Learn all about traveling to Belize. Bordered by Mexico to the north, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west by Guatemala. It is a real paradise, with wonderful beaches and rainforests and a great destination to visit for relaxation and adventure.
Conveniently located in Central America, Belize is nestled against the Caribbean Sea and boasts nearly 240 miles of tropical coastline. The country is home to a diverse culture that’s steeped in Mayan history and offers an energetic music scene. It’s marked by dense rainforests, beckoning beaches and an extensive coral reef system.
A richly diverse country, the official language is English, making it easy for visitors from the United States to navigate when they’re traveling to Belize. That being said, over one-third of its population speaks Belizean Creole, which is the national language. More than half of the residents can speak more than two languages with Spanish being the most common after English and Belizean Creole.
Spanning an area of nearly 9,000 square miles, Belize has the lowest density of people and the lowest population in Central America. In spite of that, the country boasts one of the highest growth rates in the Western Hemisphere and has the second-highest growth rate in the area.
What's the difference between Belize and Belize City?
Once the capital of the country, Belize City today is still the largest city in Belize. Home to more than 80,000 people, Belize City is the location of the country’s largest airport and seaport. Still the commercial capital of the country, Belize City is also home to Belize Tourism Village which is a docking point for many cruise ships.
Watch a short video introduction to Belize. A revamp of Belize Tourism Board’s (BTB) “Be One With Belize” video by Tomas Gongora.
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Where is Belize located?
Belize is situated on Central America’s northeastern coast. In addition to being bordered by the Caribbean Sea on its east, Belize is also neighbors with Guatemala to its west and south. Mexico is located to the northwest of Belize.
Belize History & Unique Facts
The Mayan culture was evident in Belize as long as 3,000 years ago. In spite of being dominated by European civilizations for almost 500 years, there is still a heavy Mayan influence that is visible within many parts of the country.
Because Belize was the center of the Mayan civilization, there are a number of Mayan sites that have been preserved including Xunantunich. Located less than a mile from the border with Guatemala, and about 70 miles from Belize City, Xunantunich is perched above the Mopan River and is the site of “El Castillo,” a well-preserved Mayan archeological site.
In spite of Spanish explorers being the first to lay claim to Belize, it was the British who established a permanent settlement on the country around 1716. This area would later become Belize District which is where present-day Belize City is located. By 1862, the British had claimed Belize as a British Crown Colony, several decades after Spanish rule over Central America ended.
Under British rule, British Honduras — as Belize was called during this time period — was subjected to numerous economic ups and downs since the colony was at the mercy of the whims of the British government. A collapse of the mahogany trade because of the Great Depression, a devastating unnamed hurricane that killed more than 2,500 people and destroyed much of Belize City and the stagnation of Belize’s economy once World War II ended prompted the push for independence.
In 1964, British Honduras was awarded the ability to govern itself with the country being officially renamed as Belize in 1973. Due to a territorial dispute in which Guatemala claimed Belize territory as its own, the country wasn’t granted its official independence until 1981.
In addition to being Central America’s only English-speaking country and the center of Mayan civilization, there are some other Belize facts that highlight the uniqueness of the country. Belize is the location of the world’s second-largest barrier reef. A World Heritage Site, it’s home to an array of stingrays, fish, nurse sharks, sea turtles and other aquatic life that thrive among the coral.
Belize is also a country that has few traffic lights. Instead, there are hundreds — or even thousands — of speed humps or “sleeping policemen” as they are colloquially called. These speed bumps usually consist of one, two or three humps that are designed to ensure that traffic maintains a safe speed in congested areas.
Belize boasts a diverse ethnicity among its residents. About half of its population is of the Mestizo culture. Of mixed Maya and Spanish, Mestizo towns are found primarily in the country’s northern districts of Orange Walk and Corozal. The town’s main square is the primary focus of its social life and is often the site of the Catholic church. Spanish is the primary language of Mestizos but Belize Kriol and English are also spoken fluently by many.
Mestizo Culture of Belize Photo Source: BelizeHub.com
Garifuna People of Belize Photo Source: BelizeHub.com
Comprising about 4.5 percent of the country’s population, the Garinagu boast an ancestry that has African, Island Carib and Arawak roots. Genetically, the Garinagu are an average of 76 percent Sub Saharan African, 20 percent Island Carib/Arawak and 4 percent European. Though the Garifuna language has its origins in Arawakan, it also contains a large number of words from the English and Carib languages. The Garinagu also brought African fufu and cassava — a dish of mashed plantains and fish stew — to Belize.
Belizean Creoles are primarily the descendants of Baymen slave owners and Belizean slaves. They comprise slightly more than 20 percent of the population and about 45 percent of Creoles speak Belize Creole English. While this ethnic group can be found throughout Belize, Creoles are especially prominent in areas such as the Belize River Valley, urban centers like Belize City and the country’s coastal villages and towns.
Today, the Maya civilization has been significantly diminished since Belize was invaded by the European. The reduction in their numbers was also the result of continuing conflicts between the groups. There are three Maya groups that make their home in the country. In addition to speaking their own native language, most of the Maya is fluent in Belize Kriol and English.
