Many travelers who visit Belize for the first time often end up booking repeat trips, hoping to soak in everything the small country offers. With snorkeling, rainforest exploration, and culinary wonders, the smattering of activities can just barely fit into one vacation. This is why when planning your itinerary, there are nine rookie mistakes you should avoid in order to make the most out of your debut Belize trip.
1. Only spending time on the islands.
First-time travelers often flock to the pristine beaches at any of our 400-odd islands, which is no surprise. However, overlooking the inland wonders is a huge mistake. Attractions of varying degrees of allure are littered throughout the country, from north to south. Western Belize, which includes the Cayo district, is brimming with mountainscapes, caves begging to be explored, and rainforest taking credit for all the crisp air in the region. It would be a shame to not set aside a couple of days to explore inland Belize.
Assuming you need to know another language.
To the relief of many, Belize’s official language is English, so there’s no need to fret about a language barrier. Sure, there are a number of cultures that call Belize home, but most Belizeans are able to speak English, Spanish, or both. Creole is also the common dialect spoken between friends, colleagues, and other locals, but is not necessary to learn in order to get by. Though knowing the locals’ hospitality, they will try their very best to teach you some phrases. We suggest you take them up on the lesson for the heck of it. (Imagine surprising your friends back home with some Creole!)
3. Flying everywhere.
The beauty of Belize’s size is that you can hop on a domestic plane and be in another region literally within minutes, but where’s the fun in that? You would miss the rolling hills bracketing the Hummingbird Highway, the colorful fruit stands dotting the sides of the roads, or a lulling hour-long boat ride to Ambergris Caye/Caye Caulker. By opting to take the longer route, you get to appreciate the little details that make the tapestry that is Belize so intricate.
4. Only eating at restaurants.
We all know the travel trick of knowing great food when we see it: the waiting time is incredibly long. In Belize, this is especially true. While there are great restaurants at resorts and cities touting highly skilled chefs, don’t knock the smaller mom-and-pop establishments. For instance, if you’re exploring Belize City on foot and come across a long line of locals at a food stand, that’s usually a good sign. Most of these places have astonishingly delicious food for a fraction of the price of higher-end restaurants.
5. Not chatting with strangers.
In Belize, everyone knows everyone, as it’s bound to be in a country with only about 400,000 people. If you meet someone, many times they are a mutual acquaintance lying in wait. Perhaps it’s due to this factor that many Belizeans are warm and welcoming to tourists. It’s not uncommon to strike up a conversation with a stranger while paying for groceries, walking near the beach, or sharing a seat on public transport. Often, these locals are chock-full of helpful information that could prove useful for a Belize first-timer. At the very least, you now have a Belize pen pal to connect with once you return back home.
6. Having an inflexible itinerary.
Take it from Caye Caulker’s infamous motto: Go Slow! Your list of things to do doesn’t have to be an all-binding contract. After all, you’re here to have fun and let loose. Trying to jam-pack as many activities on your itinerary may only lead to stress and disappointment should something not go your way. Belize is very forgiving when it comes to change of plans, a factor to take advantage of if the weather isn’t optimal for a certain tour or if you need an extra day in San Pedro (which, if you did, we wouldn’t blame you.)
7. Skipping snorkeling.
Belize does have the second largest barrier reef, after all, it would be a sin not to dive beneath and see for yourself what the hype is all about. With the reef stretching about 180-miles, there are plenty of places to get to know the marine life on a personal level. Hundreds of species of fish, corals, and other sea critters will have you scrambling to don your flippers, Go-Pro, and goggles.
8. Avoiding local food.
With it being your first trip to Belize, you may not be familiar with the well-worn brag that there are no McDonalds – or fast food in general – to be found. The lack of franchises is no mistake – it’s something Belize is proud of, as it lends itself to serving only the most authentic cuisine to the masses. Most resorts will offer the basics for timid travelers, but by avoiding the local dishes you are missing out on the explosive tastes that are the tenets of Belizean food. From sizzling barbecue to pillowy-soft fry jacks and spice-laden soups, the colossal menu knows no bounds when it comes to quality.
9. Not spending time on the islands.
Conversely, it would be a monumental mistake to not spend time at any of the beaches in Belize. Take the bait and get hooked on Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker for a couple of days. Or if you’re into something more low-key, head to the paradisiacal South Water Caye, or the tiny sand bar that is Silk Caye. In fact, any plain old island or coast in Belize will do, because they all have the beckoning sea views with none of the crowds.