What to do in Belize?
February 2, 2009 11:50 AM   Subscribe

TravelFilter: Suggestions for a trip to Belize? Activities/Accommodations/Time of Year?

My girlfriend and I are planning a trip to Belize, and I'm looking for advice from folks who have been there before.

So, in full:

Suggestions on places to stay?

Suggestions on particular activities to do and things that we shouldn't miss? We are both certified divers, and avid hikers. :)

We haven't bought any tickets yet, so the actual dates we will go are flexible, is there a particular time of year that is better than others? Neither of us deal very well with extreme heat, so knowing when the temperature is the worst would be useful.

Anything else you can think of is welcome as well. Neither of us has ever been to Belize, we're coming from the US, and we're both in our 20's.

posted by Allenthar to Travel & Transportation around Belize (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
We stayed in a little cabin on Caye Caulker. Was a great time. I particularly like a trip to Laminai. About a 45 minute boat ride up a river to an immense set of Mayan ruins.
posted by sanka at 11:58 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

(I just joined this morning to ask a similar questions about Barbados!)

This question is almost impossible to answer without knowing what your goals are. For example, do you want to enjoy the lap of luxury, or do you want to hang out with natives and enjoy the local culture?

If the latter, I also recommend Caye Caulker. Fairly cheap, great food, safe, the people are extremely friendly, and the mainland is a short boat trip away. Also, the diving is some of the most spectacular in the world (I dove with Belize Diving Services and can't say enough good things about them).

On the other hand, there are no real beaches there, so if chilling on the beach and going swimming is your thing, there are better places to stay in Belize.

I can't tell you when the best time to go is, but I went w/ my gf in December 2007 and it was perfect.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:27 PM on February 2, 2009

Best answer: My wife and I stayed at a little bed and breakfast outside Belize City called the D'Nest Inn. Lovely little place, and the hosts couldn't be any sweeter.

Lamanai's a must, and I recommend a night or two out on the islands--Ambergris Caye is the big tourist place, and Caye Caulker's smaller, cheaper, and a little quieter. You can do a boat tour from either place and snorkel out on the coral, swimming with sharks and manta rays. If you like diving, you can't miss the Blue Hole.

The Belize Zoo is also pretty neat; it's on the small side, but most of the animals are just fenced off in sections of the rain forest, so you'll get up very close to jaguars and tapirs and whatnot.

I wouldn't recommend renting a car; you can get just about anywhere if you're willing to hop a bus with the locals. It's crowded, but if you want a little bit of an adventure, it's the way to go.

We went in late October and it was relatively cool; you also miss the big crowds of tourists by going at that time of year. The downside is that it's right at the end of the rainy season, so there were parts of the country we couldn't get to because the roads were flooded out.

Make sure you get a price up front from any taxi drivers, because they don't have meters and some will overcharge you if you wait till you get out.

You can eat very cheaply while you're there if you don't mind eating the local food. This is going to mean lots and lots and lots of rice and beans, though. The local beer is called Belikin, and it's cheap and very good. We drank a ton of it. Local rum is also inexpensive, and very smooth and tasty.

Everyone there accepts American currency--it's two Belizean dollars to one US.
posted by EarBucket at 12:27 PM on February 2, 2009

Oh, if you ride the bus, don't try to pay the driver when you get on. Make your way back to your seat and someone will come by to collect the fare once the bus is moving.
posted by EarBucket at 12:29 PM on February 2, 2009

Best answer: Caye Caulker is wonderful. Supposedly more chill than Ambergris, which has a reputation as sort of the Cancun of Belize. Diving and snorkeling are fantastic around the reefs east of the caye. Great food. From Belize City, boats leave frequently for Caye Caulker and take about a half-hour. Best place for a sundown drink is a bar at the northern end of the caye, right on the split. Rooftop patio offers fantastic 360-degree views.

I went in January and it was warm and steamy. But on the cayes, especially, a constant breeze off the Caribbean keeps it quite pleasant. Evenings are something special.

The weather is pretty stable year-round. As in, average highs in Belize City range from 80 to 88, and the average lows from about 70 to 75. Offshore on the cayes should be cooler, with the aforementioned breeze. Hurricane season is from June to November, for what it's worth. so if you go in the summer or early fall there's always the chance of a tropical storm blowing in and trapping you -- or worse. However, I believe that like for much of the Caribbean, you can get good air fares and hotel prices for those dates if you're willing to risk it. That's also the rainy season, so expect thunderstorms.

I didn't make it down to the southern parts. But did take a bus out to Flores, Guatemala, to see the amazing Mayan ruins at Tikal. From Belize City you can catch a bus all the way there, think it took maybe 5-6 hours. Flores is a fun little town on an island in the middle of a lake. This would be a great 1- to 3-day side trip.

