The Old Capital of British Honduras
After a long night bus ride from Cancun, we arrive 2 hours delayed to the former capital city of Belize. The bus was almost full, all of us tourists, therefore both border crossings took much longer than expected. Then, the heavy rain on the way did not help either forcing to reduce the speed. We wouldn’t have minded if Belize City was our final destination that day, but we were having an onward flight to catch to San Pedro right after the supposedly original bus arrival time.
Let’s be honest, Belize City has absolutely nothing to see or do tourist-wise speaking. No charm, almost none to zero sights, houses falling apart and pretty much filthy and dirty everywhere. This is not a place you come for holidays, this is a place you come as a bridge to the incredible beauty and nature of the hundreds of islands just minutes away on what will probably be the shortest flights you have ever taken in your life.
But what happened here for a beautiful English colonial capital city to become what is today? Flooding, hurricanes and fires. It is painful to see the old pictures from the beginning of the 19th century and compare these to the same locations today. Almost nothing stands any more. It is for this reason that the government decided to move the capital inland to Belmopan after Hurricane Hattie in 1961 almost flattened over 75% of Belize City. Long gone are such incredible wooden mansions and elegant streets and monuments.
But as explained before, Belize City will only be a short stop over in your trip, or the perfect base should you want to “commute” to the Maya cities nearby or the incredible cays and islands over the UNESCO World Heritage Site listed barrier reef, the world’s second largest. Belize City is way cheaper for accommodation than any of the islands therefore if you are on a budget this could work great for you. Boats to the principal islands are very frequent and cheap from the main ferry terminal, or at a higher cost, you can enjoy one spectacular flight over the reef with Tropic or Maya Air.
For more information about Belize City visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Belize’s currency is the Belize Dollar (BZD). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Belize City
As already explained, there is really nothing to see in the city apart from few British colonial buildings. The good joy is just outside on the islands or the Maya archaeological sites. In any case, here are few of the places you cannot miss.
- City Hall One of the few buildings still standing from the British colonial times.
- Supreme Court Building Together with the City Hall, the finest example of the beautiful architecture constructions that once were across the whole city.
- Swing Bridge The only one in the world still functioning manually.
- House of Culture Located on what was the Government House.
- Cays Located on the second largest barrier reef in the world. The most famous are Cay Caulker and Cay Ambergris (the world renown Madonna song La Isla Bonita is believed to refer to this island). Check my travel guide for San Pedro Town.
- Snorkelling and scuba diving In Belize this is one of the finest places you can do this. People around the world come here for this purpose. You can swim with turtles, ray fish and nursery sharks or you can dive one of the greatest places on earth topping the top 10 list of best scuba diving sites, the Great Blue Hole.
The international airport is not far from the city centre and offers flights mostly to North America and the rest of the Central American countries. The secondary local airport is just a stripe on the eastern edge of the city and handles most of the connections to the islands on Cessna Caravans.
Coming by bus is also easy as there are connections to Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. We came on the overnight bus from Cancun and was perfectly fine and comfortable. Be careful with the confusion created over the internet where people dos not really know certainly if the bus runs or not. Yes it does, but you cannot buy the tickets in any other city in Mexico, only in Cancun at the ADO Company counters.
It is and ADO service, departing Cancun at 22.15pm and arriving at around 06.00am at Belize City bus terminal (still commonly known as Novelo’s, the name of a former bus company) located on West Collet Canal. Expect the bus to arrive to its final destination much later than the expected time. Ours was 2 hours late and all because both borders, one exiting Mexico and the other one to enter Belize.
Fees at the borders
It is very important you note of the following only if you are entering Belize overland (this means if you are not flying into Belize). Yet again over the internet was such a confusion and nonsense that thankfully I can give you first hand the right information about the border crossing and exiting/entering fees. You can read an expanded version of this in the Mexico City travel guide should you wish to.
Yes, every passenger departing Mexico by bus must pay the exit fee at the border. Currently stays at 304 Mex$ (as of January 2014). Forget everything you might have heard, read or been told that your flight ticket already includes this price and so on. Of course it does not! Or are you leaving Mexico by air? No, you are leaving overland so obviously there is no way you have paid this while purchasing your way in ticket to Mexico.
Then, at the next border to enter Belize you do not have to pay a penny. All went smoothly after they check your luggage and of course the passports.
As for when you are leaving Belize, in this case does not matter if by air, sea or overland, you must pay an exit fee of 20$ USD directly at the border. In this case, it is very likely that your airfare ticket already have this included but if not, don’t get surprised if you have to pay it.
There’s not too much choice in the city and the most you will find are guest houses. These are perfectly fine and the hospitality of the owners I’m sure will be great. A good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Bella Sombra Guest House, 36 Hydes Lane. 10 minutes walk from the bus station and 5 to the ferry terminals. A small property with large rooms and all facilities. Clean, comfortable and totally safe from the location. The owner (Laura Alvarado) is such a lovely person she will make sure your stay is the best. She is currently enlarging the property with building a second floor. This will be ready by March 2014. She will help you with anything you need.