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Belizean Tourist Information

Things to Do When You're Diving Belize

Looking for some information to make your dive trip to Belize run smoothly?

This section contains tourist information for your visit to the following locations:

• Ambergris Caye
Belize's most popular tourist destination ...

• Turneffe Atoll
Belize diving adventures with natural charm ...

Belize diving vacations - Image Copyright 2008 - Tony Rath/tonyrath.com

Belize sits right in the heart of Central America, flanked by Mexico and Guatemala, and is lapped on its shoreline by the Western Caribbean Sea. Historically it has maintained a rather low profile but in recent times the profile of the country as a tourist destination has risen thanks to the twin wonders of its Mayan history and its underwater splendour.

Pristine rainforest, ancient ruins, the Belize Barrier Reef, and its beautiful atolls all testify to the country as a unique and exceptional dive holiday destination. With 93% of its land under forest cover and 42% of it under some form of legal protected status, it is one of the world's most biologically diverse countries.

The rest of this page contains information about Belize:

Tourist Security and Safety

Belize is not a particularly dangerous place but as with many destinations, a little common sense goes a long way. If you are staying in a remote resort or on a liveaboard, then your exposure to any risk is likely to be less than someone staying in Belize City.

The usual advice applies to visiting Belize including avoiding dark or suspicious looking areas, not wearing expensive jewellery or accessories, and staying in groups. If you are going to be taking tours off the beaten track, then you should be sure to do so with a qualified guide.

To maximise your comfort, we can recommend that you take out insurance to cover diving and travel activities, including trip cancellation. See our insurance programme for a competitive quote.

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How to Get There

The Philip Goldson International Airport is in Ladyville, some 16 km from Belize City. Unreliable buses and taxis run from the airport to the city centre which takes about 30 minutes. However, many tourism operators run an airport pick-up service.

There are international flights to Belize from various cities in the USA such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Charlotte, Houston and Miami, as well as from El Salvador. It is only a 2 hour flight from continental United States. Major airlines which service Belize include Continental, Delta, American, Grupo TACA and US Airways. There are also 2 local airlines, Maya Island Air and Tropic Air, that fly to Belize every day from Flores in Guatemala and Cancun in Mexico.

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Where to Stay

If you need an overnight stay on your way in or out of Belize, or simply wish to add a few days to your holiday, then check our affiliated hotel reservation agents Agoda.com. Browse their website choices for Belize accommodation, use their online chat to ask your questions, or simply book with your credit card.

Visit Agoda.com and review details, prices and make a reservation for Belizean and worldwide hotels (opens in a new window)

All their options are backed up with their 'Low Price Guarantee' to ensure you get top-dollar value for money.

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General Information

This section contains information about:

Climate

Belize enjoys a sub-tropical climate with 2 distinct seasons - rainy and dry. Rainy season is roughly June to November and the dry season is December to May, which tends to be the warmest month. Being in the Caribbean, weather is varied. November to February can see 'Northers' blowing in which bring temperatures down with rain and choppy seas. Historically, most hurricanes occur in the August and October period here, although there hasn't been one since 2000.

Temperatures from April to October are 25-35°C (77-95F), November through to March are cooler at between 20-30°C (70-90F). It may be slightly cooler than this on the mainland, especially in the south. There is usually a breeze, which is good consdiering the high humidity of above 80%.

The Beaches of Belize

The island beaches are plentiful and often feature the type of warm, clear, turquoise waters for which the Caribbean is famed. Ambergris Caye and Lighthouse Reef feature many nice beaches while Turneffe Atoll consists more of mangrove areas with a few sandy clearings.

The beaches on the mainland are also great although some are quite inaccessible and many are part of protected areas. The 380 km coast means however that there are plenty that can be enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.

Sightseeing and Things to Do

Waterfalls of Belize - Image Copyright 2008 - Tony Rath/tonyrath.com

The Museum of Belize is a former colonial prison and much of it is dedicated to displaying this aspect of its history. It also is a great place to introduce the ancient Mayan and colonial history of the country. Built in the 19th century, it is an impressive brick building found at the corner of Gabourel and Hutson streets.

Caracol Ruins are the most high profile of the Mayan ruins, set close to Guatemala in the Chiquibul Forest, and are a must-see for anyone who intends to spend time on the mainland to learn about the areas ancient peoples and culture. Altun Ha was a major trade centre and is the most extensively excavated ruin in Belize. There are 13 temples and residences to vview here. Cerros and Lamanai, with its long history and beautiful scenic setting, are also worth a visit.

Belize Zoo, some 50 km west of the capital, enjoys international acclaim as a wildlife education centre exhibiting over 100 native species, the larger of which are housed in sizeable enclosures allowing a good degree of natural behaviour.

For more information on what to do in Belize and where to do it, visit Slickrock AdventuresOpens in a new window.

Entertainment and Shopping

There is not a thriving club scene in Belize. Bars tend to be more the order of the day. On the islands, San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is a close as you will come to a nightspot with a few bars and dance venues. On the mainland the hotel bars of Belize City are the main places to hang out.

Markets in Belize, dotted all over the country, sell all sorts of necessities and handicrafts including art and jewellery. You can pick up a variety of local items including spices and sauces to give your food at home that Caribbean kick. Unfortunately there seems to still be a trade in less ecologically friendly handicrafts including those made from corals and shells and we recommend to all our customers not to encourage the removal of such items from their marine habitat.

Dining Out

Again, for tourists seeking a variety of eateries, San Pedro and elsewhere on the lively island of Ambergris Caye is the hottest spot. Elsewhere, more remote resorts will have their own restaurant and depending on location, there may or may not be other options nearby.

Belize cuisine features a lot of seafood including shrimp, conch and lobster. Chicken and pork is also popular. Mexican influences like rice and beans are also strong and sauces include those made from fresh fruits such as coconut, lime and pineapple.