And yes, U.S. dollars are in my experience universally accepted.
posted by donpedro at 12:38 PM on February 2, 2009

In general:
- I went last year about this time and the weather was phenomenal.
- Take the buses. Cheap, and we found them to be reliable.
- US dollars accepted everywhere.
- Belikin beer is plentiful and tasty :)
- Other than our first night in Belize City, we didn't make any reservations ahead of time, and had no trouble finding accomodations except for our first night in Placencia. We didn't always stay in the nicest places, but it was cheap :)

Things we did:
- A couple days of snorkeling. One day with just us and the guide, and another with a larger group. Small group was definitely a plus. We found our guide through the place we were staying.
- Actun Tunichil Muknal was amazing. Wading/caving a mile back into the Earth and crawling up to a higher ledge where you were inches away from skeletal and pottery remains.
- The Belize Zoo was small, but neat. We stayed overnight at a cabin the Zoo has across the street, situated over an alligator-infested pond, and did a night tour of the Zoo as well. Night tour could be skipped, but we enjoyed the cabin we stayed in.
- Black hole drop was a long hike up through the jungle and then a descend off a 300 foot cliff. Neat, but expensive. We went from the Caves Branch Jungle Lodge, which was in the middle of nowhere and expensive compared to other places. It did have the best food of anywhere we went, though.
- We went to the Jaguar Preserve, but didn't see much wildlife there. They do have a lot of pretty cool hiking trails including one where you can swim under a small waterfall. Would not recommend staying in their cramped quarters though. Also, if you go, make sure you get to Maya Center village sometime during the day so someone can take you back into the park.
- Seconding skipping Ambergris Caye... definitely felt more touristy and middle-aged. If/When we go back, we'll try Caye Culker.
- We didn't hit any of the major Mayan ruins, but we did trek up to one that was on top of a hill in San Ignacio. It was small, but well-excavated, and practically empty. We had the run of the place for most of the time we were there.

posted by assmatt at 1:34 PM on February 2, 2009

I went to Placencia a few years ago, in March. I had never taken a tropical vacation before and was prepared to barely tolerate it. I had an amazing time and would like to go back. Here's what I liked about it:

We stayed at a place called "The Inn at Robert's Grove." The accomodations were perfect for us-- pretty, tasteful and in fine repair, but not so over-the-top luxurious that they were a distraction.

We could take day trips arranged by the resort, and went out to a caye to snorkel one day. Another, we visited some Mayan ruins (Lubaantun), and then went swimming in a cave. And when I say we went swimming in a cave, we put lamps on our heads, entered the mouth of a dark cave with a stream pouring out of it, and swam a third of a mile deep underground with cheap orange lifejackets tied around our waists. We clearly weren't in a country with lawyers, and it was invigorating to do something a little scary like that.

We could take a taxi into the town of Placencia, and actually interact with locals instead of staying in a compound. We ate at local restaurants and went into local shops and really just enjoyed seeing a different way of living.

Also we sat around a good bit, swam and drank Belican beer and rum punch. I left feeling very different from my typical "go to city in Europe and go-go-go-see-everything" vacation-- I saw a lot, but I relaxed a lot too. Highly recommended.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:09 PM on February 2, 2009

Best answer: I (an american 20-something) just spent a week or so with my girlfriend in Caye Caulker last month, and will nth the recommendations above. (In fact, it was AskMe that pointed me there in the first place -- thanks guys!) It's a pretty fantastic place, with accommodations from eco-tourism/camping on the beach to nice-if-not-exactly-luxurious hotels. (It's very affordable, to boot.) Check out www.gocayecaulker.com for a little basic info. It's a funky little place -- everything is walking distance, and an interesting international mix (many, if not most visitors seemed to be either European or Canadian, in spite of the proximity to the southern US.)

As far as specific hotels on Caye Caulker go, we've had good experiences with both De Real Macaw and Barefoot Beach.

San Pedro is, as others have mentioned, another popular stopoff but wasn't quite my speed. The entire time we were there, it seemed like we were sucking down two-stroke exhaust from the many golf carts. There are more "luxury" type hotels there from what I can tell, and the cruise ships stop off there from time to time, too. I can't speak much for Placencia and other regions, as I haven't spent much time there.

Speaking from my experience on that island, there are plenty of dive operators (PADI affiliates mostly, as I recall) that go to Hol Chan, the Blue Hole, and some other pretty fantastic dive sites. If you want a lower-key day, there are also plenty of great snorkeling tours (and tons to see just below the water. The reefs are pretty fantastic.)

Mayan ruins are popular daytrips, and operators run trips from all over the country. Lamanai was a fun one, as was Altun Ha. Tikal, across the border in Guatemala, is really something, if a bit of a trek to get out to. (Others I've talked to really swear by taking a short-hop flight on Tropic Air out there, as the roads can get quite bad.)

I'm not sure about temperature, but my understanding is that late summer into fall is probably the worst time (if not too terrible.) You do run the risk of serious rains then though. Peak season is early winter through spring, judging by the hotel rates.

