Unique, Private, Luxurious - A Natural Paradise
Belize is a fantastic country with plenty to experience. Not only is it packed with adventure, but it is also easy and inexpensive to get to, English is the official language, and it is a great winter destination as it enjoys a warm winter climate. The population is about the same as Anchorage, Alaska (225,000), and the entire country is about the size of New Hampshire. The society is multi-cultural, consisting of African-European Creoles, Spanish-Indian Mestizos, African-Indian Garinagus, Mayans, and a few Europeans, North Americans, and Asians. Outside of the "troublemakers" in Belize City, Belizeans are, for the most part, genuinely friendly people, who lead a laid-back Caribbean lifestyle.
Belize enjoys a sub-tropical climate, somewhat similar to that of South Florida, with temperatures typically in the 70s to mid-90s. There is a "wet" and a "dry" season, with the dry season being approximately from December through May. Rainstorms can occur during the dry season, but they are usually brief. Over the past few years, changes in global weather patterns have made the dry and wet seasons less predictable. Hurricanes are a potential threat from July to November. Severe hurricanes have hit Belize about once every two decades, the worst in recent memory was Hurricane Iris, which struck Placencia in southern Belize in October 2002. We were fortunate during that storm, and have already rebuilt the few buildings that were affected by that hurricane.
Although the capital city is Belmopan, the largest city in the country is Belize City, population about 70,000. Belize was known as British Honduras until 1981 when they gained their independence from Britain. They are on Central Time, but do not observe Daylight Savings Time. The water is safe to drink in most areas, and the standard of health care is among the highest in Central America.
Belize remains a little-visited country; the number of international visitors to Belize is about one-third the number that visits Costa Rica. Cancun gets almost 10 times the annual number of visitors to all of Belize. Only about 35% of the visitors are from the United States and over half of the tourists visit Sittee Point (above), where the Sittee River meets the Caribbean Sea.
The exchange is two Belize dollars to one U.S. dollar; U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere.
Money In Belize
There is no need to change your money to Belize dollars from U.S dollars. In fact, you need to continually use the Belize change you receive, because you will lose on the exchange if you have any left at the end of your trip. It is best to have cash for cabs and isolated areas. Travelerís Checks are more of a problem than an asset in Belize. On most trips you are only in "civilization" during the weekend when banks are closed. Travelerís Checks take six weeks to clear in Belize, so small business owners such as taxi drivers, restaurants, or hotels in rural areas would be giving you a six-week loan by accepting them; consequently, few of them accept Travelerís Checks. Getting cash is difficult, almost nobody will cash checks of any nature; tipping your guides with Travelerís Checks causes a problem for locals as personal checking accounts are not common in the country. Off the Wall Dive Shop does accept Travelerís Checks, but this is the only place you will be able to use them.
The two ATM machines in Belize City are often out of order, so to rely on that system would be a mistake. Personal checks from the United States are not accepted in the country. For all of these reasons, it is best to bring cash only. You can carry some of your cash in a money belt, and the rest of it worn under your clothing when moving to and from the country. All valuables are safe on land, in a van, and in the hotels while on trips. Donít worry about carrying large amounts of cash in this manner, everybody does it all of the time successfully.
Medical Care In Belize
On all trips (on land and the islands), you are far from medical care. Guests should bring all medications for chronic or recurring ailments. Recent medical and dental exams should be completed to ensure that you are fit for travel, and you should carry health insurance documents. If you purchase a travel insurance policy, it will cover medical costs in the country as well as your last-minute trip cancellation and other risks of travel (you can call Travel Guard at (877) 248-8992 and tell them you are traveling).
While most trips are not strenuous, good general physical condition is necessary. You donít need to be strong or athletic, but you must be capable of moderate exercise for a few hours each day. On most trips, nobody will evaluate your fitness -- so you must determine if your fitness is appropriate. If you are overweight, in poor physical condition, or have special medical considerations you should consult with your physician before taking trips. We recommend that all tourists have a medical checkup before taking trips in the jungles and the like.
Out on the cayes, you are somewhat isolated from the typical medical risks of the tropics. Everyone should be vaccinated within the past five years for tetanus. You should also talk to your doctor about allergic reactions to marine life, and bring appropriate medications that your physician recommends. Those who travel inland should consult a doctor about malaria, dengue fever, and hepatitis, and remember that a course of malaria medication needs to be started two weeks prior to departure.
