A January 2004 trip
to Belize by lcampbell
Quote: Two weeks in Belize barely scratched the surface of what the country has to offer. Here is an overview of what we saw and what we spent on our low-budget excursion.
Belize has incredible things to offer travelers. It is a tropical paradise complete with lush jungle, archeological wonders, exotic animals, mysterious caves, and Caribbean sun and fun. I had wanted to visit Belize for years, and finally got the chance. Unfortunately, I had little time to research and prepare, and a very low budget.
With our per day (per person, double occupancy) budget, we were successfully able to see much of Belize without undo hardship. We enjoyed our activities and feel we got a better understanding of the culture.
The highlights of our time in Belize were:
Relaxing seaside in Placencia and Punta Gorda
Snorkeling and kayaking near Placencia
Xunatunich Mayan ruins near San Ignacio
Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve
Blue Hole National Park (even though it rained all day!)
The lowlight was definitely the town of Dangriga – I do not recommend visiting Dangriga unless you must on the way to or from one of the offshore islands.
Read in detail about the highlights and lowlights of our trip in my three other Belize journals:
The Sultry South Coast of Belize
Cayo is Cool
Belize Tourism Board
BelizeNet - check out the Belize Forums!
Placencia Tourism Board
English is the official language, although the creole, garifuna, maya (three different bands), Mennonite, Chinese, Lebanese, and Indian people living in Belize each have their own language.
The Belizean dollar is set at a fixed rate of US=Belize. American dollars are accepted everywhere – there is no need to exchange money. You will likely receive you change, though, in Belizean dollars.
Departure tax is US per person.
Believe it or not, you can drink the water in Belize. Yes, I mean from the tap. Most towns have water treatment facilities similar to those in the United States. We drank the water in all of the towns we stayed in (Dangriga, Placencia, Maya Centre, Punta Gorda, and San Ignacio), and we never got sick.
Extended Central American Adventure
A natural extension of a trip to Belize is to visit bordering Guatemala, which we did for four weeks. See my journal Guatemala on per day and other Guatemala journals.
I have described in detail all the transportation that we used while in Belize in a separate entry in this journal. In general, the bus system connects the country very well, and is safe and affordable. There were a few places we used boats and taxis also. Bus, boat, and taxi transportation is covered in the separate journal entry.
One thing I should mention is that for exploring the Mountain Pine Ridge area of Belize, which is supposed to be incredible, is would be almost necessary to have a car. There is no public transport, and taxis to go that distance are very expensive.
Here is the transportation that we used in Belize (with as many details as I can remember), plus our itinerary:
Fly US Airways from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Belize City, Belize. No visa required for US citizens. Free 30-day visa issued at airport.
Caught a ride: Belize City to Dangriga – caught a ride with a university group that we met on the airplane. Normal transport, if not renting a car, would be to take a taxi (US$20) to the bus station, then the bus from there.
Two nights in Dangriga
Bus: Dangriga to Maya Centre – noon from bus station, US$3 per person, 45 minutes
Hitch a ride: Maya Centre to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Normal transport if you do not have a rental car is to take a taxi from Maya Centre to Cockscomb, check at store corner of highway and Cockscomb Road (by bus stop). Cost is approximately US$15-20. It is possible to walk the six miles, but I think three hours walking in the scorching heat with backpack or luggage is too much.
One night in Cockscomb Basin
Hitch a ride: Cockscomb to Maya Centre. Otherwise, rangers will radio a taxi in town to come and pick you up.
One night in Maya Centre
Bus: Maya Centre to Placencia – 11-11:15am from bus stop on highway, US$2.50 per person, 1 hour 15 minutes.
Four nights in Placencia
Bus: Placencia to Dangriga – 6am from main road, US$5 per person, two hours
Bus: Dangriga to Belmopan – 8:30am on a regular bus (more expensive but a faster express bus is also available at the same time) from the bus station, US$3 per person
Bus: Belmopan to San Ignacio (Cayo) – leaves shortly after arrival from Dangriga, Belmopan bus station, US$1.50 per person.
