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Belize

Travel Belize: Things to know before visiting and basic safety guidelines

Belize is an El Dorado for diving and snorkeling. It is an underwater paradise and is home to the second biggest and in our opinion the most beautiful, barrier reef in the world. Unsurprisingly it is therefore super high on everyone’s bucketlist that loves underwater sports and wants to explore the most gorgeous places on earth. Check out our 5 most favourite things to do in Belize here or see which places we recommend for diving. If you want to travel Belize or backpack through this amazing country, make sure to read further and get our tips for safety in Belize and also on how to travel the country in the best way.

How safe is Belize really?

Since the country is majorly depending on tourism, they make great efforts to keep their income sources safe. Hence there is an unwritten law within the country not to cause any kind of trouble with tourists. Penalties for crimes affecting tourists are considerably higher than crimes done to any local inhabitants. We are not sure if we should think that is a good thing or not. Either way, it is probably one of the safer countries within Latin America due to this fact. Nevertheless, unspoken rules like that one wouldn’t be necessary at all if the country wouldn’t have to fight its own battles.

We felt completely safe at tourist hotspots such as Caye Caulker or San Pedro – even at night. From our personal experience, we cannot say the same about the capital Belize City and the less touristy diving place Placencia though. We rather wondered why almost every restaurant closed in the late afternoon. Cory experienced a pretty scary and harassing situation, when I left her alone at a local restaurant for five minutes at around 8pm. We know that such incidents can happy everywhere and anytime, and this does not automatically reflect for the whole country, but also the bar owner told us afterwards that it is not a time for a girl to be out alone. This kept us thinking that this probably was not a single incident.

How expensive is Belize?

Price levels are similar to Central Europe, although comfort and infrastructure are very … lets say different. We normally book basic, but clean and air-conditioned rooms, especially in hot countries like Belize. Unfortunately, our travel budget did not allow us to sleep in a room with the luxury of an air-conditioning. At the places we slept at an AC was an additional 10 USD per night. A private room without a shared bathroom ranked at 40 USD per night.

What we found a bit unfortunate as well is that prices for eating out at tourist hot spots are comparable to Central Europe or even Australia. Grocery shopping stores have a very limited offer while being super expensive as well. We later found out that Belize has very strict import regulations and high import taxes, which in combination with their small number of inhabitants have led to very little competition between shop owners. We even met some locals that are driving to Mexico to pile up on cheap food. Being located next to Central America and Mexico while having a limited supply or incredible high prices on many fresh fruits or vegetables kept us really wondering what are the issues with this country’s economy.

Economy in Belize

Even though the World Bank considers Belize on of the upper middle income countries, poverty is extremely high – 43% of the inhabitants live under the national poverty line. The government has also high debts and is dependent on donors to fight poverty. The tourism industry and all directly related industries account for approximately 1/3 of the country’s GDP as well as employment. The gap between rich and poor is tremendous.

We didn’t find reliable background information that explains why a country, which is surrounded by much cheaper countries, has created themselves an economy where many locals have to live very poorly. Most of the agriculture land is unused in Belize thus the dependency of imports is high. (The main export goods are citrus, bananas and sugar.) Tourism has allowed prices to reach peaks that it seems to us that everyone who is not directly benefiting from tourism or another high income industry is suffering from the consequences. It also appeared to us that there is a very limited number of shop owners that are controlling the market. Bigger suppliers have no interest in going into such a small market, so prices stay at a level which tourists are willing to pay.

What to eat in Belize – especially being vegetarian or even vegan?

As vegetarians and foodies we had a pretty hard time eating out in Belize. Local food is generally heavy loaded with meat. Nevertheless, we always found a vegetarian option, which in 90% of the time was either a taco or burrito filled with rice, beans and onions. If you are travelling on a budget like we do, we highly recommend you to eat the local food trucks for the best value deals.

How to get around and travel Belize?

The most affordable way to get around Belize is by taking the local bus. Due to Belize’s small population, some city connections such as Belize City to Placencia are only operated once or twice per day. Shuttles between tourist hubs such as Belize City to Caye Caulker or San Pedro are operated very frequently during the day. In order to reach your target destination on time, better check the bus schedule a day before.

