Belize is a small country on the Eastern coast of Central America, south of Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula. With Caribbean Sea shorelines to the east and dense jungle to the west, it is home to the world’s 2nd largest barrier reef with lots of marine life, dotted with hundreds of low-lying islands called “cayes” and its jungle areas are home to Mayan ruins, nature preserves, and rivers. Belize is a very appealing place to visit for people who enjoy a beach vacation as well as water activities like snorkeling, diving, and fishing. In this post, we share 10 tips to help you plan a trip to Belize based on our recent one-week trip to Ambergris Caye (San Pedro).
1) When to visit:
High season is from December to April and generally when the weather is at its best with sunny skies and less rain but accommodations are also at the most expensive. November and May, which are considered shoulder seasons are also good times to visit as you are outside of the main hurricane season, rain is less likely, and accommodations are more reasonably priced. Low season is from June to October with possible hurricane activity from August to end of October and it rains more frequently. We visited in November just after Hurricane Lisa caused damage in Belize City but spared other places in Belize. Overall, we found the weather to be very pleasant!
2) How long to stay:
We spent 8 nights in Ambergris Caye: 3 just north of San Pedro at Matachica Beach Resort and Spa and 5 at Secret Beach on the lagoon side at Casa Nova Cabanas. We were happy with the amount of time we had to relax and explore. At a minimum, we feel that one week is a sufficient amount of time to visit Belize and visit one spot or two. If you have 1.5-2 weeks, you would be able to do more things and explore various parts of the country. Check out our tips to visit Ambergris Caye.
Belize District is known for the “Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary” for bird watching and the site of Altun Ha, a Mayan ruin. The Northern Cayes are the most popular for access to the reef (diving/snorkeling), fishing, and enjoying the beach, restaurants, and bars. Northern Belize is known for its jungles and lush rainforests, and nature preserves. The Cayo District is known for eco-lodges, jungle adventures (zip lining, cave exploring, river kayaking), and also has Mayan ruins and cities.
We wish we would have more time to visit Placencia and San Ignacio as well.
One thing you may want to consider is staying at the Gaia River Lodge (located in the Scenic Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve) then Matachica Beach Resort and Spa (adults-only beach resort in Ambergris Caye). Both resorts are owned by the same company and they make it very easy to transfer between the two properties. This would be a good one week itinerary to get a varied experience and access to many activities, all while getting to stay at very nice and well-managed resorts.
We would also spend 1-2 nights in Caye Caulker, which is an easy day trip via ferry from San Pedro. We thought San Pedro and Ambergris Caye were super quiet and laid back in general and Caye Caulker was even more so. Caye Caulker is also small enough that you can walk everywhere and so you don’t need to rent a golf cart. Bicycles are also a popular method of transportation.
3) Getting Here:
For Canadians, it is not as easy to get to Belize as other destinations, like Mexico or other places in the Caribbean. Non-stop seasonal service is available from Calgary (WestJet) and Toronto (Air Canada).
We took advantage of the new service to Belize launched by Alaska Airlines from Los Angeles which operated only once per week when we visited: you arrive Saturday and depart Sunday. Alaska Airlines has also recently launched a service from Seattle.
Once you arrive in Belize City, unless you are staying there, you will need to take another flight or ferry. Tropic Air and Maya Air are both small airlines that offer service in the region. We really enjoyed our 15 minute flight on a Cessna Grand Caravan from Belize City to San Pedro as it was quite scenic and added a sense of adventure to our trip!
There are also ferries that can take you to Ambergris Caye for cheaper but it will make your transfer more complicated as you will need to take a taxi from the airport to get to the ferry terminal.
The local currency is the Belizean dollar and it is pegged to the US dollar, which makes it somewhat expensive for Canadians. In general, we found the price of things to be similar to Costa Rica. It is definitely more expensive than Mexico but not as expensive as Hawaii.
In Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, the going rate for a local beer is usually $5-$6 Belize ($2.50-$3.00US), a ceviche is about $25-$60 Belize ($12.50-$30) and depends on size and ingredients, cocktails range from $10-$30 Belize ($5-$15 USD) depending on where you are. Meals at mid-range restaurants range from about $50-$100USD depending on what you order. For us, a couple of beers and ceviche was usually $30USD and fancier meals about $75USD (with tax and tip).
Our accommodations in Ambergris Caye were in the $200USD-$250USD per night range + taxes and fees, which was quite reasonable compared to places like Hawaii. It is very hard to find accommodations in popular beach destinations for under $200USD anymore unless you want to stay in a hostel.
We also recommend having a look at the activities and their pricing to determine a budget. Private charters are definitely more expensive than other tours. Some day tours where you go fishing and snorkeling can cost about $500USD-$700USD or more per person. Some of the snorkeling tours for larger groups can be as low as $10USD or $35USD also common for smaller groups. Prices vary and they do seem to be negotiable. You can find out more by talking to tour providers in San Pedro by the ferry terminal.
For our flights on Maya Air between Belize City and San Pedro, it was $175USD return per person for the cheapest fares. Fares appear to stay similarly priced throughout the year and by carrier for this route.
Golf cart prices also vary but it always a better deal to book for more than one day at a time. We paid $175USD for a one week golf cart rental and $30USD to fill up the tank twice.
5) Cash or Card:
Cash and card are widely accepted. Smaller places access cash only. You can pay with US dollars and you will often get change back in Belize Dollars. Unlike Mexico, you can add the tip to the card in many places but cash is always preferred. We ended up taking US dollars as it was not possible to buy Belize Dollars easily in Canada. We were also unsure if Canadian Dollars would be easy to convert and wanted to avoid converting twice.
If you are renting a golf cart, cash is the preferred method of payment for gas.
You also need to make sure your US dollars are in pristine condition of they may not be accepted: we had no issues but read that some places did not accept bills that looked old. Thankfully, the bills we took out from a Bank of America ATM at the Los Angeles airport were brand new.
Overall, we found Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker to be very safe and recommend taking normal precautions to prevent and discourage petty crime. For example, if we had valuables with us at the beach, we each took turns going swimming to let one person watch our belongings. We also did not leave any items in our golf cart as there was nowhere to lock them. We also made sure to keep our belongings in eyesight and nearby at all times.
As for the driving, the roads in Ambegris Caye were rough and bumpy due to the massive potholes, but you can’t really go that fast and cars are few and far between on the roads. If you are not paying attention and being very careful, you could tip or crash your golf cart.
One thing that people often overlook is ocean safety. We always encountered calm and mostly shallow waters swimming, kayaking and paddleboarding but you should take precautions when out on the water, like bring enough water, bring a life vest, and only swim in designated areas to ensure boats can see you.
We have heard Belize City has elevated crime and travel advisories do not recommend visiting. We recommend doing your research prior to arriving in Belize City as it might not be the best place to wander the city freely like you would elsewhere.
7) Fishing in Belize:
Many people on our flight were heading to Belize for fishing: Belize is a renowned fishing destination due to its abundance of marine life. If you are between the ages of 16-65, you will need to get a fishing license online. For more information about fishing in Belize and to purchase a fishing license, click here.
Compared to other places we visited, Belize is one of the easiest from a language perspective: English is the most spoken language. Yes, the official language in Belize is English due to the country being colonized by the British. Spanish, Belizean Creole, Garifuna and Indigenous Mayan languages are also spoken. We did not struggle at all from a language perspective, unlike our trip to Colombia where we were not prepared to speak Spanish as much we had to. If you have never been to the Caribbean or Mexico, Belize is a good place to start as it is much less intimidating, especially when it comes to being able to speak English everywhere.