There is also a sizable population of Mennonites who speak German. Those who speak a Low German dialect known as Plautdietsch hail primarily from Mexico. Old Order Mennonites who speak mostly Pennsylvania German arrived from Canada and the United States.
Rice and beans is a staple in the Belizean diet that is eaten so widely that it could be called the national dish. Coconut rice and beans is a popular version that is also a nod to the country’s Caribbean roots.
Read our list of Top Restaurants & Food Stops in Belize.
Read our list of the top dishes to try in Belize.
Belize Travel & Tourism Statistics
Tourism in Belize is the country’s number one earner of revenue and contributes more than 38 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). This equates to nearly $245 million.
Americans represent the largest segment of overnight tourists arriving in Belize with Europeans being the second most common travelers to the region.
Because Belize has a small population and its violent crime rate is an average of 40 per every 100,000 people, the country is known as one of the most dangerous in the world. It’s important to understand, though, that most of that violence is limited to gang activity that is largely centered on the south side of Belize City. This violence has spread to some areas of Belize City that tourists might visit, however.
In contrast, the popular Caribbean islands of Belize are considered to be a great deal safer. Belize has responded with increased police patrols in the tourist areas of San Pedro & Ambergris Caye.
Of course, crime still occurs, but it tends to be petty crimes that aren’t violent. As of January 4, 2019, the United States Department of State issued a Level 2 travel advisory that encourages visitors to Exercise Extreme Caution in Belize. This is just one level higher than “Exercise Normal Precautions” on the agency’s four-level scale.
There are a number of different types of Belize accommodations to choose from. Luxury resorts that line the Caribbean Sea offers visitors the opportunity to pamper themselves.
Vacation rentals including condos provide privacy and a home-like atmosphere that makes it easy to explore Ambergris Caye and San Pedro on your own terms. Hit the local market and prepare a Belizean dish with fresh ingredients in your well-equipped vacation rental.
How To Get To Belize
There are many ways to get to Belize. The most common is by air but some may choose to visit by water or even drive from the US.
Belize Flights from the U.S.
Flying from the United States to Belize is easier today than ever. Many major cities have non-stop flights that fly directly to the Philip Goldson International Airport which is located just outside Belize City. Several of the country’s major air carriers, including United, American Airlines, Southwest and Delta, offer non-stop service.
- Southwest flies out of Denver and Houston (Hobby) with flight times to Belize running about four hours and two hours, respectively.
- American Airlines offers non-stop flights from Charlotte, North Carolina, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami and Los Angeles (LAX).
- United has flights from Chicago’s O’Hare airport, as well as Newark, New Jersey and Houston (IAH). Flight times are about four hours, six hours and two hours, respectively.
- Delta provides non-stop options for flights out of Atlanta and Los Angeles. Expect to reach Belize in about three hours from Atlanta and five from Los Angeles.
How to get to San Pedro, Belize
From Belize City, it’s easy to get to San Pedro. There are two airlines that operate in Belize: Tropic Air and Maya Island Air. They each offer an average of one flight each hour throughout the day. The first flight of the day is at about 7:30 AM while the last one leaves around 5:00 PM. During peak seasons, more flights are sometimes added to meet the additional demand.
A ferry or water taxi is another way that visitors to San Pedro can get to the town. These are open boats powered by twin outboard engines that seat 20 to 25 people. Upon their arrival at the airport, visitors should take a taxi to the Marine Terminal which is approximately 20 minutes away.
As two of the top tourist destinations in the country, Ambergris Caye and San Pedro offer a unique opportunity to enjoy Belize. The island of Ambergris Caye is known for its many beaches and their pristine turquoise waters. San Pedro is its only town and the largest community. The primary mode of transportation on the island is via golf cart.
Some of the best Belize things to do include visiting the world-famous Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the Belize Barrier Reef and its other natural wonders. Not surprisingly, scuba diving is a popular tourist activity here and is a must for exploring.
Similar to Mardi Gras, El Gran Carnaval de San Pedro occurs the week prior to Lent. Spanning three days, this traditional festival is more than 150 years old and has its roots in the Mestizo culture. Street dancers, painting, music and food are highlights of this festival.
Read our list of top 15 diving sites in Belize.
Some of the best fishing in the world is located right here in Belize.
Common Questions About Belize
As exciting as traveling to Belize is, a vacation to this Central American country also brings with it a number of common questions including:
Like any other country, Belize has some areas that are safer than others. Though gang altercations are responsible for the bulk of the violent crimes in the country, these tend to occur in Belize City’s south side. In the popular tourist spots, such as Ambergris Caye and San Pedro, crime is usually limited to petty acts that aren’t violent.
While the official currency is the Belize dollar, nearly all businesses in the country also accept United States dollars as well. In fact, the Belize dollar is set to the value of the US dollar. Every two Belize dollars are equal to one US dollar.
Before traveling to Belize, it’s important to make sure that all your routine vaccinations are up-to-date. In addition, most travelers should also be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. In addition, you might need other vaccinations, depending on a number of factors. Ask your doctor if you need to have a rabies, Hepatitis B, malaria and/or yellow fever vaccine in order to protect your health.