Over winter? Us too. But a tropical vacation has a habit of breaking the bank. That is, until you look at travel budgets for migrating south to Belize. The tiny country is often forgotten, but Belize has everything a starry-eyed traveler on a budget could ask for — warm weather, thriving culture, great food, historical sites, and of course, stunning beaches.

Our winter getaway guide gives you the best of two different worlds. Encounter the rainforest of San Ignacio — a city surrounded by ancient Mayan ruins — and then adventure to the backpacker’s island of Caye Caulker — where the saying Belizean saying, “go slow” really hits you when you realize you’ve spent the whole day on the beach drinking Belikin (the beer that’s just about everywhere in Belize).

A week-long trip to sunny Belize might be in your budget with a little planning—and you’ll leave feeling just as refreshed and lighthearted, if not more, than that trip to Hawaii that was out of your price range.

*All of these prices are subject to change, and in order to keep your trip under $500, you’ll need to choose the cheapest option listed. Our guide assumes you will spend two full days in both locations, leaving a day for travel to and from locations. But we promise, you definitely won’t feel like you’re missing out.

Airfare, Transportation, Currency, and Language

Airfare tends to be what makes international travel difficult on a budget, but one way tickets to Belize are as low as $164 one-way through United Airlines or Southwest Airlines. Of course, if you have Southwest points from that credit card you opened or flights you’ve already taken, the same Southwest flight will only cost you 10,140 points, so you can save the money for some splurging later.

Once you land in Belize City, you’ll have to make your way across the country to San Ignacio — but don’t worry, the drive is across the “skinny” part of Belize, and the journey is only 70 miles. There is a bus that will take you from the bus station in Belize City to San Ignacio for $3.50USD/$7BZ, just be prepared to walk about two miles to the station, or catch a local bus down the road. Take the Western Bus, as you will be traveling along the western highway. You can also rent a car at the airport from AQ Belize for as low as $37USD per day, which you can drive to San Ignacio and later return in Belize City before catching your ferry to the island of Caye Caulker.

Most places — street vendors, gas stations and local businesses — will accept both US dollars and Belizean dollars as currency. Only some chain establishments will be skeptical of counterfeit US money.

Local bus fares range from 50 cents to $5 USD, depending on where you’re going. Find regional bus routes here. There are also local taxis that you can utilize.

And if you were wondering if you needed to brush up on your Spanish, go for it, but it isn’t required to get around Belize. English is actually the official language of Belize, as Belize was once a British colony, and most people we encountered in San Ignacio and Caye Caulker spoke English. You will also hear Spanish and Creole spoken, so if you are bilingual yourself and speak Spanish or Creole as well, go for it. But you will be able to find your way around and get to know locals even if you only speak English.

Stay #1: San Ignacio

Photo by Taylor Sienkiewicz.

Tucked away in the jungle is the small city of San Ignacio. While there are tourists in San Ignacio due to its rich history and culture, it isn’t what you would call a “tourist town.” The center of town is a few streets of restaurants and businesses, all centered around a local food and goods marketplace.

A winding river snakes around the city, and just beyond is some of nature’s finest — jungle-thick hikes that lead to towering waterfalls, hot springs and pools. But the real gem of San Ignacio is its Mayan footprint. Ruins of ancient Mayan structures, caves filled with artifacts and other historic sites are scattered around the city. San Ignacio is where a traveler finds their sense of adventure.

Accommodations

River Park Inn

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Where: 13 Branch Mouth Road, San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize

Cost: Rooms start at $45 per night

The Lowdown: With a beautiful surrounding landscape of tropical fruit trees, the River Park Inn allows you to call the jungle your home base — while still keeping you close to town. The website also provides shuttle information to the Inn.

Airbnb

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Cost: Starting at $30 per night

The Lowdown: Also perched in the jungle is this quaint, “home away from home” style Airbnb listing. The home is about 10 minutes from the center of town and therefore is a walkable distance. Featuring all wooden floors, taller ceilings and A/C for a little added fee, this will elevate your stay. The back porch even has views of the Bullet Tree Falls River Valley.

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Cost: Starting at $10 per night

The Lowdown: If you want to go extra cheap and are fine with a dorm room, this Airbnb listing gives you quite the bang for your buck. Clean and pleasant, this colorful location is only a short walk from a farmer’s market and bus stop.

Where to Eat

Breakfast or Lunch: San Ignacio Farmer’s Market

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Where: Savannah StreetSan Ignacio

Cost: $0.50-$5

The Lowdown: If you’re looking for authentic Belizean street food and your fix of tropical fruit, the farmer’s market is the place to be. Scoop up some pupusas, fry jacks, or a classic bowl of red beans, rice, fried plantains, meat and coleslaw.

