South America Natural Adventures
nature travel, wildlife tours, adventure travel and general travel to Chile, Peru, Central America, Brazil and Antarctica
BELIZE INFORMATION AND PACKING LIST
English is the official language of Belize, as it was originally an English colony, but many speak Spanish, Creole or Mayan, and away from the cities and towns there is less English, and communication difficulties can arise. Although the English influence is clear in towns, this is still Central America, and the typical Central American outlook prevails. Western ideas of rushing, time and precision are taken for what they are – one way of dealing with life, but just one way – not the way. When meeting people informally a simple head nod will suffice, unless they offer their hand to shake. Dress is casual.
Shops usually open about 8, close at 4, close for lunch, and don’t open back on Wednesday afternoons. Cars drive on the right, but stopping in the middle of the road to talk to an acquaintance is also standard practice.
Tipping is appreciated in Belize; a10% gratuity is becoming customary in restaurants; other than porters ($BZ1 is usual) most other services do not expect tips. Taxis are metered, so don’t accept unofficial taxis. Longer trips can be negotiated.
Some toilets may not have paper; carry a little with you.
Like several other Central American countries, the staples are rice, beans and chicken, with fish and other seafoods common on the coast. Typical international style meals can be obtained in the larger cities, but away from these a more simple fare prevails. Overall the food is not particularly spicy. Water and other drinks may not always be readily available in the country, so always carry some with you; the same advice goes for snacks, and any must-haves such as chocolate. Rum is the local drink, though the beer is good. Local drink flavors include anise and peppermint.
Cheap international calling cards are the simplest way to call home from Belize, but if you are using them from a hotel check for surcharges. Unless you have a 1900 GSM model, and an appropriate international plan, your cell phone won’t work in Belize; even with such a plan the calls will be far more expensive, and incoming calls will cost considerably more for the caller than their normal international rate. If you have an unlocked phone you can purchase a SIM card on arrival; while there are charges depending on call destination, incoming calls are free. Internet cafes are present in the main towns, so for a few dollars you can log on to check and send emails. More or the lodges are establishing a wifi connection, enabling VOIP calls such as Skype to be used, but this is patchy at present, and the better expectation is that it won’t be available. Your hotel list indicates if the hotel advertises Wifi availability. But remember, being on vacation means just that – you’ll enjoy your stay more by saying to your friends and family “talk to you when we return.”
No immunizations are required for Belize, unless you have been to a Yellow Fever country in the previous six days, when a Yellow Fever Certificate is required. Malaria is present in Belize (although Belize City is considered free), and therefore Malaria precautions are recommended. As there are several drugs and regimes available for Malaria control, we strongly advise that you talk to a travel health professional about the regime most suitable for your health needs and time spent in country. However, even if you take a malarial prophylaxis, this is not the only mosquito-borne disease. The best way to avoid malaria and other insect-borne diseases is to avoid being bitten. Long sleeve shirts and pant, especially at dawn, dusk and at night, and insect repellant should be standard attire where mosquitoes are present. Despite warnings over many years, there are good alternatives to DEET, and if its use causes a problem for you look for these alternatives rather than go without. We also recommend that your tetanus shot is up to date – though no more prevalent down there than here, tetanus can stop a vacation in its tracks. Please check the CDC website - http://www.cdc.gov/travel/camerica.htm - for health information for Belize.
Belize, as a small country, does not have extensive health services, and even less outside Belize City, so in the event of most health issues a return home is necessary. Most US health insurance plans do not cover or restrict services overseas – please check with yours; even where they do evacuation or emergency travel is often not covered. We highly recommend travel insurance; South American Natural Adventures can advise you about insurance, and assist you in obtaining travel insurance from a reputable third-party insurer. Many US prescription-only drugs can be bought over the counter in Belize, and pharmacies will issue medicines without a prescription and with their own suggestions. However, this can be unwise; a visit to a doctor, where you will have to pay cash or sometimes with a credit card, is advised. If you wish to replenish your own supply while overseas take your prescription with you for filling at a pharmacy with an exact replacement. Please note that some specialized drugs may not be available overseas, and some have different names – Paracetamol for Tylenol, for example.
