Belize //

Travel essentials

Costs

Daily budget Basic US$35/occasional treat US$70.Travel costs Belize City–Caye Caulker (35km) by ferry: 45min, US$10; Belize City–San Ignacio (120km) by bus: 2hr 30min, US$4.

Crime and personal safety

Though Belize does have a relatively high  crime rate, general crime against tourists is rare, especially in comparison to other Central American countries, and  violent crime against tourists is seldom experienced, even in Belize City. It is important to note, however, that several attacks on tourist groups have occurred in recent years near the Guatemalan border, though most tour operators now take precautions to prevent this. Elsewhere in the country, theft does occur, the majority of cases involving  break-ins at hotels: bear this in mind when you’re searching for a room. Out and about there’s always a slight danger of  pickpockets, but with a bit of common sense you’ve nothing to fear. Verbal abuse is not uncommon, especially in Belize City. The vast majority of this harassment is harmless, though the situation can be more threatening for  women travelling alone; most hecklers, however, will be satisfied with a smile and wave as you move quickly onwards. When making new acquaintances, women travellers should also keep in mind that there have been reports of incidences involving date-rape drugs in Belize, and should not accept food or drink from strangers. For general safety tips in Belize City. If you need to  report a crime, your first stop should be the tourism police, ubiquitous in Belize City and becoming more common in many tourist hotspots, including Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye and Placencia.

Many of the country’s violent crimes are related to the drug trade, of which Belize is an important link in the chain between South and North America. Marijuana, cocaine and crack are all readily available, and whether you like it or not you’ll receive regular offers. All such substances are illegal, and despite the fact that dope is smoked openly in the streets, the police do arrest people for possession of marijuana – they particularly enjoy catching tourists. If you are arrested you’ll probably spend a couple of days in jail and pay a fine of several hundred US dollars; expect no sympathy from your embassy.

EMERGENCIES

Emergency numbers 90 or 911. Tourism Police (in Belize City) 227-6082

Entry requirements

Citizens of Australia, Canada, the EU, New Zealand, the UK and the US do not need visas for stays in Belize of up to thirty days. Citizens of most other countries – with the exception of cruise-ship passengers – must purchase visas (US$50; valid for up to 90 days) in advance from a Belizean consulate or embassy.

Health

Health standards in Belize are quite high for the region, and Belize City has hospitals as well as a number of private physicians. All other large towns have well-stocked pharmacies and clinics, which are usually free, though many will expect a donation for their services.

Information

Information on travelling in Belize is abundant, though often only available online, as even some major towns (except Belize City, Punta Gorda, Placencia and San Pedro) don’t have a local tourist office. The office of the country’s official source of tourist information, the Belize Tourism Board, is in Belize City and is not particularly helpful, though their website is excellent. The Belize Tourism Industry Association, which regulates many of the country’s tourism businesses, has helpful representatives in touristed areas.

Internet

Belizeans are avid users of the internet, and web access is readily available in all the main towns and for guests at many hotels, though it can be expensive in tourist areas – up to Bz$12/hr.

Maps

Local maps can be difficult to find and are often nonexistent in smaller towns and villages (where most streets don’t have names), though the better hotels will usually be able to provide them to guests. The Rough Guide Map to Guatemala and Belize is a good, detailed resource.

Money and banks

The national currency is the Belize dollar, which is divided into 100 cents and fixed at two to one with the US dollar (US$1=Bz$2); US dollars are also widely accepted, either in cash or travellers’ cheques. On account of this dual-currency system, always check whether the price you are quoted is in Belizean or US dollars; we have noted prices in local currency unless an operation has specifically quoted their fees in US dollars.

Credit and debit cards are widely used in Belize and are increasingly accepted, even in smaller hotels and restaurants. Visa is the best option, though many establishments also accept MasterCard. Before you pay, check if there’s a charge for using plastic, as you might have to pay an extra five or seven percent for the privilege. Any bank can give you a Visa/MasterCard cash advance, and most of them have ATMs that accept foreign-issued cards.

Taxes in Belize are quite high: sales tax is 12.5 percent and hotel tax is 9 percent. The hotel prices throughout this chapter are given inclusive of tax. Leaving Belize, you’ll have to pay a US$15 exit tax, plus a PACT conservation fee of US$3.75; add US$15 if you are flying out of the country.

You’ll find at least one bank in every town. Although the exchange rate is fixed, banks in Belize will give slightly less than Bz$2 for US$1 for both cash and travellers’ cheques, so it can be a good idea simply to pay in US dollars if they are accepted and if you have them. Other than banks, only licensed casas de cambio, which can be difficult to find, are allowed to exchange currency, though there’s usually a shop where locals go. To buy US dollars, you’ll have to show an onward ticket.

Opening hours

It’s difficult to be specific about  opening hoursin Belize but in general shops are open 8am to noon and 1pm to 5pm. The  lunch hour (noon–1pm) is almost universally observed. Some shops and businesses work a half-day on Saturday, and everything is liable to close early on Friday.  Banks (generally Mon–Thurs 8am–2pm, Fri 8am–4pm) and government offices are only open Monday to Friday. Watch out for  Sundays, too, when shops and restaurants outside tourist areas are likely to be closed, and fewer bus services and internal flights operate. Archeological sites, however, are open every day. The main  public holidays, when virtually everything will be closed, are listed in the box above, though note that if the holiday falls mid-week, it is observed on the following Monday.

Public holidays

January 1 New Year’s Day

March 9 Baron Bliss Day

March/April (variable) Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Monday

May 1 Labour Day

May 24 Commonwealth Day

September 10 St George’s Caye Day/National Day

September 21 Independence Day

October 12 Columbus Day (Pan America Day)

November 19 Garífuna Settlement Day

December 25 Christmas Day

December 26 Boxing Day