Sandwiched between Mexico, Guatemala and the shimmering Caribbean Sea, Belize occupies a slice of paradise that is packed with culture, wildlife and a wondrous selection of historical sites. Much of the mainland remains swathed in jungle, where the vestiges of ancient cities punctuate verdant forest canopies. Caracol is the most famous. Its crumbling temples and stone pyramids stand as powerful reminders of the Maya civilisation.
The history is fascinating for sure, but most people visit Belize to see its natural wonders and admirable conservation work; the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was the first jaguar sanctuary in the world; the island of Half Moon Caye has been entirely dedicated to the conservation of birds; and the protected Belize Barrier Reef harbours an incredible array of marine life. Visitors can swim with sharks and stingrays along colourful walls of coral, or explore the Blue Hole, renowned as one of the world’s best dive sites.
Numbering fewer than 335,000, Belizeans have surprisingly diverse roots: the country is a melting pot of Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Spanish, Maya, English, Mennonite, Lebanese, Chinese and East Indian heritage. Racial harmony, religious tolerance and a relatively peaceful political culture, have allowed these different elements to blend successfully and have given Belize a reputation as a friendly, laidback destination.
Belize’s towns and cities are small and, on the whole, pleasantly unexciting. San Ignacio is a charming enough stop-off for those disappearing into the jungle and Punta Gorda offers insightful home stays with some of the country’s last remaining indigenous communities. The somewhat bland capital, Belmopan, however, is hardly worth going out your way for and bustling Belize City, though energetic and ruggedly charming, is used largely as a gateway to the islands.
And what exquisite islands they are. Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye, Cayo Espanto (to name a few) are everything you expect from the Caribbean and more; swaying palms, pellucid waters, sandy shores, ramshackle beach bars and charming restaurants. All that’s missing are the crowds. Go figure.
22,965 sq km (8,867 sq miles).
366,942 (UN estimate 2016).
Parliamentary democracy and member of the Commonwealth.
Head of state:
HM Queen Elizabeth II since 1952, represented locally by Governor-General Sir Colville Young since 1993.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Dean Barrow since 2008.
110 volts AC, 60Hz. American-style plugs with two flat pins are standard; sockets don't usually have holes for a third grounding pin however, so you may need an adaptor if your plug has a third pin.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There have been incidents of violent crime and physical assaults including armed robbery and rape targeted at tourists. Armed criminal gangs from Guatemala have been known to operate in the past around densely forested areas of Belize and close to some tourist sites. These incidents are now uncommon and the Belize Defence Force patrols these areas.
The majority of muggings are in Belize City, but crime occurs in all districts including tourist spots like San Pedro, Caye Caulker and Placencia. Avoid dark alleys, keep valuables out of sight and don’t wear jewellery. If possible travel in groups and use a qualified guide for trips off the beaten track.
In some areas of Belize City there is a risk of gang related violence. The areas around George Street and Kraal Road are particularly dangerous. Take carewalking in the city
You should report all incidents of assault, robbery, theft or other crimes to the police. The police will take a statement and investigate the matter. This may take several weeks. You can pay a fee at any point during the process to receive a copy of the report when it is completed.
There have been a number of injuries and fatalities resulting from adventure sports activities including snorkelling and diving. Severe weather and inadequate safety precautions are the main causes. Check local weather forecasts and only use registered and licensed operators.
Take particular care in the Belize/Guatemala border area because of the ongoing dispute between the two countries. Only use officially recognised border crossings.
You can find more information on local travel on the Belize Tourism Board’s website.
You can drive using your UK Driving Licence or an International Driving Permit for up to 3 months. For longer stays, you’ll need to get a Belize driving permit from the Department of Traffic in the district you’re in.
Road accidents are common and local driving standards are poor. Take great care when driving, particularly during rainy conditions when roads can become slippery. In southern parts of the country, particularly in Stann Creek and Toledo, temporary bridges and causeways in low-lying areas may flood during severe weather.
Political demonstrations can occur in Belize City and Belmopan, often at short notice. Most are peaceful, although some have resulted in civil disorder.
Follow local media and avoid large gatherings of people or demonstrations.