We are not able to advise you beyond "ask your doctor" about the threat of malaria because the region of infected mosquitoes changes monthly. Although present, cases of malaria in Belize are rare. The prevention drug for malaria in this area is the prescription drug Chloroquine. Most travel clinics and many Internet sites will recommend malaria protection for all parts of Belize, but mosquito control in larger metropolitan areas have eliminated mosquito habitats close to human population settlements. Less dangerous than malaria, dengue fever can also be contracted from infected mosquitoes. There is no medication for dengue fever; it goes away by itself after about four days. Please donít ask us to tell you whether to get protection for malaria, even doctors do not agree. It is a personal choice. Malaria pills are bad for you, but getting malaria is worse. The only true protection against both malaria and dengue fever is to not get bitten by a disease-infested mosquito.
The best prevention for bites is to wear a bug repellent that contains at least 30% DEET. One site on the Internet with information on malaria prevention is www.cdc.gov/travel/camerica.htm.
Hepatitis A is contracted through infected water; most drinking water is safe. If you plan to travel extensively in remote areas during your stay, you should consider the Hepatitis A vaccination. The biggest health hazard on the island is the threat of sunburn. Be careful the first few days, a bad sunburn can ruin the rest of your vacation. Also, seasickness can occur when traveling days on water.
Although most guides are trained in First Aid, they cannot be expected to serve as doctors. All participants should be sure their own medical coverage is adequate. We assume no responsibility regarding provision of medical care. Before your adventure, the best precautions are donít get hurt and make sure you are in good health the week before the trip. At times, you may be in isolated areas where there is no emergency room and you canít call 911. Most villages and tour guides do have and carry cell phones to contact officials in an emergency.
Great Restaurants In Belize
Belize has some great restaurants. Try these for starters and have fun exploring!
- Marvaís, corner of Water Ln. & E. Collet Canal: a semi-funky neighborhood, great Belizean food! Big Daddyís Diner, upstairs from the new market right by the Swing Bridge: great Belizean cafeteria, try the dukanu.
- El Centro, 4 Bishop St.: pizza and burgers. Flores Fruit Shop, 118 Barrack Rd.: with a nice porch for watching Belize City-ites come and go, itís a good place for breakfast.
- Neriís, on the corner of Queen & Handyside Sts.: good Belizean food with seven kinds of fresh squeezed juice served daily. Neriís serves great Belizean standbys such as rice and beans, chicken, Oxtail Soup, Gibnut, and Cowfoot Soup. Yum!
- Chon San Palace, #1 Nurse Seay/Kelly St.: probably the best restaurant in Belize.
- Three Amigos, 2 King St.: gourmet food at reasonable rates and a beautiful patio setting. Macyís, 18 Bishop St.: very good Belizean fare.
- El Cafť, 122 Eve St.: the only Espresso in Belize, but they donít open until 8 a.m.!?
- Tala Lebanese, 164 Freetown Rd, (near the large traffic circle): as good as it gets for vegetarians in Belize.
- Princess Hotel and Casino, Newtown-Barracks Rd: all-you-can-eat buffet for $7.50, not gourmet, but pretty good for the price.
- Gyro & Crepe Cafe, Freetown road next to Tala Lebanese, another Lebanese restaurant serving Mechoui, Shish Taouk, Kafta kabob, Chicken Kiev, and vegetarian dishes such as tabouli, humous, fatayer and onion soup.
- Chef Bob, 64 Newtown Barracks Rd.: near the Ramada, has fantastic food and a nice small bar.
- The Radisson-Ft. George, 2 Marine Parade: expensive but very good breakfast and lunch buffet.
- The Smokey Mermaid, 13 Cork St.: fantastic food and the best service in Belize (recommended: garlic mashed potatoes).
- Belize Yacht Club, Mojo Caye: take a cab to Maya Landing dock for a short boat ride out to this island, leaves on the half hour, good food, slow service, pleasant breeze.
- The Victorian Room, at the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel: excellent restaurant, operated by the same folks that ran the renowned Fort St. Restaurant, now closed.
General Tours And Activities
Full Day Snorkeling, Blue Hole Caving, Jaguar Preserve, Glovers Reef Snorkel, Reef & River, Cayo Maya Ruins, Jaguar Preserve Kayaking, Black Hole Drop Caving, Southern Mayan Ruins, Waterfalls Hiking Tour, Horseback Riding & River Cruise, Birds of Paradise, Caves Branch, and many other nearby exciting and adventurous activities.