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