Five nights in San Ignacio (Cayo)
Bus: San Ignacio (Cayo) to Benque Viejo Del Carmen – from bus station, US$0.75 per person
Taxi: Benque Viejo Del Carmen to Guatemala Border Crossing – US$1 per person
(departure tax US$19 per person)
(approximately four weeks in Guatemala – see my Guatemala on $20 per day and other Guatemala journals for more information)
Boat: Puerto Barrios, Guatemala to Punta Gorda, Belize – 10am, company: El Chato (office near dock), US$15 per person, one hour. There is another company that also does the trip, for US$12.50 and doesn’t leave until 2pm. I am unsure of name of company – ask at dock.
(departure tax US$10 per person – immigration office near dock)
One night in Punta Gorda
Bus: Punta Gorda to Mango Creek – 10am from town center, US$4.50 per person, two hours
Pickup truck (free) will take you from bus stop to boat dock
Boat: Mango Creek to Placencia – US$5 per person, 15 minutes
3 nights Placencia
Bus: Placencia to Dangriga – 6am from main road, US$5 per person, two hours
Bus: Dangriga to Belize City – 8:30am on Express Bus (less expensive bus slower Regular Bus also available at same time), US$8 per person
Taxi: Belize City to airport – US$20
(departure tax = US19 per person)
During the 17th century, control of Belize was in theory had by Spain. But English settlers, mostly in the form of pirates, settled along the coast. One of their favorite pastimes was ransacking Spanish ships. Spain asked the British government in 1670 to make the pirates stop, and the "unemployed" then turned to logging. Logwood, used for dye, was the main focus of cutters.
In general, Spain didn’t consider Belize to be valuable or a priority, and mostly ignored the area. The British had economic interests, in the form of logging, and gained more and more control. The invention of synthetic dyes collapsed the logwood business, and loggers next turned to cutting mahogany. Official control of Belize by the British did not come until 1862, when Great Britain claimed Belize as a colony and named it British Honduras.
The economy of British Honduras stayed precarious over the years. It never really moved beyond farming, fishing, and logging. After WWII, residents started taking interest in their own independence. The People’s United Party was formed and led the way to eventual independence in 1981. British Honduras once again became Belize, although it continued to be a member of the British Commonwealth.
The British monarch is the official head of state in Belize, and there is a Belizean prime minister. There is a representative democracy in the form of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The prime minister position has been held by two main people from two main parties over the years. George Price, of the People’s United Party (PUP), was the first prime minister. Election results went back and forth between Price and Manual Esquivel of the United Democratic Party. Most recently, George Price retired, and the prime minister position was won by Said Musa of the PUP.
Belize has always been a peaceful, non-violent country. While Guatemala still claims that some Belizean lands belong to it, the disagreement never went beyond minor border flare-ups. In 2000, formal talks of resolution began, but have not really gone very far. The government is democratic, but still somewhat corrupt, and many feel changes still need to be made.
Between the original Mayan population, the British settlers, and the slaves brought with the settlers, Belize has had a diverse population from the beginning of its history. A group of Garifuna people (from Bay Islands of Honduras) came to Belize in 1802. Add to that immigration of white, mestizo, and Mayans from Mexico as a result of war in the Yucatan, and from Guatemala during their civil war, and immigration of Mennonites (from Manitoba, Canada and Chihuahua, Mexico), Lebanese, Chinese, and East Indian people – the mixture is truly amazing. While English is the official language of Belize, each of these smaller groups has its own language as well.
To this day, no major industry has developed in Belize, and the economy relies heavily on tourism.
Obviously, as I mentioned before, I would spend more time researching that I did. We only had a few weeks to prepare for the trip, and the Christmas holidays were during that time as well.
Activities that I would have liked to do:
We had two things that we really wanted to do while in Belize:
Go on an overnight kayaking/camping trip to one of the cayes
Hike in the rainforest
I had researched a company in Placencia that did a cool sounding kayak/camp trip that was within our budget. I tried to contact them by email prior to leaving the USA, but did not get a response. It turned out that the owner had recently taken ill and the company was shut down, likely for good. We did not discover this until we had arrived in Placencia, so we were unable to research and find a different trip – well, we were able to find other trips, but none that we could afford. But regardless, there we did not have very good weather during our time on the south coast of Belize.