If you travel from Belize City to Mexico, we can strongly advise you to take the local bus to Chetumal and from there jump into the ADO bus to reach any other cities in Mexico. Do not make the mistake and take the ADO bus directly from Belize City. This way we saved around 50 USD per person, since the ADO boarding crossing is a bit of a tourist scam. They are basically charging you extra money to make your life easier.

Basic facts about Belize

Population:385.854 – July 2018
Offical language:English (super convenient)
Capital:Belmopan
Currency:Belize Dollar (1 USD = 2 BZD)

Disclaimer: This are our experiences with this country, and definitely nothing written in stone. We encourage everyone to see a country on their own and make up their own mind. Belize definitely is a beautiful place to visit – especially for divers.

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Top 5 things to do in Belize

Besides the fact that there is a massive blue hole out in the ocean, Belize has not really made it onto our radar before visiting it as a part of our world trip and travelling through Latin America. Our view on this country changed dramatically after a couple of days as Belize is a true underwater paradise.

1. Go snorkeling in Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Hands down, one of the best snorkeling spots worldwide. You will see more underwater life than on any dives you can possible do. And trust us, we have seen a lot.

Holan Chan is Mayan and means little channel. The 18km2 area and its marine life is heavily protected, hence underwater life is more than flourishing. You will see nurse sharks, manta rayes, big turtles, swarms of huge fishes, and in our opinion the intact coral gardens possible.

Snorkeling tours can either be booked from San Pedro or Caye Caulker, and cost you approximately 60 USD for a full-day trip including 5 different snorkeling spots.

2. Go snorkeling or diving at the Silk Cayes near Placencia

The Silk Cayes are three tiny islands that are surrounded by an incredible colorful reef. And by tiny we mean that you can literally walk around the whole main island in like 15 seconds. From Placencia, the hotspot for all kinds of diving located south of Belize City, it is only 60 minutes away by boat. Read our article here to get more details on the epic diving we did there and how to even get an opportunity to spot whale sharks.

3. Take a sailing trip from Caye Caulker or stay at a remote island resort around the reef

The highlight of Belize is definitely the incredible reef which stretches along the whole coastline of the country. If you want to check out the remote islands, avoid other tourists and basically have no idea what to do else with your money – this is the trip for you. If you got the hint, we did not do it, since prices seem unrealistically high. Like 400 USD for a 3D2N trip including staying in dorms.

4. Go see the Blue Hole

To really get the vast beauty of this place, you either have to take a helicopter flight, which will set your travel budget back by 500 USD, or take a boat there and fly a drone. And if you don’t have a drone, we suggest you make a friend quickly that does.

The blue hole is surrounded by two small islands, where you can have your lunch break on if you go diving or snorkeling. Snorkeling trips leave from Caye Caulker and cost around 260 USD. Diving is double. At the diving trips, you have the amazing experience to see the majestic stalactites and also highly likely to get to see some sharks.

5. Visit the Belizian Maya temples

If you are not into watersport, there is only one inland highlight in this country to visit. Belize is known as the epicenter of the ancient Maya world and was the home of more than 2 million Mayas. Today there are many Mayan temples that you can visit; Caracol is the biggest one and Xunantunich is the second tallest temple in all of Belize.

Nevertheless and important to know, you can also find other beautiful Maya temples in Guatemala and México for cheaper entrance fees. So if you are also visiting those countries, we would probably recommend you to skip it.

To conclude, as the whole article is mainly about snorkeling and diving, you probably get the idea what Belize mainly is about. To be honest, if you are not into these two things or willing to spend your money on it, than we would not recommend you to visit this country after all.

Due to long stretching reef none of the islands have real beaches; they are all man-made and filled up by artificial sand. Belize is also dealing with lots of economic issues and missing infrastructure. For example, there is no mail delivery, places have no address and prices for basic things like groceries are insanely high as the Chinese reign all the markets. Due to those issues and the popularity of the reef, the prices in the country exploded, while still having a fairly low or even lower standard compared to all the other Latin American countries.

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Belize – an underwater paradise for diving

Diving with Splash Belize in Placencia | Collaboration

Belize is the place where every diving dream comes true. It heritages the second biggest barrier reef in the world and is home to a flourishing variety of underwater life. Nowhere else we have found a better diving or snorkeling spot yet.

