5 Tips for Driving in Belize
Tourism in Belize centers around its world-renowned reefs, drawing thousands of divers and snorkelers each year. Lesser known are its inland treasures: pristine tropical rainforests, Mayan ruins, and an integrated culture from Creole, Latino, and Mayan roots. There is a reliable bus system on the highways and taxi drivers sometimes offer service on the rougher roads; but having a rental car simplifies the logistics of your adventure in Belize. Here are some top tips for driving in Belize:
1. Consider the four-wheel drive option
The Northern, Southern, Western and Hummingbird Highways are paved and suitable for regular cars. Four-wheel drive gives you easier access to remote waterfalls, pristine rainforests and Mayan ruins including these possibilities:
- The El Pilar ruins rest under a rainforest canopy stirring with howler and spider monkeys. Only a few hundred tourists per year venture up the seven miles of rugged road to get there, making for a private viewing of the ruins and wildlife.
- The Caracol ruins, where you can climb on Belize’s tallest structure – the Caana Pyramid – is a three-hour adventurous drive from San Ignacio on a road with sections that turn to mush in the rain. Even in the dry season, you can encounter deep slippery mud from heavy rain.
- The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is at the end of a rutty six-mile road. You can meet spirited low-budget travelers by offering a lift from the Maya Center to this dense tropical forest that offers hiking, tubing, wildlife viewing and swimming under waterfalls.
- The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve has a maze of dirt roads offering access to numerous waterfalls, caves, and swimming holes.
2. It’s okay to drive all over the road to avoid road hazards
Everybody does it. Village roads (including Belize City) are riddled with potholes and driving is slow and meticulous. You and the oncoming traffic share the road with bicycles, dogs, and children.
3. Highway speed bumps sneak up on you
The speed limit may be 55mph but bus stops and populated sections have “sleeping policeman” of crazy heights. In addition to yellow warning signs (not always present) here are some other clues that you should slow way down in preparation for a bump:
- People standing waiting for the bus
- Pop-up vendors selling fruit, crafts and coconut drinks
- Brake lights flashing on the cars ahead of you
4. Use a maps application to navigate
Road signs are rare and sometimes the turn you want looks like somebody’s driveway. Belizeans love to help with directions but they are vague on distances and landmarks. Maps.me works well on iOS and Android phones; load it at home and learn how to use it before your trip.
5. Driving a rental car from Belize to Tikal is forbidden in most contracts
Crystal is the only rental car company that allows you to drive into Guatemala, but once you cross the border you are no longer insured. If you are determined to see Tikal, you can park in a guarded lot at the border and arrange other transportation in Guatemala or join a tour out of San Ignacio.
Some more useful tips
- Although it was a former British colony, driving is on the right side of the road.
- The primary language of Belize is English but the farther west you go, the more you hear Spanish and Mayan dialects.
- US dollars are widely accepted and you can expect change to be given in a combination of US and Belizean currency at a 1:2 exchange rate.
Even if your primary goal is to see the Caribbean reefs off the shore of Belize, plan some time to drive inland to experience this country’s unique culture, tropical wildlife, and natural beauty – before it becomes crowded with tourists.
By Kristi Anderson