Boats, cars, taxies, planes, buses, golf carts, and bikes. Colette Kase discusses the different ways of getting around Belize, both on the mainland and out on the cayes.
When people ask about getting around Belize, it’s one of those ‘depends’ questions.
It depends on where you want to go and where you’ll be. On your need for comfort and luxury. On your independence. Oh – and it depends on your budget.
You see, it really does depend.
So, let’s look at the most common ways of getting around Belize and who they’ll suit best.
On the mainland, you have five main options for travel. These are plane, car, taxi, shuttle, and bus. Boat, helicopter, and ferry options are also available.
Getting around Belize by air.
They operate what many refer to as ‘puddle jumpers’. Their fleets vary from tiny three-seaters to larger caravan-style planes holding up to 14 passengers.
They offer scheduled flights to many destinations across the country including San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Belize City, Corozal, Belmopan, Dangriga, Placencia and Punta Gorda. Tropic Air also has regular flights to San Ignacio.
Both airlines offer charter flights to other areas including Stann Creek, Orange Walk, and Caye Chapel.
Tropic Air and Maya Island Air have both online and telephone booking options. If you call, you reserve your flight on the phone and pay when you check in.
You should ensure you check in at least 30 minutes before your flight.
Both airlines are accommodating and helpful with issues like extra baggage and pets, so ask if you have special travel needs.
Driving in Belize.
Car rental is easy in most of the larger towns.
The more established car rental companies will allow one-way rentals to certain towns, where they may not have offices.
Car rental is not cheap, nor is gas, so keep that in mind if you’re planning to drive around Belize.
While Belize has five named highways, they may not be what you expect. Highways in Belize are two-lane roads with little in the way of lighting or street markings. Maintenance is spotty in areas, so potholes are common.
Speed bumps, known in Belize as ‘sleeping policemen’, guard the entrance to most villages with little to no warning until you hit them. Don’t drive at night for these reasons.
Driving during the day can be a joy though, with many claiming the Hummingbird Highway as one of the most scenic drives in the world.
Make sure you familiarise yourself with traffic regulations and don’t worry if the police stop you at checkpoints and ask for ID.
While it may seem an interesting way to meet new people, picking up hitchhikers isn’t recommended.
Use common sense and don’t leave valuables visible in your car while unattended. Always park in well-lit areas and lock up when leaving it.
Taxis are a popular way of getting around Belize.
Taxi drivers will drive customers anywhere in the country – for a price. Prices may sound high for long distances, but remember what I said about the price of gas and the road conditions. Both these issues make operating a taxi a costly business.
Taxi drivers can also be a source of valuable local information. Many of them double up as registered tour guides and can legally show you around as your personal guide.
On the mainland, taxis have no clear identification. They can range from rough-looking old cars to fancy SUVs but should display green plates if licensed.
If you are staying in a hotel or rental, ask the management to recommend a driver. If you are stepping out of the airport, bus or ferry terminal, licensed taxi drivers will be available.
Taxis don’t have meters in Belize, so you will need to discuss the fare with your driver before you set off. Regular trips have standard fares, but other journeys will be a matter of negotiation.
Discuss whether you want to pay by the hour, distance, or the number of stops, as all are options. Also, agree with the driver in advance whether you are happy to share the ride. If you do not, the driver may pick up other passengers along the way. Paying a fare does not guarantee a private car.
Tipping taxi drivers for short distances isn’t necessary, but if the driver acts as a guide or provides excellent service, he’ll always be grateful to receive something.
If a taxi is too much for your budget, but you’d prefer an alternative to a public bus or plane, consider one of the many shuttle services available.
Many offer services between major towns and airports and are cheaper than taxis, especially for longer distances. A simple Google search will bring up options to choose from or ask your hotel for suggestions.
Belize has cheap public transport on buses run by a variety of companies.
As elsewhere in Central America, old US school buses are the norm. They may be re-purposed but they haven’t been converted or refurbished, so expect vinyl seats, designed for short legs, and not at all luxurious.
Air conditioning comes via open windows, which passengers always close tight at the first sign of rain.
Many buses have sound systems playing a range of music from reggae to 80s hits. The occasional preacher may be on board who will regale you with the fate of sinners. Food vendors will hop on and off at various stops offering everything from fresh fruit to tamales.