Placencia is one of the diving El Dorado’s, located south of Belize City. We had two amazing days with Splash Belize, which we always have a place in our memory. Splash Belize is the biggest diving center in the area and has already been in place when Placencia was still a small harbor 20 years ago.

Day 1 – Diving and Snorkeling Trip to Silk Cayes

Silk Cayes consist of three tiny islands, which are located around an hour away from the main island. By tiny we mean that you easily walk around the island about 15 seconds. It feels like you are Robinson Crusoe in the middle of the ocean. The island is surrounded by an amazing barrier reef and is definitely one of the best snorkeling spots we have been so far in our life.

On the beach as well as in the water you can find huge, almost unreal looking shells, just casually laying around. It’s like being stranded in paradise.

All the boats stay at the island for lunch. During this time it gets pretty crowded. If you join any of the snorkeling tours, you explore the colorful reef around the island and afterwards find yourself almost alone on the beach.

The diving tour takes you the very end of the reef, where you dive along the North Wall. It’s an incredible formation covered in beautiful corals and home to a ton of colorful fish, turtles and reef and nurse sharks. Aside the wall there is a dark blue, deep abyss, which gives it even more breathtaking touch.

The second dive took us to the White Hole. A coral area, which is known for its many reef and nurse sharks. As lion fish hunting became very popular here, the sharks follow the divers insanely close, as they are waiting for you to serve them lunch and dinner. Two nurse sharks followed us, rubbing our belly and even let us say hello and stroke their backs shortly.

Day 2 – Trying to spot some whale sharks in the open water

We decided to take our chances to take a tour to see whale sharks. These wonderful creates usually come close from April to June, especially after a full moon.

Splash takes you out in the dark blue open water, where your only point of reference is your guide. We went down to 30m depth until you are just surrounded by blue water. As the ground is not visible, it feels like floating in outer space. Every encounter feels mystical and unreal in this surrounding. Just keep an eye on your dive computer or gauge and keep your diving depth under check, as it’s easy to lose track.

We swam with big snappers, since those fish are the ones whale sharks are attracted too. Unfortunately we didn’t get to spot a whale shark, but a massive turtle did us the honors and joined us floating around in the deep.

We did this particular dive end of May 2019. Just one year before, sightings were almost guaranteed. Some schools even gave you back the money, if you didn’t at least see one of the creatures. But tourism in this area increased a lot and sightings are much less reported. Reasons are unknown, could be that the whale sharks got too afraid of humans. So no guys, no need to be afraid of sharks at all – most are more afraid of you. And for sure there are much tastier dishes, than a human in a neoprene suit.

Wild animal sightings are always hard to predict, hence it is important to keep expectations under check and include this perspective. Nonetheless, it is an outstanding experience of being there and get to see what it is like to be in the open water.

Why we recommend you to choose Splash Belize

Two happy faces after having had one of the best diving experiences of our worldtrip. Belize’s underwater life really amazed us; definitely one of the most beautiful barrier reefs in the whole world. And we have seen a lot! 🙂

We have never before seen such an incredible service at a diving school like at Splash Belize. When you get there, every diver gets appointed his own dive master, which helps to gather the perfect gear for your needs. At the boat they do set up all the gear for you, rinse your masks and help to get into the water with ease. Especially helpful if you have back issues like Cory does. After diving, you get water, juice and and fresh watermelon. You enjoy a nice lunch on the boat; a vegetarian or vegan option is also available.

Splash Belize does have highly experienced, fun and energetic dive masters. You do feel incredible safe and the guides take marine protection very serious, which allows this wonderful diving experience to stay as beautiful as ever. We met a guy who has been diving here since over 20 years and he confirmed that the reef hasn’t changed a bit.

Regarding prices: don’t make the mistake and expect Belize to be as cheap as any other country in Latin America. It is the complete opposite. The uniqueness of the underwater world and the economic issues (and oh boy, there are many) have created sky-rocking prices in every aspect of the country. Nonetheless, if you are keen on seeing one of the most beautiful places to dive in the world, it is totally worth it.

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