If you have been following this blog for any period of time or if you know me personally, you know that I am currently working on bucket list number two of four- visiting all of the islands in the caribbean. Now, I know that someone is going to be up in arms over my recent visit and will argue me down that the island is not really a part of the caribbean (probably the same person will argue about Bermuda not making the cut); however, Belize is a recognized Caricom entity which is why it is a part of my list. So, now that we have the formalities out of the way, let me share with you my experience in Belize. This will the first of a multi-part blog on the island and its splendor— yeah, it was just that great of an experience for me).
Plans for me to visit Belize actually started in October 2015 when I purchased my plane ticket and began researching locations to visit and stay. One of my former colleagues is actually from Belize so, based upon my personality, he gave me suggestions on places to stay and boy did he hit the nail on the head. I am a very relaxed person, interested in an “authentic people experience” by focusing more on the culture and experiencing life the way locals do as much as possible. I am not really into the touristy things, so I was not big on the snorkeling expeditions, cave tubing and other activities of that nature. Based on my personality and desire, he recommended that I visit San Ignacio and Caye (pronounced Key) Caulker (I will share my experiences in those locations in separate posts).
I arrived on the island on a nice sunny Thursday morning around 11a.m. and breezed through immigration in approximately five minutes. The customs and immigration area is really not that big and baggage claim separates the two sections. Retrieval of my luggage only took about ten minutes after landing. After gathering my bag I visited the duty-free shops that were in the same area and picked up a few bottles of local rum (Cristol Parrot Lite Rum, 1 Barrel, and Kuknat Cocunut Rum). I handed my duty-free receipt to the guard at the customs desk and headed outside where my driver was waiting with a clipboard displaying my name. With the bags placed in his vehicle, we began the almost 2 hour trek to San Ignacio where I would spend the first half of my trip.
I will save the details of my time in San Ignacio for a later post, but I just have a few pointers to offer first time visitors and those who wish to save a few bucks when visiting.
- Completing your immigration form
– Apparently the Belizean government is very strict regarding people not over staying your visit. So, when you go and absolutely fall in love with the place as I did, add an extra week or so to your immigration form with respect to your departure date. If you leave early, it is not a big deal. However, if you happen to go past your original departure date by extending your stay and paying the airline change fee, you will be penalized.
– If you happen to forget to add float to your form, I was informed by one of the airport workers that you can go talk to the immigration officials and request an extension (not sure if there is a fee involved).
- Show me the money
– The official currency is the Belizean Dollar which is available in numerous denominations. However, there is no need to exchange currency because the US dollar is widely accepted. Keep in my that one US dollar is equal to two belizean dollars. As a point of reference, you can get a nice dinner with drinks (adult beverage) for approximately $36BZD ($18US). A coke will cost you approximately $2BZD and a gallon of water will run $3BZD.
– Remember how I said I purchased rum at the duty-free in the airport? Learn from me, don’t do it unless you are really in a rush and staying somewhere very remote where there are no stores. Rum is half the price on the street. So, although I paid $17US for the for bottles (200mL bottles), they were approximately $2 – $3 a piece on the street in the chiney stores (Please know that chiney in the caribbean is not an offensive term per se, the way that it would be in the US).
– Keep in mind that low season runs from May until October, so you can find some really good deals on lodging and possibly airfare.
- Ground transportation
– I am one who likes to walk a lot who that is what I did in both San Ignacio and Caye Caulker (granted Caye Caulker is only like 4 miles long or so). However, I purchased my shuttle service online through a third-party source and saved well over $30 than if I used the service offered by the hotel. My driver was great, very personable and provided great intel (and, like an idiot, I forgot to get his card. Blame it on me be exhausted).
– Taxis in San Ignacio will run around $5 – $7BZD if you opt to take them. But, I say just go for the cardio.
– There is also a local bus that services the area between Belize City and San Ignacio and I believe the trip will run you $10BZD or less; however, it is going to take a longer time unless you do the express bus. Keep in mind that this is also a school bus similar to those in the US, so if you are traveling with luggage, it may not be a good option.
– If you are traveling from the airport to the ferry dock for the Cayes, know that the taxi fare is a flat $25 each way. That rate is based on 1-2 persons travel and is $5 per extra person. If possible, while you are waiting on a taxi, see if you can buddy up with someone heading in the same direction and split the cost.
- Stay in touch
– WiFi is readily available in most of the hotels and restaurants free of charge, so it is quite possible to say in touch with friends and loved ones. While some establishments will give you the code to connect to WiFi, others will ask for your device and put it in themselves.
– As with any other place, there are a wide range of housing options from which to choose. The hotel where I stayed in San Ignacio was chosen because it was family owned, they had WiFi and were not far from the action. Additionally, they were running a special, pay for two nights and get the third free. Can’t beat that!
– The apartment where I stayed in Caye Caulker was selected because they had a kitchenette, free WiFi, were 40 meters from the ferry dock, and right on the water. The rate was not too shabby either.
- Don’t be a tourist
– Yes, it is going to be very difficult not to want to take pictures at the local market, in the city, on the ferry from Belize City to the Cayes, but engage, sit and have real, meaningful conversation with the locals. I love learning about another individual’s culture and homeland and this time it paid off because I had a sponsor in the local bar. I personally only paid for 1 drink and had 4 (that I can remember). The local love to lime, laugh and have a good time so just free up and enjoy life.
The Belizean’s have a saying on the island – You better Belize it. Trust me, after spending time on the mainland and on Caye Caulker I am a Belizer! I Belize it! And that is why this tranquil place stole my heart and ended up in the number 1 position on my favorite islands list. If I didn’t have 11 more islands to go to complete my list, I would definitely be back again in September. I could definitely see myself retiring in Belize. Yes, I loved it just that much.