9) Bugs and Other Creatures:
We will put this bluntly: if you don’t want to encounter bugs or other critters, you may want to avoid tropical destinations in general. They are less common in some places but not entirely avoidable. From our experience, Barbados and Hawaii are the places where you will encounter the least amount of bugs and creatures but they still exist. Compared to other places we have been, like Indonesia, Costa Rica, and Koh Samui, the bugs in Belize were easy enough to handle. The amount and type of critters also vary: in Costa Rica last year in the Playa Conchal area, we encountered large grasshopper creatures called “langostas” that are common at times during dry season and not others. Belize is somewhat similar and it also depends where you are.
In Ambergris Caye, the most common bugs are mosquitoes, sandflies, sea roaches/lice, fire ants, different types of flies, and some snakes, and scorpions. On our trip, we encountered mosquitoes, sandflies, sea roaches/lice, and we did see a small scorpion. The most annoying were the sandflies (AKA no-seeums) and the sea roaches/lice.
As for the sea roaches/lice, this was a new occurrence for us and while annoying, it was manageable. We spend a lot of time checking out TripAdvisor forums about this and people had very mixed opinions and experiences. They are mostly only found on the lagoon side of Ambergris Caye, including the stunning Secret Beach. “Sea roaches” aka “sea lice” are basically translucent doodlebugs that get on your skin in the water if the sand gets kicked up too much. They are actually jellyfish larvae that live in the sand in very calm waters and look like little white crawfish. We applied lots of oily sunscreen to try to deter them from sticking to us but we did encounter a few. We also decided to use a standup paddleboard to get further away from shore to swim to avoid kicking up the sand near the shore and mangrove areas. They are also more common at different times of the year from what we have read. The lagoon side of Ambergris Caye should not be avoided due to these little creatures and we recommend being aware and taking precautions to minimize encountering them and if one does get stuck on you, it is easy to remove it and we did not end up with rashes.
We highly recommend reading the San Pedro Scoop’s blog post about the bugs for tips on how to handle them. Spoiler: natural insect repellant doesn’t work for mosquitoes or no-seeums!
10) The beaches:
As many of Belize’s beaches are east-facing, they do experience sargassum seaweed at various times. During our visit, the amount of sargassum seaweed was minimal and did not keep us out of the water.
Some of the beaches in Belize may not look like the pristine white sand beaches and bright blue aqua water you find in the Caribbean as many do have seagrass. The seagrass makes the water look brownish yellow and is a little unpleasant to swim in but can be avoided during high tide. The seagrass is often linked to or adjacent to mangroves and reefs and plays an important part in preserving marine life, hence why it cannot be removed. We also experienced seagrass recently in Fiji and while it took some getting used to, it should not deter you from swimming or visiting Belize.
If you are in Ambergris Caye and there is a lot of sargassum seaweed, you can head to the lagoon side and enjoy the water on Secret Beach thankfully. All the beach clubs offer water access and some even offer paddleboards.
11) COVID Protocols:
Belize no longer has any COVID protocols for visitors. Canadians and other non-US residents still have to show proof of full vaccination (2 doses minimum, boosters not required) to board a flight to the United States but otherwise, there are no COVID restrictions in Belize.
We enjoyed our trip to Belize even more than we expected we would! For us, getting to spend hours enjoying water activities, the ease of getting around on a golf cart, and the overall “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” vibe really suited us!
Ambergris Caye was a place where we didn’t look at the time: we just enjoyed the passing of each day from sunrise to sunset. We also met so many lovely people, both locals, and other tourists, and enjoyed the friendly and convivial atmosphere.
We loved being able to enjoy ceviche almost everywhere with a cold beer or cocktail as well as other treats: the coconut mojito at Elvie’s Kitchen, the black bean dip at Stella’s Sunset, pizzas and caipirinhas at Moon Bar, craft beer and satays at the Truck Stop, taco Tuesday at Blue Bayou, and a bonfire dinner with other hotel guests at Aurora’s on Secret Beach. We also enjoyed our day trip to Caye Caulker to experience an even slower pace of life.
We really want to come back to revisit familiar favorites and also explore more of Belize as it offers travelers tourist infrastructure that makes you feel comfortable but without the mass tourism effects of other popular destinations nearby.
Have you been to Belize? Do you have any tips to add?