Visiting Belize but don’t want to rent a vehicle? There are several great public transportation options, and they are a superb way to see more of Belize and learn about its culture. In general, you will find that traveling via public transport in Belize is quite a different experience from doing so in most Western countries. Instead of finding everyone focusing on their newspapers, most of your fellow passengers will be keenly interested in you and everyone else on board! It’s a great way to chat with the locals and learn from them.
One thing you’ll need to be aware of: things may be done differently in Belize than they are where you come from. Buses might not stick to as precise a schedule, for example, and in some places, a taxi might mean a golf cart! If you can be a bit flexible, however, you will relish the experience of traveling as the locals do. You’ll find there are plenty of good public transportation options available to you. These include buses, taxis, and water taxis.
If you’d like to travel from the mainland to popular island destinations such as Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker, you can catch a water taxi from Belize City with the top local choice, San Pedro Belize Express. In the south, you’ll find other small-scale water taxi options if you’re looking for a transfer from the mainland, like Placencia or Dangriga, to say Tobacco Caye or even Glover’s Reef. Water taxis are a very pleasant way to travel and are somewhat of a novel experience for most Westerners. Here are some tips to make the most of your experience:
- Try to sit on the upper deck for the best view and cool breezes.
- Buy your tickets ahead of time.
- Hold on to your stubs when the porter takes your luggage at the gate.
- Feel free to change seats if there is room.
If you find yourself making friends on the boat over to San Pedro, don’t worry about extending your visit. The return fares are good for up to three months!
This public transportation option in Belize is fairly cheap, reasonably reliable, and found across the country. Most Belizean buses are actually old American school buses, often repainted in vivid designs, without air conditioning. To get from Belmopan to Belize City on a bus will only cost you BZ$6, or US$3.00. Here are some things you should be aware of as far as the buses:
- Buses typically travel on major highways.
- While you can catch a bus along the highway, to ensure you have a seat, go to the bus terminal.
- Before getting on, ask a local what the cost is to your destination so you can have exact change.
- Unless you’re looking to stop somewhere along the way, make sure your bus expressly says “NONSTOP, DIRECT, or EXPRESS” to cut your travel time in half. A typical one-hour distance from Belmopan to the City (in a private vehicle) could take up to 2 hours on a “REGULAR” bus, which stops at random points on the highway. You can find the differentiation on a hand-painted sign stuck in front of the windshield for passengers to sight.
- Buses are a great way to meet locals since there’s no assigned seating. You’ll be sharing seats on a full bus.
- You’ll always hear music on a Belizean bus. Sometimes passengers will sing along.
- Bus terminals are good places to get a snack or a drink, buy a newspaper, or use the restroom. The public restrooms will charge you, though no more than usually BZ$1.
One thing you will discover is that people in Belize are friendly and helpful. You will see bus conductors and others assist the elderly or help little children down the steps of the bus. If you are loaded down with parcels from a shopping trip, don’t be surprised if someone offers to give you a hand.
Taxis are more expensive than buses but are often more convenient, especially if a city bus route does not overlap with your destination. While buses generally travel along a route every half hour or so, you can hail a taxi at any time. They are a great way to travel shorter distances. You can identify a taxi by the green license plate; they are not yellow, or painted otherwise. Some will have “TAXI” on its back window, but they’re almost all private vehicles converted into taxi cabs. Often, they will also honk at you to let you know they have space available, even if your hand isn’t up to hail one. Here are some rules to help you ride taxis like a local:
- If you stand by the road in the direction you want to travel, available taxis will either honk or flash their lights. Just wave at them if you want them to stop.
- Make sure to ask what the fare is before you board.
- There are no meters and sharing rides is common.
- The fare is a set fee that everyone on the taxi will pay. In this way, they are more like a bus than an American taxi.
- When you enter the taxi, say hello to your fellow passengers, if any.
- Make sure to have small bills available.
- You don’t need to tip.
Riding local taxis in Belize can be a great way to meet people as well as to travel to your destination. Often the driver will be extra helpful when he finds out you are a tourist.
Hopefully you will feel confident using the various public transportation options available to you in Belize. One of the best things about doing so is that it will help you get to know the citizens of this beautiful country and to learn more about their unique culture.