Traveling around Belize by commuter airline is common, easy, and relatively economical. Two local commuter airlines serve all the major tourist destinations around Belize. The carriers are Maya Island Air (tel. 223-1140; www.mayaairways.com) and Tropic Air (tel. 800/422-3435 in the U.S. or Canada, or 226-2012 in Belize; www.tropicair.com). Both operate out of both the Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport and the Belize City Municipal Airport. In both cases, flights are considerably less expensive into and out of the Municipal Airport.
There are only four major roads in Belize: the Northern, Western, Southern, and Hummingbird highways. All are just two-lane affairs, and all actually have speed bumps as they pass through various towns and villages along their way. Belize is only 113 km or so (70 miles) wide, and around 402km (250 miles) long. Renting a car is an excellent way to see the country. If you are going to the Mountain Pine Ridge area of the Cayo District, or to the Gallon Jug or Lamanai areas, you will certainly need a four-wheel-drive vehicle. However, if you're just visiting the major towns and cities of San Ignacio, Placencia, Corozal, or Punta Gorda, you'll probably be fine in a standard sedan. That said, it's always nice to have the extra clearance and off-road ability of a four-wheel-drive vehicle, particularly during the rainy season (June through mid-Nov).
Among the major international agencies operating in Belize are Avis, Budget, Hertz, and Thrifty. Crystal Auto Rental (tel. 800/777-7777 toll-free in Belize or 223-1600; www.crystal-belize.com) is a local company, with an excellent fleet and good prices.
Prices run between BZ$120 and BZ$240 (US$60-US$120/£32-£64) per day for a late-model compact to a compact SUV, including insurance. Most of the rental companies above have a 25-year-old minimum age requirement for renting, although Crystal Auto Rental will rent to 21- to 24-year-olds, but with twice the deductible.
Often included in the price, car-rental insurance runs about BZ$24 to BZ$40 (US$12-US$20/£6.35-£11) per day with an average deductible of around BZ$1,500 (US$750/£398), although sometimes for a few extra dollars per day you can get no-fault, no-deductible coverage.
Before driving off with a rental car, be sure that you inspect the exterior and point out to the rental-company representative every tiny scratch, dent, tear, or any other damage.
Note: It's sometimes cheaper to reserve a car in your home country than to book when you arrive in Belize. If you know you'll be renting a car, it's always wise to reserve it well in advance for the high season, as the rental fleet can't match demand.
Maps -- There are so few roads in Belize that you will probably be fine using the free maps given out at the airport or by your car rental agency. If you really want a more detailed map, the Belize map produced by the International Travel Maps and Books (www.itmb.com) is a good option. You can get this and other maps at many bookstores and gift shops in Belize, if you are unable to buy it in advance either online or at a bookstore near you. Alternatively, you can pick up a copy of Emory King's Driver's Guide to Beautiful Belize (Tropical Books, 2003).
Gasoline -- Gas stations can be found in all the major towns and tourist destinations. When this guide was published, a gallon of premium or "super" unleaded gas cost BZ$10 (US$5/£2.65).
Driving Rules -- A current foreign driver's license is valid for the time you are in Belize. Despite having been a British colony and current member of the Commonwealth, cars drive on the right-hand side of the road, just as in the United States. Seatbelt use is mandatory in Belize, and failure to comply carries a fine. One odd driving law in Belize is that drivers wishing to make a left-hand turn while traveling along any of the country's "highways" must first pull over to the right-hand shoulder until all oncoming and following traffic has cleared.
Renter's Insurance -- Even if you hold your own car-insurance policy at home, coverage doesn't always extend abroad. Be sure to find out whether you'll be covered in Belize, whether your policy extends to all persons who will be driving the rental car, how much liability is covered in case an outside party is injured in an accident, and whether the type of vehicle you are renting is included under your contract.
Most major credit cards provide some degree of coverage as well -- provided that they were used to pay for the rental. Again, terms vary widely, so be sure to call your credit card company directly before you rent. Usually, if you are uninsured or are driving abroad, your credit card provides primary coverage as long as you decline the rental agency's insurance. This means that the credit card will cover damage or theft of a rental car for the full cost of the vehicle. If you already have insurance, your credit card will provide secondary coverage, which basically covers your deductible. Credit cards will not cover liability or the cost of injury to an outside party and/or damage to an outside party's vehicle.
If you do not hold an insurance policy, you might seriously want to consider purchasing additional liability insurance from your rental company. Be sure to check the terms, however. Some rental agencies cover liability only if the renter is not at fault; even then, the rental company's obligation varies by location.
The basic insurance coverage offered by most car-rental companies, known as Loss/Damage Waiver (LDW) or Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), can cost as much as $20 (£11) per day. It usually covers the full value of the vehicle, with no deductible if an outside party causes an accident or other damage to the rental car. Liability coverage varies according to the company policy. If you are at fault in an accident, however, you will be covered for the full replacement value of the car, but not for liability. Most rental companies require a police report to process claims, but your private insurer will not be notified of the accident.
Breakdowns -- Be warned that emergency services, both vehicular and medical, are extremely limited in Belize, and their availability is directly related to the remoteness of your location at the time of breakdown. You'll find service stations spread over the entire length of the major highways, and a fair number of these of these have tow trucks and mechanics. The major towns of Belize City, Belmopan, Orange Walk, Corozal, Dangriga, Punta Gorda and San Ignacio all have hospitals, and most other moderately sized cities and tourist destinations have some sort of clinic or health-services provider.
Note: It should go without saying, but you cannot rent a car on or drive to any of the cayes or outer atolls.
Car-Rental Tips -- While it's preferable to use the coverage provided by your home auto-insurance policy or credit card, check carefully to see if the coverage really holds in Belize. Many policies exclude four-wheel-drive vehicles and off-road driving -- but good portions of Belize can in fact be considered off road. While it's possible at some car-rental agencies to waive the insurance charges, you will have to pay all damages before leaving the country if you're in an accident. If you do take the insurance, you can expect a deductible of between US$750 and US$1,500 (£398-£795). At some agencies, you can buy additional insurance to lower the deductible.
Belize has an extensive network of commuter buses serving all of the major villages and towns and tourist destinations in the country. However, this system is used primarily by Belizeans. The buses tend to be a bit antiquated, and buyouts and bankruptcies within the industry have left the status of the local bus network in a state of confusion and limbo.
While it's possible to fly to a few of the outer cayes, most travel between mainland Belize and the cayes and atolls is done by high-speed launch. There are regular water taxis between Belize City and Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Caye Chapel, and St. George's Caye. Hotels and resorts on the other islands all either have their own boats, or can arrange transport for you.
Astrum Helicopters (tel. 222-5100; www.astrumhelicopters.com) is a new company with a small fleet of sleek and modern helicopters. They will take you to just about any destination in Belize, including remote lodges, islands and atolls. They will also take you out on sightseeing tours. Rates run between BZ$2,400 (US$1,200/£636) and BZ$3,750 (US$3,200/£1,696), depending upon the distance and number of passengers.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.