depending on how long you stay. If you wish to watch your pennies, I suggest doing all purchases in cash.
CORR Novice Traveler Tip
With the currency exchange, electronics and no-visa required factors involved, traveling to Belize for U.S. folks is incredibly easy. That being said, if you a U.S. citizen wanting to travel internationally for the first time, I put Belize at the top of the list for you to try.
CORR Budget Tip
Use cash to avoid any extra transaction currency exchange amounts.
6 - Where to Stay in Belize
Belize draws tourist of all financial means. You can either do it on the cheap with hostels, to bed and breakfasts and economy hotels, to posh resorts. Belize has it all. For me, where I want to stay depends on 3 things: what can I afford, how will I be getting around and how often (this is also for my safety), and what amenities I want.
In a recent trip to Placencia, I needed a place for two weekends only but didn’t want a rental car expense. I wanted to be close to restaurants, bars, dive shops, and shopping, but didn’t want to risk being near any noisy, “downtown” location. I chose a beachside hotel that was a 5-minute taxi (or 15-minute bike ride) from Placencia Village.
My hotel offered free airport shuttle service and free bike rentals I could use during the day. I chose taxi services ($10 BZE = $5 USD plus a small tip) for the evenings – it’s not recommended to walk or bike at night on Placencia Road outside of the village. With all of the amenities I needed, not to mention a basically private beach in the slower season of April, I paid $84 USD/night all fees included. Perfect for me.
In short, you can end up spending anywhere from $40-50 USD a night to over $500 USD a night. I recommend a little research here through your favorite booking sites and definitely reading the up on others’ reviews. That’s a no-brainer.
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7 - The Belize Environment
Belize knows how important its natural environment is, not just for their fishing industry, but also for tourism and protecting its bio and marine diversity. Belize is home to the only Jaguar Reserve in the world. Belize is also implementing sustainability and conservation efforts to protect the Belize Barrier Reef. It works with the other governments of the countries with whom it shares the reef. I encourage you to get out and enjoy outdoor activities Belize has to offer, but please respect what Belize is trying to protect.
CORR Eco Travel Tips
Since the airport stores are full of disposables, like most airports, try bringing your own, refillable water bottle (not a throw-away plastic one) and your own utensils. If you would like to learn more about how you can implement environmental sustainable, or eco-friendly, travel measures into your travel, please see my 10 Easy Eco-Travel Tips and suggested 15 Eco-Friendly Travel Products.
Also, don’t forget to buy your reef-safe sunscreen before you fly to Belize.