How to Get Around in Belize
ARRIVING INTO THE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Belize’s main international airport, about 20-minutes outside of Belize City, is small and easy to get around. Arriving 2 hours before international flights is definitely not required here! Keep in mind on your return journey, most souvenir shops and restaurants within the terminal are still cash-only, in case you want last-minute souvenirs (or beers). From the airport, if you’re headed towards the tourist hubs in Ambergris Caye, Placencia, San Ignacio and more, Tropic Air and Maya Island Air have relatively inexpensive puddle jumper flights that will get you there quickly, provided you’re not scared of tiny planes!! You can also pick up rental cars right at the airport, no need to go offsite. Taxis can take you either to the water taxi location ($25, about 20 minutes away), the Belize City bus station, or even further afield.
Besides flying, there are a lot of options for travel within Belize. It’ll help to do some research beforehand to find the best option based on your itinerary, your budget, and your comfort level.
Cars from either the airport or the surrounding areas are reasonably priced, although keep in mind the price of gas (about $10/gallon as of summer 2018) and extra insurance is going to add to this. You may also need to purchase a temporary license if you don’t have an international driver’s license. Despite being a former British colony, Belizeans drive on the right, which will make it easier for the non-Brits. They also have the steering wheels on the left, as most of their cars are purchased used from the United States or Mexico. Highways between the larger cities are well-paved (with occasional potholes) and rarely have much traffic. Watch out for speed bumps when you’re entering and leaving towns.
Hotels and resorts can help you set up shuttle van service between cities. There are also several local companies that offer this same service. We took the excellent William’s Belize Shuttle between the airport and San Ignacio, and back again to the water taxi dropoff. The cost wasn’t cheap ($100 each way for a 2-hour journey). That price was for the car, not per person, so the price will go down if you’re able to coordinate with a group. Our drivers in both directions were friendly, helpful, full of knowledge about Belize, and happy to stop off at their favorite stores to help us pick up snacks and beers for the trip.
Bus travel is the cheapest form of transport between towns, and the best way to get to interact with the locals. The buses run fairly often make good time. The buses themselves, though, are not for the casual solo traveler. Converted American school buses, the bus fleets are un-air conditioned and often crowded. Luggage storage is questionable. You probably shouldn’t take roller suitcases with you. I would opt instead for a backpack or something that will easily store on your seat. Bus seats are first-come, first-serve, and that includes if you leave at a stop to use the bathroom - make sure to ask your seatmate to hold your seat!! With all those caveats though, if that doesn’t sway you, then take the bus! I met a couple with a preteen daughter who were backpacking together through Belize for a few weeks. I heard the man explain to his daughter that they took the bus ‘to remind ourselves that we’re capable of doing it.’
If you’re going to Ambergris or Caye Caulker, there are two water taxi services that will take you there: Belize Water Taxi or Ocean Ferry Belize. Their schedules are slightly different, the prices vary by a few dollars, but they are largely the same in every other way. Both leave from the harbor in Belize City, travel the 45 minutes to Caye Caulker, and then another 45 minutes from there to Ambergris. There’s no need to buy in advance for either boat. We actually found that multiple tour offices in San Ignacio offered Belize Water Taxi tickets for less than the online price, so definitely check with your hotel or a local tour office before you buy online. Here was my experience on the taxi:
Our shuttle van pulled up at the Belize Water Taxi terminal. Porters labelled our bags and took them away to be loaded onto the boat. Don’t worry, you will see your luggage again!! From there, we went down a long hallway that contained multiple souvenir shops, food vendors, a bathroom ($1 Belize to use), all of whom had salesmen out front trying to entice people into their shops. At the end, a line already started for the next ferry leaving in 30 minutes. I waited for about 10 minutes to trade my voucher for a ticket (a shorter line than buing the tickets outright), while my travelmate got us a couple of beers. With about 10 minutes before the ferry leaving, I had us get in what was by then a lengthy line. I was a little worried we weren’t going to make it on the boat. I shouldn’t have worried, though, as they had a second, smaller boat available. Both boats were packed full, and the ride out to Caye Caulker wasn’t the most pleasant in steerage.
Once we arrived in Caye Caulker, the luggage office is right at the end of the dock. Our luggage was unfortunately on a boat that was about 15 minutes behind us. We did get to suss out the surrounding area, and claimed a golf cart driver to take us the 10-minute trip to our hotel ($5 Belize dollars each).
Upon the return a few days later, we got to the ferry about 15 minutes before it’s departure time to drop off our luggage. Again, there was no need to worry about the boat selling out - multiple boats were utilized, and standing room was an option, for the ride back to Belize City.