Lunch or Dinner: Ko-Ox Han Nah

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Where: 5 Burns Ave., San Ignacio

Cost: $4-$15

The Lowdown: From traditional Mayan food to quesadillas and tacos, this place has everything. Stop by when you’re hungry after a long day of activities — they don’t skimp on portions. Our personal favorite? The burritos. With all your favorite burrito fillings wrapped in a huge, homemade tortilla, you definitely leave satisfied. It also serves drinks.

Lunch or Dinner: Cenaida’s

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Where: 5 Burns Ave., San Ignacio

Cost: $4-$15

The Lowdown: This homey spot may not look like much from the outside, but this is the hole-in-the-wall Belizean spot you’ve been looking for. With all the classics, from seafood to rice and bean-based dishes, this place is cheap, authentic and delicious. There are definitely drinks to wash it all down.

Other Cheap Places to Eat and Drink in San Ignacio

Things to Do

Big Rock Waterfalls

Photo by a fellow traveler encountered, Mo from Toronto.

Where: Mountain Pine Ridge Preserve

Cost: Free

The Lowdown: Experience the rainforest in all of its glory. Take a short, roughly 15-minute long hike down to a river, where a huge waterfall emerges. Bring a picnic so you can lounge around the warm rocks after taking a dip and swimming right up to the waterfall.

Xunantanich Mayan Ruins

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Where: San Jose Succotz, signs will direct you from the Western Highway if driving

Cost: $5 entrance fee

The Lowdown: Xunantanich is a Mayan excavation site where you can visit and climb up the ancient structures that were used as temples, administrative hubs, homes for elite rulers and shrines. The small museum upon entrance into the site gives detailed explanations of what each structure was used for and other pieces of Mayan history. Getting so close to what was once a thriving civilization now left to nature is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you won’t want to miss.

Green Iguana Tour

Photo by Taylor Sienkiewicz.

Where: San Ignacio Resort Hotel

Cost: $9

The Lowdown: The San Ignacio Resort Hotel houses and manages the Green Iguana Conservation Project, where rescued green iguanas roam around an enclosed habitat. A knowledgable guide from the hotel, who regularly cares for the animals, will teach you about green iguanas and their natural instincts, habitat, defenses, and overall life while you observe the iguanas and are able to pet, and even hold these happy reptiles.

Stay #2: Caye Caulker

Photo courtesy of Belize Vacation on Facebook

Settle into island life and use the second leg of your vacation to fully unwind. Caye Caulker is a bohemian backpacker’s island with easy-going people, beaches, a nearby coral reef and great seafood. Feel free to roam around barefoot and get swept up in island time.

Transportation

Photo by Scott Mann.

To get to Caye Caulker from San Ignacio, take the Western Bus back to Belize City and stop at the ferry dock. From there, take the ferry straight to Caye Caulker. Round trip ferry tickets are $28. You can book your ride in advance here.

Once you get to the island, you’ll notice there are no cars — and no need for them. Caye Caulker is only five miles long and one mile wide. Needless to say, you can walk everywhere. But if you want to get around faster, some of the accommodations listed come with bikes, or you can rent them for as low as $7.50 per day. There are also golf carts that roam the island if you ever find yourself in need of a “taxi.”

Accommodations

Yuma’s House Belize Backpackers Hostel

Photo courtesy of Airbnb.

Where: Caye Caulker Basketball Court, Playa Asuncio, Caye Caulker

Cost: Starts at $15 per night

The Lowdown: Embrace the backpacker vibes at this groovy, colorful hostel. Located right on the beach, the property features a shared kitchen and plenty of common areas decked with colorful chairs and swinging with hammocks. This is the perfect place to chill at the end of a sunny beach day with new friends.

Caye Caulker Beach Hotel

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Where: Avenida HicacoCaye Caulker

Cost: $60 per night

The Lowdown: If you’re looking for a hotel room, the Caye Caulker Beach Hotel boasts a beachfront location central to the island and beautiful sunset views. There are also amenities like barbecue facilities, air conditioning and WiFi.

Airbnb

Photo courtesy of Airbnb.

Cost: $35 per night

The Lowdown: This cheery Airbnb listing is the perfect place to embrace your tropical side. Close to The Split — a popular beach — the cabana is still located in a quiet, nearby neighborhood and features a kitchenette, as well as a front porch hammock for lounging.

