Let's get right to it. While I try to send a welcome email to new guests with a lot of info, it always turns out that people find something I didn't include! I thought it was time to compile TWO YEARS of questions and learning into a blog post that will hopefully help you feel informed and totally ready for your trip! If you can think of ANYTHING I left out let me know below, I'll add it :)
If you read this whole post start to finish - you will be as informed as a traveler who has been here for years!! It is HIGHLY recommended you read the whole things before you come!! Not to toot my own horn but my goal is to make this the most comprehensive, "live" list of FAQs!
How do I get from Belize International Airport to Placencia?
The most popular method is to take one of Belize's regional planes ("puddle jumpers") from the Belize International Airport (BZE) to Placencia. You can pre-book this flight by going to www.tropicair.com, or www.mayaislandair.com. The flights are scheduled throughout the day. The flight is only 40 minutes long and once you're away from the mainland the water turns beautiful shades of blue and turquoise. Ask the pilot if you can sit in the co-pilot seat - they will let you if you ask. The right side of the plane shows you the Maya Mountains and the lagoon, and across the mainland. The left side shows you spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea - get your camera out!
*Note - international flights deplane from front AND back at BZE - you really want to try to be one of the first off, as this will get you in the front of the line for immigration - this makes a big difference! We recommend you book in the last few rows or as close to the front as you can, but avoid the middle of the plane. When you get off the plane you'll go through immigration and customs, and then after collecting your bags (see notes on immigration and customs below) will proceed to the Tropic Air/Maya Island Air counter to check in for your flight to Placencia. If you breeze through immigration and customs, you may be bumped up to an earlier Tropic or Maya Air flight. No worries, this happens often, ask the desk to call us at 622-4142 and let us know you got on an earlier flight, so we can be there to pick you up!
Money saving tip!!! Laurie, “Taco Girl”-a great blogger from San Pedro, provides (for free!) the most up to date code for 10% off your Tropic Air flight! You can enter your email here, you'll get the code immediately and no spam email!! http://tacogirl.com/flights-to-belize/.
Shuttles - Some people take shuttles or rent a car at BZE. The drive is anywhere from 3.5-5 hours. Read THIS post about driving to Belize to help you decide. THIS post provides great driving directions to us from BZE. The most well known shuttles are William Shuttle Service, Belize Shuttle Service and Discounted Belize Shuttle Service. You can book them online.
Car rental - Car rental is expensive in Belize, as there are not many cars here ($50-100us per day). Gas is also pretty pricey. BUT, it is still a great experience to drive through the country, and see my post above about driving in Belize. If you are seeing the whole country, it is economical. When you arrive at BZE, the car rental places are located just outside the main entrance to the airport, easy to find, and works like a US car rental. You do not need a car once you are in Placencia as we (Caribbean Beach Cabanas - CBC) are walking distance to everything in the village. One-way car rental from BZE to Placencia - I recommend you contact the car rental place and ask - there is a hefty "drop fee" and the policies change based on their inventory.
How much time should I leave between flights? What is the airport like?
***Plus- airport tips and duty free info...
I always recommend leaving 75-90 minutes between your incoming flight and your puddle jumper flight. If you breeze through customs and immigration, they will put you on an earlier flight.
Immigration - After getting off the plane have your passport and Arrival Form (they give it to you on the plane) available to go through customs. As noted above, try to sit at the front or back of the plane, not the middle, to get off the plane first. Immigration is pretty straightforward, and you just need to get your passport stamped. You then pick up your bags...
**A note here before you leave the baggage claim area. After you are in the baggage claim area look around and you'll see a store called "Arrival Duty Free". This is NOT your typical duty free store where you buy wine or perfume, etc, when you leave; this store is for buying when you ARRIVE in Belize and they have the very best prices. If want to enjoy any of the name brand liquors like Bombay Gin, Johnny Walker Scotch, Stoli Vodka or any of the others MAKE SURE you buy those liquors here at this store. Because of the high import tax these same liquors will cost twice as much in Belize. (local rum, beer, vodka are relatively inexpensive). You will have to get in the line that checks your bags.
Customs - you will fill out the form on the plane, and you present this here; you can get through quickly if you are not declaring anything. The officer may direct you to the line to get your bags checked, but again this is pretty low stress. Your personal items are allowed in Belize. There is an import allowance of 200 cigarettes or 1/2 pound of tobacco goods, 20 ounces of alcohol and one bottle of personal perfume. For other questions regarding customs, please check: http://www.customs.gov.bz/
What is rainy season like? What about the weather overall?
