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Although technically a part of Central America, a trip to Belize, with its white sand beaches and English-speaking Rasta culture, is decidedly Caribbean. A trip here is more similar to Jamaica holidays or Caribbean vacations than to its neighboring Guatemala. The clear blue sea and laid-back culture makes Belize a top travel destination, it also means it is much more expensive than elsewhere in Central America. Even as an experienced budget traveler, more money will fly out of your hands in Belize than anywhere else in Central America or Mexico. Snorkeling costs at least $40, diving gear runs $100 for a day out on the world’s second largest reef and any tour will vary from $40-80: adventure cave tours, tours of Mennonite villages, nighttime jungle tours. You need to book a tour, however, as access to all of these amazing opportunities in Belize can not be done without a guide – but if you go to Belize, you must take part in at least a couple of these tour. Skimping on these high-expense activities means factoring out the adventure and amazing natural and cultural experiences unique to Belize. What would be the point in traveling to Belize at all? Instead, it is best to know beforehand the best ways to reduce expenses in other areas in order to maximize fun and, with careful planning, stay within your budget in Belize.
Travel in low season
But, doesn’t low season sometimes mean rainy season? Yes, in fact, it was hurricane season when we visited Belize and we did indeed get stuck on Ambergris Caye as the locals boarded up windows in preparation for a tropical storm that never came. While it might rain for part of your time if you travel during the fall, the financial benefits outweigh a few rainy days – and we were able to take part in all the activities we had planned anyway.
In the low season (Spring or Fall), prices are negotiable. In the Summer or Winter, they are not. We got two deals for hotels on Caye Caulker: at Jeremiah’s Inn we paid US$15.00 including tax (normally US$30.00 plus 9% tax) and at the Barefoot Caribe Hotel we paid US$25.00 for a double room instead of US$35.00. In San Ignacio, at Mayawalk tours, we were able to reduce our ATM tour rate from $75 to $65 each.
Discount: up to 50 %
Toiletries are expensive in Belize. If you are taking a vacation to Belize, buy everything at home before you go. If you are a backpacker or digital nomad, get your supplies in whatever country you are coming from. You will need to get a nice big can of insect repellent and sunblock – in Belize these cost us $15 and $19 respectively, while in neighboring Guatemala the same exact products would have cost us $6 and $7. Not having to buy essential toiletries in Belize will save loads of money.
Hunt for cheap food
The reason why we found eating in Belize more expensive than in neighboring countries is that we did not find as many street food stalls or sandwich places as usual, and supermarkets within walking distance of hotels are anything but super, with half empty shelves and products like Pop Tarts and Kellogs Rice Crispies, but no fresh fruit or fresh orange juice, for example. As hostals are also hard to come by, preparing your own food is not often an option. Caye Caulker has one hostel, Yuma’s House, which has a kitchen. Otherwise, most nights will be spent in hotel rooms with no cooking facilities.
There are plenty of cheap restaurants – just make sure to hunt for them. We had Indian in San Ignacio for under $10 for the two of us leaving stuffed, on Ambergris Caye we recommend the Latitudes Café for cheap breakfast and Ruby’s Cafe for giant, cheap, strong coffee. If you like fried chicken, you can get a takeaway almost anywhere in Belize for cheap.
On average, a meal in Belize will set you back at US$3.50 – US$7.50
Note: The Cayes are more expensive than mainland Belize.
The public transportation system in Belize consists of the same 20 year old ‘retired’ North American school buses crammed with twice as many grown adults as the number of pint-sized school children they were meant to hold. Not the glamorous way to go, but certainly cheap and efficient. Distances are short in Belize, where a ride east to west cross country lasts only three hours, so don’t waste money on private shuttles or taxis, they charge up to ten times the price of the bus and get you there no more quickly. Tickets are cheap and the ride is most definitely entertaining – buy yourself a bottle of all-healing home-made seaweed milk, a ham and cheese sandwich and the newspaper from the vendors who board the bus, and you’re set for the trip!
Cost: US$0.75 – US$5.00
Belize has only very few hostels, and many more guesthouses and hotels, where a double room is no more expensive than a private room in a hostel. The cheapest accommodation was a hostel we found on Caye Caulker – Yuma’s House (formerly Tina’s Backpackers) with $12 in a dorm. Caye Caulker is the backpacker island, it is smaller, more relaxed and there are several budget hotels of similar quality for around $25-$35 a night (two people sharing). The only hostel-like place on Ambergris Caye is Pedro’s Inn, outside of San Pedro, where a double room costs $25. We did stay here, and the room was the smallest we have ever stayed in, plus we left a bit itchy. Much better was Ruby’s, right in town and by the beach, for the same price, with a private bathroom included. Research well before booking on Ambergris Caye as it can be pricey.
On the mainland in any major town or tourist hub, you will find several budget guesthouses that charge around $20 for a double room, but be careful as quality definitely varies.
Cost: $12 –$15 per person per night
With Reggae music blaring, hammocks swinging and crystal blue water surrounding you, no doubt you will be in the mood for some drinks while in Belize. Even for long-term travelers, something about traveling in the Caribbean makes you feel like you are on ‘vacation’. Unfortunately, drinking can be very costly, much more so than in the rest of Central America, with a small beer costing up to $3 even at a local dive. But don’t worry – go to Happy Hour. Most bars have 2 for 1 drinks and some even have all you can drink for $20. You can also save money by sticking to Belikin beer (made in Belize) and local drinks such as rum punch, which usually costs around $1.50 and does the job quite nicely.
However you choose to cut your costs – cheaper accommodation, less drinking, and/or opting for public transportation, a trip to Belize requires more careful planning and shopping around with various tour companies than neighboring countries where a few extra Quetzales or Pesos won’t dent your budget the same way several dollars each time will in Belize. In San Ignacio, we chose Mayawalk tour agency for our ATM tour, whose original rate (pre low season discount) was $75, whereas a few of the other agencies wanted $90 per person for the same exact tour. Lower prices is one important reason to do your research, and another is to maximize value for money. On Caye Caulker, most tour agencies will do a full day snorkeling tour for $40, but shop around and see what you get for that price. Some companies do exactly what it says on the box – take you to three snorkeling locations and provide a soggy lunch. With Harry and Steve of Blackhawk tours, for the same price we got an excellent guide (Harry) who took us to three locations, Steve made us lunch, snacks, gave us water, plus bottomless cups of rum punch, nachos and homemade salsa and ceviche (made on the boat that day) for our hour long trip back to the dock.