Food and Drinks

Breakfast: Ice N Beans

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Where: 10 N Front St., Caye Caulker

Cost: $3-6

The Lowdown: If you’re craving that iced latte in the already warm mornings, this is the place to go. But the real reason there’s a line out the door every morning is because of the mini donuts and bubble waffles. Treat yourself to one of these sugary concoctions, you’re on vacation after all.

Lunch: Chef Kareem’s UnBelizeable Lunch

Where: 10 N Front St., Caye Caulker

Cost: $3-6

The Lowdown: If you were looking for a beach barbecue, you’ve found the best one. Right on the beach, Chef Kareem whips up all kinds of seafood and kabobs on his grill for lunch every day after his friends bring the shrimp and lobster straight off the fishing boats. There’s also juicy jerk chicken, vegetable kabobs and curry.

Snack: Errolyn’s House Of Fryjacks

Where: Middle St., Caye Caulker

Cost: $1-3

The Lowdown: If you’re in Belize, you have to try this local delicacy. Fry jacks are fried bread stuffed with beans, meat, cheese, and really whatever else you like. Scoop one up on your way to the beach.

Dinner: The Little Kitchen

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Where: Back St., Caye Caulker

Cost: $4-$10

The Lowdown: Don’t second guess yourself by the humble entrance or chalk menu — this restaurant is the epitome of Caye Caulker food. A local woman cooks up her best seafood with Belizean spices and elements. Wash down island staples like conch fritters, curry shrimp, and even lobster with fresh tropical juice. If you time it right, you’ll catch a panoramic view of the sunset over the ocean, right from your table.

Drinks: Barrier Reef Sports Bar & Grill

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Where: Back St., Caye Caulker

Cost: $2-$10

The Lowdown: If you’re looking for nightlife, this place is commonly referred to as “the sports bar,” and is the nightly hang-out spot for live music, which may include karaoke, and your classic Caye Caulker drinks — Belikin or rum with fruit juice. But it is a full-service bar, so you can order pretty much any other common drink.

Other Cheap Places to Eat and Drink in Caye Caulker

Things to Do

The Split

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Where: Back St., Caye Caulker

Cost: Free

The Lowdown: You came to the island to hit the beach, right? While there are many beautiful beaches on Caye Caulker, this is by far the most famous. This area is called The Split because in 1961, Hurricane Hattie split the island in half. The Split is right at the edge of where the island was segmented. The area has calm water for swimming, a bar and grill — The Lazy Lizard — and a beach volleyball setup.

RandOM Yoga

Photo courtesy of Namaste Cafe and RandOM Yoga on Facebook.

Where: On top of the Namaste Cafè, Pasero Street, Caye Caulker

Cost: Donation based

The Lowdown: Get your body moving in the island’s way — slow. Taught on the island for the last decade by Jessie Wigh, a US-certified yoga instructor, the rooftop class gets both beginners and advanced yogis flowing every morning, and for some sunsets.

Snorkeling

Photo courtesy of Caveman Snorkeling Tours on Facebook.

Where: Caye Caulker

Cost: $5

The Lowdown: Caye Caulker is a hub of snorkeling and diving, as the Belizean Barrier Reef is right offshore. Rent fins and a snorkel mask from any of the local tour groups for as low as $5 per day. Discover colorful sea life from the seahorse farm on the dock of iguana beach to the reef. Set out on your own to find the popular spots as well as hidden gems.

Getting Home

Ah, the hardest part — the time to go home. Luckily the logistics of getting back isn’t too difficult. Use that round-trip ferry ticket you bought when you came to Caye Caulker to take the ferry back to Belize City. If you didn’t purchase a round-trip ticket, no worries, you can still buy a one-way ticket. Then, walk about a half mile from the ferry dock to the Belize City bus station. Take a Northern Bus along the Philip Goldson Highway, where you can be dropped off just short of the airport. This bus ride will cost $1. Then, you’re all set to fly home.

2 Responses

  1. Michael Belochi

    Taylor, I know the country pretty well and you did a great job writing about it. We’ve lived in Boulder since 2000 and have traveled to Belize a bunch of times. Flights can be cheap if you travel outside of the Dec-March high season. Advantages there include English, the same time zone, (depending on our “daylight savings” switcheroo), ancient ruins, excellent sea adventures, and exotic animals. The entire country has only about 350K people which is ten times less than neighbor Guatemala. Fully six different culture groups live there, each with their own language/food/customs. I bought 9 acres there to retire some day and make adult-beverages out of the exotic and plentiful fruit there. In the meantime I’ve opened up Boulder’s first cidery!

    Reply
  2. Lisa

    To Explore Belize i would suggest you to Ignore any Car travel. Try bycycles or Local Transport to Enjoy the best of Belize and Explore the City Well.

    Reply

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