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Getting to Belize

Pgbk87 / Wikipedia / Creative Commons
Belize is a tiny country with one international airport. The Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport (BZE) is about 30 minutes outside of Belize City. It’s a small airport, but it manages to cater to all international air passengers who enter and leave Belize.

Direct flights from North America come from Newark, Miami, Houston, Charlotte, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Anyone coming from elsewhere in the US or Canada will need to come through one of these airports or through a Central American or Mexican hub.

In 2016 American Airlines launched the first direct flight between Europe and Belize. This service flies four days per week from London, UK. BZE Airport also receives flights from El Salvador and Panama, as well as from destinations in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Belize shares land borders with Guatemala and Mexico. There are three official border crossings to enter the country – two from Mexico and one from Guatemala. The main border between Belize and Mexico is between Corozal, Belize and Chetumal, Mexico. The border is formed by the Hondo River, with a bridge uniting the two countries. The other Mexican border post lies between the towns of La Union, Mexico and Blue Creek, Belize. It’s more remote and rarely used.

The one border post that Belize shares with Guatemala is at Melchor de Mencos. Once crossing the Mopan River into Belize, the George Price Highway to Belize City is paved all the way.

There are also water taxi services to enter Belize from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. Boats leave from Chetumal, Mexico on a daily or twice-daily basis and arrive into Caye Caulker or San Pedro, Belize a couple of hours later. For those coming from the Guatemalan towns of Livingston or Puerto Barrios, it’s a quick ride to the southern Belize town of Punta Gorda. A longer, four-hour trip from Puerto Cortes, Honduras to Placencia, Belize runs on a weekly basis.

Traveling Around Belize

Getting around Belize: Flying out to San Pedro, Belize
Flying out to San Pedro, Belize / Tropic Air Belize Facebook page

Belize is a tiny country, so when looking at it from afar it seems that having a domestic air network would not be a workable reality.

What’s the point of getting on a plane for only 15 or 20 minutes?

This is what many people assume. Until they arrive in Belize and see the state of the roads. Then they realize exactly why many people fly instead.

Unless you stick to the main highways, driving in Belize is no fun. A 4×4 is a necessity, especially during the rainy season. But the reality is that it is hard work to drive in Belize. Unless you’re one of those people who loves the adventure of the road.

Many hire a professional driver in Belize or use semi-private shuttle services. Belizean roads are full of minivans moving both locals and tourists around. The public bus system is extensive too, although many buses are old and uncomfortable. Also, security can be an issue. Foreigners are rarely seen on Belize’s public buses and there’s a good reason for that.

Which brings us back to flying around on small puddle jumpers. There are two local airlines, Maya Island Air and Tropic Air. They are very like one another and offer flights all over Belize. Flights cost no more than $40-$70 depending on the route. They are so frequent that one can show up at the airport, buy a ticket and get on the plane. Like getting on a bus or train in your home country. There are seven airstrips around Belize, plus the main airport in Belize City that acts as a hub. Flying is the most recommended way to get around this country.

Water taxis also ply the coastline of Belize between the mainland and the islands. Cheaper than flying, the water taxis are fast, friendly and fun. Definitely worth trying out.


Belize Cost of Living

Martyna / Flickr / Commercial Use Allowed

Outside of Costa Rica, Belize is the most expensive country in Central America. With that said, it’s still below Costa Rica when it comes to cost of living.

There are two ways to think about living in Belize. You can think of it as living in one of the most expensive countries in Central America. Or you can think of it as living in one of the cheapest countries in the Caribbean. When it comes down to it, Belize gets compared to the Caribbean islands as much as it does to its Central American neighbors.

Whatever you compare Belize to, it will be cheaper than most places in North America or Europe.

As in every Central American country, imported goods and electronics are more expensive. Local fruits and vegetables, meats, meals, and beer are cheaper. A simple lifestyle in Belize can be achieved for $1,000 per month, although that lifestyle would be pretty basic. A more realistic budget to have in Belize at the lower end of things is around $1,500 to $2,000 per month. It’s worth remembering that to qualify for residency in Belize you have to prove an income of at least $2,000 per month.

The bottom line is that Belize is cheap when compared to North America, Europe, or even the rest of the Caribbean. But it’s more expensive than most of Central America and Mexico.

Safety in Belize

Regan76 / Flickr / Belize

This is a section that shouldn’t be sugarcoated. Belize can be dangerous. It has a high homicide rate – 40 out of 10,000 people, which is among the top ten in the world. That rate is the third highest in Central America, after El Salvador and Honduras.

But before you decide that Belize is not for you, it’s worth pointing out that the rate is so high because the population is so small. It’s also worth pointing out that the vast majority of homicides take place between the street gangs of Belize City. These are in areas where no foreign visitor in their right mind would ever go. But still – there is a high homicide rate in Belize. That cannot be discounted. And every now and then foreign tourists and expats become part of these statistics.

On the cayes where most of the tourists are and the expats live, crime is pretty manageable. Most of it is opportunistic and not violent, but Belize is a country where you need to pay attention to your surroundings.

Many blogs and websites representing tourism interests in Belize play down the danger aspect of the country. This is understandable given the importance of tourism to the economy. They correctly point out that over a million tourists visit Belize each year and the vast majority of them have no problems. There is no denying this, and, as already pointed out, the tininess of Belize’s population makes the stats seem worse than they are. But these blogs and hotel sites also do their readers an injustice by brushing over crime in Belize. Many make out like there’s nothing to worry about. That is not true. But with the right info and by taking precautions, the chances of anything bad happening to you in Belize are slim.

The police in Belize, like every other country in Central America, are underpaid, undermanned, and underfunded. They mean well on the whole, but they are limited in what they can do to solve any crimes that get reported to them.

The roads in Belize are not in a great condition. Driving can be hazardous, especially in the rainy season. Out of 1,900 miles of roads that traverse Belize, only around 370 miles of them are paved. Take caution when driving around Belize.

Belize also carries the threat of hurricanes. Of all the countries in Central America, Belize is the most prone to them. Hurricane shelters do exist, but the reality is that if you’re hit by a hurricane you cannot expect the same sort of rescue service as if you were in the US.