History

Belize's history is a long one. Mayans date from 1,500 BCE and their civilisation flourished until 1,200 CE at a time when the country was much more densely populated. Its zenith was around 250 CE when farming practices such as slash and burn agriculture and extensive irrigation fed a thriving array of craftsmen, merchants, warriors and mathematical astronomers. Temples, palaces, paintings and geometric buildings bear testimony to their creativity and knowledge.

Europeans arrived in the 16th century and the conquest of Yucatan began in 1527. Diseases contracted from the Spanish prevented any meaningful resistance and conversion to Christianity began to take root in the 17th century during which time piracy was rife along the coast and islands. The Spanish obtained sovereignty over the area but never settled and, after increasing settlement by British logwood cutters, African slaves were being shipped in to work on the settlements heralding the birth of 'Kriol' culture.

The late 19th century saw many battles between the British and the Mayans and a new constitution was formally established in 1871 in an effort to cement the colony known as British Honduras. As with many British colonies of the era, the dominant political force was a company - in this case the British Honduras Company - the dominant political force for over a century. Economic stagnation due to falling demand from Europe of its natural resources, allowed the Creole elite, with contacts in the rapidly developing USA, the opportunity to swing the balance of power in their favour.

Labour agitation in the early to mid 20th century, demands for universal suffrage (regardless of literacy), and the push for representative government, were the main forces behind the growth of the Peoples United Party who won 66% of the vote in 1954. Independence finally came in 1981.

Today tourism dominates the Belizean economy, with logging and fishing playing less important roles.

Carnival time in Belize - Image Copyright 2008 - Tony Rath/tonyrath.com

The Local People

Belize's population consist of around 300,000 people as of 2008 including mainly Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Spanish, Maya, English, Mennonite, Lebanese, Chinese, and Eastern Indian. It remains one of the least densely populated countries in the Americas and there is very little in the way of racial disharmony.

The official language is English (the only Central American country to use English as its first language) and it is used in the mainstream educational system. Other widely spoken languages include Spanish, Creole Mayan and Garifuna.

Health

Belize is free of serious epidemic diseases and no vaccinations are required for entry in to Belize. However, there are areas where yellow fever and dengue fever are more prevalent. Extra caution and the use of anti-malarials are advised for extended stays in the jungle. For vaccinations and other health precautions, we recommend you consult your local doctor when planning your Belize dive trip.

For divers, there is a hyperbaric chamber on Ambergris Caye. You should also bear in mind that medical evacuation may be necessary in the case of severe illness or injury, so adequate insurance is strongly advised.

Belize City has a hospital and several private medical centres and clinics for less serious issues.

Tourist Visas

You will need a passport valid for 6 months beyond your intended stay and a return ticket.

United States citizens and nationals of the United Kingdom and member states of the European Union do not require visas. Visas are needed if you are a national of China, Columbia, Cuba, India, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa or Taiwan.

Visitors are permitted to stay for up to 30 days and extensions may be granted when in the country. You may be asked to show that you have sufficient funds for your visit (US$ 50 per person per day), plus an onward ticket.

Time Zones

Belize is -6 GMT, the same as United States Central Time.

Business Hours

Banks: Monday to Thursday 08:00 to 13:00 hrs, Friday 08:00 to 13:00 and 15:00 to 14:00. Industry: Monday to Friday 08:00 to 12:00 hrs, 13:00 to 17:00. Some businesses are open on Saturday.

The Belize Dollar (BZ$) has a fixed exchange rate of BZ$2 to US$1. The majority of hotels, resorts, restaurants, and tour operators will accept US currency, traveller's checks, or credit card. Credit card payments often attract a 5% service charge. Always make sure that you understand which dollar rate is being quoted as the term 'dollar' is what you will hear.

Electricity

Although most of the electricity is provided by diesel/generator sets, the power is stable at 110/220 volts AC, 60 Hz - the same voltage as in the USA. Plugs are either North American 3-pin, flat blades with round grounding pin or British 3-pin rectangular blade plug.

Photographic Facilities

Locally, you may have difficulty finding photographic equipment. We recommend you bring all spare materials, films and batteries with you.

Communications

Internet service is widely available but is still expensive so do not expect internet cafes on every street corner. Some resorts will be connected, possibly with satellite internet but as a general rule you might not be able to have access for several days during your stay. Telephone and fax facilities are widely available.

The postal service in Belize is quite reliable and air mail takes about 8 days to Europe, 2 days to the USA. The main post office is on the north side of the swing bridge in Belize City.

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Codes of Behaviour

Tipping and bargaining

Tipping is customary in restaurants where there is no service charge included and 10-15% is the norm. Higher end hotels, resorts and tour operators often include a 10% service charge meaning that further tipping is not required. Private tour guides may also expect a similar gratuity.

Clothing

Formal clothing is almost never a necessity, even in the most expensive places. Wear cool light clothing, avoid excessive sweating and fungal infections. Protect yourself from the strong sun. Polarise sunglasses, a hat, and the rest of the "slip, slop, slap, wrap" advice should be heeded. You should know that refreshments are not always readily available when sightseeing, so pack all necessities in a small backpack.

Criminality

Crime should not be a major concern for most tourists. Avoid wearing expensive jewellery or accessories and exercise a reasonable amount of caution as a stranger in a strange land. Deep inland there are probably some miscreants ferrying cocaine upstream or across borders but we do not expect Dive The World customers to encounter any such individuals.

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Interested?

If you're keen to discover the underwater world of Belize, then click below to check your options for:

Be sure to book up in plenty of time to avoid limited choice! The best Belizean scuba diving vacations are booked by repeat customers who book well in advance to ensure their reservation!


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