Belize is subtropical, with a mean annual temperature of 80 degrees F. It is similar to South Florida weather. During the months of November to March expect temperatures in Placencia to be in the middle to high 70's or low 80's. Winter storms called "Northers" may bring rain and lower the temperature down to the low 60's. Inland, temperatures are usually higher, reaching the 90's during the warm season. Trade winds blow along the coast and on the cayes most of the year, keeping temperatures pleasant even in the hottest months, except for a few weeks, generally around mid-August through mid-September.
The dry season generally lasts from November through May while the rainy season is typically June-November. The rain during this season often comes during the night. Hurricanes occasionally occur August through October (about once every 30 years, in the last hundred years). Rainfall is heaviest in the south and the jungle areas (around 180 inches), lightest in the north and on the Cayes (around 50 inches). Water temperature averages between 76 and 83 degrees F.
Many people ask if they should even consider coming during rainy season. There are many mini droughts in "rainy season" and sometimes it seems to rain as much in "dry season." Weather is always unpredictable, but, your chances of having your particular week ruined by the weather are statistically small. There is not one particular time of year that is "predictable" - with the exception, September and October are typically the wettest/muggy-ist/hottest/buggy-est - but you can also find great deals on travel then.
Do I need to worry about ZIKA or other tropical diseases? Are the bugs bad? Do I need shots/vaccinations? What about sand fleas/flies/no-see-ums?
I always refer to the CDC page for any updates. As far as this past year, ZIKA is not considered a threat here, with only one case being linked to Belize. If you are careful with applying DEET especially at high risk times (after a rain, at dusk/dawn, in the jungle) you should be fine.
There may be some sand flies and mosquitoes but primarily when it is calm and at dawn or dusk. They are more prevalent on the mangrove cayes and near the lagoon. The biggest health hazard is a serious sunburn which can ruin your travels! It is highly improbable that you will be in an area on the peninsula where you will be bitten by an Anopheles mosquito with the malaria parasite. The same is true of other diseases, such as Dengue Fever. If your plans include a stay in the jungle however, check with your health provider about risk versus treatment. It is always a good idea to keep your tetanus booster up to date though no shots are currently required to enter the country.
Sand flies/fleas/no-see-ums - these are present in all tropical places. We rake our beach daily which is done to prevent them. Where you see raked sand, you are probably pretty safe from them. We recommend using Avon's Skin So Soft as this is a natural repellent they can't bite through. As they are actually tiny crustaceans and not insects, DEET has no effect on them. Most people will have no problems, they are generally active after a rain, or when it is cooler. You will not know you are bitten until the next day, when they show up as very itchy red bumps, often many at a time. They are a nuisance but nothing serious or life threatening!
Other "creatures" - In your suite, you may come across a few common bugs. Tiny (non biting!) ants are common, and you will see that if you leave any sort of food out they will find it. Occasionally you may run across a cockroach but they stay away from people and only come out when it is dark, and we do treat for them frequently. You may also see an occasional gecko in the cabanas—they are harmless and scared of people, and actually are pretty cute. They are good guys in that you rarely see too many bugs/spiders, because they eat them! They make a loud bird like chirping noise you may hear from time to time. Scorpions are present in Belize, but usually prefer to be where it is wet and are not seen as frequently on the beach. Please be aware anytime you are putting your hand into a dark space. Scorpion stings are painful but temporary. SPF and DEET are readily available at all local stores.
Because we are close to the reef, where there is a plethora of sea life, you will occasionally find jellyfish in the water. We have occasionally sighted a stingray and barracuda close to the shores as well. The best defense against jellyfish is to wear goggles, and exit the water if you see more than one, as the current may be bringing them closer to shore. If you get stung, take a Benadryl and scrape the sting with a credit card, then apply white vinegar. Barracuda normally do not attack people. Take caution in wearing shiny jewelry in the water, and if you see one, give it plenty of space. When entering the water if it is cloudy, take care to shuffle your feet as if there are stingrays present, they will be scared off. You can see them in clear water. On a positive note, look for dolphins in the water in front of your cabana, as these are frequently spotted!
What should I pack?
Click HERE to read a recent blog post on this topic.
Is Belize safe?
I wrote a recent post HERE about safety in Belize. Placencia is considered safe, with very little violent crime. The crime here is mostly opportunistic theft - we recommend you keep a close eye on your belongings and do not leave anything unattended, just as you would do anywhere. You can be lulled into a sense of security here because it is so quiet and peaceful, and lose vigilance to lock doors and bring things inside. We have had very few incidents of theft here, and these have only occurred as a result of leaving things unlocked or unattended. You have a very low chance of anything crime related happening here, and this is true throughout the country. The one exception is the south side of Belize City, where tourists do not go. This pocket accounts for the majority of reported crimes in the country. Because the country is the least population dense in Central America, the crime appears on paper, higher than reality. Visitors come here again and again because they do feel safe here, and unlike a lot of tourist destinations, you do not have to stay behind the closed walls of your resort. The village IS the experience and it is encouraged to go out and enjoy! Just like anywhere, don't flash cash or bring attention to expensive items.
