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Introduction to Belize

Dabbling its toes in the Caribbean Sea, Belize has more in common with its island neighbours than with the fiery volatility of Central America. English-speaking, Creole-dominated and with a thoroughly coup-free history, this tiny country has an atmosphere so laid-back it's almost comatose.

Unpaved roads, high prices and a lack of infrastructure can make it a difficult place to travel, but it compensates with some of the best diving in the world, dramatic Mayan ruins looming out of untouched jungle and secluded eco-lodges catering to the most sedentary adventurers.

Full country name: Belize

Area: 22,966 sq km

Population: 266,440

Capital City: Belmopan

People: 49% mestizo, 25% Creole, 11% Maya, 6% Garífuna

Language: English

Religion: Catholic (50%), Protestant (27%)

Government: parliamentary democracy

GDP: US$1.28 billion

GDP per capita: US$4,900

Inflation: 1.9%

Major Industries: Sugar, bananas, fish products, garment production, food processing, timber, tourism, construction.

Major Trading Partners: USA, UK, Mexico, Canada

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Citizens of the US, European Union and Commonwealth countries do not require visas if they have a passport and return ticket. Most other nationalities require a visa. British embassies frequently handle Belize's diplomatic affairs.

Health risks: cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, typhoid

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -6

Dialling Code: 501

Electricity: 110/220V ,60Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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The big national holidays are dictated by the Roman Catholic calendar, but other celebrations include the wonderfully titled Baron Bliss Day (March 9), which honors a philanthropic British nobleman who fell in love with Belize and upon his death willed the bulk of his fortune in trust to the people of Belize. Belize National Day (September 10) commemorates the Battle of St George's Caye; celebrations continue until Independence Day (September 21). More festivities occur on Columbus Day (October 12) and Garífuna Settlement Day (November 19). The latter commemorates the arrival of the Garífuna (or Garinagus, also called Black Caribs) in dugout canoes from Honduras in 1823. Dangriga is the place to celebrate this festival: the small town explodes in a frenzy of dancing and drinking.

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Best time to Visit

The best time to travel is the dry season from November to May, but this is also the busy winter tourist season, when prices rise and hotels fill up. It's cheaper to travel in summer (July to November), but keep in mind that this is hurricane season.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Belize Dollar


Budget: US$3-7

Mid-range: US$7-10

High: US$10-25

Deluxe: US$25+


Budget: US$8-15

Mid-range: US$15-25

High: US$25-35

Deluxe: US$35+

Compared to the rest of Central America, Belize can be expensive. Even if you're traveling there on a budget, you'll pay between US$20 and US$30 per day for a room and three meals. On the upside, staying at a flashier hotel and eating decently won't push your costs up much higher than this.

It's easy to change US dollars just about anywhere, and US-dollar traveler's checks, pounds sterling and Canadian dollars can be changed at any bank. Other currencies could cause you difficulties. You can change money legally on the street or at border crossings (usually at a better rate than the banks will give you). At this point in time, the only ATMs that will accept foreign cards are the Barclay's Bank machines in Belize City, Belmopan and Dangriga. Most businesses will accept cold hard US cash money without question. They usually give change in Belizean dollars, though they may return US change if you ask for it.

Haggling is not a popular pastime in Belize, but it might be worth a try if business looks slow. Only the posher restaurants, bars and clubs are likely to expect a tip - 10% is the going rate. In over-touristed areas, tipping tour leaders and dive operators is becoming more common.

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Belize City

Belize's colourful former capital is the country's only settlement of any size. The ramshackle town is at the mercy of tropical storms that have long damaged its aging wooden buildings. They also flush out the open drainage canals, redolent with pollution, which crisscross the city.

When there's no storm, Belize City bustles, steams and swelters. Few people come to Belize City for a holiday or to see the sights but it's the transportation and commercial hub of the country. Some travellers report that the city can be quite dangerous, particularly after dark.


This impressive Mayan site is located in its own archaeological reserve. Its 60 significant structures include a grand 34m/112ft-high late Preclassic building, a small temple and a ball court. Lamanai ('submerged crocodile', the original Mayan name of the place) was occupied from 1500 BC and became a major ceremonial centre long before most Mayan sites.

The Maya lived here right up until the arrival of the Spanish; two ruined Indian churches nearby testify to the fact that there were still Maya here to be converted. The 90-minute boat trip up the New River from Orange Walk to reach the site is an adventure in itself. The boat passes the Mennonite community of Shipyard and offers the opportunity to see plenty of birdlife and crocodiles.

The Cayes

At 290km (180mi) long, Belize's barrier reef is the longest in the Western Hemisphere. To the west of the reef are numerous cayes basking in warm water. The two most popular with travellers are Caye Caulker for the low-budget and Ambergris Caye for the more cashed-up resort-oriented.

Caulker's reef is smaller but arguably nicer. Just a short boat ride from the eastern shore, it offers some of the world's most exciting diving, snorkelling and fishing. Underwater visibility can be an astonishing 60m (197ft) and the coral and tropical fish are spectacular.


Xunantunich (Stone Maiden), set on a levelled hilltop near the Belize River, is the archaeological pride of Belize. The site flourished as a ceremonial centre and is thought to have been abandoned after an earthquake damaged it around 900 AD. The site's tallest building - El Castillo - rises an impressive 40m (131ft) above the jungle.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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