We have made two trips to Belize one over Christmas 2016-2017 and a second over Christmas 2018-2019. We did the first trip by ourselves and we took our adult children with us the second time. We only made it to a few parts of the country but here are some of the general things it’s helpful to know. You can also find more specific information about parts of Belize we traveled to and a few stories here:
There is a fixed exchanged rate between US and Belize dollars. One US$ is $2 Belize. US money is accepted everywhere. You get Belize $ as change most of the time and ATM’s only disperse Belize Dollars. Belize money is not usable outside Belize so make sure you use all you Belize $ before you leave. There is a currency exchange at the Belize City Airport near the check in for International flights. It’s not always open. You can also exchange money at the land boarder with Guatemala.
There is no ATM at the airport but there are ATM’s in Belize City near the Swing Bridge and the Ferry Terminals to Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye. There is only one ATM on Caye Caulker. Most towns have at least one ATM unless they are very small. We had a lot of issues with the ATM’s when we were there in 2016. We could not get cash with a bank card anywhere except Belize City. In 2018 we were able to get money at a Scotiabank in San Ignacio. If you get stuck Visa cash advances appeared to work more reliably. We are Canadian so we had Canadian cash as a back up it was almost impossible to exchange. Stick with US and don’t wait until you really need cash to go to an ATM
Visa and Master Card are accepted in a lot of hotels and restaurants but many will change you a 3-5% fee for using them. Smaller places only accept cash.
Regular Bus Service
Belize has good long distance bus service once you figure it out. There is a bus terminal in Belize City which is probably best reached by taxi as some parts of Belize City are a little unsafe. This is particularly true if you are carrying all your gear. There are not a lot of major roads in Belize so the buses only really go on three routes. South to Punta Gorda. North towards Mexico or west towards Guatemala. Bus schedule information is hard to find. The best online schedules are here . This website is also good If you need a holiday schedule your best bet is to call the bus company. All southern and western bus routes go through Belmopan and all bus routes go to Belize city. If you want to go from the west to the south or vice versa you have to change buses in Belmopan. To go from North to South or South to North you have to change buses in Belize City. There are a number of different bus companies but they all use the same stations and all the local buses we took were old US school buses. The buses run regularly. Some are express and some are regular but even the express buses stop along the way. It takes longer than you would expect to get from point A to point B. You pay on the bus, someone comes by to collect once the bus is out of town. They can be crowed and at the stations they have a “no stadies rule” so you can’t get on if you can’t get a seat. This rule does appear to get much more relaxed as soon as you leave town. There are a few tourists on the buses and in our experience everyone was very helpful. Longer distance buses stop for food breaks and vendors get on the buses along the way selling tasty snacks. Generally much cheaper and more tasty that airline food!
There are air conditioned tourist buses that leave from the Marine Ferry Terminal in Belize City to Guatemala and several tour companies have shuttle services available. We used a shuttle service to get from San Ignacio to the Belize City Airport on New Year’s Day. We arranged it with a tour company in San Ignacio and we paid $35 US each. Shop around. the first price we were given was $60 Us each.
Internet, Cell Phones and SIM Cards
Most hotels, guesthouses and cafes have free wifi. You can buy a SIM card for a North American phone at BTL stores. I bought one with 1GB of free data for 15 days for $20 Belize. Once you have a SIM card you can top it up online. You do need ID in order to get a SIM card and it’s a bit of a process. I had no issues with my unlocked iphone but my daughter had problems getting the data to work on here Samsung. Cellular coverage was good everywhere we went. There is a BTL store just over the swing bridge in Belize City. You can not buy SIM cards at the airport.
You can not drink the tap water in Belize. When we were there in 2016 we were given plastic bottles of water everywhere (even plastic bags of water in some places). We noticed a real difference on our last trip more places had big jugs of water where you could refill your own water bottle. Great to see! So bring a water bottle and help keep the plastic out of the ocean.
We felt pretty safe in Belize. In general we were careful after dark. In Belize City we took taxis outside of the tourist area and did not venture out much after dark. I would have gone out by taxi at night. Outside of the towns along the Guatemalan boarder I would not go without a local guide. People tried to sell us drugs but that was about it.