Can I drink the water?
YES! Right out of the tap. It is delicious! The tap water in your cabana is treated municipal water from a deep artesian well located on the mainland in Big Creek. Water is provided via a relatively new PVC pipe system to commercial and household users throughout the village. It is generally recognized as safe to drink. It is known to be potable and most expats and tourists drink right from the tap. Each person is different, however, and bottled water is available all over the peninsula, and is very affordable.
Do I need to bring a special outlet for my electronics?
Electrical power is 110 volts/60 cycle, which is the same as the United States and Canada. The plugs and outlets are the same as the US. A small surge protector is highly recommended for computers and other sensitive equipment.
Do I need to exchange my money?
Local currency is the Belize Dollar. One U.S. dollar is worth two Belize dollars - it is set at this rate and does not change. Almost all prices are in Belize dollars except where noted. There is no need to exchange money as USD is accepted - for example, if the total is $30, this means Belize dollars, and if you hand them $15US, they won't bat an eyelash!
What time zone is Belize in?
Belize is on Central Standard Time, however, they do not observe Daylight Savings Time. The local time is Greenwich mean time minus six hours.
Can I rent a car or golf cart? Do I need a car in Placencia?
You can easily rent a golf cart in walking distance from Caribbean Beach Cabanas. You don't need one as everything is in walking distance, but a very fun outing is to rent one for a day (about $40US) and drive up to Maya Beach - about 12 miles up the peninsula. You do not need a car. The tour guides all pick you up in the village. Everything you need to do and see is walking distance from Caribbean Beach Cabanas! We also have complimentary bikes.
I heard Belize has sea grass or that the beaches aren't swim-able. What are the beaches really like?
Belize has the second biggest barrier reef in the world, and with the plethora of tropical creatures, comes some sea grass that helps to sustain them. You will read occasional complaints that people couldn't get in the water because of the sea grass. I will give this estimate - about 70% of the time, the water is amazing. Crystal clear, lovely, everything you would want. When certain currents change, sea grass can wash in. We do rake our beach daily so we keep the shore as clear as possible. About 2-3 days a week, sometimes it can go longer, sea grass will wash in by the end of the day. It is not a deal breaker, usually this means a couple feet of sea grass to step over. Occasionally, the current will bring in trash that is inevitable on all shores. This is very upsetting to see, and we make all efforts to clean up and dispose of trash.
Read THIS post about Belize as compared to other countries - Belize makes an effort to maintain a natural environment, and there are limits to a developing country's ability to use resources that are available at first world places. The amazing, natural, unspoiled, authentic vacation you get here far outweighs some sea grass for most travelers, the amount of repeat guests, and people who move here, is a testament to how special this place is! You can read HERE why this is....
Can I buy basic needs at the local stores? What are prices like?
Within a few minutes walk, you can be at several grocery stores and farmer's markets. Produce is sold at farm stands throughout the village, not at the grocery stores. The grocery stores here are relatively well stocked. You can always find the basics, but specific, selective items are inconsistent. Things like bug spray, SPF, toilet paper, basic groceries are plentiful. There is a pharmacy in the village. There is a range to suit all diners here, from basic and casual to amazing dining! Prices here are similar to the US. Remember all prices are in Belize dollars so it looks double the price!
Can I use credit cards, and is there an ATM available?
Credit cards are accepted widely in the village. Some tour operators accept credit cards, but you will want to be prepared to pay cash for some. ATMs are available in the village for a fee of a few dollars.
How much cash should I bring? Are there safes in the room?
We have a safe in each room. Our rooms are incredibly secure as many people bring valuable dive equipment, cameras, and of course their valuables, cash, passports, etc. Cash - most people bring about $100US for each excursion per person, and then expect that most places will take your credit card for dinners. I would bring about $50 per day for a couple extra cash plus your excursion money, just in case.
What languages are spoken in Belize?
English is the official language, though Spanish, Creole, Mayan, and Garifuna are also spoken. While the population of Belize is only about 350,000 and it is only about the size of New Hampshire, there is a great deal of ethnic diversity among Belizeans, who include Creoles (African-European), Mestizo (Spanish-Indian), Garifuna (African-Indian), Mayan, Anglo-European, Middle Eastern and Asian.