Anyway, I'm a big fan of drinking Belikin beer on the beaches (their brewery has a monopoly, so if you want a beer, you'll be drinking one of their brands), using local hot sauce on about 2/3 of my meals, and spending time in the water near the reefs. If you're into that, Belize is gonna be a blast.

MefiMail me if you've got specific questions, and I'll do my best to answer.
posted by theoddball at 3:16 PM on February 2, 2009

Tikal, across the border in Guatemala, is really something, if a bit of a trek to get out to. (Others I've talked to really swear by taking a short-hop flight on Tropic Air out there, as the roads can get quite bad.)

My plan had been to catch a flight to Flores/Tikal, but a couple of months before I went on the trip an airport dispute led to the cancellation of all flights to Flores from Belize. This was a couple of years ago, but judging by a search on Tropic Air's website, service has not begun again. Unfortunately, I believe land travel there is still the only option.
posted by donpedro at 4:36 PM on February 2, 2009

We went the first week of March and the weather was perfect, not too hot, NO BUGS, and very little rain!

Started in Caye Caulker for a couple of days and I agree with all of the other posters that this is the laid back, friendly, cool vibe island to go to. Sunsets at "The Split" are beautiful and not to be missed. A boat trip to see manatees with Chocolate, the manatee expert/guide, is a must and since you enjoy diving, there are excellent opportunities there as well.

On the mainland, we enjoyed ziplining and cave tubing at Jaguar Paw but the most amazing day was spent at the ATM cave mentioned above by assmatt where you feel like you are the first person to discover this cave and explore it all the way back to its innards (while wading/swimming in the dark) where Mayan sacrifices were held. Creepy/cool and well worth the long trek through the jungle including back and forth across a river to get there.

I would highly recommend Crystal Paradise Resort near the town of San Ignacio as a wonderful place to stay, especially if you are interested in birdwatching and/or visiting the caves and ruins as they will acommodate you by taking you to any of them - their staff, brothers in a family owned resort, will act as your guides. Loved that place!

You will love Belize: the nature and wildlife, the people, the food, the Belikins. No need to book the most expensive resorts and hotels - stick with the small hostels and lodges and rustic resorts. They'll take good care of you and you'll have a blast.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by ourroute at 7:38 PM on February 2, 2009

One thing we wish we'd done in Belize is stay in more than one area.

We spent about 10 days on Caye Caulker, which is about 3 too many. It would have been much nicer to spend 4 or 5 days in the jungle doing jungle activities, then the same amount of time in Caye Caulker relaxing/diving/snorkeling and enjoying the ocean.

Unlike much of the Caribbean, Belize has multiple environments that are exotic to the typical USian. Take advantage and enjoy them!
posted by coolguymichael at 12:08 PM on February 3, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks a ton for all the suggestions guys! Definitely going to look further into all the suggestions people made. :)

With the size of Caye Caulker, did you any of you have issues with needing to head off the island to get stuff like groceries or other such things? Or was the island more or less sufficient for vacationing needs?
posted by Allenthar at 3:11 PM on February 3, 2009

As small as the island is, I can't imagine you would need anything that they don't have in the way of groceries, clothes, etc. I mean, the shops are small and pretty basic but that's the charm of the island and I think you'll find you don't really need much once you're there. There are plenty of good restaurants and bars and you can walk anywhere. Actually, you have to walk as there are no cars allowed (there are golf cart "taxis" if you need them). The stars at night are incredible; sunrises and sunsets just beautiful.

As much as I loved Caye Caulker I'm glad we also made time for the inland/jungle area and all that it had to offer. You picked a great destination - have fun!
posted by ourroute at 5:07 PM on February 3, 2009

Caye caulker had everything. The only thing I remember having difficulty finding was a brush (I have thick, long hair that a comb can't quite tame). Can't remember if I eventually found one or not.

The small grocery stores have a pretty amazing variety of stuff -- kinda like a dollar store in the U.S., but with groceries, too. Even the prices were pretty good, especially considering everything has to be shipped in.

One additional note: We went to Altun Ha instead of Lamanai because we couldn't get a tour for the latter on short notice. It was easy to get to (we took a cab from the water taxi station), but not all that impressive.

And if you do go into the jungle, prepare to be relentlessly attacked by bugs that aren't afraid of DEET. I don't think anything bit me, but I was really glad I took a long-sleeve shirt with me, despite the heat.
posted by coolguymichael at 5:32 PM on February 3, 2009

Yeah, there seems to be a tiny grocery store run by a little old Chinese couple roughly every fifty feet, no matter where you go in the country. They'll have pretty much anything you'd need to get by for a couple of weeks.
posted by EarBucket at 8:04 PM on February 3, 2009

Caye Caulker has pretty much everything you'll need for being on Caye Caulker. It doesn't have an awesome bookstore, trekking store with North Face gear or big-ass CostCo. But the island has enough by way of food, drink and insect repellent. Bring your own reading material; you won't need anything else.
posted by donpedro at 10:43 PM on February 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

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