This should give you the picture that public bus travel is an interesting and quirky way to get around Belize. For Belizeans, it’s the main mode of transport.
While they aren’t chicken buses like next door in Guatemala, you may see chickens – or at least Mennonite chicken farmers – on these buses. This makes them an adventurous way to learn more about Belize culture.
Bus terminals are in all major towns and bus stops are in every village.
If you’re traveling from one town to the next, take an express bus as the standard buses stop in every village and can take a long time to reach their destinations.
The bus terminals may seem chaotic if you’re not familiar with how things work, so don’t be afraid to ask. Belizeans are friendly and helpful and will do their best to make sure you get on the right bus.
Public buses do not have assigned seats and you do not pay in advance. Some routes and times of day are very busy, so sometimes expect standing room only.
Pregnant women, women carrying young children, and elderly people get the priority for seats. Try to get into line early if you want to guarantee a seat.
Once you sit down, the conductor will get to you at some point, ask your destination and tell you the fare. Make sure you have small change as the fares are low.
Anyone familiar with Belize will know it isn’t only all about the mainland.
The islands are also popular and traveling to the cayes and around them is a little different.
You get to the cayes by boat or plane (yes, helicopters are available too for the rich and famous).
Two main water-taxi companies operate ferries to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker from Belize City, San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi and Ocean Ferry Belize. Ferries from the cayes to the mainland start as early as 6 am and from Belize City to the cayes at 8 am. The last ferries to the cayes are at 5.30pm.
The boats take about 1.5 hours from Ambergris Caye to Belize City, stopping at Caye Caulker, and hold up to 120 people, depending on the vessel. Prices are reasonable and, if you enjoy the sun, sea and fresh air, the journey can be very enjoyable.
On rainy and windy days or when the boat is crowded, the trip may not be so fun.
Either way, you check out Belize from a different perspective and experience how locals travel every day.
You can book online or buy a ticket at the departure point.
One or two private water taxi companies provide direct services from the International Airport to the cayes.
Their services are sporadic, so better inquire with your hotel if you wish to consider this option.
They are more expensive but provide a service right to the dock nearest to your resort or villa.
Flights leave each hour to and from the cayes from Belize International Airport and Belize Municipal.
A direct flight from Corozal to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye also operates.
The flights are quick at 15 to 20 minutes, and fly at low altitude, providing stunning views of the Caribbean Sea and the many atolls along the way. On clear days, rays, sharks, and manatees can be visible from above.
Once you’re on the cayes, you’ll still need transportation, especially on Ambergris Caye and in its only town, San Pedro.
Ambergris Caye is 26 miles long and you will want to explore once you arrive. Caye Caulker is smaller, but as development grows, transportation can be necessary.
On Ambergris Caye, the golf cart is the motorized vehicle of choice.
There are lots of golf cart rental companies and many resorts provide rental services themselves. It’s worth shopping around for the best deal.
Familiarise yourself with the local regulations and watch out for the eagle-eyed traffic wardens who are always keen to issue tickets.
If you travel north of the bridge on Ambergris Caye, be aware there’s a toll which is $10BZD round trip. For frequent travelers, a monthly pass is available from the San Pedro Town Council for $150BZD.
A public ferry serves most of the coast north of San Pedro Town running through the day, from 5.30 am to 10.30 pm. These times are subject to change depending on the season, so remember to confirm. You can buy tickets right on the boat dock and they will drop you at the dock nearest to your destination.
Private boats are also available and many restaurants offer their own complimentary boat service for customers.
Taxis are easy to find on Ambergris Caye as they are well-marked and most of them are vans driven by licensed taxi drivers.
You can hail them from the street. The advice for using taxis on Ambergris Caye is the same as for the mainland.
Most places on Caye Caulker are walkable, but golf carts are available for rent. There are also golf cart taxi services.
With the new, and popular bars and activities north of the cut on Caye Caulker, there are now water taxi services available. It is easy to find information about these when you’re on the caye.
Bicycles are also a popular method of transportation on both cayes.
There are bicycle rental companies all over and many properties offer complimentary bikes to their guests. If you’ll be there long term, you can buy a good quality beach cruiser bike from any hardware shop.
For a small country, Belize has a lot to visit. The good news is there’s always a way to get there.
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