Can I snorkel right off the beaches in Belize?
You can snorkel right in your front yard here at CBC, but you will not see too many fish right on the shore (which is a good thing for finicky swimmers!) The reef is about a 40 minute boat ride away. You can take our complimentary kayaks to a small island right near the shore where there is good snorkeling, and it is recommended that you snorkel on an excursion to Laughingbird Caye or Silk Caye for truly remarkable snorkeling near the reef.
How much should I tip?
Tipping is somewhat less here than in the states - tipping is about 10% at restaurants. It is always kind and appreciated to tip tour guides or for any extra service.
How is the WiFi in Belize?
Belize is still a developing country, and the infrastructure is not a first world operation yet. Here at CBC, we just installed the second of the 2 internet service providers in the country to help keep our WiFi as consistent as possible. When it is stormy, the WiFi can be intermittent. You should expect to be able to check email and do your basic surfing here, but do expect for there to be occasions where it is slow or not connecting for a few minutes here or there. For the most part, you wouldn't notice unless you were online all day, which we hope you won't have to do on vacation! We have installed the best equipment here and upgraded to a faster service, and we continually upgrade our equipment to keep it as consistent as possible. WiFi is available almost everywhere you go in the village, just get the password from each place!
Is there a gym we can use?
Placencia has an outdoor gym which can be used on a daily pay basis, called Evolution. There are many yoga classes to be found throughout the village; my favorite is BB Yoga. You can ride your bike up to her morning classes. You can also run or walk for miles on the beach right out front - all beach here is public use!
What excursions should I take?
The options can be a bit overwhelming….Cave tubing, hiking, snorkeling, boating, sailing, fishing, fine restaurants, shopping, Mayan tours, sunset cruises, scuba diving, cave tours, bird watching, biking, jungle tours, ziplining, parasailing, kite surfing, the zoo, helicopter tours, and more! You can book before you come, or simply visit the excursion offices while you are here—they are all within walking distance of your cabana. HERE are our recommendations for your time here!
What do you recommend guests see in the rest of Belize?
The most popular (80% of tourists go here) place is Ambergris Caye. This is a very busy, crowded, active island up in Northern Belize. Although Belize is small, the options are SO different throughout the country. Placencia is very popular for people who want world class diving and snorkeling, a laid back beach town (with no chains), very authentic, rustic, and where one can safely hang out in a walkable Caribbean village. People who want more nightlife and the busy-ness of a large town go to Ambergris Caye. People who want adventure in the jungles and mountains go to Cayo - San Ignacio. We recommend in Ambergris - follow San Pedro Scoop's advice HERE. In San Ignacio, a few must do's in order - Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave tour is spectacular, Xunantunich Mayan Ruins, and any of the cave tours are a unique and amazing experience.
Why do people come to Placencia instead of other places in the country? What makes it special?
As noted above, HERE is a blog post that touches on why so many people come here again and again...sometimes they never leave!
Are there emergency medical services in Placencia? How do I call the police if necessary?
Belize is not known for cutting edge medical services, and this should be taken into consideration. Belize City has the most advanced medical services, and for serious problems, the village arranges for individuals to fly out on the next available puddle jumper. There is a moderately equipped hospital in Dangriga, about an hour drive away. The village has an on call, 24/7 doctor in the village. Dr. Alexis can be reached at 622.7648 or at home 523.4038. The Placencia Police station is located in the heart of the village, just a couple minutes walk away from CBC. They can be reached from the resort cell phones in each room, by dialing 911, or 503.3142.
Does everything close is low season? When does low season start?
"Low season" (arguably) starts around June. June has Lobsterfest, however, so things stay pretty lively. The weather gets a bit hotter and a few more rain showers by June, and many of the hard working businesses will shutter for a couple weeks/month at a time to recover from high season. There is NO reason to not come here in " low season." You can have just as much fun, a couple places here or there might be closed up but you can't possibly hit every hot spot here on one trip anyway! My personal opinion - September and October are the "worst" times to come, as far as, the most stuff will be closed, and it will be the hottest/wettest/buggy-est. However - plenty of people come during those months and have a total BLAST! Just come when your schedule allows you to, and know that you will have more to do here, than you know what to do with!
Do I need a passport or visa?
A valid passport and return ticket is necessary for entry into Belize. No visas are required for citizens of the U.S., British Commonwealth nations, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey and Uruguay.
How long can I stay in Belize while visiting?
A 30 day visitors permit will be issued to you upon arrival. Extensions are routinely granted at the Immigration offices located throughout the country. You can see how to get your passport stamped HERE.
