Success tips from a Belize Adventure operator
We have been working and living on and off in Belize for 32 years now, so we have a lot of experience helping people plan their trip. If you follow this advice, your vacation will be such a success that you’ll be planning your return before you even leave the country!
- You need a passport, but you probably don’t have to worry about a Visa.
Your passport cannot expire less than 6 months prior to your travel to Belize. So when you decide to visit this Caribbean paradise, check the expiration date on your passport right away. You might be due for a new one.
As long as you are a citizen of the US, Canada, or the UK, you will be handed a Visa to fill out on the plane. Citizens of other countries need to check with their consulate to see what they need to do.
- Special documents required when traveling with minors
Children under 18 traveling without both biological/legal parents might be required to show proof (in the form of a notarized letter) that the parent(s) not present agree to allow their child to travel to Belize. Believe it or not, you actually may be denied onto your flight to Belize if you neglect to bring this paperwork.
We have trouble convincing people of this for two reasons: First, we think Belize might be the only place in the world that has this requirement. Second, sometimes this rule is enforced and sometimes not; it depends on how conscientious your ticketing agent is.
This rule is actually a 2010 Belize law. However, no one in Belize asks for these documents. But since it is official Belize law that appears on the computer screen of the ticketing agent, the airline may dutifully require that you produce these documents. Sometimes years go by and we hear nothing about this, and think it’s not required anymore. Then suddenly a guest will call, panicked from an airport, telling us that they are being refused boarding. A notarized letter from the parent(s) not present is usually sufficient, although once someone was required to produce her divorce decree. It does seem to vary, and we do not have access to the wording of the requirement, and it might even vary from airline to airline. So our advice to all mixed family groups is to bring proof that you have permission from the other parent to travel to Belize with your children.
- Don’t change your money.
Belize is a cash society, and they take US dollars throughout the country. In fact, everyone prefers US dollars and you will almost always get Belize dollars in change. The official exchange rate is 2 Belize dollars to 1 US dollar, but when you try to change your money back, the exchange is much worse. So always use the Belize dollars you get as change before cracking open another US $20.
- Carry a lot of cash
You need to bring most or all of your cash needs with you because getting cash is a hassle. Some ATMs have a limit as low as $200 BZ, which won’t last long. To get cash from a bank, you have to go during open hours which are short, and lines are long.
If you are nervous about carrying a lot of cash, get a slim waterproof money belt and wear it under your clothes, keeping a small amount that you plan to spend that day in your regular wallet or purse.
- Avoid Belize City
Belize City just isn’t that great. There’s not much to recommend it to tourists, so you should spend as little time there as possible. You can’t completely avoid Belize City because that is where all international flights originate. If yours arrives late or departs early it may end up making the most sense to overnight in Belize City one night at the beginning of your trip and one at the end. Know the good neighborhoods and make sure your hotel or other rental is located in one of these.
- Don’t book cabs in advance for a Belize City drop off
Many people are nervous when arriving in Belize City the first time, and they make arrangements for a cab to meet them at the airport. But then, what if your car driver is late, or doesn’t show up at all? The cab drivers waiting at the airport are fine, and the rates are the same either way. If you don’t have one driver you are beholden to, you can just grab the first cab that you see. If you are catching a cab to another part of the country, then this advice does not apply. You would want a reserved driver for a long, expensive ride to another part of the country.
- Be aware that people will always recommend their relatives
The families are large in Belize, and Belizeans are very loyal to their family. Let’s say you have the greatest caving guide in the world. When you tell him you are next going to another part of the country for the rest of your trip, he invariably will then recommend his cousin as who you want to guide you for the rest of your stay. His cousin might be great, but he might not. They will always make recommendations of family over any other trait, so take those recommendations with a grain of salt and don’t lock yourself into days with one person you haven’t met.
- Support the locals
If you have a choice of taking a Mayan ruin tour with a big company, or hiring a guide right at the ruins, we recommend you do the latter. It will be cheaper, and your money will go directly to the guide in full. Some activities that have special transportation or equipment would require a tour company, but just be aware that it’s nice to spread your money around directly to the workers if you can.
- Bring your own lifejackets
Although lifejackets are required in Belize, they are not required to be worn, just on board. Therefore, the captain keeps them tucked away so they stay in good shape so that he will never have to replace them. Therefore, you could be on a long, remote boat ride, and if you didn’t insist on a lifejacket you might not get one, and possibly there could be none on board at all. There are compact lifejackets that would be easy to travel with, it just might save your life. And definitely definitely bring lifejackets for your kids as the captains likely have no kid sizes.
- Don’t assume the weather will be perfect
Whatever island, lodge or tour company you choose, the photos on their website are going to show Belize at its finest. That’s logical and what you would expect. But remember, it’s the tropics. It could be astoundingly hot, or it could rain for days. It could also be “cold” (about 60 degrees). Be sure that you are packed for the extremes and that you intend to gracefully accept whatever weather comes your way.