Sunburn is a real risk in Belize. For fair-skinned people skin damage can occur in as little as 20 minutes. Cover up with a hat and sunscreen; don’t forget exposed areas such as the tops of feet when sitting in boats, and the back of the legs when snorkeling. Wide-brimmed hats, which protect the ears, are better than caps. Sunglasses, especially polarizing ones for over water, protect the eyes. Also take along the usual travel medical aids such as Imodium, assorted treatment materials for minor cuts and scratches, and iodine for treatment of coral scratches, which you should be diligent about applying.
To help recover lost cameras or memory cards photograph your name address and leave the image on each card. Taking a photo of your hotel name when you arrive may also help quickly return a lost camera, or just photograph your hotel list. Although large capacity memory cards can hold all your photos, they do get corrupted, and we recommend using several smaller cards rather than one large one. Downloading photos via the internet from time to time can also prevent loss of those precious memories. Don’t wait until you arrive to learn about your new camera – saving $50 at the duty-free store or on a last-minute web bargain isn’t a deal if you lose the memories of a $5000 once-in-a-lifetime trip.
As you enter each town or area take a photo of the town’s name, as the first shot and when you depart. Six months later you’ll be able to tell where you took the shot and work out general scenery in between. This also works for hotels, attractions, etc.
Ziplock bags are the duct tape of travel; always carry a few of various sizes. In flight they can be used to enclose tubes that might leak due to pressure changes, including ballpoint pens. Large sizes can hold wet swimsuits, useful if you want to be in the water on the day of your return. They’re also good for smelly or just dirty socks. Also take a few plastic grocery bags for larger dirty items, such as shoes. A little laundry detergent in a ziplock will also be useful along the way. On the beach or in a boat a ziplock is useful for carrying your camera to avoid sand and salt spray; securely fastened it will keep water out for long enough if your camera (or phone) is briefly dropped in water.
While a poncho or other wet gear should be part of your luggage, a decent travel umbrella is very useful in the tropics especially, as the rain is often of short duration and comes straight down. Umbrellas roll back up into their sheath, and can be placed in a grocery bag when wet, whereas bulkier wet weather gear is harder to keep separate from dry clothes, and is often makes you pretty steamy while wearing it.
If you plan to buy clothing locally, save space on your return by taking old clothes that you no longer wear, wear them until you replace them during your stay with local goods, then leave them in Belize, preferably with locals who will use and appreciate them. This way your bag will be no fuller on the return then when you departed the US.
Save space by putting non-prescription pills in one container, but don’t forget to include a guide – colors, eg – as to what each one is. Prescription pills are best left in their own container, or if you buy them in bulk transfer to a small one but make sure you take your prescription with you to avoid problems at borders.
If you a birder, and taking a guide, here’s a suggestion to make IDs easier. Go through the book, and work out which birds occur in the area you’ll be visiting, and maybe the altitudes. Use colored dots from the office supply store to mark the plates of the possibilities. We use codes such as blue for lowland only, green for above 1000m only, etc; dots can be overlapped for wider ranges. An “R” for “very rare” can be written on the dot to further refine things. When you have to quickly look at a page of unfamiliar and confusingly similar birds, the possibilities will stand out from the rest. It’s quicker, and more concise than making written notes. This also works for general guide books, so when you are in a city or other area you can quickly see your chosen must-sees and must-dos.
The following is a general list – your own itinerary may require changes, depending on your season of travel. We’ve left off the more obvious things, such as underwear and toiletries.
Things to leave
Things to pack
and memory cards
– if you don’t bring the original containers, have a copy
of the prescription with you. Medicines should be in your carry-on,
not checked luggage
tickets, travel insurance certificate, credit cards, cash, itinerary