What amenities are provided by Caribbean Beach Cabanas?
Click HERE to read about the many indoor and outdoor amenities the cabanas offer.
What do I do when I get to Placencia to get to Caribbean Beach Cabanas?
We will contact you 30 days before check in to get your arrival time. We provide complimentary pick up from the Placencia Airport. If you arrive at a different time than you thought, when you get to the airport, give us a call at the desk at 622.4142. They do it all the time! Check in is easy - you will see our fantastic welcome gate when you pull up, and as you walk in you will see our office veranda on your left. You will do a quick check in with our managers, Sue and Carlos, who live at the back of the property and take great care of our guests. They will give you your keys and a quick overview of the property, and you are set to enjoy!
What if I need a taxi?
You can find a taxi pretty easily by heading to main street-sometimes this is your best bet. Hail it the same as you do in the US – a raised hand. To call one, check with Sue and Carlos – cab phone numbers can change frequently.
Are there church services available on the peninsula?
There is an Episcopal church in town, St. John’s Memorial, in walking distance towards the pier. Sunday services at 8am.
Seventh Day Adventists-Friday at sunset, Saturdays 9am. Walking distance, head towards Main Street.
Where can I take care of any office needs?
Placencia Office Supply - for faxing, internet, local phones, copies, cell phones, Sim cards, and more. Located down in the village near Wallen’s.
What is the story with the beach dogs?
You will find throughout the peninsula (and Belize, and Central America for that matter!) a number of stray dogs. Placencia has done an excellent job of managing these dogs. Many have collars, which means either that they belong to someone, or that they have been neutered/spayed by the humane society. They are very friendly and seem to sense a tourist! Tourists have typically fed these dogs and you will even see them begging at some restaurants. If you ignore the dogs or gently shoo them away, they will generally leave you alone.
If for any reason you feel threatened by the dogs, an occurrence that has rarely been reported, stay calm and talk slowly and calmly as you back away, same as you would with any animal back home. The worst thing that is likely to happen is that the dog will take a liking to you! They are playful and like to follow people and play. Some people do pet and play with the dogs. It is known that most of the dogs will carry some amount of fleas or ticks so this is not recommended. Common sense says to always wash your hands afterwards. Please do not allow dogs on your veranda or in your room!
Is there high pressure sales everywhere, like in other tropical locations?
There are many types of people on the peninsula. Some locals, some from other countries or parts of Belize, expats, and tourists. Belizean people are very friendly on the whole and enjoy chatting and asking questions. You may notice that the boundaries may be different in some cultures; it is not unusual for some cultures to hang out closely, the sense of personal space or personal territory is different in each culture. Some will want to sell you things, and in general most are very kind and not pushy if you say no thank you (or as Belizeans say, “nah, we straight!” Which means no thank you, I do not want what you are selling). You may meet the Coconut Man, Mayan women selling baskets, people asking for donations, men selling blankets, It is much less intrusive than most Caribbean Islands or Mexico.
Can I grill on the beach? What about bonfires on the beach?
We have a complimentary grill at CBC. Bonfires are not allowed in the village at this time.
What's the story with the Sargassum seaweed all over the Caribbean?
Please scroll down the page HERE to read about Sargassum seaweed - so far in 2016, it has not been a problem.
Can I ship things out of Belize? What about sending home the fish I catch?
PLEASE NOTE - if you leave something in Belize, it is VERY DIFFICULT and expensive to ship things back. Most things cannot be shipped at all. For example, a recent guest could not get a bag shipped back because "textiles" were not allowed to be shipped out of the country. Our owners/managers here, go back to the US often enough that we WILL make an effort to ship things back when we return to the US, but it may not be timely. However, if you want to take things back with you - including frozen fish! - this can be done. Please check with the CBP before deciding about the fish, and also check with your airline to be sure you can check the fish, as rules can change.
How can I do laundry?
Here's a little secret at CBC - we are happy to throw in a complimentary load of laundry for you! Just ask. There is also laundry service right down the sidewalk at Lydia's and Julia's.
What if I want to get married in Belize?
We have had a number of weddings at CBC....the process is fun and easy, and you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to start the process!
Any other safety tips or things I should know?
Lastly, before coming to Belize make copies of your passports, credit cards and driver’s license. Scan and email yourself copies and leave a copy at home in a safe. That way if you lose any of these items while you are here they will be easier to replace. Also, bring enough medicine with you if you take any prescription meds. Our local pharmacies are usually well stocked with general antibiotics, minor pain killers, cold and flu meds, etc, but if you need anything special bring it with you.