Belize is a country on the eastern coast of Central America and it is the only country in Central America whose official language is English.
Although Belize is technically part of Central America, it feels more like the Caribbean. After speaking (or should I say, attempting to speak) Spanish for months, it definitely threw us off when we greeted Rastas with a friendly “Hola” and they replied with “Ya Man, Wha a gwaan?”
However, it didn’t take long for us to readjust and fully immerse in the Caribbean culture. The locals are very welcoming and laid back. Not to mention the food is simply delicious.
Belize has also one of the lowest population density in Central America and offers a rich variety of wildlife and nature. The lack of development, billboards and other modern world crap, makes Belize one of our favorite countries.
However, its beauty comes with a heavier price tag than its neighboring countries. Even experienced budget travelers will spend more money in Belize than anywhere else in Central America, but don’t let that keep you from visiting. With careful planning and our tips below, you can significantly reduce your cost and stay within your budget.
Transportation: Public buses are by far the cheapest mode of transportation around the country. Although those old North American school buses can get crowded sometimes, they are just as efficient as private shuttles and taxis. Belize is a pretty small country and a ride from east to west takes about three hours. Fares cost between $1-10, depending on how far you go.
The island ferries cost around $15 one way. If you buy a round way ticket you can usually save a couple of bucks.
Food: Did we mention that the food is pretty damn delicious in Belize. If you like seafood, you will love it here. Eat at local places and avoid any touristy place that will charge you double the price. Depending on what you order you can expect to pay around $4-6 for a basic, yet tasty meal. No matter what you do, you have to try the coconut rice and beans. It will have you wondering, what else in life have you been missing out on.
We ate some pretty amazing lobster (with a drink and dessert) in Placencia and paid $25 for the both of us. That was the priciest meal we have had on our travels so far, but it was definitely worth it.
Accommodation: We recommend you avoid booking accommodation in advance and simply walk around town to find the best deal. Many small establishments are not listed on the internet so you could possibly be missing out on a great bargain. Expect to pay around $15 for a dorm room in a hostel and $20+ for a private double room in a guest house.
Budget Friendly Tips
Travel off season: Low season does not necessarily mean rainy season. In the two weeks we were there it maybe rained once or twice for a couple of minutes. Even if it does rain a little bit, the money you save while traveling off season will make up for the rain in the long run. Prices are negotiable during low season and many times you can save up to 50% of popular activities, such as scuba diving, caving and more. So, bargain as much as you can, because accommodation owners know that they won’t have too many costumers.
Use public transportation: As stated earlier, public buses will save you a big chunk of money. Avoid private shuttles and travel the local way.
Happy Hour: Alcohol can be very expensive in Belize and can drain a backpackers budget very fast. Fortunately, many bars offer happy hour specials such as 2 for 1 or even all you can drink for $20.
Hitchhiking: As you might know, Jazzy and I started our adventure by hitchhiking the US, so it shouldn’t come much as a surprise that we hitchhiked in Belize as well. Hitchhiking is very common in Belize and locals do it too, so again travel like a local. If you are open minded to this idea, go for it because you will save big in the long run.
Top Things To Do In Belize
The Cayes: No visit to Belize is complete without visiting at least one of the beautiful islands on the coast of Belize. The most visited islands are Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye. Ambergris is the biggest and most expensive of the two. Caye Caulker is a more ideal location for Backpackers. What’s nice about Caye Caulker is that you won’t not find any cars. The locals and tourist get around by golf carts, bikes or simply by walking. There is not a ton of stuff to do on the island but for people who simply want to relax and enjoy the laid back lifestyle, this is the place to be.
Actun Tunichil Muknal: Actun Tunichill Muknal, also know as the ATM Cave, is a beautiful cave near San Ignacio. The cave used to be a Maya site and still contains ancient skeletons and ceramics. Unfortunately, the cave can only be visited with a rather expensive guide, so expect to dig deep in you pockets for this tour. The ATM Cave tour costs around $110 during high season and $80 during low season. The price usually includes lunch, the guide and equipment depending on the tour company you use. Although the price is rather steep, Jazzy and I decided to do the tour and you know what, it was well worth it. The cave was absolutely breathtaking and we would recommend it to even the most frugal travelers. If you can save the money elsewhere and spend it on the ATM Cave, do it. Trust us you won’t regret it.
Note: According to our tour guide, low season is the best time to visit because they are not in a hurry and can take their time explaining things. Plus you might even get a guide all to yourself, like we did.
Belize Zoo: The Belize Zoo started out as a rescue center for wild animals and has since become one of the most visited tourist attraction in Belize. The zoo is settled upon 29 acres and exhibits over 150 animals, all native to Belize. The entrance fee is $15 for adults and $5 for children.
Mayan Cacao Farm: We loooove chocolate. Real Mayan chocolate is the best chocolates we have ever had. The ancient Mayans invented chocolate, and experts suggest that Belize is the “Cradle of Chocolate”. So while in San Ignacio, we visited one of the many Mayan cacao farms around the area. There, Mayan descendents showed us how they make chocolate by hand without machines and from the raw cacao beans. It was very interesting to see the whole process but what was even more interesting was the tasting part. If you are a fan of chocolate and want to know how real chocolate is supposed to taste, visit one of these farms. They are usually free to visit and are located all over the country.
The Great Blue Hole: The great blue hole is an underwater sinkhole off the coast of Belize. It is one of the top ten scuba diving sites in the world. Divers can dive in crystal clear water and find several species of fish there.
Belize Barrier Reef: This reef is the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is home to a wide diversity of plants and animals and is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Apparently, only 10% of all species have been discovered there.
Caracol: This ancient Maya site is one of the largest in the country. Caracol used to be a city larger than modern day Belize City and supported more than twice the population. Unlike Altun Ha, this site is less restored and is still mostly covered my thick jungle. The entrance fee is $15.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary: This sanctuary is located in southern Belize and is the only Jaguar Preserve in the World. It is also known for its spectacular waterfalls, mountain views and nature trails. The park offers camping grounds for overnight visitors for $10 per person per night.
Fishing: You can either go fishing with an organized tour and pay a big chunk of money or you can buy a fishing line and a hook at the store and join the locals fishing by the pier. There are many people barbequing on the streets and for a small fee they will cook your catch for you.
How Much Did We Spend
Together, Jazzy and I spent about $800 in two weeks. That is a bit more than what we usually spend in other places but it was still within a reasonable price. We loved Belize and the extra amount we spent was well worth it.
Backpacking Belize doesn’t have to empty your bank account. By using some of the tips above, you will be able to spend less and save more. Just keep in mind that Belize will not be as cheap as Guatemala or Mexico. Knowing that, will save you from a heart attack later, when reviewing your spendings :).
Other Travel Guides
Here are few travel guides on Belize from other bloggers:
If you are more of a book person and would rather carry a physical guide with you on your journey, we recommend Lonely Planet Belize. Remember though, don’t follow it step by step, use it as a guide instead.
Have you ever been to Belize? How much did you end up spending?