While in Puerto Rico, I appreciated the freedom and opportunities having a rental vehicle afforded me. It was a costly “luxury” that was worth it, so when I looked at where to go next, one thing I researched were locations that held the possibility of me being able to rent and drive a vehicle on my own to make my around. Belize held that potential.
I found a few blogs written by people who drove around Belize on their journey, and the common theme mentioned were: bad roads, expensive gas, and the rarity of gas stations. The recommendation was to rent a truck or SUV, and preferably one that was 4×4. One post also mentioned not to expect anything fancy or new, when picking-up my rental. It’s with those things in mind, I returned to the mainland from my first seven days on Caye Caulker to pick-up my rental vehicle.
I had booked a small size SUV through Expedia with Budget.
“You’ll need to get full insurance on the vehicle if you pay with a VISA.” The woman working the desk at the tiny Budget rental office commented when she saw my card. “It’s $22 a day. Do you have another credit card?”
I never know if I’m being duped or if these type of glitches in my travel are legit. I know tourists are targets for scams, which is called paying a tourist tax. These tourist taxes, are particularly popular in Italy. “All my credit cards are VISAs.” I replied.
She offered to refer me to one of the other rental companies, who would accept my VISA without requiring the purchase of the full daily insurance. Meanwhile, I was deciding the price of peace of mind. Even before she mentioned requiring insurance if paying with a VISA, I’d been pondering getting full insurance.
“I can roll the vehicle down a cliff or blow it up…and I’ll be covered.” I asked. She responded with a “Yes,” so I handed her my card. I keep spending too much money on everything, why stop now?
Before heading out the door, I asked her for a map and direction to San Ignacio, she handed me a map that looked like a page out of a coloring book, and explained there are only four main roads (highways) in Belize. One that ran East to West, called George Price Hwy or the Western hwy, another that runs South to North (North of Belize City) called Philip Goldson Hwy or Northern Highway, followed by the one South of Belize city, that runs North to South called Southern Hwy, and one that connects the West and South Hwys called Hummingbird Highway. She followed her instructions with how to leave the airport and get on the Western Highway.
In all my travels, I’ve been spoiled and have heavily relied on Google Maps to get me to where I needed to go. Now, without cellular service, Google Maps couldn’t help me. Well, not exactly—I came to realize Google Maps could still show me where I was, although it couldn’t give me direction to where I was going, which proved to be very helpful. Without Google Maps, there’s no way I would have made it to my hotel in Belize City, on my last night in Belize.
I headed out the rental car parking and tried to remember the directions. It didn’t take long for me to be unsure of where I was. The roads lack markings and signs, and my coloring book map, lacked details to be of any help. Thankfully, there are various stands on the road, locals either selling fruits and vegetables or some other native foods, so I stopped to verify I was in fact going the right way.
The highway is more like a road you’d find passing through a small village back in the United States versus the image a highway probably conjures up in your mind. The condition of the road however, weren’t bad at all. What you do have to watch out for are the speed bumps and pedestrian crossings.
You definitely don’t want to encounter either of those going too fast. I did a few times, and hoped each time I hadn’t caused damage to my ride. I’ve driven in many foreign lands and it really doesn’t matter what place, conditions, or madness you put me in—I adapt and quickly drive like the locals. I learned watching others on my drive from Belize City to San Ignacio how to take advantage of the speed bumps, to pass slower vehicles.
I only encountered a police checkpoint once, where they asked me for my driver’s license. The purpose of the checkpoint is mostly to validate people have valid driver’s license and for locals, appropriate vehicle registration and insurance. It’s apparently common for Belizean to drive without one or both.
While staying in San Ignacio, and partaking in a few weekend BBQs, I also realized, it’s not uncommon for Belizean to drive while intoxicated or with open containers. I didn’t drive after dark, but understood, if I did, it was something to be cautious about.
A couple of the places where I stayed were off dirt roads, to include my trip to the Cockscomb Wild Refuge, but except for being a little bumpy, the roads weren’t bad and didn’t require a 4×4. During rainy season, I can see where a 4×4 would probably be worth it, but under regular conditions, it’s not a requirement.
I think too many Americans are used to nicely paved roads and underestimate what a regular vehicle can do.
The first time I gassed up, I once again pondered if I was being required to pay a tourist tax. I had half a tank left, but recalled what I’d read about gassing up, even when having half a tank since you never know when you’ll come across a gas station again. The gas stations are full service, and the one where I made my first stop, the pump was a little dilapidated, so I couldn’t see the total cost on the screen. The total was $50 BZE (Belizean dollars – $25 American). I handed him the money, thinking this was in fact expensive gas. I would gas up again, where this time I could see the pump screen, and received confirmation half a tank of gas cost $50 BZE.
I never asked any of the gas stations if they took credit cards. I always paid in cash. Plenty of places took credit cards, but most of my trip, I paid everything in cash.
I found nothing scary or worrisome about driving around Belize, and I did so on my own. Take heed to the advice about renting a SUV or truck, when to gas up, and watching out for the speed bumps and pedestrian crossings, otherwise, enjoy your time in Belize. Hummingbird Highway is a pretty drive (even thought it was rainy and cloudy both times I drove it) and if you have time, make a stop at the Blue Hole National Park for a nice cooling swim.