We did get to hike in the rainforest, but only for day hikes. If I ever get to return to Belize, I would like to do some backpacking, either guided or unguided.
With a larger budget on a return trip, two excellent-looking guided trips (I met the owners and got great impressions of them) that I would do are:
Six days sea kayaking/camping trip with Toadal Adventure.
Multi-day rainforest trek with Marcos Cucul of Maya Guide.
One thing that I didn’t think much about, although it is mentioned in all the guidebooks, is caving. We did not realize that there were so many caves, some with archeological pieces still in them, to explore. We also did not realize that all caves in Belize (except part of one in Blue Hole National Park) require guides, and guided caving tours were for the most part over our budget.
I also did not know that the Mountain Pine Ridge area of Belize does not have any public transportation to it. Again, with a bigger budget, I would have allotted for a car rental for maybe two days to explore the area.
How I might change the itinerary:
I think that instead of returning to Placencia at the end of the trip, I would have liked to spend a few nights in Punta Gorda. This seemed like such a beautiful and friendly place – Placencia is too, but Punta Gorda had fewer tourists.
I would spend a second night in Cockscomb Basin, but still spend a night in Maya Centre.
I would skip Dangriga. I heard great things about nearby Hopkins, that it is a new up-and-coming tourist destination on the coast. I would have liked to check out Hopkins, and least for a night or two.
I would spend the same amount of time in San Ignacio, but as I mentioned above, I would either rent a car to explore the nearby Mountain Pine Ridge area while based in San Ignacio, or else I would spend a night or two in one of the eco-lodges in Mountain Pine Ridge.
With a longer trip, I would have liked to add on a trip to one of the cayes. I would just make sure that it was not Caye Caulker or Ambergis Caye. There are many that looked interesting – some more affordable than others.
We did indeed meet this goal. Our average expenditure per day in Belize was $58.02, or $29.01 per person. This amount reflects ALL of our daily spending: room, transportation, meals, snacks, beverages, internet, books, toiletries, entrance fees, and activities. This amount does not include our airfare to Central America or departure fees paid at border crossings.
To help to achieve our goal, we did not go on expensive guided tours, although this is not really our style anyway. But we did plenty of interesting activities, and absorbed the culture and country for over two weeks. I think if the weather had been better during our time in Placencia, we would have liked to go on a full-day snorkel trip, which would have put us over our goal by only $1.66 per person per day. Worth it, I think!
Below is our day-by-day expenditure, along with the location in which we spent the night, and the main activity for the day.
Jan 2 – $43.50 (Dangriga – travel day)
Jan 3 – $39.50 (Dangriga – walk to Gra Gra Lagoon)
Jan 4 – $74.50 (Cockscomb Basin - Jaguar Preserve)
Jan 5 – $35.00 (Maya Centre - Jaguar Preserve)
Jan 6 – $51.00 (Placencia – travel day)
Jan 7 – $61.50 (Placencia – half-day kayak rental)
Jan 8 – $94.00 (Placencia – snorkel at Lark Caye ad Bugle Caye)
Jan 9 – $38.00 (Placencia – relax at beach, read, play Scrabble)
Jan 10 – $54.75 (Cayo – travel day)
Jan 11 – $50.50 (Cayo – two archeological sites: Cahal Pech & Xunatunich)
Jan 12 – $60.00 (Cayo – bike to El Pilar archeological site and park)
Jan 13 – $56.50 (Cayo – Blue Hole National Park)
Jan 14 – $65.00 (Cayo – Green Iguana Exhibit, Latin Dance class)
*** Four weeks in Guatemala
*** see my Guatemala journal "Guatemala on $20 per day"
Feb 13 - $69.75 (Punta Gorda – travel by boat from Guatemala)
Feb 14 - $86.00 (Placencia – lounge on beach, lobster dinner)
Feb 15 - $48.00 (Placencia – lounge on beach)
Feb 16 - $59.00 (Placencia – lounge on beach)
Cheapest room in Belize was US$12.50 per night, most expensive was US$21.50 per night. Transportation costs are detailed in my separate Transportation entry.
Rates based on fixed exchange rate of US$1=Belize$2.
Single travelers do not get many breaks on room rates in Belize. Guatemala was much more single-friendly in this respect.
Port Angeles, Washington